Independent travel is empowering, liberating and builds confidence by the bucket load. When you are travelling alone there’s no:
- tour guide acting like your mom, telling you what to do, where to go and for how long,
- irritating friend who was previously up for anything but now seems to prefer staying indoors,
- group weirdo who wants to be more than friends for the entire two week trip, despite your efforts to explain how that isn’t going to happen. Ever.
You can spend whatever you wish, your itinerary is your own and spontaneity is your middle name!
But it can also have its downsides, and after a while, wandering as lonely as a cloud can make you feel like a real ‘Billy no mates’. So here’s my tried and tested list of ways to instantly banish the ‘toute seule’ seclusion, the ‘peke yako’ blues, the ‘all by myself’ moments.
1. Meet Up with Other Travellers
This a) might be going against all the ‘rules’ of solo travel (I have no idea what they are BTW) and b) totes obvs but it’s relatively easy and nips loneliness in the bud.dy. I personally enjoy walking tours, nature trips and social events, often arranged by hostels or agencies geared towards the solo traveller. As they are short and sweet I can get to see the local wildlife or hear about the history of where I am and still remain relatively independent. It’s a great way to meet like-minded folk, and I’m lucky to have some awesome chums as a result of little day excursions. Check hostel boards, even if you are not staying there, and some of the tour agencies operating in the backpacker districts. Go on, be a devil.
2. Call Up Some Loved Ones
Connecting with your fam-a-lam and your bessie mates can lift your mood enormously. After all no-one else gets that in-joke about that one time at Uncle Fred’s birthday party? It’s so nice to call someone who cares about you, makes you laugh and is interested in what you are up to that all that loneliness flies outta the window super fast. It’s pretty easy to find a cafe with a good wifi signal and someone who wants to catch up, plus it’s a great excuse for a mug of hot chocolate and a slab of cakey goodness. Virtual hugs and naughty food hugs. Double whammy.
3. Head to a Local Bar or Restaurant Hang Out.
One of my favourite tricks is to walk into somewhere, grab a seat by the bar and accumulate a great story or two, some local insights and even a new friend. In Boston, I tried to satiate a sushi craving and ended up in Moksa, where I got great tips on how to get unbelievable deals on flying business class from a fellow barfly. There’s a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from waiting and bar staff, plus they usually appreciate having a natter to make their night more interesting. It’s like having a friendly, personalised, talking guidebook. Remember to stay safe, don’t give anyone too much info about where you are staying and what you are doing and have fun.
4. Make the Best of your Situation
More often than not, feeling lonely is just a temporary state of mind. It can be exasperated by tiredness, unexpected mishaps, delays, and all the challenges travel throws up at us. A good night’s sleep can make a significant dent in lifting the fog of loneliness, as can practicing a positive mental state. It’s refreshing to make a list of all the things you can do as a solo traveller that you can’t when you are travelling with friends, family or tour groups and go out and do them. I like to go to the local shops and browse until my heart’s content, not anyone else’s. Remind yourself of why you are on your own journey, the goals you have already achieved and the rewards that await you.
5. Stay Away from Isolating Accommodation
Hotels, motels, Holiday Inn. Anywhere that caters to business folk, families and the amorous couple having the affair tends to be an anti-social behaviour zone. If you camp, stay in a hostel, couchsurf or use a shared Airbnb you are more likely to find someone to hang out with. This is not guaranteed, but the odds are definitely more in your favour. See if you can strike up a conversation with your host or fellow dorm roomies and if that fails then don’t despair; these are not the adventurers you are looking for. Try again and someone will be friendly and up for sharing a street art walk or just a cup of tea. I’ve encountered some pretty strange folk in my travels but also made some lifelong mates from random room placements.
6. Find a Friend
It’s amazing how technology can help like-minded souls share some love. There are quite a few Facebook groups that have members who kindly offer free accommodation, coffee dates, and city tours. Women Who Travel and Women Travel – Go Wonder groups give you the opportunity to find a fellow lonely traveller, hospitable locals, and empathetic expats. It’s truly heartwarming to witness the generosity and compassion that a lonesome poster can receive; almost puts my faith back in humanity. It’s a brilliant tool for random acts of kindness, and karma has a great system of rewarding such acts. Sign up for when traveling times are tough or to offer a consensual hug.
7. Get Moving
Exercise is a brilliant method of lifting your mood and presenting another awesome way to plug into other fitness bugs. Whether it’s a discovery jog through the park, joining in a local beach volleyball session or getting down with the olds at an alfresco Tai Chi sesh, the potential to feel good is boundless. I love kayaking, hiking, and cycling, and with a bit of a scour through hostel notice boards, a Google search or by asking a local there is usually an association or two on offer. For example, the globally present Hash House Harriers are a drinking club with a running problem and bring a social element to exercise. Think of a sport and get researching!
8. Sign up for an Experience
Doing what the locals do for fun is a great way to make some friends, possibly improve your language skills and immerse in the culture of where you are. Look out for classes and activities that residents are signing up for and participating in. It could be anything from local dance classes, art lessons to regional cooking courses, musical instruments instruction or learning provincial games. Once you are there, smile and enjoy, more often than not people welcome someone from outside the community that is showing an interest, people love showing off. Get down on it.
9. Treat yo’self
When you do feel a little lonesome it’s a great excuse to be a little self-indulgent. My ideal day starts with a really long swim, smoked salmon and scrambled egg breakfast, a full pamper morning at the spa, followed by a lobster and champagne lunch, an afternoon of playing board games and an evening cheese and wine festival. Whatever makes you happy, go for it.
At the end of the day, if none of these suggestions shrug off the shadow of loneliness and it persistently makes your travels unrewarding and therefore unsuccessful you may want to consider cutting short your trip and returning home, even if it’s just for a short while. More often than not, it’s just one of the feelings that come and go whilst you are away and alone. If you acknowledge it, accept that this will happen and are prepared with these top tips for beating loneliness when travelling, it can actually be a gratifying experience to overcome.