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June 05, 2012

Four Ways to Handle Loneliness as a Solo Traveler

By BootsnAll

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Tourist with digital camera by Big Ben, London, England-86529310(Getty, Thinkstock, BananaStock)

Even if you have a really outgoing personality, you might balk at the idea of planning an around-the-world trip by yourself. You may know the perks of solo travel—there's no need to compromise on your wish list if you're calling all the shots, good last-minute seats at events are much easier to find when you're the only buying one—but what happens if you get lonely?

Loneliness and homesickness (not the same thing, but often related) are common feelings among long-term travelers who go it alone—but neither one is enough reason not to go. Not only that, the biggest misconception about solo travel is that you'll be alone—you're much more likely to need to seek out solitude now and then.

Here are some tips to help you cope with loneliness as a solo traveler.

The Internet is your BFF
No doubt you've made copious use of the Internet during the planning stages of your trip (you're reading this blog, right?), so why not turn to the web when you're feeling pangs of loneliness while traveling the world? No matter what time zone you're in, there are always travel blogs to read, travel forums to peruse, and travel communities on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets. Every traveler has been there before, and there will be someone online when you are to offer encouragement and maybe some advice. And if homesickness is complicating matters, that's when you need to fire up Skype and phone home.

Can a travel blog reach out and give you a hug when you're feeling low? Not literally—but chatting with other people who know how you feel can make a world of difference. It's not a sign of weakness to reach out to others and ask for a virtual pick-me-up. It's just what you need to do to get through a slump and back into the groove of your trip.

Get Involved
If making friends is a challenge for you, or you're just plain tired of repeating the effort in every single place you've visited so far, take the easy road to new friendships by joining an organized group. Sign up for a class, do some volunteering, or even join a group tour (either a day tour or a multi-day trip). By doing any of these things, you put yourself in situations where you're with other people—many of whom may also be on their own and eager to meet you. The other bonus of signing up for an activity is that it gets you out of whatever space you're in, literally and figuratively, so that you can escape your loneliness while (hopefully) simultaneously getting over it.

Finding the right activity for you could be as easy as scanning a bulletin board at the hostel or asking someone at the front desk of your hotel for a recommendation, but this is another place where the Internet can be your lifeline. Ask other people who have visited the place you're in now whether they know of any volunteer opportunities or classes they'd recommend.

Take Advantage of the Common Room
Budget travelers tend to gravitate toward staying in hostels first and foremost because they're cheap. What they often offer beyond a low price point, however, is instant community. Depending on the hostel, the common areas may be buzzing with activity, so it may be as simple as leaving your room and finding a comfy chair in the common room—you could be deep in conversation in no time. Are you dreading another "table for one" scenario at dinner? See if you can join a group from the hostel wherever they're going to eat—or, better yet, get everyone involved in making a group dinner in the hostel kitchen. It's a money-saver, it's fun, and it draws people out of their shells (even you).

If you're not really the hostel type, but you find yourself perpetually lonely as you travel, keep in mind that many hostels these days have private rooms (sometimes even with en suite bathrooms), so you can take advantage of all the socialization perks of a hostel without sleeping in a dorm room.

You're Not Really Alone
As mentioned at the outset, one of the biggest fallacies of solo travel is that you're alone pretty much all the time. Now, if you set off on a hiking trip by yourself into uncharted territory with a goal of silent reflection, you'll likely be alone—but if you head out into the world on a solo round-the-world trip, you'll constantly meet people. This is especially true if you're on the well-traveled tourist route, but even in many so-called off-the-beaten-path spots you'll quickly become aware that you're not the only foreigner in town.

You'll find out that the guy you chatted with over breakfast at the hostel is leaving the same day you are and going in the same direction, which could lead to traveling together for a couple weeks. You'll attract the attention of local waiters when you're dining alone in restaurants, and when you get to talking you suddenly realize they're bringing you samples of house specialties to try. You'll be asked for directions by another tourist (who thinks you're a local), after which you'll get to talking about where you've each visited so far.

In short, for a solo traveler to be genuinely alone takes effort, and as long as you're aware that you may go through slumps of loneliness now and then, you'll be prepared to cope until you strike up the next fascinating conversation.

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