Quick disclaimer : I'm not a vulgar person but my vocabulary can sometimes be colourful. My life is R-rated and my blog occasionally reflects that. Be aware of some frank language. All my photos are PG, but please read blog posts before sharing with kids.
«Don’t you get sick of being alone all the time?»
«But you must get so lonely!»
«You don't want to share those experiences with someone else?»
Most of my travels have been solo. Yes, I do have friends. And they are lovely. ; - ) But being granted two separate years off work meant there weren’t a lot of available travel companions. So, many of my solo trips were taken out of necessity; nowadays, I choose it for its simplicity. I still love to travel with friends, but going alone is definitely my jam.
Let’s all agree on one thing: The people you hang out with can make or break your trip. The right companion, even for a day, is a game changer. Most times when I've felt lonely, I wasn’t actually alone. I just felt like an outsider. Or a dinosaur. I was either spending time with someone with whom I didn’t connect, or a group of people I couldn’t relate to.
Admit it or not, most of the time we’re searching for a stronger connection than a near-stranger's company. The need to interact and connect with other humans is an incredibly strong impulse. And if you can't find that bond in your hostel's lounge room, then that's what Skype or Zoom is for.
Keep doing what you love
I never feel lonely with a book in my hands. Ever. So I make sure to bring tons of them with me (paper and electronic) and I take full advantage of book exchange shelves.
Music is another huge companion in my life. If I’m feeling out of sorts, I’ll walk around by myself or sit on a park bench and people-watch with my headphones on: a guaranteed mood-booster. Maybe your thing is to paint, play an instrument, dance, photograph, draw...
Travel is a version of removal, but your favourite things shouldn’t be removed from your travels. So keep doing what you’ve always loved doing. Throughout your adventures, those comforts will go a long way towards providing... well, comfort.
Stay in solo-friendly spots
The backpacking / hostel circuit allows you to meet like-minded people because of its inherent social structure (I like snooping through hostelworld.com and booking.com). They usually have common areas like a lounge or a bar, sometimes even a pool. Hostels are great for organising trivia nights, food tours, pub crawls, cooking classes, yoga sessions, walk/bike tours, night markets walks, etc.
Now, all you younger travellers: If you’re willing to socialize with anyone willing to do shots with you, then you’ll have no problem finding peers, especially in the cheaper hostels. My experience was slightly different. As a 30-year-old who was kinda over the let’s get shit-faced scene, good travel mates (and good party mates!) didn’t fall from the sky. At times, I pondered whether I was too old for the backpacking circuit (NEVER! ), but then I’d meet a woman my own age, or in their 50s and 60s. These older chicas were kick-ass, beautiful, and strong souls who stayed in hostels strictly to keep the social juices flowing and to meet other solo travellers.
Establish and enjoy your travel routine
I tend to be all over the place with my schedule; some days are filled from sunrise to sunset, others are a blank slate. If you enjoy routines, find out when breakfast is served and plan your morning around it. Sign up for day tours with your hostel - they’re usually a ton of fun! Visit the same spots every day: the same café, the same food vendor, the same trattoria for lunch. Learn people’s names - locals will recognise you and you’ll enjoy those bits of familiarity.
Leave some room for spontaneity, but little routines can make foreign travel feel less foreign without depriving you of its cultural benefits.
Stay open and approach others
Travelling alone makes you more approachable. Remember that there are countless others in your situation; you’re not the only one who feels like a fish out of water. I've seldom jumped into a giggling gaggle of girls, but I have plopped myself down next to other solo backpackers. So at breakfast, sit down next to that friendly face and ask them about the coffee. Or the local bus system. Or the book sitting in front of them. Whatever.
In Greece, after offering to take someone's photo, I ended up enjoying a few cold beers in the sunshine with a kickass Scottish widow in her late 60s. She was an absolute hoot and one of the best drinking buddies I’ve ever had. I was so impressed with her zeal and unflinching willingness to grab life by the balls!
Get comfortable eating alone
Eating out - in public, in front of everyone - is probably the most self-conscious act to take alone. It does take some getting used to, so don’t start by going out to dinner at a busy steakhouse. Start with something small - sit at the bar at a café and enjoy a croissant and coffee for breakfast. Have lunch at a picnic table while enjoying street food. Indulge in a sandwich at a corner table at lunchtime. Bring a book or journal to keep your eyes from sheepishly looking around, or watch the people around you not care that you’re there alone. You’ll be a pro in no time!
Actually, I’ve found that patrons and employees in hostels/restaurants are friendlier when they know you're flying solo. I've been given friendly service and chatter (not to mention complimentary beer and dessert) just for sitting there, totally content on my own.
Exercise or get outside
Staying in bed all day won’t help you very much if you’re feeling lonely. Go outside for a walk in the sunshine or the rain. If you can afford it, book a half-day at the spa. Ask your lodging’s staff about their favourite park. Get an endorphin rush by going for a quick 20-minute jog, do some yoga moves on a grassy spot outside or even just some squats, push-ups and sit-ups while listening to your favourite upbeat music.
Check out EatWith, a website/app that allows you to book unique culinary experiences with hosts from different countries. Choose from multiple cities and book cooking classes, food tours and dinners in the chef’s own home. I’ve never personally done this as it’s a new discovery for me, but I’m impressed with the website and reviews, and excited to try it.
BonAppeTour is even more simple, offering dinners and cooking classes in various homes around the globe. So cool!
Most people aren’t modern-day Gandhis or life-saving superheroes; they’ll rarely have Chris Hemsworth’s charm or Brad Pitt’s cute dimples (ah, Brad’s dimples...). But SO MANY people out there are awesome and unique in their own distinct way, and it doesn’t usually shine through at first. It takes time, and it’s always rewarding to discover that that kind of person has just stepped onto your life stage, even for just a day.
Every once in a while, I’ll splurge on my own bedroom so that I don't have to chat with random roommates (or listen to them snore). Some of the coolest people I’ve met travel alone simply because they want to; they’re amongst the most confident, badass, happy people with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure to share space.
So don’t take any of it too seriously. There are many lovely people out there that, for some reason or another, you just won't jive with or will simply never have the time to get to know.
And then! Then, there are the people that you’ll REALLY jive with... You may have to search them out or you may naturally fall into a friendship with them, but they’ll shape the fabric of your time abroad. Years later, I can't recall every detail of the gothic Sevilla Cathedral, but I won't forget the orange-throwing battle with Jared, Jay, Ash and Kim that one Christmas Eve. Or wearing lederhosen and a dirndl at Oktoberfest with Pat, singing madly as the oompah band played Metallica and somehow made it sound AWESOME. Or the yacht trip through the Whitsunday Islands, where I met a hilarious Swiss farm girl named Delphine. I will always have fond memories of Tammy, Danielle&Simon, Pia and Kailash in Thailand and be grateful for their beautiful spirits. As for Mr. Tom, well... We may not be friends for life, but he brought light back into my life and MADE my trip across Andalucia. Were these friendships ever to fade, the memories never will.
Oh, and then there was that adorable guy Steve in Australia...
You get my point.
Happy travels, my friend.
Link to Photo collections
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The Arrival Thing