Dealing with Loneliness on the Road

“Are you by yourself?”

This is one of the most common questions I get in almost every single trip I do.  Most of the time it is the first form of interaction I have with another traveler as I’m sitting in the plane waiting to depart.

More often than not I travel by myself, so people tend to ask me this out of curiosity or just to swap seats with their companions.  On the former case, it is often followed by “Don’t you get lonely?”.

The truth is, when I venture the world by myself, there are times when I do feel lonely.  No matter how well I prepare myself to be alone while on the road, that lonely feeling has its way of sneaking through the crack.  I guess this is normal.

But, I don’t see my lonely feelings as a bad thing. They are part of the independent travel experience and I have learned to deal with them and still feel comfortable, even when that sad feeling sinks in.

Tikal Ruins, Guatemala

Embracing Loneliness

First and foremost, I embrace the feeling.  Through out life I’ve learned that the things you fight against the most are the ones that keep coming back.  So, why not embrace it and produce something positive out of it?

Sometimes being lonely makes me reflect on things in life.  It helps me learn about myself, what I like, don’t like, and so on.  Often times, marinating in the feelings for a while allows me to see things I wouldn’t otherwise pay attention to.  It’s like I’m looking at things at a slower pace.

Sometime this sparks my curiosity, making me question things to try to understand them from this different perspective.  Why not? This can be an opportunity to absorb new things and experiences openly and almost vulnerably.

Being Creative

This lonely feeling can also serve as a source of inspiration to create something meaningful – something of value.  In many cases, I channel those feeling into being productive; whether it’s writing a post, drawing something, or just brain-vomiting any idea that gets sparked by the moment.  I love moments like these because creativity flows naturally.

After a while, not only the sad feeling fades into the background by itself, but a sense of accomplishment steps in after seeing the creative product of this feeling.  At the end, I feel so empowered that nothing seems to be impossible.

Being Proactive

Sometimes being proactive in other ways helps me dwindle the lonely feelings.  For example, at the beginning of every trip I do my best to prevent the jet-lag effects by being active.  Jet lag can bring down even the seasoned traveler, and the sad and lonely feeling sinks in.

Getting busy enough and challenging myself –tasks, sightseeing, events– often times keeps me motivated, ergo the blues (almost) don’t sink in.

Traveling solo doesn’t mean I’m alone, just like traveling with friends doesn’t necessarily make me feel part of the crowd. Even when I’m not a social butterfly, making friends on the road has been pretty easy for me, enough to give me some company every now and then, resulting in great friendships in many cases.  Hostels are great examples of friendship breeders, and even long bus rides like the ones I took in Guatemala.  Sitting 10 hours in a bus from Antigua to Semuc Champey, and a quick hi, was all it took to get to know other travelers that eventually became my companions for the rest of my trip.  It never hurts to say hi!

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Not only a physical companionship makes me feel in company

Sometimes, just a simple Skype call can be an instant boost to my morale.  In this new age, a good company and a cheer can come in the form of bytes and codes.  Online friends have become ever more present in this society that now they have as much influence as “real/in the flesh” friends. We are so connected through the internet that these virtual friendships don’t feel as shallow as they once used to feel.  At least I feel that way… And there’s no better place to reinforce this idea than in the worldwide travel blogging community.

Sometimes loneliness comes and I can’t do anything about it or with it, but that’s ok still.  Usually the benefits of being out there in the world outweigh any lonely feelings that might come.  In those cases, I just let the feeling be.  It won’t last forever, right?

Has this happened to you?  How did you deal with it?

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64 thoughts on “Dealing with Loneliness on the Road”

  1. I do a lot of solo traveling, too. The biggest door it opens up for me is the connections I make that I wouldn’t have if I were traveling with someone. Plus, there is no one there to try and stop me from doing what I want to do 🙂

    1. I know! It’s is so easy to connect with others compared with traveling with friends. And, like you, I love the fact that I can do anything I want whenever I want… total freedom!

  2. Some days are definitely not as good as others. And I agree about the Skype-sometimes thats all it takes to cheer me up. Sometimes. Other times, like yesterday, getting out and visiting the market for a carrot juice did the trick. Traveling alone has taught me a lot about myself. So as there are lonely days, they don’t tend to last long, and sometimes, they can be a good thing.

    1. True, not all days will be peachy, but those lonely days are worth experimenting. Skype does help to cheer up every once in a while, or just doing or getting something you really really want. 🙂

  3. Well said. I am traveling alone but sometimes I don’t feel like it because I make friends with people and sometimes move to other cities together if we are heading the same way!!!

    1. That’s one of the things I love about traveling solo. I get to meet new people and travel with them until we take different roads. While in Guatemala I met some great travelers that were my companions for the rest of my trip. It was great and it made my trip way better than what I expected!

    1. Thank Lauren! Yayyy! It’s so exciting to plan for a RTW! I’m sure you’re going to have a great time while on the road. Now, you know that the blues might sink in every once in a while, but those are moments to learn about oneself and to see things differently. 🙂

  4. I’ve always thought that the one person that you have to reacquaint yourself with every day is YOU. We are constantly evolving creatures who thrive by taking stock of our lives periodically. It’s to our detriment not to be in tune with what makes us tick, grow, learn….because and unexamined life will leave us stagnant and unchanged simply because we haven’t taken the time to discover what motivates us to become better human beings.

    1. Wow Renee… I couldn’t have said that any better! What I like about moments like these is that they help us examine life, discover what motivates us, and they teach us what makes us tick and learn. Like you said, an unexamined life leaves us stagnant, but moments like these are what help us grow.

  5. Brilliant post. Like you, I travel on my own and, very rarely, I feel lonely, but it doesn’t matter, it is a great opportunity for reflection and for giving thanks for being so lucky to travel at all.

  6. I think people who travel alone are great, with have met a load along the way so far but like you said it is so easy to meet people and make friends in Hostels and bus journeys, that’s one of the best bits about traveling!

    1. So true, that’s one of the advantages (and one of the reasons I like them so much) of sleeping in hostel dorms, they are great places to start conversations and even friendships.

  7. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    My partner and I travel together, so we have a slightly different experience. We don’t get lonely in the same ways, because we have each other to interact with, but sometimes we really need the company of new people.

    It’s extra hard to make those connections when traveling as a couple, though, so we really have to push ourselves to meet others. So while it’s nice having a companion to travel with, it comes with its own challenges. 🙂

    1. I get you. In my case I tend to be a bit more reserved in approaching a couple with a random conversation unless I find it appropriate. On the other hand, I find it easier to make contact with another solo traveler or various “non-couple” travelers. I don’t know, it feels that there’s a little “personal space bubble”. lol

      But still, like you say, even though you have the company of your partner, I’m sure there comes a time every once in a wile when you want a fresh perspective and some extra company. The great thing about travelers is that we tend to be very open with others, so with a little push the connection can be made easily. 🙂

    1. I agree Caz. Embracing it (and every emotions) lets us feel it and understand it better, thus helping us deal with it and move on, if it’s an uncomfortable feeling, or enjoy it and express it, if it is a good and comfortable feeling.

  8. You did a great job of talking about the loneliness and how you deal with it, including embracing it. You’re right connecting with friends online and through skype makes all the difference. Great piece!

    1. Thanks Lisa! It’s impressive how spending some alone time while on the road (and even home) helps you experiment with your own feelings, teaches you how to tap them, and encourages you to interact with others.

  9. My favorite thing about traveling alone is that you’re really not alone, unless of course you want to be! You have something in common with every other traveler you encounter…you’re all outsiders and they’re all in the same boat you are. Chances are they all speak Englsih so you have a common langauge. And almost every traveler I’ve said hello to on the road I’ve been able to have a wonderful conversation with! As you said, the key is to be proactive!

    1. So true Aaron. There are so many things solo travelers (and non-solo travelers) have in common that helps us interact easily. Even though I always travel by myself, I always meet people on the road, so there are moments during my trip when I enjoy the company of one or many other travelers. I love these experiences!

  10. Couldn’t agree with you mroe! I love the feeling of walking into a restaurant by myself and assuring the waiter I’m not waiting for anyone, it’s just ME. This has let to free desserts and dishes, invited out after their work finishes for the night and a big boost to my confidence.

    1. That’s pretty cool! Traveling solo has some perks here and there. Like you said, some freebies are easier to get, especially if you are friendly and open with whoever you’re dealing with.

  11. Thanks for sharing and being honest about this. I travel solo most of the time and do get lonely. But I have a different travel style from all my other friends that I feel less weighed down when I travel alone. Plus the open road is the best companion you’ll ever have =)

  12. Eileen Ludwig

    Loneliest I have ever been is in a relationship. Sometimes I wish someone was with me, then I see others interact badly and I am relieved I am alone.

  13. Leslie (Downtown Traveler)

    I don’t think I could do it… traveling solo is not my thing. But it sounds like you’ve conquered/embraced loneliness!

    1. lol… we’ll different strokes for different folks. 🙂
      I think I’ve learned to manage my loneliness when it hits me, but no matter how good I deal with it, the experience is always different depending on where I am.

  14. I love this Norbert! Everyone gets lonely while on the road… these days when I feel it hit, I just embrace it, sit down, write it out in a poem or in my journal and accept it as a learning experience.

  15. really glad you addressed this norbert! i’m heading out soon for my cross-country solo trip and then RTW starting next january in the wake of my divorce and it’s definitely been on my mind. i’ve traveled solo before, but not really long-term and while i’m super friendly (like it sounds like you are) i know there are bound to be lonely times. hell- there are now! i LOVE the idea of using it to “brain-vomit” LOL! think it’s so important to remember it happens to the best of us and have some coping mechanisms you’ve described here. great post 🙂

    1. Thanks Lorna! Wow, you will have a completely different travel experience from now on. Loneliness does happens, even to the friendliest person. Even if you can manage to have company every day, all the time, there will come a point when you will want to spend to “me” time to unload, think, get creative, and do things on your own. 🙂

  16. Acceleratedstall

    There are advantages to traveling solo – single agenda, no drama, etc… and yeah, it can be lonely but like you mentioned here, it is also a great opportunity to be highly creative. Kudos!

  17. NIce article, Norbert. I haven’t traveled alone in a long time but I remember many of the things you mentioned. It always seemed easy (and fun) to make new friends in hostels, so I never really felt “alone” either.

    1. Thanks Michael! It’s funny how even when you travel alone you always find good company (if you are friendly, of course), and how they become a great deal of your travel experience.

  18. rovemageditor

    Love the post. I think what you are getting at is loneliness vs. solitude.
    one is the fear of being alone, the other is embracing it, which you seem to do quite well.

    1. Thanks! You have a very good point. There is a big difference between loneliness and solitude. Embracing solitude can have many positive reactions in your persona and experience.

      1. Hey Norbert, this is very well done, I like it a lot. I just started to travel by myself in Asia. It is a great opportunity not only to do what you want but also to learn about yourself. What is important to you and how you want to continue you your life in the future.
        Thanks for the advice with feeling alone and dealing with it. It is obivious but sometimes you just need the push in the right direction. Thanks and keep the spirit up.
        Cheers Alex

        1. Hi Alex! So good to see you around. I’m glad you found this useful as it has helped me many times while on the road. Like you said, sometimes a little push in the right direction is all we need to accomplish many things.

          Hope you’re having a great time in your travels through Asia! Cheers!

  19. Hi Norbert, I really enjoyed this post. You wrote this with feelings and reflecting from your experiences. Traveling solo makes me stronger and I tend to get motivated to do things to kill the boredom as there is no one there to interact with whenever I need to. Additionally, I love making new friends especially like-minded people so being alone it’s definitely the best way to meet new people wherever I go 🙂

    1. Hi Marj – Thanks! You’re right, there are a lot of feelings about my experiences in this post. I believe you’ve also been through this experience of dealing with loneliness while traveling and from what you wrote I think you also have your way of not letting it get you down. Like you, I love meeting new people on the road. They are some of the most interesting people since they all range from travelers to locals and from various cultures. It’s an interesting social melting pot that make conversations and “hang time” even more interesting.

  20. you should be a motivational speaker for travelers… Again you picked the nerves and addressed an evident side of solo-traveling….being lonely and being alone are two different situations I guess…

    1. Hi Rahul!

      haha, Thanks! Yes, I believe the act of being alone is not the same as being lonely. You can be in a crowd and still feel lonely, while you can be all by yourself and feel well and happy about your surroundings. It’s all in how you truly feel inside and how comfortable you are in with the current situation you’re in, whether it is traveling or any other experience in life.

    2. I make this point when people harangue me about travelling alone, being alone and being lonely are not the same thing!

  21. This is a lovely post, I travel alone too and I get so lonely it makes me cry, but only for a bit, after all feeling lonely isn’t exactly sinful, it doesn’t make you a bad person, often can bring your own identity into sharper focus, odds are you’ll still have wonderful memories to share later, and in fairness, much as I love them, not many of my friends or family are as adventurous or well organised as me, so if I was permanently waiting for someone to accompany me I’d hardly ever get to travel!

    1. Helen, you and I are in the same position. This is one of the reasons why I travel on my own, for most of the part. if I waited for others to travel, I would not travel either. And I totally agree with your approach to loneliness. It is not necessarily bad, because it can help you see other stuff you wouldn’t pay attention otherwise. It’s just how we perceive that loneliness and work with it to achieve something.

  22. I am currently an expat and that too can at times be lonely or a mix of feeling homesick as well. then there are those moments of complete bliss when you are alone. Running on a beautiful trail run in the rain in the jungle, sitting on my surfboard watching the sun set, or taking a walk on the beach for sunrise. I try to take an extra long breath during those moments that I am alone, and blissfully happy so that the next time I am feeling a bit blue, I try and recall that moment I last enjoyed.

    1. THose moments of solitude can be powerful and very creative. It’s during those moments that you can sit down and think about the things that surround you and feel what makes you happy.

  23. Traveling is something I’m doing solo most of the times. While sometimes it can be depressing (seeing something amazing and not being able to share it with someone), more often than not I find it liberating. You don’t stick to anyone’s plans but yours, gives you flexibility in almost every aspect (including making friends on the road). Also by traveling solo, I have time to catch up on my reading – if I was to travel with someone, I would feel obligated to talk with them, even when not in the mood. And like you mentioned, being alone does provide the chance to reflect on many things, being creative and do things on a whim 🙂

    1. Joseph, that’s exactly how traveling solo is for me. Yes, there are time I’d like to share amazing experiences with someone else, but other times I’m able to get a lot of positive things out of it… like everything you mentioned. I think one of the things I like the most is the liberty and flexibility to join anyone I meet on the road, travel for some time together, share those experiences, and then continue my own journey. 🙂

  24. If left unchecked, our feelings of loneliness can have an impact on every aspect of our life and may even lead to depression. So, if you are feeling lonely, it’s important to take positive steps as soon as possible.

  25. Finally you have written out what my feeling when traveling alone. Embrace the loneliness, I love this saying. Let’s meet up one day!! 😀

  26. Awesome story. Such feeling are very familiar for solo travelers. Despite all the advantages of traveling solo, loneliness is a real challenge for travelers, who cant live without socializing.

  27. I’m preparing to cycle completely around the world. I will be away for more than 3 years and maybe as long as 6. I’m single, but my daughters are 20 and 23 and I love them to bits. They are tied up with boyfriends and having fun, and setting out on their own life’s adventures, but I’m going to miss them like you wouldn’t believe. I only see them about once a month now when we have dinner, but even so, I am just a phone call away if ever there is a problem. I’m OK being on my own, as I have traveled all over the world and done some amazing things on my own, but to be alone for maybe weeks on end in some places without getting to speak to another sole, or even see another sole, will leave me with just me and my thoughts, and of course at the top of my list is my girls. Still, I’m going to do this, and I would encourage my girls to do whatever they wanted too. Steve

  28. Great read Norbert! To me, the best thing is to just talk to people, everytime, anywhere! You are never really alone. And making new friends is super easy when travelling.

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