conversations with micaela, part 1: do you ever get lonely?
The answer is simple, of course: “Yes.”
But if I left it at that, this wouldn’t be much of a blog post, now would it?
Last week, I introduced you to my good friend Micaela, who recently left on her first extended solo trip through Croatia and Greece. At the moment, she’s currently in Athens (lucky girl!), but in the weeks leading up to her departure, we talked a lot about what her trip would look, especially if she would experience loneliness on the road traveling by herself.
When people find out that I usually travel alone, so often the first question they ask is, “Don’t you ever get lonely?” What surprises me is the terribly concerned look on their face, as though loneliness is something to be afraid of.
Which it can be, at times – but what I feel isn’t talked about quite as often is the good that can come from loneliness.
the beauty of loneliness.
“When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
When else in life do you have the time and space to get to know yourself in such a way? Being alone outside your comfort zone can be a pretty powerful thing. When the loneliness comes, don’t run away from it. Look into it, dig to the root, see where it might be coming from.
Maybe it’s a past relationship you’re still healing from, or a dream you haven’t yet committed to making happen. Either way, Douglas Coupland says it best in Shampoo Planet:
“Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life’s cruelest irony.”
there’s a difference between being alone and lonely.
I’ve come to welcome being alone on the road – for how it opens me up to the world, gives me permission to be fully observant of my surroundings and not always worried about what my travel companion might think of me.
I get to be my nerdy, curious self, no questions asked. As one of my favorite writers, Alain de Botton, says in The Art of Travel:
“It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially molded by whom we are with, we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others…Being closely observed by a companion can inhibit us from observing others, we become taken up with adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, we have to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.”
Better yet, traveling alone makes you more approachable. While lost on the streets of Marrakech in May, a local woman named Jemala stopped and asked if I’d like to come to her house for coffee (at least that’s what I think she said – I don’t speak Arabic and my French is appalling).
As I spent the evening with her and her children, I couldn’t help wondering if she would’ve been as concerned about me wandering Marrakech’s back streets if I’d been with someone else or a group.
ways to beat loneliness on the road:
The truth is that even as a “solo traveler,” you’re not often flying all that solo. From long train journeys to packed cafés, the world is brimming with potential new friends, and I’m usually alone far less than people might expect.
Still, there are certain things I’ve come to do to open myself up to meeting people. I love the tips that Heather of Heather’s Harmony recently posted on keeping loneliness at bay…here are a few more I would add:
Visit the same restaurant twice.
Even if I’m only in a place for a few days, over the last year I’ve made a habit of going back to the same restaurant, café, bar, even a small corner shop, multiple times during my stay. Not only do the staff start to recognize you and say hello, but as you develop familiarity with a place, you begin to relax and feel more at home.
Sign up for group activities.
My time in New Zealand taught me that just because I was a Big Bad Independent Traveler (ha, as if that exists…), I could still sign up for group activities. While part of the reason was that I wouldn’t have been able to do certain things on my own – i.e. swim with dolphins, hike a glacier, visit a volcanic island – another thing I came to look forward to on these group daytrips was the interaction it brought with other (often like-minded) travelers.
Stay in hostels: Even if you opt for a private room instead of sharing a dorm with ten strangers, the common spaces found in a hostel can be the perfect place to find a bit of connection. In New Zealand, I traveled to Greymouth by myself for a quick getaway – but I soon met Eva, Benoit and Dan in my hostel. We got along so well, we hung out the entire weekend.
want to read more?
I’m certainly not the first travel blogger to talk about loneliness on the road. Check out these other great posts on the subject:
- Vagabondish, 10 Ways to Overcome Loneliness While Traveling Solo
- Gary Arndt, Dealing with Loneliness while Traveling
- Janice Waugh, How to Travel Alone: Top 10 Tips & 5 Posts
- BootsnAll, Beating Loneliness on the Road