I am sure that you will agree that loneliness sucks. And solo travel loneliness sucks even more.
Why is that?
There you are on your big adventure, ‘braving it’ alone, exploring great new sights, immersing yourself in unfamiliar cultures. You are having the time of your life. Right?
Therefore, even admitting to yourself, let alone to others, that you are feeling lonely or blue, can make you feel like a failure.
I doubt that there are few solo travellers out there who have not experienced loneliness at some point in their travels. And if you have not yet travelled alone, the prospect of loneliness may be preventing you from taking your first solo trip.
Has this happened to me?
Sure. At some point in most trips, usually on day four or day five, I have felt the travel blues wash over me in waves.
Self-doubt rears its ugly head. I look around me at friends and families enjoying the good times together and feel sharp pangs of envy.
So what can you do when loneliness hits you when you are travelling alone?
The good news is that there are ways that you can help yourself overcome solo travel loneliness. Here’s what has worked for me when loneliness bites.
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1. Accept that is solo travel loneliness will happen (and that doesn’t mean that you are ‘bad’ at travelling alone)
If I had to pick my top tip for overcoming loneliness when travelling alone, this would be it.
I am someone who is very comfortable in her own company, with a tendency to introversion. Although I have a circle of very good friends, whom I see often, I also love evenings alone.
So you’d think that I would be less prone to solo travel loneliness. Wrong.
Just like anticipating the inevitability of a dose of the post-vacation blues, the key to me was accepting that I would feel lonely at some point whilst away. Then to recognise this when it happened, embrace its normality, minimise its impact and then move on to enjoy the rest of my trip.
2. Meet other people
This may be a blindingly obvious tip to overcome solo travel loneliness, but don’t underestimate how difficult it can be if you are feeling depressed.
When you are feeling down or lonely, there is a temptation to hide away from the world. Resist this urge.
Meeting other people when you are away, be they fellow travellers or locals means that you do not have to be alone all the time. For example, this could be through staying in hostels or striking up a conversation in a coffee bar.
3. Join a day tour
Even if you are not a group tour sort of person, joining an organised day trip can help you meet other travellers even if it is just for a day or two.
Most cities will offer a walking tour, which may be free and will only last two or three hours at most. During a lull in the guide’s commentary, chat to the person next to you.
When I visited Syria in 2007 as a solo traveller, I hooked up with Agwa on a day trip to Krak des Chevaliers out of Aleppo.
4. Don’t neglect your basic needs
If I’m feeling blue when travelling alone, a decent night’s sleep and a good meal can do me the power of good.
It’s important not to neglect your basic needs. Don’t skip meals, stay hydrated and rest up if necessary.
5. Be kind to yourself
If there ever was a time to treat yourself this is it.
This could mean indulging in a facial or relaxing massage. Or why don’t you push the boat out and have a slap-up meal in that fancy restaurant that you have your eye on?
For some people, eating alone is challenging. Therefore, go armed with some tips on how to make solo dining fun.
6. Have a plan
Whilst your trip shouldn’t be planned to the nth degree, it is good to have an idea of what you will be doing the next day.
When you are feeling sad and lonely it can be difficult to motivate yourself to do and see things. In the absence of some plan, there is the risk that you will wander aimlessly, becoming increasingly depressed and anxious.
Therefore, have in your mind a list of things that you would like to do. Or if hopping from sight to sight feels too overwhelming, focus instead on one or two activities. Perhaps mooching around that fantastic gallery or doing a city walking tour.
7. Take time to relax
There can be a tendency amongst travellers to jump from place to place in a quest to cram in as much as possible. I know that I am certainly guilty of this. If you are not in the right frame of mind, this constant motion can be exhausting.
On the grand scale of things, does it really matter if you skip that 5th temple of the day?
Take time out. Bring yourself and a favourite book to a coffee bar and linger for a while. The caffeine, downtime and being amongst other people will revive your spirit. And you never know … you may strike up a conversation with someone there.
8. Alternatively, move on to the next thing
However, there is a risk that relaxation can morph into a lethargy which can be tough to shake off. If you feel that this is happening to you, move on or ramp up your activities.
Move on, to the next town, city or country. Or plan an exciting schedule for the following day. See what new adventures these plans bring.
9. Splurge like there’s no tomorrow (occasionally)
When you are doing your best to stretch your budget, the occasional splurge can make you feel better about yourself and the world around you.
This could be a super comfortable super-sized bed, a long soak in deep, scented bath water and fluffy towels. Or try lingering over brunch at a fancy hotel.
10. Stimulate your mind
There’s nothing like trying to learn something new to dampen those glowing embers of loneliness on the road. As well as pushing negative feelings out of your mind space, this comes with the satisfaction and self-validation of gaining new skills or knowledge.
Struggling with the local lingo? Then why not ramp up your language skills using Duolingo?
Alternatively, take that one-day cookery class. My Vietnamese fresh spring roll making ‘skills’ are still intact after many years. Sort of.
11. Embrace your inner shutterbug
I love photography and am rarely without some form of camera, be it my brute of a DSLR or sleek iPhone. I find capturing images to be enormously therapeutic, and this creative process distracts me from any negative thoughts I may be having.
Photography also makes you more aware of the finer details of your surroundings, and reviewing your images at the end of the day is a pleasurable distraction.
12. Come armed with toys
I always travel with my favourite Netflix shows downloaded on my battered old iPad. Not only are these great for long flights, but they are also perfect for wallowing in when you are feeling lonely.
So it’s the seventh time you’ve watched that episode of Friends / Fr Ted / Star Trek / The IT Crowd / Bojack Horseman. So what? (and please don’t judge me on my choice of TV shows!)
For similar reasons, I also travel armed with podcasts and favourite music on my phone.
13. Bring familiar items from home
I have a friend who travels with his favourite teddy bear, even though he’s well in his 50s. And there’s nothing wrong with this.
In times of uncertainty and when you are in unfamiliar surroundings, having familiar items near you can be a huge comfort.
My comfort items are photographs of my family. What would yours be?
14. Get in touch with family and friends
Now more than ever, it is so easy to keep in touch whilst you are on the road. Talking to a loved one can be an enormous comfort when you are suffering from solo travel loneliness.
15. Stay away from social media
A word of caution though. Whilst keeping in touch with loved one works for me, I know that for others this can make them feel increasingly homesick. It’s a judgement call that you will need to make.
You might find it more helpful to give social media a wide berth, focusing instead on your surroundings.
16. Be at one with nature
When I am feeling down, going back to nature is my instant endorphin booster.
This could be the birdsong and dappled light of a woodland glade. Or listening to the waves crashing onto the shore whilst mainlining a lungful of salty air.
Getting back to nature is instant therapy and, all of a sudden, the world makes sense again.
17. Get physical
Exercise is another tried and tested endorphin booster, and you can’t beat a run for blowing away those cobwebs of depression and self-doubt.
I am a keen(ish) runner but exercise doesn’t mean that you have to pound the pavements. Go for a swim, a brisk walk or have your own disco in your hotel room.
You’ll soon start to feel better about yourself and the world around you.
18. Nurture your spiritual self
Most likely a hangover from my Catholic upbringing, but sitting in a church for a few minutes leaves me feeling much more centred. It’s a combination of being in a familiar space, wherever I am in the world, and the opportunity to take time out.
But you don’t necessarily need to be in a sacred setting to nurture your spiritual self. Just take five minutes in the quiet of your hotel room, or that woodland glen or beach, to meditate or practice mindfulness.
If you are not familiar with meditation/mindfulness techniques, there are hundreds of free apps out there to guide you. The best of the bunch is Headspace.
Many people derive comfort and inspiration from the wise words of others. If that’s you, here are the best life journey quotes for you to dip into.
19. Eat chocolate
Seriously. I have used chocolate as a prop on many solo travel adventures, from when I started off as a Kibbutz volunteer in Israel to the most recent trip to Japan.
You don’t have to scoff a whole bar. Just allowing a few squares to melt gently in your mouth will give you that instant endorphin hit.
20. Diarise your feelings
If you are someone who keeps a personal or travel journal, include how you are feeling in that day’s account and what steps you took to make yourself feel better. I have found this to be enormously helpful.
21. Stay with a local
Staying with local people, though a homestay or Airbnb, can be a way of experiencing a destination away from many of the tourist trappings. As well as gaining insight into how people live in other parts of the world, having this company helps to stave off the loneliness of travelling alone.
On a memorable trip to Lebanon, I was lucky to have a wonderful homestay with Mirna in her Beirut apartment. As well as generously sharing information on life in her home city, she was excellent company.
22. Keep reminding yourself that solo travel is your choice
When loneliness bites, remember that solo travel is your choice
And whilst you wanted to do this, and no travel experience is plain sailing. You should expect to be tested along the way and, after all, isn’t that character building?
You have taken the plunge to travel alone and you’ll never forgive yourself if you cave in at the first bump along the road.
23. Keep telling yourself that you are awesome
You are in a very special minority.
It’s not everyone who is able to embrace solo travel. But you have. You have left the familiar surroundings of home and transplanted yourself in a foreign place. And, what’s more, you have done this all by yourself.
If this doesn’t deserve giving yourself a pat on the back, I don’t know what does.
24. Embrace me time
Being alone isn’t necessarily something negative, and how you approach time alone can be a matter of perspective
If you are like me, solo travel can be therapeutic, giving you much-needed time and head-space to process thoughts and feelings and to plan for the future.
25. Accept that loneliness when travelling alone is a temporary state of mind
Last, but by no means least, accept that your current state of mind is not going to persist throughout your trip. Trust me, it won’t.
It’s a blip on your solo travel landscape. You will get through it and be all the stronger for it.
What doesn’t kill you makes you strongerFriedrich Neitzsche
Overcoming solo travel loneliness: final thoughts
However, the loneliest I ever felt in many years of travelling was on a two-week trip around Central America with an unsuitable companion. For much of the time, I felt utterly miserable.
It just goes to show that you don’t have to be travelling alone to feel lonely.
The most important message to take away from this article is that solo travel loneliness is completely normal. Fear of the travel blues should not prevent you from reaping all the rewards that travelling alone can bring.
So don’t just dream about flying solo to your bucket-list destination. Take the plunge and book that flight. Even if loneliness strikes – and it most likely will – you will be able to overcome it.