8 Ways to Deal with Loneliness on the Road

“I get so lonely … I get so lonely, I could die.”

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These Elvis Presley lyrics have been running around my head a few times while I’ve been traveling, but not because “my baby left me”. It just seems to be the refrain that gets stuck in my head when I’ve been away from home for a while, haven’t made any great friends, maybe I’ve missed my mother’s birthday or a friend’s wedding, and I simply feel lonely.

Traveling solo brings the greatest risk of loneliness, although you might feel cut off from society even if you’re traveling with a partner or friend. Usually the benefits of being out there traveling nearly always outweigh any loneliness you feel, but why be lonely when you can follow some of these ideas to get over it?

Lonely Solo Traveler

Tip 1: Phone Home

It’s much easier for you to make contact with your loved ones than it was for E.T. to phone home. There aren’t many places left on the world without cell phone and internet access (I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but that’s the way it is). Even if you’re in a country where a call back home is pricey, spend a few dollars to make contact and cheer yourself up. It’ll make the rest of your day or week all the better.

But don’t just ring Mom and sob. Call a friend or family member who’ll be excited to hear about all your latest adventures and half way through the call you’ll remember exactly why you’re on the road and not at home.

Tip 2: Find Another Lonely Soul

If you’re the outgoing, gregarious type you probably won’t feel lonely too often on a trip. But if you usually stick to yourself a bit more, then now is the time to go beyond that comfort zone and make friends with some other travelers. Deliberately choose a large dorm room or go to a well-known backpackers’ bar so you can maximize your chances of finding like-minded traveling buddies to chat and hang out with. Don’t be afraid to mention you’re going through a bit of a lonely patch: all travelers know what that means.

Tip 3: Get Busy Enough to Forget

Plan a couple of all-out sightseeing days. Sometimes it’s just having a lot of time to yourself that gives you that lonely feeling, so try packing a day or two completely full with sightseeing and other events. When you’re constantly busy searching for the right train station and finding the next museum, you won’t have time to think about loneliness. By the time you stop and draw breath again, the feeling might well have passed.

Reading Alone

Tip 4: Upbeat Indulgences

Spoil yourself. Splurge on your favorite drink, snack or chocolate bar. Get a great book — preferably a funny one — and load up cheerful music on your playlist. Do all those great things you can only do because you’re alone and away from work and household chores, and just enjoy it.

My personal secret splurge is to go to an English-language bookshop (where possible!) and buy a book that’s been on my wishlist for ages, then read it in a comfortable place all in one sitting. Having the chance to do that is worth being a bit lonely at first.

Tip 5: Challenge Yourself

Distracting yourself with an intriguing goal is another good cure for loneliness on long-term travel. My example comes from a longer stay in Bratislava, Slovakia, when I was at a loss for what to do during the hours each day when I didn’t have English classes to teach. I decided it would be interesting to ride each of the tram lines from end to end so I could really get a vision of the whole city. I ticked off tram line after tram line in my notebook and found it all cheap, time-consuming — in a good way — and surprisingly fascinating.

Your challenge might be physical, you might want to collect things, or you could want to photograph a hundred differently-shaped windows. Be as creative or crazy as you like and have fun.

Tip 6: Beware of Seasonal Loneliness

If it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving, your birthday or some other time of year that’s special for you, then you shouldn’t be surprised if a bout of loneliness hits. These are the times when you’re used to being surrounded by family or friends. And this is the kind of loneliness that will definitely pass. Accept it and just keep going.

Tip 7: Get Philosophical and Feel the Freedom

I remember a particularly lonely trip on a bus in Croatia after some time on the Dalmatian coast with friends. A traffic delay meant I missed the train I’d planned to connect with in Zagreb, so I ended up in the Zagreb bus station in the middle of the night, alone and quite lonely.

But then I walked across to the ticket desk and looked up at the departures board. I didn’t have any commitments barring being back in Germany a week or so later. Suddenly the world opened up and loneliness didn’t matter at all. I was independent, free and completely able to choose any destination at my own will. At the counter I paid for a bus ride to Vienna and the euphoria of total freedom completely dissolved the loneliness.

Tip 8: Go Home

I can’t overlook the fact that some lonely travelers might just have been on the road too long. Perhaps there is a point where you have to decide that the loneliness that naturally arises from a transient lifestyle has been going on long enough. Weigh up the pros and cons and if you’re sure you’re ready, don’t be afraid to change your flights and head back to reality. Despite what a lot of people say, this doesn’t have to be your only chance in life to visit a particular place. You really can always go back another time.

  1. Loneliness while traveling really depends on the societies in given countries and how interactive they are. If it’s a “warm culture” you’ll never be lonely.

    A trip I took to Greece about 10 years ago was amazing – I met so many people without batting an eyelash. One thing which helped was to frequent a seaside restaurant not far from where I was staying. A waiter named Stratos became my buddy and treated me like family in the end, wouldn’t even let me pay for my meal!

    Conversely, I’ve lived in Hungary for a total of about 13 years and while I love it this is a very closed society – people here would never just strike up a conversation on the street and if I do the reaction of the locals is often a quizzical stare or fear of something. Much of Central Europe seems to be the same way.

  2. That’s a good point, Drew. Here in the States – particularly in the northeast – we’re very much an insular people. I wrote an entire post about it actually. If you tried to approach and chat up a total stranger, they’d probably call the cops!

  3. I agree with you both. My example would be in south-west Germany, where there are lovely people but it takes a long, long time to get to know them; but in Australia you can meet people and make friends just by standing next to them in a supermarket queue. I can’t imagine traveling in Australia and feeling lonely for too long, really.

  4. Just leaving the northeastern U.S. for Ireland was culture shock, at least from the perspective of social interaction.

    It’s almost impossible to be alone and not meet people there.

  5. Some really good advice Amanda. I love the challenge yourself idea – riding the trams sounds fascinating. I’ve been traveling and living abroad solo for the last 3 years and it’s been an eye opening experience – and a lonely one at times. Keeping busy works for me. Just being out exploring and being surrounded by other people (even if they aren’t from my culture)makes me feel better. Also – I take ANY chance to meet up with people I can. When a friend of a friend of a friend says that they have a friend that travels to Vietnam for work…then I go meet them. It’s a nice connection to home and a fun night out even if they are strangers! I get to show off Saigon and talk at a normal speed and vocabulary level for a while – heaven!

  6. Hostels are a GREAT place to alleviate loneliness, especially if you are traveling solo. I have met some amazing people just by walking into a hostel’s common room or bar area. A lot of hostels regularly have social activities, too, which means the loneliness you feel only lasts until then.

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