Let's start this off by saying that I'm by no means an expert on solotraveling, at least not yet. However, as I've been posting pics while traveling by myself, mostly on Instagram (you can find pics of recent travels but I cleaned up my gallery so it will only show pics of 2016), I've had people messaging or asking me in person if I had any tips for them, because they wanted to start solotraveling but still had some things they'd worry about.
I'd like to address the single most important question I get in this blogpost and share the things I've learned through the trips I did by myself. Please let me know in the comments (here, or on my Facebookpage) if there are other questions you'd like me to answer.
How to make sure I won't feel lonely?
First of all I'd like to point out that one of the most important things we have to realize in life is that being 'alone' does not equal 'being lonely'. You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely, and you can be on your own and feel perfectly at ease and happy. I've faced situations in my life where I felt more lonely trying to connect to someone (or to a group of people) I failed to connect with than when I was on my own. Anyone who's experienced the final stages of an ending relationship, be it a friendship or an intimate relationship, surely is able to relate to this feeling as well. Everyone's probably had moments in their life where they met people who were so completely and fundamentally different from them in mindset, way of life or principles that they wished to escape from the situation as quickly as possible. The confrontation with the lack of connection is harder than just being on your own.
This being said, there is no denying the fact that when you go somewhere you don't know anyone yet, the reality is that you will have to make some effort to meet people to have great connections with, while staying in your familiar circle of people is a guaranteed way to at least have some connections, a lot of them being great as well. If you belong to the group of people that worry about the loneliness question, you presumably like being around people, as I do. The tips I can give you are all very practical.
First of all, if you, like me, enjoy being alone sometimes, make sure that you always have the POSSIBILITY to be around people when you feel like it. This has a few implications.
One: stay in a place where there are other people. When you stay in an AirBnb all by yourself and there's no one around, chances are much bigger that you will get lonely, especially during 'lost moments' that make for perfect occasions to meet new people when staying in a hostel (waiting to check in on arrival, making your bed, unpacking stuff from your bag, cooking dinner, relaxing when you come back from an activity, doing your laundry, maybe smoking a cigarette if you're a smoker, getting ready to go out, taking a look outside from the balcony, getting ready for bed,...). When you stay in a quiet private accomodation all by yourself, these moments are actually 'lost' moments. When you are in a hostel it is for example in the kitchen, trying to find out how the stove works, that you meet new, fun people whom in many cases you can have amazing connections with. You certainly won't be in the mood to have conversations with new people ALL the time when traveling for a long time, and neither will they, but in general, most solo travelers and hostel guests are friendly and sociable people.
The second implication is: if for whatever reason (whether you couldn't get a bed in a hostel anymore, or whether you just want to be in a private room for a few days) you decide to stay in an AirBnb/hotel room/rented apartment/... by yourself: make sure that you have planned activities where you won't be alone. If you are already limited in possibilities to meet people by your choice of accomodation and you are worried about feeling lonely, you should definitely not roam around by yourself all the time.
I stayed in an AirBnb in Cagliari, Sardinia last summer because I was too late to book a bed in a hostel, and I had a little mental breakdown one day because I had no prospect of meeting anyone as I was going to stay in that same AirBnb for the next days, and I had been alone for the first few days, not signing up for anything because I thought I'd enjoy actually being on my own. Boy was I wrong. I got myself together after that and like I always do when I feel bad, I asked myself what I learned from this situation (since I believe there are no bad moments in life, only good moments and moments that teach you something). What I learned is that I am not, as I thought before, a person who essentially prefers to be alone. And the practical lesson was that I should book ahead next time so I could stay in a hostel. I signed up for a guided day trip the next day and I went to a couchsurfing event that luckily took place that same night, and everything was alright again. I met some people on a terrace during the CS event and had a great night, and the next night I met up again with two of these people, interesting and fun girls who were working in Cagliari that summer as an intern and an au pair. This is only one short experience I had with loneliness while solotraveling, and luckily it's the only one I've had so far, but I learned a lot from it and I will never forget the girls I met there either.
So, my practical anti-loneliness tips for you are:
- Stay in a hostel or at someone's home with Couchsurfing. I will talk about my Couchsurfing (CS) experiences in another blogpost.
- Book ahead at least part of your accomodation (for safety reasons I recommend you to always book the first place you will stay at, especially when you visit a country for the first time and especially when arriving at night, but this is something for another blogpost)
- Sign up for group activities. Even just one. This doesn't mean you have to indulge in pub crawls and crazy boat parties if that is not your thing. There are many different kinds of activities to be found.
- Stay in touch with people you love that are still at home. You have to find out for yourself what works best for you. Some people prefer not to be in touch too much, and some people could even feel lonelier when they do. It's important to learn how to mentally stand on your own two feet and learn how to handle problems by yourself. Nothing has given me more confidence in my life than traveling by myself. The moment when you arrive in a city you have never been to and you have to find your way alone, is one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced, and succeeding in all kinds of little challenges you face when traveling alone is incredibly satifying and rewarding. You will gain so much strength and confidence in yourself and your capacities. You learn how to rely on yourself but also to be brave enough to talk to others and ask them for help or information, and in my experience they are very happy to help you since people feel more comfortable talking to one person than to a group, especially when speaking another language. You have to find the balance between staying in touch with loved ones and taking care of yourself.
Other ways to solotravel that are great to meet people are things like Workaway where you can do all kinds of volunteer work all over the world in exchange for food and shelter, Wwoofing where you learn how to work on different kinds of organic farms around the world (usually they ask you to stay at least a few weeks because they have to invest time in teaching you certain skills), aupair work where you stay with a family you choose and take care of the kids which is usually also for a month or more, and many other organizations that offer an experience abroad in exchange for your engagement and help for some kind of project. Besides the fact that you meet other people when you do things like this, it is also a way to travel on a budget since you don't have to pay for accomodation and/or food (generally speaking), but more important: you have the chance to really experience a certain place, more intensely than when you just go there playing tourist. You experience the local culture, the way of life, you can learn the language (even if it's just a little), you can make friends, you are able to create a bound with the family or people you stay with, and you simply get to know the place you live at in a different way because you actually LIVE there.
As you can see this post would become far too lengthy should I also address other questions than the one about loneliness, so I will surely write other posts about solotraveling in the future, especially since I will graduate next year and I plan to leave the country after that.
I'd like to end this post by saying that you inevitably will feel lonely at times when you travel alone for a longer period of time, especially when facing challenges and when it seems like nothing is going right and you wished you had someone by your side whom you could share your frustration with, but by following these tips you can at least reduce these moments to a bare minimum. There are no bad moments in life, only good moments and moments that teach you something, and traveling alone owes its beauty not only to the great connections and experiences you have when you visit a place by yourself, but also and particularly to all the stuff you learn and could only have learned this way.
Have you traveled alone before ? If you have some tips to share as well, please feel free to post them in the comments!
Stay tuned for the next How to start solotraveling post!
Lots of love,