The Loneliness of the Long-Term Solo Traveler (with apologies to Alan Sillitoe)
Do solo travelers ever feel lonely? Definitely, yes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or in denial. Yes, it can be lonely on the road, especially for those who travel by themselves for a long time. I’m not a long-term traveler (yet). I’ve been on the road for over a month, and I’m only backpacking for 70 days in Europe. However, as a solo traveler, I do know about loneliness.
Since February, I’ve been to cities in Belgium, Denmark, and Germany. I was fine in Belgium and Denmark, and in the first few cities I visited in Germany, since I had a lot of friends there. It was only when I reached Berlin, however, that it struck me how totally alone I was. All the people I had seen there were either in groups, or with their partners or families, and seeing them only emphasized my solitary status. It dampened my desire to go around; everything for me had begun to look the same—there were the same people, the same buildings, the same cobbled streets. This is Europe, yes, and I had seen it all before.
Berlin was very beautiful, but all I could think of then was how warm it was in the Philippines and how I would like to be home, to see and kiss my cats and talk to my family again. I had also considered flying back to Belgium to see my friends, for me to recharge my batteries before I push through with the rest of my Eurotrip.
At that moment, I desperately needed to see something or someone dear and familiar.
And lo and behold, while I was leaving a restaurant near Checkpoint Charlie, I overheard a family talking in the next table—they were speaking Filipino! I looked at them and they indeed looked Pinoy. I wanted to rush to them, say hi, and thanks for breaking my low mood, but I restrained myself. It was more than enough that I heard them; I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me, but they did me a huge favor of grounding me, of making me feel at home even for just a very brief moment.
In a flash, I felt the wonder of traveling again.
Yes, loneliness sucks. Thankfully, that was the only time I had felt it. By the time I arrived in Prague, the mood had gone and I was fully in the moment of appreciating everything around me. And it was about time too! Czech Republic had always been very special to me. I was 10 when I had my first foreign penpal, a girl called Natalia Sintalova who was living in what was then Czechoslovakia. I got her name and address from a family friend in Vienna, and we kept writing each other until we lost contact ten years later.
So when you’re traveling solo for some time, how do you deal with the occasional bouts of loneliness that will inevitably strike? Aside from that chance encounter, there’s one strategy that I actively use: I connect with other travelers.
If you’re a member of Couchsurfing, you can join a group in the city where you are and find out if there are events you can attend. Last night, I went to a pub meet-up in Žižkov, Prague, and had the best time talking to other members from England, Germany, Portugal, United States, Spain, and Sweden. I managed to practice my (very rusty) Spanish, exchanged views on psychology with a female pro basketball player from Germany, arranged a meet-up the next day with the American, and laughed at the (oftentimes corny) jokes of the English guys.
Most of us were travelers, and somehow, that eased the feeling of solitude a lot. I am not alone out here. There’s a community of like-minded people who are also on the road, not only because they want to see other places, but also because they can’t imagine doing anything else. These are my kind of people, and I’m always glad to meet them, no matter how brief our encounters are.
I’m halfway done with my 70-day solo backpacking in Europe, and although now I neither look forward to nor dread going home, I’m at peace with myself. The loneliness may or may not come again, but when it does, I will welcome it and feel it, knowing that it, too, shall pass.
How about you? Have you ever felt lonely on the road, and what did you do to deal with it?
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!