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The Loneliness of the Long-Term Solo Traveler (with apologies to Alan Sillitoe)

7 March 2012 8,147 views 41 Comments
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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.

Berlin, Germany

Another solitary traveler in Berlin, Germany.

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.

cats

My cuties (with one missing) six months ago.

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.

Christinia, Copenhagen

A moment alone by the river near Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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, how do you deal with the occasional bouts of loneliness of long-term travel 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.

musician Nuremberg

A street musician in Nürnberg, Germany.

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?


 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!


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41 Comments »

  • michi said:

    i envy and salute women who can travel solo because i can’t travel alone, i’m really scared kahit sa phil. pa yan. hehe!
    michi recently posted..Iloilo Airport

  • Shawi | CheapTravelForWomen said:

    Aleah! I feel for you.

    Ako nga I wasn’t even in my 2nd week of traveling when I felt lonely and homesick!

    Good thing I was in Germany that time, staying with Filipino friends. You are right, we somehow need to be with something/someone familiar. That’s how I got my mojo back! :)

    Enjoy the rest of your time there.
    Shawi | CheapTravelForWomen recently posted..Jogjakarta During Garebeg Mulud

  • Aleah said:

    @ Michi: It’s not for everybody to be sure :)
    @ Shawi: Thanks! Yeah, it’s easier to find something familiar when you’re traveling in Asia. But when you’re in Europe, it can be very difficult talaga.
    Aleah recently posted..The Loneliness of the Long-Term Solo Traveler (with apologies to Alan Sillitoe)

  • jemma wong said:

    I tried traveling alone in India and felt so lonely! But it’s more of because I didn’t have roaming as well, and was thinking if I die there no one would know! hehe. I learned then that I wasn’t built to travel alone. :p I often wonder how solo travelers survive and if they ever feel lonely. You answered my question.
    It’s fun though, because when one is alone you get to meet more people along the way. :)
    jemma wong recently posted..Gotta Have Some Balls to Play Paintball

  • cutebun said:

    Traveling alone means exploring everything else in my own time so usually I would sit around and take photographs when I’m lonely.
    cutebun recently posted..Cameras I want! Analogue ones!

  • Aleah said:

    @ Jemma Wong: That issue can be taken care of. I usually update my Facebook daily, post my itinerary to my mother, and leave some sort of trail so people will know where to start looking if I vanish hehe
    @ Cutebun: I also do that a lot. It helps, doesn’t it?
    Aleah recently posted..The Loneliness of the Long-Term Solo Traveler (with apologies to Alan Sillitoe)

  • koen said:

    I can imagine loneliness can strike down at times when you’re not prepared for it…but like you said, eventually it will pass again and when you have the chance to socialize with fellow travelers, you’ll realise that this is the life you love to live…

  • Micamyx|Senyorita said:

    I know what you mean, Aleah. I felt that last month during my Thailand-Cambodia trip. I was with friends in Bangkok and Siem Reap then I decided to go to Chiang Mai on my own. The first two days were a bit lonely since I am used to having companions whenever I travel. When I am finally adjusted in the hostel and met new friends on the third day, it all changed. Although it can be lonely at times, I still suggest solo traveling. Time to reflect and know yourself more.
    Micamyx|Senyorita recently posted..Dancing in Khao San Road: I’ve Got the Moves Like Jagger!

  • Alexander said:

    I felt the same way as well on the first day while spending 8 days alone in Hong Kong. The fact that my relationship ended a month prior to the trip didn’t make it any easier.

    On the second day though, I was reminded a quote by Christopher Mccandless: “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun… you are wrong if you think joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us.”

    And the sadness and loneliness that surrounds me disintegrated as my adventure begins. Though some days I still feel the solitude of being alone, but I’ve come to terms with that :)
    Alexander recently posted..On the couch, while watching The Amazing Race (s?)

  • Aleah said:

    @ Koen: That’s so true :)
    @ Mica: I stayed in a hostel in Dresden and yes it’s easy to imagine connecting with other travelers there. How much did you pay for one month accommodation in Chiang Mai? Thinking of doing the same thing some time this year.
    @ Alexander: I also like his other famous line: “Happiness is only real when it’s shared.” Traveling solo after a break-up seems really hard. Glad to know you managed to find your way out of it.
    Aleah recently posted..The Loneliness of the Long-Term Solo Traveler (with apologies to Alan Sillitoe)

  • Vera said:

    I first experienced “travel loneliness” when I was forced to leave the Schengen Zone and go to London, UK by myself for about 3 days. It was my first trip by myself where I didn’t know anyone in the city. But after a few days, I grew accustomed to doing things on my own and focusing on my photography. Some things it is easier, and other things it is not. For one, it is easier to come and go as you please. It also gives you a sense of independence. But it does get lonely, particularly at mealtimes.

    I didn’t know about the couchsurfing site (which I will use most often I am sure in the future). But I have found that the hostel you stay at makes a difference in how many friends you meet. Some will keep in touch, and some won’t. But almost everyone was nice and a mature traveller which in my opinion, makes the difference with “travel loneliness”.

    I LOVE your blog btw. I too am also an avid traveller (and foodie) but personal issues have arisen where I have had to put it on hold for awhile. Keep writing as I will live vicariously through your writing for the six months!

  • Pedro Mochilero said:

    Being on the road for most of the last 13 years, I know a bit about travel loneliness. The good thing is that I found a cure for this that works for me everytime! Ready???… I go to the cinema and watch a movie!
    This is because generally speaking, most cinemas (or movie theatres) around the world are similar. You got your dark room with lots of people you don’t know, tasty popcorn, etc. So I get lost in whatever plot the movie has, then by the end of it, I come out of the cinema thinking “Man, I’m in an entirely new country!” and Voila! Travel lonelyness gone:)!!

    Hope this helps my fellow travellers out there:)

    Peace, Love, Light and Safe Travels,

    Pedro

  • Aleah said:

    @ Vera: Thank you for dropping by my blog. I hope that you can overcome whatever it is that prevents you from traveling. I look forward to seeing you back here in my blog :)
    @ Pedro Mochilero: I love that suggestion! I actually wanted to follow it when I was in Praha last week, but unfortunately when I arrived at the cinema with a Couchsurfing friend, they had run out of tickets :(( Hope to do that soon in another country!
    Aleah recently posted..The Town Musicians of Bremen

  • Christian | Lakad Pilipinas said:

    What I do is I sleep it off. Pagkagising ko, okay na ulit ako hehe :P
    Christian | Lakad Pilipinas recently posted..NORZAGARAY | Pinagrealan Cave

  • estan said:

    i just came from a visit at a site here in Zamboanga Sibugay with the tourist officer. it was only when I got to my hotel room that suddenly, i just felt so lonely, so alone. i felt like crying. i really don’t know why.

  • Aleah said:

    @ Christian: Good for you if it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work for me, esp when the low mood hits when you’re going around.
    @ Estan: Yeah, it happens to the best of us. And we don’t even know sometimes why and when it hits. Don’t worry. It will pass :)
    Aleah recently posted..The Town Musicians of Bremen

  • estan said:

    i instead had dinner and ate halohalo in buko :)

  • Jasmine said:

    I was on a 3 weeks solo trip in Italy over last Christmas and New Year. I definitely felt the loneliness when I arrived in rainy and cold Florence on Christmas Eve! I think it’s inevitable that you feel lonely from time to time. But, I definitely agree with you on connecting with other travellers! I met up with fellow couchsurfers in Venice to usher into the New Year. As I am travelling alone, I have also met several solo travellers at various locations (musuems etc) and hostels/backpackers I have been at. That helps too! :)

    Have fun with your remaining trip! I would love to make it back to Europe for another month this year!

  • Aleah said:

    @ Estan: Okay, eating will work too, esp sweets ;)
    @ Jasmine: I think it would make me more homesick to be traveling during Christmas and New Year. It’s a family tradition for us to come home during the holidays. Would like to be back in Europe too! Hopefully next year again!
    Aleah recently posted..Take a Leap of Faith and Travel Solo!

  • Eric Cabalda said:

    I always travel alone and at some point you will feel lonely, though you dont know why. And sometimes, you wish you were traveling with the one you love and enjoy the moment, watching the scenery enjying the place, the food. Or sometimes, upon arriving at a place, we just miss someone so much…

  • Eddie said:

    Hi! Aleah!

    You are having great time of your life. There is no such thing as solo backpacker for Couchsurfers like us.

    Good luck. I will be tracking your trips.

    Best Regards

    Eddie and Ethel

  • Kareen said:

    Sometimes its frustrating when you travel in solo while the people around you are in group or with partners specially if you’re in a place where you’re a stranger to their eyes. But, I still prefer traveling in solo and just ignore the idea that I’m alone. Anyway, I have my cam and tripod with me to keep me accompany. :)

  • Aleah said:

    @ Eric Cabalda: Yeah, it can really strike out of the blue sometimes! That’s why having strategies to address it can help. It pays to be prepared :)
    @ Kuya Eddie/Tita Ethel: Definitely! That’s why I love CS!
    @ Kareen: True, true. Sometimes just taking pictures can help too. For me, blogging or writing about it does wonders.
    Aleah recently posted..Take a Leap of Faith and Travel Solo!

  • Guest Post: Adventure for One, Please | Solitary Wanderer said:

    [...] the first thing I feared about solo travel was that I would be lonely and bored. Fortunately, it had the exact opposite effect on me. Without constantly checking in with [...]

  • Penny said:

    Aleah!!
    I just started reading your blog now, kill me :) This is so inspiring, and yes I agree that whenever you’re travelling alone, there will come a point where you start getting conscious of people being in groups, and you realized your alone. I have never travelled alone, kaya I’m super bilib with what you did. I feel like I would always look like an outsider or a weird stranger, never blending in with the crowd. Good job girl!

  • Aleah said:

    @ Pen: Thanks for dropping by. I’m very much used to solo travel; can’t imagine traveling in groups now. That’s why I have to find ways to deal with loneliness when it happens :)
    Aleah recently posted..5 Things to Do in Copenhagen, Denmark

  • theaveragejuanderer said:

    Great post!..Maybe that’s one of my fears if I’ll ever travel solo in the future: the fear of loneliness. This somehow inspired me to go on a solo trip….Probably next year =)
    theaveragejuanderer recently posted..The Average Juanderer Update

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  • Michaela said:

    You blogs are amazing ! My friend sent them along to me and I find myself sending them to my friends. I traveled solo for almost a year last year and it was such a good experience. It changed me in a lot of ways but for the better. It also opened my eyes and humbled me.

    I just came across this post & it stood out to me. I have a friend that’s going to be traveling solo for 6 months and he is scared. My advice to him was don’t be afraid to admit to yourself when you aren’t happy & try to change that. It’s ok to feel homesick or lonely. Think of when you live your day to day life at home, not every day you are 100% so how can you expect that when you are on the road?! You deal with it & move on knowing that the feeling isnt permanent. That being said over the course of the year I was away, I only had those moments maybe 3 times. For me, it helped reaching out to travelers or changing my environment or planning something really exciting & fun.

    As you probably agree, traveling is like a meditation. You have to find comfort in places that aren’t necessarily the most comfortable. Stepping out of your comfort zone, seeing what the world has to offer & embracing it for all it’s beauty & differences.

    Reading your blogs make me want to be on the road again. I just moved to a new spot & everyday is an adventure. I will definitely be saving up for another big trip soon though. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Love & light.

  • Aleah said:

    @ The Average Juanderer: Good luck, Gelo :)
    @ Michaela: Thank you so much for your comment. The advice you give your friend is spot on. I hope that he followed your advice and went on his solo trip. I agree that it’s important to step out of our comfort zone; the world is too big for us to stay in one place. Thanks again for your encouragement!
    Aleah recently posted..3 Days in Nha Trang, Vietnam

  • Journeying Pinay said:

    you are right. solo travelers get lonely too. i can so well relate, aleah.
    Journeying Pinay recently posted..Pagudpud Beach: Perfect Place for a Blooming Heart

  • Aleah said:

    @ Journeying Pinay: I know. You’re another solo female traveler that I admire :) See you on the road, Heiz!
    Aleah recently posted..Taking The Plunge in Danao, Bohol

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  • Mike said:

    I’m such a loaner to begin with I’m not sure how I will feel until I travel overseas by myself. I’m glad you found the folks from the Philippines to brighten your mood that day! I know I would miss being with Phoenix terribly and I mention that because of the adorably cute picture of your kids, Aleah :)
    Mike recently posted..Pasta alla Vodka To Spice Up Your Saturday Night Date

  • Aleah said:

    @ Mike: Awww, now I miss them more than ever!
    Aleah recently posted..History Overload at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

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