Behind all the cheerful Instagram travel selfies and meticulously-crafted travel vlogs, there is an issue that no one talks about. It’s something almost everyone who’s ever travelled the world alone has experienced, to some extent.
It is the proverbial elephant in the room, or as I like to call it, the turd on the carpet. We all side-step this mess, as if we are oblivious to its existence, just so we never have to clean it up. What am I talking about? Loneliness, of course.
- Travelling With The Best Intentions
- Solo Travel: Setting Yourself Up for Success
- Loneliness Insurance: Your Current Support Network
- The Importance Of Deep, Meaningful Connection
- 4 Ways To Beat Loneliness and Feel Connected
- Being Alone Is OK
Travelling With The Best Intentions
No one sets off to travel the world thinking they will succumb to the depths of loneliness. Experiencing diverse cultures and distant countries will automatically mean more opportunities to connect with new people, right? I’m not saying this isn’t true, but you can still feel lonely in the midst of a crowd. Whether you fall prey to loneliness while travelling depends on what kind of person you are and how you structure your support network.
Travelling the world is a lifelong dream for many people. No more work, no more commitments. Just complete freedom to do exactly what you want with your day. Despite the rosy pictures painted by the travel blogs and vlogs, what you don’t often hear about are the isolating factors: money worries, lack of meaningful human connections and the stress of starting over every time you travel to a new destination.
I’m not trying to put you off travelling. It’s truly one of the best things you can do to gain new perspectives on life, while also developing more love and compassion for your fellow humans. As with all things in life, there’s a yin and yang to the travelling lifestyle. It presents its own unique set of challenges balanced by incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Solo Travel: Setting Yourself Up for Success
Travelling alone and having to figure everything out yourself is usually a fun adventure, as long as you have a plan for what to do if things go wrong, and they will. There will be times when you take the wrong train and end up in the middle of nowhere, with no 4G signal, surrounded by people who don’t speak a word of English. You just have to deal with it. Getting frustrated or angry will never help your situation, but a good translation guide can be invaluable.
If you’re hopping around from country-to-country every few days, you’re likely going to be backpacking and staying in hostels. This kind of lifestyle presents more opportunities to connect with other travellers on similar journeys, as you share close living quarters. Although you may not form lasting friendships with these fellow travellers, you can certainly stave off the loneliness of the road by swapping stories of your adventures and bonding over meals.
This post is geared toward the digital nomads out there who work online and spend more time in the countries they visit. These travellers are especially prone to loneliness, because the desire to find people to connect and hang out with, will start to intensify the longer you stay in one place.
Once you spend a few days in a new country and have settled into your temporary home, you start to develop a sense of familiarity with your surroundings. If you’re like me, you prefer to spend more than just a few days in any one location. This gives you more time to settle in and discover amazing local food places, find the best secluded beaches and start to make new friends.
Loneliness Insurance: Your Current Support Network
When you work online and travel the world, there are certain parts of your day where you simply have to be on your own. Concentrating on work is pretty difficult when other people are trying to grab your attention. I enjoy spending a good chunk of my day on my own. I focus on the things I need or like to do, such as meditation, guitar practice, working on my business and learning new things through audiobooks and courses. But there comes a point in my day when I would really love to talk to someone.
Although it’s easy to call your family or friends back home for a nice, long chat to catch up on all the cool things you’ve been doing on your travels, nothing beats a real, face-to-face conversation. For most of us, heading out into the street or sitting down in a restaurant and striking up a conversation with a complete stranger is completely out of our comfort zone. This is why it’s easier to stay in your temporary home and chat with friends online. Paradoxically, this actually creates a deeper sense of loneliness and isolation.
If your current support network is based online, you’ll tend to avoid those uncomfortable situations where you could meet interesting local people, and default to the convenience, and safety, of Facebook, Skype and other online chat media. I’ve fallen victim to this myself at times, but I’ve been able to develop a handful of ways to snap out of this funk and find awesome people to connect with, no matter where I travel.
The Importance Of Deep, Meaningful Connection
Humans are inherently social creatures. We thrive off the deep and meaningful personal connections in our lives. I absolutely prefer to have two or three friends with whom I can share everything, talking about all the weird and wonderful things that happen in my life, than to have a massive social circle of twenty or thirty people. With too many people in your life, you end up spreading yourself too thin. As a result, you only develop shallow relationships which don’t benefit anyone.
The challenge I’ve had on my travels is finding the right kind of people to build deep, meaningful relationships with. You know, the ones that you can chat with for hours and never get bored. The type of people who will support you in everything that you do and inspire you with their own stories and life experiences. The ones you feel a deep soul-connection with, who energize you instead of draining you. These are the kinds of connections you want to cultivate in your life to feel more alive and loved.
I’ve also come to realize that I’m not going to meet these kinds of people every day, and that’s ok. When I finally connect with someone with whom I can build a deep relationship, all those meals for one and solo trips to the beaches were totally worth it.
Not everyone you meet is going to share your same values and outlook on life. Sometimes this can be a great gift, helping you see things from a completely new perspective. I’m grateful for every person I have met on my travels because they have all taught me something about myself and how I relate to others. Nor will every new person you meet become a fixture in your life. But the people with whom I develop deeper relationships are the ones I want to keep around for the long term.
4 Ways To Beat Loneliness and Feel Connected
1.Put Down Your Phone and Go for a Walk
Much as we would like to think social media helps us stay connected with the world, more often than not it actually creates a sense of isolation. A recent study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine concluded that, “frequent exposure to highly distilled, unrealistic portrayals on social media may give people the impression that others are living happier, more connected lives, and this may make users feel more socially isolated in comparison.”
So, put your phone down and go take a walk. Smile and say hello to strangers in the street. Just the act of moving your body, acknowledging other people, and smiling will change your physiological and emotional state. You’ll start to feel happier and more connected to the people around you. There’s always the chance that just a simple smile could make someone’s day, and it might even be the spark for spontaneous conversation!
2.Write a Gratitude List
A creeping sense of loneliness, or dissatisfaction with your life, can result when you become disconnected from your heart and get caught up in dreams of the future or worries about your past. You start over-thinking things that haven’t even happened yet, or replaying past events in your mind, and forget to be grateful for all the good that is in your life right now.
Consciously choose to shift into a state of gratitude. Write down all the things you’re grateful for in your life, no matter how big or small. This could be the coffee you had in the morning, your family, even the clothes you’re wearing. Whatever comes to mind first, write it down. When your list is complete, close your eyes, place your attention on your heart-space and internally express love and gratitude for all the things you listed.
After this simple exercise, you should feel a deeper sense of peace and happiness as you realize how much you have to be grateful for in your life, just as it is. You will understand that you don’t need to change anything outside of yourself in order to have a fulfilling, connected life.
3.Look for Groups that Align with Your Interests and Values
Wherever you find yourself in the world, there will always be people who share your interests. I’m grateful to be involved in the sport of paragliding, and in almost every country I visit, I’m greeted by a friendly community of pilots all wanting to help me have a good time.
To find like-minded communities you could search through the plethora of Facebook groups and events on sites like meetup.com to find people who share your interests. Then make a commitment and get involved. Drop all expectation and just show up at a group meeting.
It’s impossible to predict what will happen or the kinds of people you’ll meet. It’s likely that your brain will play a worst-case-scenario movie in your mind trying to convince you not to participate. But remember, a little fear is healthy, and it’s a good indication you are stretching your comfort zone and growing as a person.
4.Call a Friend or Family Member
This is always my go-to loneliness remedy when I’m not feeling so good about myself. A fun, relaxing chat to catch up with one of your friends, parents or siblings is a great way to feel more whole and connected. You know these people really well and you can just be yourself and share all the epic adventures you’ve been on and hear what’s been happening back home.
If you want to take this a step further, try reconnecting with an old friend. You’ll be surprised just how fun this can be. A lot can change in someone’s life after several years, or perhaps decades, without contact. I always love sending out a couple of messages to old friends to see if they’re open to reconnecting. You might even be inspired by stories they share and the journey they have been on, and this could be the trigger to bring that person back into your life.
Being Alone Is OK
Ultimately, loneliness surfaces because you want to feel some kind of meaningful connection. I’d argue that this stems from a lack of connection with ourselves. This is really something that you can work on: getting comfortable being alone.
I’m not saying not to go out and meet new people. Indeed, this is something I highly recommend. But instead of constantly looking to your external environment for the sense of connection you desire, focus on developing a deeper connection with yourself. Be grateful for everything in your life and love yourself for who you are at this very moment.
When you fail to accept yourself and your life as it is, right now, you fail to see the truth. This then creates a desire for something that you think you don’t have, in this case, connection. But the feeling of connection is available to us every moment of every day. We just need to remember we are perfect, whole and complete just the way we are.