The holiday season can be a solo traveler’s nightmare.
I think you can figure it out why. Everyone thinks of holidays and special occasions as days to be spent with family and friends. Not alone.
Well who made up that dumb rule?
You’re alone and want to enjoy your single, solo life like it’s daily business, but the holidays won’t let you escape its stronghold. You must have loved ones and a warm hearth to take you in. Stores and movie houses close with the few exceptions of grocery marts. Folks drive or fly home to spend time with their family and everyone else, either celebrates in restaurants, bars or at friends’ parties. The city streets are quiet. You are left alone with your fun-loving self, the punishment of silence and a closed door with a sign reading:
” Sorry, we’re closed today due to Christmas/ New Year’s/ Thanksgiving… “
Yup, holidays are be the roughest time of the year for solo travelers.
This past Christmas, high on holiday desserts, I posted an Instagram photo on Facebook. It was from my Christmas buffet with my family. But as soon as I posted it, I thought about my fellow solo travelers, expats and those, who didn’t or couldn’t spend their holidays with anyone. I could very well be in their shoes at this time of year and there were moments when I certainly was… alone for the holidays.
Everyone perceives solo travel as lonely, when it’s actually not. But during holidays and birthdays, soloists can feel the pinch. What kind of consolation could I possibly extend to solo travelers, who might be experiencing loneliness over the holidays? What tips could I offer on how to escape holiday loneliness for solo travelers? I’ll share five ways which have been effective for me.
Five ways to escape holiday loneliness as a solo traveler:
#1. Experience the holidays where you’re at
If you’re navigating a foreign country over the holidays, then this is your chance to celebrate the holidays as you’ve never known it. Jump into the local festivities and celebrations or simply sit and observe the customs and rituals performed. Remember that not all holidays are celebrated as a national holidays, nor are they celebrated in the same manner or fervor as where you’re from. Some holidays like Christmas, actually loses its importance in countries of contradicting religious beliefs, which makes it a perfect way to ditch the holiday and continue your sightseeing plans (as landmarks won’t be closed).
Thailand, Morocco, Maldives, the Bahamas and Turkey are countries that don’t celebrate Christmas and much of Asia, celebrates Chinese New Year in February as the real New Year.
#2. Smile, say “Hello” and Talk to a Stranger
Nothing will drive loneliness from you faster than when you’re finding a way to make another person feel better. Whether adding humor to a stranger’s day, offering a sincere compliment (such as “You have beautiful earrings“) or even flashing a grin, you’ll feel miraculously better knowing you’ve nudged a stranger one step closer to being a friend.
Being a solo traveler, you can’t always change your solo status, but by focusing on others (versus dwelling in self-pity), you can help yourself feel less alone. Everyone needs a human connection to feel loved and valued. By creating it, you’ve filled one of your most basic needs and warded off feelings of isolation.
Note: Additionally, making eye contact is very important too. Did you know that the worst thing you can do to panhandlers and beggars is to not look at them when they speak to you? Feeling and being treated like you don’t exist leads to the worst type of loneliness there is. If eyes are the window to the soul, then sharing eye contact with others is to recognize their existence.
Sometimes, we just need to see a familiar face. When we do, there’s no distance too long or more affordable than Skype. Skyping is one of the most inexpensive ways to place a long-distance phone call or video chat. Just load $10 on your account and you’re good to go for hours and hours… and hours… if not days. When I lived Korea and traveled to India, I’d Skype my family or call their the home phone from a free WiFi signal at a cafe and my iPod Touch or laptop. If you’ve neither devices, then hit the nearest internet cafe.
#4. Celebrate yourself: Plan to be extraordinary
So you’re not going to hit the party circuit during New Year’s Eve and won’t have friends to celebrate your birthday with. That’s the perfect motivation to be even more extraordinary and unique. Dig deep into your creative brainstorming and unleash the bucket list. Think of something you really want to do to celebrate you and the fact that you are the party! Spend a night at a temple, treat yourself to an amusement park…
My 40th birthday promised to be a potentially deflating one. I was in Thailand, alone and had no clue what I wanted to do. I cringed at the thought of updating my Facebook status with: “Ringing in my 40th birthday by being drab in Thailand. ” That wouldn’t do. I remembered friends in passing, mention how many folks went to Thailand to get scuba diving certified for cheap. And that became my extraordinary adventure. Anyone can get drunk at a bar. I celebrated my birthday by getting diving certified.
#5. Make a friend
For those who really need to spend the holidays with a companion, I’ll say this… make a friend. It’s not as hard as it seems. Start chatting with a person (ideally, another solo traveler) and if they seem cool to you, give them an open-ended invitation to join you for dinner or in your day’s itinerary.
It may seem forward and if you’re inviting someone of the opposite sex, it might be taken the wrong way. But the more often you practice solo travel, you learn to come out of your shell to talk to others. It gets easier to strike up conversations with strangers, be direct about your needs and to make fast friends with a “no strings attached” sense. Tip: Hostels and guesthouses are great places to meet people because it’s a social area and occasionally, you meet people, who are looking to make friends to do things with.