Is Solo Travel Lonely?
If you follow me on YouTube, then you probably saw these video tips when when I posted it. If not, then keep reading…
As I’ve said before, solo travel is not lonely nor doesn’t have to be.
However, there’s going to be times when loneliness on the road feels unavoidable. Loneliness can occur due to many reasons- from feeling unfamiliar with a culture, isolated from social activity, … maybe, you’re dipping into self-pity for being on your own or you’re just too shy to meet people.
Keep in mind, wherever you go, if you see people, then you’re not alone. Loneliness is a choice. There are always opportunities to make friends.
How to make friends when you travel alone? (Part I)
Understand the myth of solo travel
There are obvious challenges to solo travel but the true challenges are never what folks think of. There’s a tendency for people to assume that loneliness happens to solo travelers more than couple or group travelers. This is a popular, but very incorrect assumption.
Loneliness in groups or with companions brings in too many complex dynamics that can’t be solved on your own. In fact, I’ve experienced worse bouts of loneliness when I was traveling with others! Feeling left out or excluded (from fun, friendship or love) can hit you hard, when you’re not getting along with your travel partners and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you’re in a threesome, someone’s bound to get left out… let’s hope its not you. If you’re in a relationship and your partner just doesn’t understand your needs and is continually giving their attention to others … that’s not a fun trip to be on either.
Solo travelers don’t have to worry about others; just themselves.
Avoid self pity
The biggest hurdle for solo travelers is self-pity. Yup. Kind of weak, right? The part where it looks like everyone else is having fun… while you’re alone, doing everything on your own and it’s largely mental.
Once self-pity steps in, it can crush you if you let it. It often means you’re spending too much time thinking in your head vs doing. I find that’s moreso the time, to pump up the jam and prove your own life can be just as much of adventure.
In my two part video series, I offer tips to the grand question that most wannabe and ongoing soloists can often ask.
Staying at hostels
Okay, perhaps the photo I chose doesn’t seem appetizing if you’re into luxury accommodations. It’s a photo of a guesthouse I stayed at in Mumbai and it advertised a slightly more elegant and cleaner room on its website. It turned out to be a dorm accommodations in someone’s apartment. It taught me that with some countries, you don’t always know what you’ll get in hotels or guesthouses until you arrive, but when you’re sharing the room with other travelers, you feel safe even amidst shady surroundings.
Many travelers who prefer staying at hotels for luxury and comfort. Unfortunately are very isolating. The people that tend to stay at hotels are business people, couples and families. Most of the time, they have an itinerary and want to do their own thing. The reason I know this is cause I used to stay at a lot of them for work and I’ve yet to feel like mingling socially when I’m in them. I’ve had friends who have met people at hotel bars though, so there’s some hope.
Staying at hostels on the other hand, are very handy as social places. Travelers who stay there generally want to meet and mingle with other travelers. That’s the point of a hostel (and it’s cheaper!). People there tend to be more open-minded and flexible and yes, many are on a budget of some sort, so there’s good reason to bond and share stories and tips. These types of travelers are more willing to share activities and transportation costs. Social activity here tends to be very non-committal and folks tend to understand when you don’t want to join them in activities or dinner. Everyone’s first priority tends to be fulfilling their daily itinerary of adventure and experiences.
Look for and do things with fellow solo travelers
I always look for the solo traveler. Solo travelers tend to be more approachable and can often be the easiest person to approach and meet. Often they’re looking for friends and companions to do things with too.
I met Chiaki (below) whilst backpacking solo in India. She was another solo female traveler, a vegetarian traveler (yay!) and we met at a yoga ashram in India. After getting to know each other a bit in the ashram, we decided to travel together to Kanyakumari and then Madurai. Not only did I have a companion for part of my India trip but it helped me keep my travel budget and downsized my travel stress as we were two heads figuring out how to get around India by bus.
Here’s my interview with her about solo travel in India
Look for other solo travelers
Be open, smile and ask questions
My mother always says I should smile if I want to meet people. Well, I discovered she was actually right.
When you’re a traveler, being approachable and approaching others will open doors to your social life, so smile and look friendly! Questions are practical and non-threatening ways of opening up conversation in a useful way. It’s also a great ice-breaker that can lead into invitations to join others!
Tip: A good example is to observe children. They’re innocent, curious and they speak what they think. They don’t have reservations but act upon their curiosity. Be a child.
Nepal was one of the first countries (next to India) that I was a first time solo traveler in. Being on my own, I was a little uncertain and timid. I met Nepali children on a country bus and they adopted me (not vice versa). They asked me curious questions, talked to me and when we got to the temple we were visiting, grabbed my hand and took me on their own tour. The photo below is taken by one of them, whom I taught to use me DSLR.
how to make friends when you travel alone
Take a group tour or activity
Group tours are fantastic places to make friends and meet other travelers. Also, if you have a great English – speaking guide will enhance your awareness of the culture, giving you more insight about locals. While taking tours won’t always guarantee you’ll meet companions to do things with, it is a place where you can converse with others and share a bonding experience.
Tip: Participate in a retreat, where you could meet more travel friends. Although there are many travelers in India, traveling it alone for three months occasionally brought bouts of loneliness. But what helped it were long-term activities such as study yoga at an ashram or take a yoga teacher’s program (I got to live in Dharamsala for a month and make friends over a longer course of time).
One should always be safe and cautious about who they make friends or trust. Read or watch my solo travel safety tips. While I use most of these tips I’m sharing, I never divulge important information or let my guard down completely. I also use my independence to detach from people or situations, when they don’t feel right.