Have you ever thought of packing your bags and heading home because you couldn’t stand being on your own anymore?
Perhaps you’ve been traveling solo, with no one to talk to, wishing you were eating a delicious meal with friends at a cool restaurant back home.
Maybe you even wondered why you set out to travel in the first place.
If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because you’re dealing with a severe case of the solo travel blues.
Before you start shopping for tickets home, please do me a favor: read through these 35 tips.
If you rush home before you’re ready, you may forever wonder what you missed.
When I traveled across Africa for a year, loneliness hit me on several occasions.
One evening I almost did head home. There I was, stuck in a northern Ugandan village, with little hope of finding a seat on any of the overcrowded buses. I was tired of seedy hotel rooms and unfamiliar food and dirty from the dust of summer.
I was feeling sorry for myself.
As soon as that realization hit, I decided to change things around – or I would indeed find myself back home and my dream of crossing Africa overland would crumble like Saharan sand.
As I waited interminably for a bus, I pulled out my notebook and began listing ways to meet people and feel less lonely.
This is partly the result of that list.
IS SOLO TRAVEL LONELY? THE SOLO TRAVELER’S GUIDE TO DEALING WITH LONELINESS
The best way to avoid suffering from loneliness while traveling is to plan ahead for it: accept it will strike at some point, and sharpen your coping skills.
I’ve tried all of these tactics myself at different times and they do work – or I wouldn’t have made it across Africa, across Asia, and a chunk of the rest of the world on my own.
1. The first thing to do is the most obvious
You’d be surprised how often ‘getting out there and meeting people is the last thing you think of when you’re feeling blue.
It’s also often the hardest.
If you’re in a hostel, you can find other solo travelers and ask if they’d like to hang out for a few hours – or post a note on the board (most hostels have one).
If you’re not staying in a hostel, keep reading. You’ll find at least ten tips you can use wherever you’re staying.
I can’t say I enjoy walking up to strangers and striking up a conversation. But… if you’re looking at another traveler, a simple “Where are you from?” will easily spark a dialogue. (That said, it’s the one question I always hope no one will ask me!)
2. Shake up those grey cells
Learning something requires concentration and helps push away loneliness – we only have so much room in our heads and can’t hang on to everything.
Classes are wonderful places to meet like-minded people.
Most cities have a one-day cooking class – drop by the tourist office and find out. When you share food with people, you get to know them quickly.
Or drop by a handicraft store if they’re making anything on the premises and ask how they do it. I’ve learned a lot about carpet-weaving and glass-blowing this way.
When you’re talking to people about what they do, you don’t have much time to reflect on how you’re feeling.
3. Sometimes you have to act like a snail
I love slow travel, lingering in a specific town or neighborhood long after other travelers have moved on.
Rather than flit through and skim the surface, putting down a few roots will reveal facets of a place you might not otherwise see.
You can meet local people – the local grocer and baker, your neighbors, the lady selling candy on the street corner, the old man who reads a paper on the same bench each morning…
On a recent trip to Istanbul, I stayed in Sariyer, a suburb so distant people shook their heads when I told them where I was staying.
After a week of snacking at the same börek stand, I began to feel at home – I was even called by my name and asked if I was having “the usual”.
4. At other times, be a hare!
This is the opposite tack because sometimes staying put and going slow is the worst thing you can do.
If you feel a need to shake off the cobwebs and do something different, move on to your next destination. Change cities or countries, or maybe try a different hotel or hostel.
A change of scenery is often a great antidote to getting yourself out of a rut.
5. How being boring can put you right back on track
Establish a routine: do the same thing, the same way, at the same time each day.
It doesn’t have to be a major routine. In my case it’s the order in which I do things every morning: get up, find a coffee, shower, write, find breakfast, plan the rest of the day.
This won’t help me meet people but it will help center me a bit and make me feel in charge of my life again, at least for today.
6. It’s the little things that keep you all warm and fuzzy
Following on from #5, loneliness can strike just because everything around you is strange, hence the benefits of a routine.
That’s why I usually travel with a few familiar items: one is a folding tryptic of family photographs, and the other is a tiny bronze religious statuette my mother inherited from my grandmother.
These two little things always sleep next to me. They spell familiarity and connect me to my loved ones.
7. Get lost. Really.
Open a map. Look confused. This is a bit of a desperate gambit and more of a metaphor for talking to someone, but the briefest of human contacts can break the back of those nasty blues.
Of course, you can ask for directions (not to your hotel, for safety reasons) to a major attraction but there’s a hitch: you might be accompanied there in person because people are often nice that way. I was once walked through Istanbul by a kind gentleman wanting to practice his English…
You could also ask a simple question. Or give someone a compliment.
“Where did you get that fabulous bag?!” If nothing else, you’ll get a smile and an answer, and a bit of human interaction.
8. It’s time to party
Outdoor happenings are magnets for people and taking part in a group event can make you forget you’re on your own. A festive environment is perhaps the best way to meet new people when you’re traveling alone.
No one is with any ‘one’ specific person when there’s a crowd so if these don’t intimidate you, jump right in and take part in the fun. You’ll be too busy dodging tomatoes or singing at the top of your lungs to remember why you went there in the first place.
9. Follow instructions and trust your guidebook
Isn’t that what everyone else is doing?
If you follow your guidebook’s suggestions, you’re bound to meet other people who travel alone. I know you want to meet locals, but wait till you’re in a better frame of mind.
“What do you think of this guidebook? Where are you traveling? What’s the best food you’ve eaten here so far?” Any of these can generate an answer, the first step towards the conversation.
10. Stay with someone (yes, even if you don’t know anyone)
Whether it’s through a homestay, Couchsurfing or Airbnb, I stay with people whenever I can. In Borneo, I stayed with a local family and experienced life differently than I would have from a hotel room.
Locals who welcome foreigners are usually proud of their home and keen on sharing their special knowledge and part of their culture. Staying with a family is a fabulous way to meet people around the world and learn about how they live.
11. Take a leap into creativity
You don’t have to be an author to put your thoughts down on paper.
I’ve found that by writing things down, I pull them out of my head and hand them over to my journal – and that action frees me. You can keep a travel journal, write a poem or a song, take a picture or sketch what you’re feeling if that’s where your talent lies.
The mere act of articulating your feelings through words or images will often be enough to get rid of that sticky anxiety.
12. Remember how wonderful you are and treat yourself accordingly
Think manicure, massage, sauna… whatever makes your body feel great because your state of mind will follow.
In many countries, these little luxuries are inexpensive and easy to find so go on, spend an hour pampering yourself and I promise you’ll be floating well beyond the end of your session.
13. Pretend you’re a millionnaire (or just go where they hang out)
If you’ve been roughing it and stretching your budget, you might be ready for a smidge of luxury, even if it’s only for one night.
A powerful steaming hot shower, clean fluffy towels, and a giant bed with a fat mattress would do it for me. In Africa, once a month, I would check into a luxury hotel, usually on a Saturday night to enjoy the next day’s Sunday brunch.
You’ll leave feeling special and renewed (as long as you don’t dwell on the bill). You may not make new friends but you’ll feel a lot better!
14. What’s the difference between an expat and a tourist?
Foreigners living abroad – ex-pats – often get together and do fun local things.
In Geneva, I know a group that meets at a restaurant once a week to practice French. Some don’t speak it well at all but it’s all good fun.
I often scan ex-pat forums and discussion boards before traveling somewhere, and post my questions there – ex-pats are notoriously well-informed.
Some great networks you can tap into include InterNations, Angloinfo, Expat Women, or the forums at Expat Blog. Couchsurfing is also a great way to connect with people (not only to find accommodations but it also hosts plenty of events in cities around the world).
15. Go totally tourist
That’s right, go where tourists hang out, even for an hour or two.
A good example is Khao San Road in Bangkok, which is stuffed with eateries and bars that cater exclusively to foreigners – hang around for a few minutes and you’ll definitely meet other travelers. Or to any popular tourist site.
Who knows, you might even run into someone you know. I have!
16. Your soulmate may be looking for you, too
No, I’m not talking about love.
I’m merely suggesting you go to a museum or a gallery… if you go see things you like, you’ll probably run into people who like them too.
We’re not talking about starting a relationship, just sharing a moment or two of complicity while admiring a painting or sculpture.
At the Louvre recently I sat next to a woman who was sketching a statue with such talent I had to speak to her. We chatted amiably for a bit and the rest of my visit flew by.
17. Where are all the women?
Go where women gather. Go to the marketplace or to the wash house or river bend.
Just being foreign can arouse curiosity so make sure you bring your phrasebook.
Take pictures of the women (after they agree, of course). Show them pictures of your own family – especially children (yours, nieces, nephews…). Show them a postcard of where you live.
That warmth and curiosity will do a lot to dispel that feeling of being alone in the world.
And be forewarned: they’ll probably want to keep that postcard.
18. Follow your stomach
Matching people up with one another for dinner is all the rage, and eating out with a small group of people you don’t know is a nice way to make friends.
It’s called social dining and it’s a great way to spend an evening around food and companionship if you’re in town on your own. A good host or hostess will make sure you’re part of the conversation. Or take a food tour and you’ll meet like-minded people.
19. That little wifi logo can be your friend
Too shy to walk up to someone you don’t know but still want to meet people?
Post your whereabouts on Facebook or Twitter and ask if other travelers are around (but be sensible about what you post – there are security issues to think about!)
Or put up a note on some of the better travel forums – most of them have a ‘travel companions’ section and you might find someone else in town.
New apps are coming out every day to connect you with other travelers: I haven’t tried them but you could (and let me know if they’re any good!)… like Backpckr, Vibely, and Tripapp, to name the first few entries I found on Google.
20. Home, Sweet Home
Email, Skype, call home – there’s no shame in reaching out when you’re homesick.
For years on the road, I called my mother once a month, like clockwork. In those pre-Internet days, even a long-distance call could be complicated. Finding an international payphone in Burma or China in the 1990s was not an easy task.
These days getting in touch is simple. Just don’t spend all your time calling home – you’re supposed to be traveling, right?
21. No, no Internet, please!
That’s right. For some people, calling home is the worst cure for loneliness. Seeing everyone’s face and hearing your dog’s bark might be that tipping point that puts you on the flight home.
So try the opposite.
Stay away from social media. Look around you, find something to enjoy, and throw yourself into your surroundings. Observe. Take in every sound, sight, and smell. I’m always surprised at how much I discover this way.
22. Start planning a trip
You’re already on a trip? Of course, you are.
But nothing stops you from researching the next one.
You’ll be amazed at how planning something will occupy you: a few minutes of active strategizing and you’ll instantly be focused on your next discovery, not your present mood.
Plan a day trip for tomorrow. Plan your next city stop. Plan to do something unexpected!
23. Let the planet woo you, charm and entice you
When I feel truly down, nature is my go-to cheerleader.
A lush forest will help. So will a spectacular sunset under swaying palms, the crashing of waves against a cliff, the smell of spring alpine flowers, the cries of the wildlife.
Getting back to nature can center you, help you find yourself, and lead you out of the dumps. It’s hard to be miserable when surrounded by astounding beauty.
24. Follow the red umbrella
I’m not in love with large organized tours but sometimes, being with other travelers in a slightly structured environment is all it takes to attract some of that human warmth.
Keep it small: you can feel as lonely in a large group as on your own. A compact, convivial group can make the difference.
My choice? A city walking tour. Many of them are free, and many of them are small. And friendly.
25. So why are you here, again?
When the blues hit, remember why you’re here.
You wanted this, right? You didn’t really expect it to always be perfect, right?
You needed to get away, to test yourself, to explore, to delight and to discover, to meet people and to learn about other cultures, didn’t you?
Whatever the reason, you took a huge leap of faith – so please, don’t crumble at the first sight of trouble. Remember what brought you here.
26. Let’s get physical
Yes, endorphins. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Go swimming or jogging, skip rope in your room or play music on your iPod and dance yourself silly.
Break a sweat and you may be halfway to feeling good about yourself and the world.
27. Or let’s get spiritual
If you won’t or can’t do something physical, how about bringing your spirit into play?
It will be at least as good as swinging your arms around.
Take a few minutes to meditate and calm down. Empty your mind and get a sense of what’s around you.
I have a little app for that… Headspace. Ten minutes and you’ll be fresh and free to have fun again.
28. Let’s get pushy
Time to push those boundaries a little, jiggle those goalposts a bit.
Do something you wouldn’t usually do.
If your first reaction to something is “I couldn’t do that!”, ask yourself why not? If it’s not actually dangerous… why not give it a try?
That strength and confidence may be what you need to whip you back into travel mode.
29. Help is around the corner
No matter how miserable you feel, you can always find someone worse off.
Start with other travelers.
Has someone lost a family member? Broken up with a partner? They could use some cheering up.
No one at hand? Find a local charity (look for something online). Walk-in and say hello. Ask if you can help for an hour or two.
I did this in Brazil and ended up writing a grant proposal, not exactly what I had in mind. But I did forget all about my loneliness.
The simple act of talking about others’ problems will help you move away from your own.
30. I thought I’d slip this one in
I don’t know what it is about chocolate but it instantly makes me feel better, physically and mentally.
Not much, just a few squares. Really – it’s medically proven!
That big bar might provide more joy than even I could handle, but a nibble will definitely make my day.
So go on, have a piece. Whatever the outcome, at least you’ll have eaten chocolate.
31. Pretend you’re home for an hour or two
When you travel you tend to do unfamiliar things. Isn’t that why you’re traveling in the first place?
All that newness can be overwhelming, so take a break from it.
Revert to what you know.
Do you enjoy cooking? Head for the hostel kitchen to whip up your best dish. You’ll be the queen of the party in no time.
Is watching movies your favorite addiction? Find a local cinema and spend the afternoon enjoying recent releases. Or jump on Netflix. When I lived for a few months in Pretoria, I spent an entire week seeing a new film each day (we didn’t have Netflix then!) The familiarity of a modern cinema felt comforting and comfortable and somehow snapped me back from my lonely travels.
32. There’s no time like ‘me’ time
Life is busy and it’s not often we have time on our own, away from others and from the everyday assault of information.
Try to capture that feeling, because it’s temporary.
All too soon you’ll be back with the crowds and that exquisite solitude will be a faint memory.
33. Brush your teeth
And then smile. Keeping a relaxed and open attitude will attract the same.
Have you noticed what happens when you smile at someone? They often smile back. It might not erase the loneliness but it’ll light up your moment. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
34. Find a travel companion for a while
If you really really really don’t want to be alone anymore, it might be time for you to seek out one or two travel companions – other travelers who may be feeling just like you.
You’re not doing anything bad by teaming up with another traveler. Enjoy the company and make new friends.
Perhaps all you need is a short break from solo travel. That happens too.
35. And if everything else fails…
Have a good cry. Let it all out. Howl and hug yourself. Tears have a calming effect and you will feel better afterward.
And remember – this too is part of solo travel. And this too will pass.
Back in northeastern Uganda, a driver eventually took pity on me and a seat was finally found on a bus.
I arrived at my destination and ate a fabulous Mexican meal (yes, Mexican!) and life quickly righted itself. Things fell into place and I looked forward to tomorrow, to forests and trekking and mountain gorillas.
How quickly things change…
When you wake up tomorrow morning, you could be exploding with excitement at the day ahead. Think of your upcoming food discoveries. Your wildlife experiences. Your incredible meetings with history.
Isn’t that why you’re here?
Accept it: loneliness will happen. You can give in and wallow in it or you can embrace it and make it yours, walking right through it and out the other side.
It’s temporary. Shake it by the throat and it will go away.
— Originally published on 31 July 2011