Combating Loneliness While Traveling

Sometimes traveling can make you feel lonelier than this cat in La Recoleta Cemetery. It doesn’t have to be this way!

You know the drill: Your friend starts her whirlwind backpacking trip through Southeast Asia, and your Instagram and Twitter feeds are now saturated with pictures and anecdotes about mesmerizing places you wish you could be right now, too. 

Social media is the 21st Century equivalent of rose-colored glasses, and despite a slight rise in “How I’m Screwing Up” blog posts, the travel industry still prides itself on advertising flawless travel experiences in idyllic scenes. These (outwardly) perfect trips shouldn’t be tainted by discussing less-than-stellar events and experiences, right?

So wrong.

Here’s a post about something that is close and warm to my heart right now: loneliness. Whether moving to a new city with minimal contacts or striking out to travel through Patagonia alone, there comes a time during everyone’s foray into independence that loneliness will strike. Here are some tips on how you can combat it.

Wynwood Walls
Taking a break from the Miami heat to pose with some murals. Miami can be a tough city to travel alone! | Miami, Florida

 

Remember loneliness doesn’t mean you’re not failing.

 

This step is consistently the hardest for me, and it’s my go-to self-doubt mantra. I automatically proclaim failure at a drop of a hat, even if, on the surface, I’m killing the game. This is also a difficult step because it needs to be tackled first. Our attitude has a profound impact on how we see the word, and defaulting to self-criticism has never improved a situation.

Take a breath and reevaluate. Recently, I’ve started to try and remove myself from the situation and look at my circumstances with objectivity. Sometimes loneliness can be exacerbated by these feelings of underperformance — the idea that we’re supposed to be socially thriving creatures every moment, every day. This is impractical, so try and imagine the advice you would give to a friend who came to you with the same problem. Would you tell her she was a failure? Would you say he should just pack up and go home?

Probably not. Be mindful not to say it to yourself.  

 

Argentina Mural
Street mural accurately depicts the support I wish I had on some rough days when I was studying in Argentina | Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

Understand why you’re lonely.

 

95% of the time, I’m feeling lonely because I think I should be “doing better.” I compare myself to others. I think of everyone out there who is living their best life while I’m here watching The Great British Bake Off — just so I can hear an encouraging word and pretend it’s for me.

Loneliness makes it difficult to stop comparing yourself to others, but the only way to stop is to stop. Nobody can do it for you, and it takes a full mindshift. When I’m on the road, that usually means I stay off social media for a few days. I do this so I can reevaluate my success and happiness on my own terms. It’s impossible to have the same complete social circle you had at your old job or in your college town. The transient nature of traveling and moving makes it impossible to accumulate friends at the same rate you did when you were in one place for several years. Recognize this, and think of the perks of living in your new environment. Celebrate your new life.

 

Colombia Door
Nothing crushed (and built!) my spirit like my solo trip to Cartagena. And I really identified with this dog | Cartagena, Colombia

 

See opportunities, not obstacles.

 

When you’re backpacking, fresh, interesting people are quite literally filtering in and out of your life every day. And when you’ve moved to a new city, you’ve got an untouched playground on which you can make new connections. It’s hard, but viewing these new situations as opportunities instead of obstacles can be a game-changer when it comes to combating loneliness.

To recalibrate, I recommend starting a gratitude journal. I wasn’t into this idea at first. I already considered myself to be a grateful person, so writing down the little things I appreciated felt unnecessary. But I was really, really wrong. Negative thoughts assault us all the time, and before you know it, we’ve internalized this way of thinking and have become “glass half empty” people. It’s easy to adopt this line of thinking, and the gratitude journal helps to undo this learned behavior. Now, I start each morning by writing down five things I’m thankful for. This tiny action makes me more perceptive of the pessimistic thoughts I have throughout the day. And when I can identify these thoughts, I can change them.

Cartagena Public Art
Really wished I could have joined this group of friends, but after some work, I found my own | Cartagena, Colombia

 

Search for experiences, not for friends.

 

This might seem counter-intuitive, but it really is a game-changer. Too often, I went to events that only tangentially interested me because I was told they were good places to make friends or prime locales for finding a boyfriend. And you know what I got from those events? Disappointment, dejection, and a lot of loneliness.

People attract the qualities they exhibit. At some point, everyone has to venture into their new environment and try to live. And if you want to make friends, you’ve got to be in places where other people go. That doesn’t mean, however, you should go to places or events that disinterest you. Even if they promise a big crowd and networking opportunities. I do my best work when I go into a situation with no expectations, and a hyped up event that promises I’ll find my best friend or my future husband that doesn’t deliver will just leave me bitter and lonely. So, I’ve found it’s worth the extra effort to find activities that truly interest me because like-minded individuals will be there, too. When I’m doing something I’m enthusiastic about, I’m more likely to give off a vibe that makes others want to get to know me, too.

 

For me, the only way to feel less lonely while traveling is to recalibrate my mental state. Sure, there will inevitably come a time when I miss my friends and family back home. However, reevaluating my current mood and perspective helps to alleviate some of this added stress. By learning to reconnect with myself, I find that I’m more equipped to combat my loneliness.

 

Have your own tips for combating loneliness? Drop me a line, or comment below!

(Header Image: La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina) 

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