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I like to think I've reached a point in my life where I can discern between alone-ness and loneliness, but the lines sometimes blur.
It can be especially hard as I travel now in my 30s. In my 20s, sleeping in an uncomfortable hostel bed with drunk people stumbling in at 4 AM didn't bother me. It was part of the experience, and it was a price I paid to have people right there to team up with and tackle sightseeing with. Now, I prefer to have my own room. I prefer quiet in the evenings. I'm more particular as a traveler.
This isn't a post bashing hostels. There are plenty of great ones out there, and it is probably the easiest way to guarantee you connect with people while traveling. But aside from this obvious piece of advice, how else can you cope with loneliness while solo traveling?
Battle the inner demons.
Meeting people really isn't the issue with solo travel. You know about group tours, hostels, Meetups and Facebook friends (and friends of friends).
It's the internal struggle of seeing besties in destinations where you're the outsider, or of seeing two strangers in your hostel room become inseparable while you're left out. Here's how to deal with what's going on in your head.
1. Remember why you took the trip.
Did you hop on a plane and go halfway across the world to make a new BFF? More than likely, you just really wanted to hike Machu Picchu or see the cherry blossoms in Japan. So sit down for fifteen minutes and list out what your goals were for this trip, and keep in mind that making friends is merely an added bonus.
2. Keep in touch with friends and family back home.
Make time to call or text your significant other, your friends, your parents, your siblings. Don't do it too often if you fear you'll make yourself homesick, but do it enough that you're reminded how amazing you are for taking a journey on your own. If you're feeling particularly down about yourself, ask for a pep talk. Yes! If it will really make you feel better, there is no shame in saying, "Listen, Dad, I am feeling kind of lonely on the road and would love if you could give me an emotional boost here." No shame.
3. Say yes, say yes, say yes.
I am an extrovert and don't battle with social anxiety, so I can't relate to how difficult that must be while traveling solo. But! I do know sometimes I just want to sit back at my Airbnb or hotel room and chill. Sometimes I do, but if I've received an invite to do something—even if it's something I'm not dying to do—I will say yes. Say yes more than you say no.
4. Do things you love while traveling.
Travel uproots your life, even if your trip is short. It shakes up your routine, which is great, but it can also be disorienting. If you're feeling down, turn to something that brings you joy. Watercolor painting, singing, dancing, walking through the park, yoga. Do them in a group setting or simply do them on your own. They're the things that will make you feel fulfilled.
5. Put the phone away.
While I go nowhere without my phone and am thankful to have one, phones sort of suck us into this other universe. We're still here, we can still be seen, but we are way less attentive to everything around us. It's also such an easy crutch to grab at when you're alone. Go out and try anything else other than pulling out your phone, just for an hour—read a book at the bar, write in a journal, people watch. Calming your mind and being observant of what's around you will make you feel more connected to the world.
And if all else fails, embrace it.
Alone-ness and loneliness are scary. But sometimes it's just the time to feel them both.
Remember there's nothing wrong with you as a solo traveler or someone who's feeling a little lonely. It's just the current situation, and it will pass soon enough. And everyone feels this way at some point (really).
So wallow, if you must. Just not for long. Set a time limit to feel bad about it and then once that timer is up, get out, go say yes to something new, go introduce to yourself to a group of people at the bar, go sign up for a yoga class even if you don't speak the language. You truly are amazing for embarking a trip on your own, and there are so many things to discover in this world, so go out and find them.