You’re about to embark on a trip and you have everything you need—except for a travel companion. Don’t fret! Not only has solo traveling become much more common, but it is also incredibly rewarding with many benefits. You don’t need to consult anyone to do or see what you want to, you get to make your own agenda, and you don’t have to answer to anyone. The downside is that it can be incredibly lonely at times, bringing on unexpected homesickness that is enough to make you want to jump off the nearest tourist attraction.
While bouts of loneliness are usually inevitable for solo travelers – whether they are traveling for business or pleasure – here are 12 things you can do to minimize the solo travel blues and enjoy your trip to its full potential. And just remember that years later when you reminisce, the highs always outshine the lows.
Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to reach out to your loved ones wherever you may be in the world. Most Internet cafes around the world are equipped with headphones so that you can talk via Skype. If not, you can email, chat online, send postcards or even get a local cell phone. The important thing is to communicate back home with someone who can help you through your homesickness and not only sympathize with you, but encourage you to keep going. Often simply expressing how you feel to a friend or family member, either verbal or written, is enough to get through the negative feelings, especially if they give you some motivation to keep going.
When contacting home, you’ll want to exercise some caution. If you get too wrapped up in life back home, it could contribute to further homesickness and distract you from your current surroundings. Internet cafes can also be a waste of time when used in excess. After all, you’re traveling to experience new cultures and see different sights, not surf the web.
Comfort yourself with the familiar
Your senses are powerful at conjuring up nostalgia, which produces good feelings. There are many things you can do to comfort yourself with familiarity: watch a movie in English, listen to your favorite music, read a good book, seek out your favorite foods, look at old photographs, or inhale a familiar scent. By inducing nostalgia, you can overshadow negative feelings with positive ones.
This can require some pre-trip planning, such as ensuring that your computer is loaded with music and movies, printing a few pictures of the people most important to you, and even bringing small items like scented candles or your favorite candy to indulge in when you are feeling especially down. Music is a powerful force, and an uplifting playlist on your iPod can work wonders. If you find yourself far away without any creature comforts from back home, seek out food or treats that you enjoy, find an English book at a hostel exchange or email a friend for some digital pictures.
While it’s good to embrace the familiar when you are feeling down, don’t make it such a habit that you never end up trying new things such as local cuisine, foreign films, or books that broaden your horizons.
>> Read about 9 things travelers miss when not on the road
Write and reflect
Grab a pen and paper and start writing! Make a list of twenty things you’re grateful for. Write it out again. Read it. Feel it. You can also journal your feelings, blog about your experiences, or send out a mass email with your trip highlights to reinforce the great times you’ve had. Writing is a powerful tool to help you overcome negative feelings.
Reflection is also a great way to combat the blues. Think about how you are changing and growing as a person. Comprise a list of your best trip memories to date and focus on each one of them, relishing in the good times you’ve had. You can also make a list of all the reasons you wanted to travel in the first place, which will serve as a good reminder that even though it’s tough at times, you’re doing what you wanted to do.
When writing and reflecting, make sure that you focus more on the positive then the negative. It can be easy to allow yourself to succumb to a “woe is me” mentality when journaling and this will only make you feel worse. Be positive and reinforce to yourself why you are traveling and be grateful for your opportunities.
>> Find out why you should never leave home without a Moleskine
Get out and make the most of it
Sometimes when you’re travel-weary it’s easy to wallow in your loneliness with a book or the TV and hide from the chaos of the culture you happen to be in. This is a perfect opportunity to force yourself to get out there and see the sights that you may be tempted to skip. Experiencing things that most people don’t get to will remind you how invigorating travel really is -even alone.
Set out to find things that interest you, such as local museums, markets, or art. Experience the culture by trying a local dish you would never dare eat at home. Interact with the locals. Wake up really early to see a sunrise or bask in a sunset. Rent a scooter or motorcycle and go exploring on two wheels. In short, get out of your comfort zone and remember that you are traveling to experience new cultures and sights, so do it!
>> Learn how to make the most of your time abroad
Change up your travel situation
Perhaps your current travel situation isn’t working well for you, which in turn could be contributing to homesickness. Try mixing it up by changing your traveling situation. For instance, splurge for a nicer hotel if you’ve been hosteling it. If you’ve shied away from dorm-style hostel rooms, give them a shot. While you don’t get as much privacy, you do get to meet people which helps keep the homesickness at bay.
If you’ve avoided tours, join one. They may be a little touristy for your taste, but you might be surprised at what you learn and who you meet. Or perhaps you’ve been doing too many tours and need to get off the beaten path and explore some things by yourself. Whatever the case, if you change up your travel situation, you might find that it changes your attitude as well.
Make some friends
When you’re in a slump, it’s easy to withdraw, but making friends and connecting with people is one of the best ways to stave off loneliness. Of course, for the shy, making friends is easier said than done.
A great place to start is to introduce yourself to other people staying at your hotel or hostel. When you’re traveling alone, make sure you choose lodgings that rate high in location, fun, and size. This will increase your chances of meeting other travelers. Ask your hostel or hotel if they offer tours and join one. You’ll get to experience something new and meet other people on the tour. Invite some people to join you for dinner or a drink, or make some extra dinner in your hostel kitchen and share it.
If you’re open to a travel companion, find someone you really connect with and ask him or her if they would like to travel for a few days with you. Of course, you must exercise caution when doing this and you need to make sure that you get to know him or her first. It’s also better to stick to your gender and have an exit strategy in the event that traveling together isn’t working. Many people have success with finding travel companions because they automatically have a lot in common just by the sheer fact that they are both travelers.
Make someone’s day
Often the best way to get out of the blues is to turn the focus from your current plight to someone else’s. Search online to see if there are any volunteering opportunities where you happen to be. Interact with the locals. Send postcards home – after all, everyone loves snail mail in an era where mailboxes generally consist of only junk mails and bills! Indulge the children who are staring at you by saying hello. Give your cabbie a generous tip. Buy a language dictionary to learn phrases of the language and practice them on restaurant servers and shopkeepers. Reaching out to others will not only make them feel good- you will feel good as well.
Go for a brisk walk, rent a bicycle, go for a hike, swim, attempt horseback riding, or run if you have a good pair of shoes. Exercise releases endorphins that help combat negative feelings such as loneliness and homesickness. People tend to walk a lot when traveling, but it’s at a low pace. Get your heart rate up and release the feel-good endorphins!
Often when you travel you can also find active things to do that will get your adrenaline going. Inducing adrenaline is a great way to overcome the lonely bouts. There are many activities you can do such as wind surfing or kite surfing, skydiving, bungee jumping, or parasailing, just to name a few. Getting active and facing your fears will make your sadness a fleeting memory that is completely overshadowed with the great experience you just had.
>> Get tips for how to stay fit on the road
Give yourself an out
If you are so distraught by homesickness that the thought of going on for the predetermined period of time seems overwhelming, give yourself an out. Don’t quit right away, but rather commit to giving yourself a smaller amount of time. Then if you still feel the same way, give yourself permission to bail.
For example, you can tell yourself, “I am supposed to travel for two months, and that feels overwhelming. I commit to giving it another three weeks and if I still feel lonely, homesick, and overwhelmed, I will give myself permission to cut my trip short.” It’s like running a marathon – if you have a couple miles left, you can finish, but if you have twenty miles left and you’re already tired, you wonder how you’ll complete it. One step at a time is the only way to do it. Chances are, in three weeks you’ll be feeling better and be thankful you didn’t give up. Sometimes it’s all psychological.
What better way is there to feel good then to spoil yourself? Have a glass of wine, splurge on a decadent dessert, indulge in a massage, buy yourself that dress or gadget you’ve been eyeing, or spend a bit of extra money for a luxury room at a hotel. Pampering yourself helps makes you feel good, and when you need it, it’s okay to indulge!
Of course if you can’t afford to indulge and you do, that might contribute to stress which won’t help your anxiety. If you’re on a tight budget, find the little ways to splurge, such as a glass of wine, a treat, or buying yourself that English book you’ve been wanting. Indulgence does not need to be expensive.
Take a class
Many places around the world offer ways to learn part of the culture. If you’re in France you can take a cooking class. In South America you can take Tango lessons. Many places in Asia offer scuba diving lessons or other water sports like surfing or windsurfing. Most places in the world offer language lessons. By focusing on mastering a new skill, not only will you meet new people and get out, but it will take your mind off your current plight. Plus, the feeling of mastering something new is highly rewarding and will make you feel good.
>> Learn about taking a cooking class on your travels
Sit with it
Sometimes there is nothing you can do to ward off the blues. When this happens, acknowledge it, sit with it, and realize that it’s okay to have a bad day every now and again. We all have bad days in regular life, and a bad day when traveling alone is often magnified. Just remember that “this too shall pass.”
Don’t wallow too long. Pick yourself up by telling yourself that tomorrow will be better and remind yourself that these feelings won’t last forever. Be positive and optimistic. Shake yourself, jump up and down, and give yourself a pep talk.
Sometimes a good night’s sleep and a new day is all you need to get through a rough patch, so when you have a truly horrible day, just go to bed early and sleep it off. Traveling is about the highs and the lows, and without the lows, you don’t fully appreciate the highs.
Even though traveling alone can be difficult at times, it’s highly rewarding. Not only will it increase your self-confidence, but it contributes to massive personal growth. The next time you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by homesickness or loneliness, try some of these tips. By learning how to manage these unwelcome feelings, you can ensure that you will have the best possible time in your journeys, making memories that last a lifetime.