How Solo Travellers Can Transform Loneliness Into A Gift

by | May 30, 2022 | 6 comments

Elderly woman travels to Barcelona

Last updated on August 8th, 2022

Featured image: Solo travel is extremely liberating, but it can get lonely. Here’s how to manage your loneliness / Photo by lucigerma on Envato

How women can harness loneliness when you travel

By Sue Janzen, Contributor, Travel Over 50

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over, announcing your place in the family of things”
– Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

I love solo travel for many reasons. My itinerary is my own, I pivot as I wish, and I move at my own pace. I like the challenge and satisfaction of planning a trip and navigating it without help. I also love travelling on my own because it allows me to sink into my thoughts and discover parts of myself I’d forgotten about or didn’t know existed. 

But solo travel also comes with loneliness. I’ve ached with that pain many times. I’ve felt it to a degree on nearly every trip I’ve taken alone and, one time, found myself wandering around Barcelona weeping because of it. In hindsight, it seems a bit silly – a little over-dramatic – but at the time it felt very real. 

I’ve lived by myself for many years and often travel alone, and I’ve learned some important lessons about loneliness. Most importantly, I’ve learned that it’s a temporary state of mind that has little to do with being alone. You can be lonely by yourself, but you can also be lonely in a community, in a committed relationship and in a crowd. I’ve also learned that, when I find a way to harness loneliness, it can be a beautiful gift.

How to harness loneliness

Plan for it

Like most solo travellers, I can find it hard to eat alone in the evening. I also find that spending too much time alone with my thoughts can trigger deep feelings of loneliness. I’ve talked to other members of the JourneyWoman community and some said that they felt lonely when they’d had a great day and wanted to share it with someone. Others said they were lonely when they got sick on a trip and had to manage it by themselves. 

It’s okay to want to avoid loneliness. Because I know that it is almost guaranteed when I travel by myself, I’ve found it’s easier to manage because I know to expect it.

Here are some tips on how you can avoid feeling lonely:

Comic by Nick Galifianakis via The Washington Post

Line drawing of woman standing alone

Solo Travel Secrets: She Deals With Loneliness on the Road

First time or fiftieth, solo travellers can face loneliness. Evelyn Hannon and the JW community share stories on coping with loneliness on the road.

Read More

Use loneliness to your benefit  

Travelling with family and friends, or in a group, is very different than travelling on your own. When I travel with others, I get caught up in conversations and often (happily) go along with someone else’s agenda. I’ve had very good experiences with others but find there’s a down side: I am generally less perceptive of my surroundings and I find that it’s harder to meet new people.

Ducks swim in a pond in Lisbon, Portugal

Sue discovered light and shadows in Lisbon

When I’m alone and spurred on by loneliness, I have wonderful conversations with strangers – both other travellers and people who live locally – that I wouldn’t have had if I was travelling with others. I’ve made new friends, too!

I’ve also noticed that loneliness enhances my creativity. My writing is better, and my photos are often more interesting because I’m more observant. In fact, when I’m stuck in my head with loneliness and negative thoughts, I go for a photo walk. I give myself a theme – a specific shape or colour, maybe shadows or reflections – and I wander around taking photos that fit the theme. Not only does it pull me out of my head, I also see things I normally wouldn’t notice.

Learn from loneliness

Solo travel pushes us out of our comfort zone. It challenges us to find new ways of doing things, causes us to rethink assumptions and stimulates personal growth. If you feel the pain of loneliness, first consider whether you might feel better after a healthy meal or a good sleep. Be aware of your alcohol intake, too, as it can affect your mood. 

If you are still struggling, try to zoom in on your thoughts. Can you learn something from feeling lonely? Maybe you are giving in to ways of thinking that need to be challenged. Read more about cognitive distortion – thought patterns that are often inaccurate and usually negative. 

Consider using your loneliness to challenge your thoughts and assumptions about yourself. Turn your solo travel into an opportunity for personal growth. It will not only lead to a more fulfilling travel experience, but your life will become richer.

It’s okay to try to avoid loneliness through careful planning but try leaning into it too. When you travel solo you are likely to meet new people but, more importantly, you’ll meet yourself. You may find that feeling lonely as a solo traveller becomes a beautiful gift!

Loneliness on the Road
Looking for more?

Download 25 Tips to Deal with Loneliness on the Road

A collection of tips from the JourneyWoman community to help you deal with loneliness while traveling.

FIND IT HERE

Start Planning Your Trip

Get started with resources recommended by the JourneyWoman community

Book Your Flights

Use tools like Expedia or Google Flights to look up the best flight prices. Being flexible with dates can save you even more money.

Find Somewhere to Stay

Find a hotel on Expedia and earn points towards free stays. Hotels.com offers a free night stay for every 10 nights booked.

Looking for an apartment or something more long-term? Check out VRBO.

Insure Your Trip

Travel insurance is more important than ever. Compare plans and policies for the best coverage for your trip using Insure My Trip.

Traveling for an extended amount of time? SafetyWing offers ongoing coverage on a month-to-month basis, and World Nomads offers coverage for extended trips.

Looking for a Tour?

Head to the Women’s Travel Directory to find a woman-friendly tour around the world.

Travel Extras

Why not brush up on a new language before your trip with Babbel.

Don’t forget your JourneyWoman branded accessories while you’re on the go!

Learn More on Traveling Solo

Sue lives in downtown Toronto and works in government communications. Her first solo trip was a week in Paris in 2011. It was uncomfortable and disorienting but ignited a passion for travel. She is drawn to off-the-beaten-track experiences, loves planning almost as much as the trip itself, and looks forward to many years of wandering after she retires.

6 Comments

  1. Barbara

    Very very good article. My husband died 18 months ago. We were so looking forward to travel and retirement. I am trying to get up the courage to travel to the UK or Europe – alone. I know I just need to plan and go. I went to Florida for three weeks by myself and met the three most wonderful women there. I would not have enjoyed their company had I been travelling with a group. Since Rob died I have become so aware of how our society is geared towards couples. I waited at an almost empty Perkins restaurant for almost 1/2 an hour for a table for one. When I asked if could please be seated at a table the hostess said “oh, aren’t you waiting for someone to join you?” Nope. Just me. I will definitely read the resources you mention. The article has encouraged me to just plan that trip.

    Reply
    • Danièle Heinen

      This is when you have to be assertive. I would have immediately let the staff know I was alone and ascertain how long I have to wait, certainly not wait that long before talking to the hostess, especially in a casual restaurant like that. I refuse to be by the kitchen door. In fact I often make for the bar and strike conversations with the staff. That usually makes me skip the line and I do that regularly too in my home city.

      Reply
    • CHANDA M HEARD

      Barbara, I’m sorry for your loss. I know how painful it can be to lose someone close to you. 3 years ago I lost both of my parents unexpectedly within 6 weeks of each other. I was 45 at the time. I lived in deep grief and loneliness for a year before I decided to go enjoy this life while I have time left, so even though it was the height of the pandemic, I took off on a 4000 mile long road trip up the East Coast by myself. I went from Alabama, over to Charleston SC, all the way up to Maine, back over to Niagara Falls and back home. I met many great people. If I felt like talking to someone, I would start up a conversation. If not, I’d just enjoy the beauty of my surroundings, take a deep breath, and appreciate being out there. I felt like I was honoring my parents this way, by not letting grief stop me, but instead embracing the freedom of living my best life. I’m sure your husband would tell you to get out there and live for the both of you, to do the things he wasn’t able to get to do. It’s how I showed my parents I loved them and that I was going to be all they had raised me to be. Good luck in your travels. I pray you find joy and peace as you go!

      Reply
  2. Suzanne

    I’ve gone to Biltmore Estate twice alone. I entered a restaurant on the grounds recd impeccable service. The Chef provided a very nice pen as a Thankyou. Another restaurant on the Estate did not have a seat for me. I got my food ordered to go. A young a lady entered alone, not staying in the hotel, and a seat came up.. we conversed, told her of my order, she invited me to eat with her at table provided very nice of her. No names were exchanged, she was stressed I was not. My itinerary was in place with a chance to tweek whenever I wished. This was a nice dinner, we talked shared and departed. It reminded me that 5 minute dating system they’ve created. Whether you would be compatible. This person who sat across from me downed 3 martinis during her meal and she had a vision, and her itinerary was the opposite of mine. I won’t drink my days away, I want to be alert to take in this beautiful world we live in..

    Reply
  3. Lori McCourt

    My first solo trip was to an all inclusive to Mexico. At the time I was amazed with myself that I actually did it. Meals were the only awkward thing I experienced. Breakfast and lunch were fine as they tend to be a quicker meal. I’m not much of a linger over dinner person, and the restaurants seem to pause between courses generally as people like to chat and drink. Every night at the same restaurant(there was only one at this small resort) with the same hostess greeting you, She would hold up one finger and say “One?”. And every night I would say yes. They would then seat me in the middle of the restaurant on an upper level as if I was on display! I asked the waiter if I could sit off near the window at a smaller table but he always said no. I guess those tables were for the romantic couples who needed a great view. It was all very amusing, as nobody seemed to know what to do with the single lady. On the last night I told the hostess party of 10, she looked shocked and looked around trying to see where they were lol. When I got back home, I thought there must be many people in the same boat, want to travel but not necessarily alone. I started arranging groups for a few solo people who wanted to travel together. A year later(and in my late 50’s)I became a travel agent and now help people to travel solo, arrange group tours and most of all encourage people to Just Go!

    Reply
  4. Sylvia Davie

    Sorry for your loss. I too lost my husband 2 years and have taken my solo trip and planning for another. It is true you can plan your itinerary on your own and do last minute trips without confirming with others. Times are lonely or moments you catch yourself crying wishing your love one was there with you I believe my husband would want me to continue our dream trips so I continue to make that happen.

    Reply

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