Solo Travel Secrets: She Deals With Loneliness on the Road

by | Jan 5, 2017

Line drawing of woman standing alone

Last updated on November 30th, 2023

I’ve been travelling solo for a very long time and I absolutely love it. It wasn’t always like this. I remember my first solo journey to Europe. It was just after my divorce and I couldn’t stop crying. I cried on park benches in Paris, in restaurants in Rome and even as I shopped in London. No, it wasn’t simply because my heart was broken. I know now that my sadness was all about being totally alone, without a support system, and not having another human being to share my travel experiences with.

I still get lonely…

Since that time I’ve worked on learning the art of solo travel. Today’s newspaper articles and magazine stories applaud my seeming ability to venture forth all alone. Bold adjectives like brave and intrepid inevitably find their way into journalists’ descriptions. Yet few explore the underlying truth. I still feel alone when I travel. That’s natural because I am alone. In fact, at times I experience extreme loneliness. Now I enroll in classes along the way, seek out restaurants with communal tables or use my solitude to relax and just be me. The difference between that first solo journey and now is that I have acquired the experience and the skills that help me to deal with the ‘aloneness’ and to reach out for company when I need it. Actually, in a lovely turnaround way, it is this reaching out that has produced incredible experiences that make me love ‘solo travel’ even more.

In a past newsletter, I asked other travelling women to share their thoughts on loneliness. Do they feel lonely as well? Any solutions to offer? Has loneliness stopped them from going off to follow their journey dreams? Here is a sampling of e email responses from the Journeywoman Network. Some submissions are serious, others lighthearted, however, we found each one helpful in their own special way. Enjoy everybody!

Cybercafes are my link to home…

I do feel lonely at times but that doesn’t stop me from travelling all by myself. Going alone allows me the freedom to do what I want to do when I want to do it. However, I can’t bear being away from my family for long stretches of time and not knowing what’s happening back home. My survival plan is finding out beforehand where the cybercafes are located at my destination. Then I seek these places out and get daily updates from my clan. They even send digital photos as a special treat.
Beverly, Winnipeg, Canada

I’m a woman who knits…

I learned to knit recently, and avid knitters are never without their knitting, especially when travelling. It’s a distraction from loneliness and boredom, as well as a good conversation starter. People invariably ask what it is that I’m knitting, then tell me about their own knitting or a friend who knits, etc. I’ve met lots of nice folks this way, as well as fellow fibre artists and fashion designers. P.S. I’ve had no problems bringing (wooden) knitting needles on planes. Just leave your scissors and tapestry needles at home or pack them in your checked baggage.
Theresa, Atlanta, USA.

I give myself presents.

A great way to deal with loneliness on the road is to take along gifts. I put aside any small ones at Christmas or my birthday. Not that I receive so many gifts, but if no one minds, I just don’t open smaller gifts when they are given and save them for times when I expect to feel low. When I open one I feel loved and connected and surprised. It’s a real pick me up.
Cyndie, Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico

Don’t feel bad if you feel bad…

Here’s a bit of advice that I would like to share with other JourneyWomen. I have found over the years of solo travel that the day of my arrival at my destination is always the toughest. I tend to feel lonely, a little frightened, and often end up doubting the sanity of my decision to travel alone again. In order to head off those early trip blues, I bring along a favourite snack treat from home, eat it upon my arrival at my hotel, take a refreshing shower, and then head out for a walk. It helps me to get to know the area where I am staying. It keeps me from basking in loneliness in my hotel room, and it provides me with a breath of fresh air in my new home away from home. By the time the following morning rolls around, I am usually feeling more than ready for a brand new adventure.
Gail, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

I give myself options…

Loneliness on the solo-travel road gives you two options, both of which can be fun. First, you could just go with it. Pour out your heart in a journal with a glass of wine or two. But then treat yourself to a lazy and pampered evening in your hotel, giving yourself a facial, manicure and bubble bath. Shop for the supplies you need at a local pharmacy or department store.

The second option is to fight lonely feelings with action. Talk with your hotel desk staff, the local tourist office staff (or a local newspaper if you read the language) and find out what entertainment options are available. Then buy a ticket and attend the cultural event that most appeals to you – theatre, dance, jazz, symphony or neighbourhood piano bar. Once there, initiate conversations with the people near you – easy to do with an opening line of, “Excuse me, I’m new here and I wonder if you could tell me…”
Sharon, Atlanta, USA

I talk to myself…

I travelled solo to Spain and was staying for one month, so I posted a note for a travelling companion. I got a response from a man (gay and perfect!) who could meet up and travel with me. We got along really well, but he went to Greece while I had another five days of holiday left. I never thought I would feel disoriented and alone on my first trip to Europe but there I was feeling really blue. I was getting so desperate that I even tried to change my return ticket but to no avail. The weather was rainy and cold, not the ideal for touring around. I decided to really push myself and go beyond what I ever thought I was capable of. I checked the weather report that night, found a warm and sunny climate in the southeast of Spain and the next morning, I boarded a train and headed for the sun. It was not as exciting as it might have been had I been travelling there with someone else, but given the circumstances, ‘wasting’ five days in the south of Spain was not so bad.

Travelling solo can be lonely, but that is part of the experience. In retrospect, I had a great time and I would do the same thing again. I’m so glad that I couldn’t change my ticket and come back to Canada. I’d feel like such a whip if I had to tell people that I couldn’t find anything to do in Spain so I came home early. I send my greetings and support to all the JourneyWomen out there who have the opportunity to go on a trip even if you do get lonely.
Kathy, Canada

I join clubs…

I’ve been studying in Australia for the past 3-4 months and I found that joining different clubs made a big difference. I’m not your average age student (I’m 44) and to have moved to a completely different world (I’m Canadian) was quite a challenge. But I joined a bush-walking club and a cycling club and that keeps me busy enough on the weekends and I don’t feel so homesick.
Anita, a Canadian in Australia

I stay in hostels or smaller hotels…

I have travelled solo for more than 15 years, and know that loneliness (or fear of it) is something that stops many women from setting off on fabulous adventures. Here are just a few of my recommendations to combat that awful feeling of being alone.

(1)Never enter a restaurant without a book or journal. Instead of sitting and staring at the wall while waiting for your meal, you can keep yourself occupied and feel less self-conscious.

(2) Take yourself out. One of the ways to combat loneliness is to refuse to let it control your actions. So don’t eat at the cheapest restaurant in town hiding your head in shame. Put on your nicest dress and take yourself to the best hotel in town. If you can’t afford to eat the restaurant, buy yourself one drink in the lounge. I’ve done this in places as far away as Rangoon and Hanoi and it never fails to make me feel special.

(3)Join small group day tours. One of the ways I consistently meet others is by taking short tours. For example, a day tour of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia set me up with a number of Argentinean and Brazilian travellers who accompanied me for the next several days.

(4) Stay in smaller hotels or hostels. They’re much friendlier places. You might ask to join a table of people at breakfast or sit in the lounge in the evening and see if anyone asks to join you.

(5)While you’re away, take a class or language lessons. Most schools set up events to get people together. And you will surely meet others in the class.

(6)I keep telling myself that there are just too many places to go and too many people to meet for me to ever get lonely while I’m travelling!
Sherri, Boston, USA

I practiced solo dining…

Dining solo requires practice. A woman contemplating travelling solo can start by dining solo in her hometown and then moving out to test her skills on day trips to neighbouring towns. Honestly, this works! This way she will be used to entering a restaurant solo, negotiating a decent table and ordering and eating with (not ‘by’) herself. A book or magazine to thumb through is a good prop, even a small notebook where she can take notes is good. I use my solo dinner meals as a time to write notes and feelings about the day.P.S. I never worry about the idea that people are seeing me alone. Judging from the bored looks on some of their faces, I think they might rather be alone, too.
Nancy, Los Angeles, USA.

My journal is my friend…

I love to write and always carry a marble composition notebook tucked away in my bag. It’s just the right size and weight -not too bulky, heavy or flimsy. When loneliness strikes I pull out my sturdy little companion and begin writing away. Conversations with myself, conversations with someone I’ve met, observations, notes, recording the events of the journey, reflections. It’s great company and when I get home I have a wonderful journal about my trip. I’ve collected dozens over the years. It’s fun to re-read them, especially during those “dry” periods when one is stuck at home and cannot get out and see the world. It helps, too, to have a favourit pen just for writing for this purpose — both familiar friends, ready when you need them.
Maryla, Oakland, USA

I look for a library…

Dealing with loneliness on the road can be a fun challenge.

(1)Check out a foreign library, for their books, magazines & even classes. Many libraries have interesting programs — everything from good speakers to hands-on projects.

(2)Stop by the local tourist board. They will have a ton of information. Ask for a copy of their “calendar of events”

(3) Take a city tour and see the city without driving. I always take the tour my first day in a new city, it gives me the lay of the land and I often meet up with other single travellers looking for company as well.

(4) Talk with the local people. Some of my best information has come from the folks that live in the town in my neighbourhood. They remember the foreigner and wave when I walk by the shop.
Paula, Feasterville, USA

Looking for even more tips for dealing with loneliness while on the road?

Check out our tip sheet on the JourneyWoman shop!

I do my laundry…

On the road, when I feel my lowest I do my laundry and scrub very vigorously. I look at the problem this way…when I’m sad at home, I scrub floors so why not laundry on the road? I also seek out the most decadent chocolate or pastry I can find. Those kinds of treats are bound to make me feel better (at least in the short term). Finally, as I do at home I go out for a real good run. This way I get rid of the extra chocolate calories and I’m able to clear my head and heart.
Leslie, Toronto, Canada

I went to the beach and was grateful…

I spent one year living in Australia, a world away from my friends and family in New York. There were a few times when all I wanted to do was to go home for one week just to see even one familiar face. Here are some things I did to help remedy the homesickness:

(1)I went to the movies by myself. That (and a big bag of popcorn) always seemed to cheer me up.

(2)I grabbed my camera and went on a long walk. In fact, I took some of the best pictures this way.

(3)I emailed Mom! Mom always understands!

(4) I called my best friend.

(5) I hung out with my new friends if they were available.

(6)When all else failed, I would head to a cafe, or the beach, or the opera house with a good book. It always made me feel great to know that I was lucky enough to be in Australia, with a darn good book!
Jana, New York, USA

I go to the orientation meetings…

A few years ago, on a solo trip from Vancouver to Puerto Vallarta, I witnessed what it was like to be totally alone in a foreign country. As everyone else laughed well into the night at the pool-side bar, I was tucked away in my room, reading the latest Harry Potter adventure. On my second day at the resort, I decided to take in the hotel’s orientation meeting in one of their banquet rooms. It was here that I discovered another girl also travelling alone. Upon introductions, not only did we discover that we were both from Vancouver, but we lived only a few blocks apart and she had attended high school with my room-mate. It all worked out beautifully; we spent time together for part of each day and then we left it up to each other if we wanted to be alone for the rest. Turned out, by there being two of us, we made friends with others in the hotel a lot easier and by the end of the trip had most of the hotel’s guests and employees in the palms of our hands! I have to say, some people prefer to travel alone. And, as I discovered, I’m not one of them. However, alone together is fine.
Brenda, Sherwood Park, Canada

My mom thinks that I’m intrepid…

I’ve travelled solo in France, Italy, England, New Zealand, Prague, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Canada, US, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore. I admit that I still feel alone at times. That doesn’t stop me from going alone. The rewards are too great. I hope these tips help another JourneyWoman.

1) I take an English book to dinner. Usually, somebody will spot the cover, stop by and talk with me about the book. If I’m near the end, I always ask the person next to me (especially in France and Italy where the books in English are not that readily available and are expensive) if they would like the book. This relieves me of continuing to carry it and I end up talking with somebody for a while about the books they enjoy or have read.

2) I take my CDs and listen to my favourite music.

3) I always ask “Do you know where. . . I can find a good play, a good cafe, etc. in the neighbourhood or near it? Again, it opens up the discussion.

4) Always carry phone cards. Call home. Hear a friend or my mom’s voice. This always makes me feel — they think I’m a very “intrepid traveller” and are excited about my adventures! I can’t disappoint them.
Elizabeth, Seattle, USA

I meditate in a place of worship…

I travel almost everywhere alone. My independence is sacred to me because it means I can come and go as I please. It offers me the best way to give myself the most from life. Still, there are some tough moments when I wish I had a ‘someone known’ beside me. At those moments I do a ‘check’ to find out if there are other issues going on inside. Am I extra tired, bored, in a restrictive business environment, or really lonesome?

1) If I need to rest I can pick a small church for a short meditation, or return to my room for a rest with my MP3.

2) If I am bored, I ask myself what I’d really truly deeply like and then I go do it. Do I need a facial? A massage? A good movie? A mall? A swim or workout? It doesn’t matter what time it is, I try to take time to honor that need and fill it.

3) If my business colleagues feel too much like starch I remind myself that that is why I am independent- to be free to be me at all hours of the day and night. Then, I figure out what I need to do to perk up the situation and I do it. A long-stemmed red rose placed on a conference table with feminine delicacy and in silence followed by eye contact. Yep.

(4) Finally, if I am really lonesome, and that does happen, I will go where the people are and the energy is free. It could be a park, or a mall, or an intimate cafe. I go looking for people like me in places people like me hang out. What an energy booster that is! It feels like home and the sense of isolation disappears immediately. It is much easier than to strike up a conversation with someone because there are more shared interests and nothing feels forced. I’ve always found that ‘forced’ increases my sense of alone-ness dramatically. That short or long, an exchange is a win-win situation for both of us. It usually melts away that sense of loneliness and I’m renewed and refreshed, ready to move forward.
Roshanna, Lido di Venezia, Italy

I meditate at a concert…

When I feel sad and my sagging spirits are calling for help from loneliness on the road, I seek solace in music. No matter where in the world I am I book a ticket for a concert of any kind. Sometimes the pickings seem slim but the experience becomes wonderful as I get lost in the musical experience. The extra bonus is that I usually get the opportunity to chat with other people — locals who love music as much as I do. I always leave feeling much better.
Caroline, Colorado, USA

I watch my attitude…

I am 68, have travelled in my motorhome for months at a time, and I relish my solitude the most of all my treasures. Loneliness happens when my relationship to myself is incomplete when I’m not my own best friend, when I talk in negatives to myself instead of appreciatively, and when I don’t listen carefully to the quietness inside me. Thinking of being alone as lonely is very different from perceiving it as solitude. For starters, solitude is healing, restorative, and self-nurturing. Therefore, the experience of loneliness is an opportunity to get to know yourself better, deeper, more intimately. When this feels scary or impossible it is an extra special gift. How productive it is to sit quietly, alone, empty your mind, listen for the whispers of your unconscious, your deeper self, your soul. Safe spiritual journeys, everybody!
Jeanne, Atlanta, USA

I pack a pouch of tea…

I still remember my first trip, a solo 2 1/2 months 2-wheeled adventure throughout Europe early spring into summer. Here are some of my tips for fighting loneliness.

(1) Try to book accommodation with Hostels. You have a higher chance of fellow solo travellers equally eager to listen and share stories of daily travelling escapades. Beats talking to your big toe! When book into a business hotel, I sometimes check with the front desk or concierge on what events or places they might frequent if on their own.

(2)A great ice breaker is loose tea leaves in a pouch. Nothing beats a shared pot of hot tea and shared stories. Earl Grey always was my great travelling companion and a favourite shared tea in any country.

(3) Smile. Other people will approach you and share as well.

(4) Pick-up travel information ahead of time or while at your destination. If on a business trip, I would speak to others (i.e. attendees at tradeshows who might have a booth next door) and ask if they’ve heard about whatever I’m thinking of attending. If they’ve never heard of it, I might extend an invitation to them. Next thing you know, you have a party coming along with you. Bye-bye loneliness!
Shirley, Toronto, Canada

I log on to my hometown paper…

To combat loneliness while travelling, I bring along a small photo book with not only photos of my friends and family, but also photos of my house, car, and anything else to remind me of home. And I subscribe to the online version of my local paper, so I can keep up-to-date with the latest news back in my home town. But the best cure for travel-induced loneliness is a prepaid phone card – and friends who don’t mind you phoning them at three in the morning!
Robyn, Vancouver, Canada

I get reacquainted with myself…

When I’m travelling alone I enjoy the freedom to go where I want and when I want but (I admit) I often do get lonely. When I want to share some special place or some laughs I just reach out to other single ladies in public places — like a restaurant or hotel lounge, or touristy area. If I pay attention to their body language and I notice them looking around or looking rather alone themselves, I say “Hi”. I wait to see what response I get. If it’s a smile and a little sigh of relief, I introduce myself and tell them I’m travelling alone and I start up a conversation telling them why I’m there and ask something, about them. It’s easy in an airport because I always start off by asking where someone is coming from or going to. In a tourist area, I can always comment on the area, “Isn’t this beautiful” or “amazing”.

Also, I go to specialty stores of my interest at a slow time of day and strike up a conversation with the clerk or owner. I can usually make connections because they live there. Or they can suggest local places of interest to visit, shop or eat. Often, that little personal connection will drive away from the loneliness for a while. Being surrounded by lots of people most of the time, I use travelling alone as a special time for me to have with myself –to really hear myself think and feel. Often, (we) women are hearing and feeling for everyone around us and we don’t hear what we think and are strangers to our own feelings. When you travel alone, you can really get re-re-acquainted with yourself! Here’s to great adventures and new acquaintances for all JourneyWomen around the world.
Brenda, Las Vegas, USA

I talk to people…

I find that the best cure for loneliness is also the most rewarding aspect of travelling solo — talking to people! Aside from that, I always carry around a small album filled with photos of family and friends as well as my hometown landmarks like Mount Royal and snow. It’s also fun to share these with new friends to show them where I come from.
Melanie, Montreal, Canada & Jerusalem, Israel

I travel with my computer and camera…

I’m the type of Journeywoman who tends to get very absorbed in my surroundings and generally I don’t feel lonely when I travel alone. (I have to confess I rather like it!). That said, I keep connected with friends and family by always taking my laptop computer. I send frequent emails and include digital pictures from that day. This is cheaper and generally more hassle-free than using the phone, plus I don’t have to worry about time differences. My friends and relatives really love getting digital pictures from the road.
Diane, San Francisco, USA

I dine at home…

I spent a month travelling Northern Italy on my own and I found an alternate to dining surrounded by couples…it’s not unique but as I’m an early riser, I spent the better part of daylight absorbed in my priority list of places to visit…after siesta I went to the local grocery store and stocked up on prosciutto, wonderful bread, fruit, cheese, mineral water and had a great dinner in my hotel room…I travel with a batik wrap that doubles as a tablecloth, small candle,…journal my activities from the day, do some yoga and stretching and listen to my favourite relaxation tapes that are always with me. By the time I did my “dinner” ritual there was usually time to nip out for a stroll or sit at an outdoor cafe sipping a cappuccino and with early mornings it was quite good to get an early night’s sleep! As I said not very unique but this “ritual” worked for me!
Selma, Vancouver, Canada

I go shopping…

When I travel, if I get too lonely and I’m missing my family and boyfriend I go out on a shopping spree. I choose only small things that I can mail to my favourite people back home. This small exercise chases away my travel blues and I’m ready to begin fresh the next day. My boyfriend told me that this is a win-win situation for him. He’s happy that I miss him and he’s also happy to receive his presents.
Alex, Alabama, USA

Tales from women travelling solo…

In A Woman Alone, Travel Tales From Around the Globe, 29 women answer the question: Why go solo? This collection, featuring the true-adventure stories of women travelling in every corner of the globe, tackles the myriad obstacles and successes of solo travel with honesty, warmth, and humour. If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to go solo — or if you’re already packing your bags — these essays will feed your wanderlust and inspire your travel dreams.

Edited by: Faith Conlon, Ingrid Emerick & Christina Henry de Tessan Published by: Seal Press
ISBN: 1-58005-059-X

Women’s words on loneliness…

There have been weeks when no one
calls me by name.
Leah Goldberg, Nameless Journeys, 1976

The loneliness persisted like incessant rain.
Ann Allen Shockley, Spring Into Autumn, 1980

Loneliness is the poverty of self;
solitude is the richness of self.
May Sarton, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing,1965

Loneliness is black coffee and late-night television;
solitude is herb tea and soft music.
Pearl Cleage, In My Solitude, 1993

Women especially are social beings, who are not content with just husband and family but must have a community, a group, an exchange with others. A child is not enough. A husband and children, no matter how busy one may be kept by them, are not enough. Young and old, even in the busiest years of our lives, we women especially are victims of the long loneliness.
Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness, 1952

Evelyn started Journeywoman in 1994, and unknowingly became the world's first female travel blogger. She inspired a sisterhood of women, a grassroots movement, to inspire women to travel safely and well, and to connect women travellers around the world. She passed away in 2019, but her legacy lives on.


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