The Not-So-Lonely Solo Traveler

by Gray Cargill on October 13, 2009

If you’ve never traveled solo, what’s stopping you? Is it fear that you might be lonely?  Do you have an image in your mind’s eye of the solo traveler being a lonely figure in a windswept landscape, like Heathcliff on the moors?  Here’s a reality check:  Solo travel isn’t lonely.  Not most of the time, anyway.

It can be a relief to get away from the people in your life for a little while, along with the demands they place on you.  It’s a good opportunity for introspection and stepping outside your comfort zone. Or for just lazing on a beach with a good book. But there are no rules that say you must spend your entire trip isolated from other human beings.  I like exploring cities.  But even if you don’t, eventually, you’re going to want a little human interaction.  Then what do you do?

A few ways to meet new friends and have conversations on the road include:

  • Take an organized tour – I met  a new friend on a cemetery tour in New Orleans and we wound up having both lunch and dinner together.
  • Initiate conversations with people–while standing in line, sitting at a restaurant bar, on the bus, or just walking down the sidewalk.   Ask for advice on a good restaurant, the best way to get to another town, anything. People love to give advice.
  • Depending on your travel destination, wearing an article of clothing with the name of your home state, country or favorite sports team can be a great conversation starter.  (When I wear my University of Vermont sweatshirt, Vermont fans come out of nowhere to talk to me.)
  • Connect with other travelers where you’re staying. This is easier at a hostel or Bed and Breakfast Inn, but even big hotels usually have a bar where you can mingle with others.

When traveling alone, I like to hedge my bets and arrange social time before I even leave on my trip.  I have mentioned before that I use online travel communities to do this.  Twitter, Tripadvisor, and other travel or special interest forums are good places to start.  Just check to see who else will be in your destination when you are and see if they want to meet up (in a public place, of course) for a drink, meal or activity.  Want some real life examples of whether this works or not?  Read on.

I’m a member of OpenVegas, an online community for Vegas fans.  Last year during my annual Las Vegas trip, I attended a meet and made several new friends there, so I was happy to attend one this year, too. I met “jasonargo” and “Nashdale” at the Triple 7 Brewpub at Main Street Station.  I didn’t know what to expect, since I hadn’t had any interactions with either of them on the forum.  But it was an enjoyable hour or so.  I sat and sipped my microbrew while they had dinner, and we talked about our stays in Vegas so far.  Jasonargo was a wealth of gambling knowledge about where to find the best odds in town, and Nashdale, an Australian, filled us in on his adventures in the U.S.  It was a great opportunity to have a conversation with people I otherwise would not have.

Me with JoAnna Haugen of KaleidoscopicWandering.com. Photo by Cory Haugen.

Me with JoAnna Haugen of Kaleidoscopic Wandering. Photo by Cory Haugen.

Later in the week, I met with travel blogger JoAnna Haugen of KaleidoscopicWandering.com, who lives in Vegas.  I knew JoAnna from Twitter and the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX). Neither of us could attend the TBEX conference in Chicago in July, so I thought it might be fun to have our own mini-TBEX, minus the expert panelists.   She was kind enough to come to the Strip to meet me for coffee at the Starbucks at Treasure Island.

When JoAnna first walked into Starbucks,  I went to shake her hand, and instead, she hugged me.  I was completely won over by her warm personality.  We spent the next two and a half hours chatting about writing and blogging, social media, Burning Man, and JoAnna’s recent career move.  It was such a pleasure to take a break from the frenetic pace of Vegas to have a leisurely conversation with someone who feels as passionately about both travel and writing as I do.  I was impressed with her fearlessness at diving headfirst into a freelance writing career.  She said something that has resonated with me ever since: “If not me, who?  If not now, when?” Listening to her was like  facing my own version of Frost’s “Road Not Taken.”  JoAnna is doing what I always thought as a young college writing major that I would do with my life, but somehow, never did.  She inspired me.  That wasn’t a conversation I ever thought I’d have in a city like Las Vegas, and it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t connected with her online.

If your fear of loneliness is the only thing preventing you from traveling, then going on tours, chatting with people as the opportunity arises, finding ways to draw people to you for conversation, and using social media to pre-arrange meetings around common areas of interest are just a few things you can do to socialize during your travels.  These aren’t empty tips.  As you can see from the examples above, they really work.  Don’t forget, too, that technology is our friend.  You can always call or text someone back home to describe an awesome meal or gorgeous sunset  or funny encounter with a local.  Just remember that life is short, and there are places you want to visit.  Don’t let fear of loneliness stop you from going alone.  And ask yourself “If not me, who?  If not now, when?”

Interested in long-term solo travel, but not sure where to start? You can now buy The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl’s Guide by Stephanie Lee, which contains all the basic information you need to get started on your long-term solo journey. Read my review of the book here.

Gray February 17, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Sounds like you have some good solo travel stories of your own to tell, Jo. 🙂 I’ve heard great things about the Disney behind-the-scenes tours. I can’t bring myself to spend the money on top of the park tickets, but they sound wonderful.

Jo Logan February 17, 2012 at 5:23 pm

More GREAT advice…. I’ll look into a tour at WDW when I’m alone in September. I’m not completely new to solo travel but this will be my first time in years alone without even my kids. I backpacked Australia in 2000 and not only met some great friends but ended up marrying an Australian… Funny what happens as a result of leaving our comfort zone.
In November, I attended the wedding of a girlfriend I met back in 2000 when I was completely alone in Queensland looking for a job… I met her out on the town one night and she took me under her wing… She wasn’t another backpacker like I was she was a local girl.

Anonymous October 12, 2010 at 10:16 pm

So true about leaving people behind…there are always the memories though. 🙂

Anonymous October 12, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Hi, Mike, thanks for stopping by! So you’ve been road-tripping it solo, huh? I imagine that could definitely get lonely after awhile. I’m sure you meet people along the way, but you’re also always leaving them behind when you move on, right? That’s got to be tough.

SoloFriendly October 30, 2009 at 1:01 am

Thank you, Lauren. You're a backpacker, yes? I think that style of travel, especially, is conducive to meeting others when you travel. You're bound to meet up with others at hostels or as you say, by couchsurfing.

SoloFriendly October 29, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Thank you, Lauren. You're a backpacker, yes? I think that style of travel, especially, is conducive to meeting others when you travel. You're bound to meet up with others at hostels or as you say, by couchsurfing.

Lauren Quinn October 29, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Great post. I'm always surprised by how surprised other people are when I say I like to travel alone. It's hardly ever lonely–in fact, the opposite. I'm more open and meet so many more people when I'm sola. And social networking websites have really made it easier to connect with like-minded travelers–I love Couchsurfing not just for, well, couchsurfing, but because it enables me to meet so many more people, locals and travelers alike. Not empty tips at all. Thanks!

SoloFriendly October 21, 2009 at 3:17 pm

You are so right, Doug. Thanks for stopping by!

Doug Pologe October 21, 2009 at 11:45 am

This is more than just “helpful advice”. Unless traveling is an enjoyable experience there will come a time when there isn't sufficient motivation to go out and hit the road again.

SoloFriendly October 14, 2009 at 10:51 am

You are absolutely right, Betsy. Networking and social skills are critical in life. Solo travel is a great way to learn them and practice them!

SoloFriendly October 14, 2009 at 10:37 am

Hi, Blake! Nice to see you here. About the “empty tips” thing–it just seems you see a lot of lists of travel tips online without any evidence they've actually worked for anyone. I wanted to show that yes, these things have worked for me. 🙂

I prefer cities for the reason you mention; it's easier for me to connect with other people in cities (I'm fairly introverted, so the more opportunities, the better my odds). Is it safe to assume there weren't a lot of other backpackers in the Spanish countryside, and that's why you were lonely? Or were the residents there not overly friendly?

Have you written anything about Madrid on your blog yet? I would love to read it. Spain is on my short travel list for the near future, since I'm trying to learn Spanish. Madrid and Barcelona both appeal to me.

Thanks for your comments!
Gray

Betsy October 14, 2009 at 10:29 am

Informative post, Gray, and so true. You can't hear this enough. One of the best things about solo travel is that you can quite easily shut out the world around you, but people forget that you can just as easily head out on the road to gather a new group of friends with different perspectives, experiences, and ideas to share.

I have to add, even if being gregarious and meeting new people is outside of your comfort zone, it's one of the best skills you can possibly master in any career or social arena. And it takes practice. Why not combine that skill-building with a great trip?!

SoloFriendly October 14, 2009 at 10:14 am

Hi, Keith! I wasn't sure if you'd want to be identified by your real name, so I went with your alias in the article. Same reason for not including that great photo of you and J next to the Lobster Zone. 🙂 Do I have your email? I'll send it to you.

Wow–7-8 weeks! I envy you–that is a fantastic itinerary. You are very fortunate to already know people all over the world to meet up with. Some of us have to work a little harder to find some. If you have time, I'd love to have you contribute to the Discussion on solo travel at my Facebook page. You have a lot of experience.

Cheers!
Gray

BlakesJourney October 14, 2009 at 8:15 am

Great tips. I love how you emphasize- Not empty tips! It seems like there are more lists than collective brain cells in this world, right?

Anyways, I traveled to Spain for a master's program this past summer and spent like 10 day prior just travelilng alone. It was a love hate thing for me. In the cities, it was great. Madrid and Salamanca hostels were bustling with young minded open individuals and much partying and intelectual conversation ensued. In the serene Spanish countryside, however my experience was worlds apart. Days in empty squares were lonely and early nights were long. It was nice at times to be alone, but I think I prefer to choose it, as opposed to being condemned to loneliness.

Just my humble reflections on the matter!
Sincerely,
Blakesjourney / TBD

Keith B October 14, 2009 at 12:25 am

Hi Gray,

It was a pleasure meeting you also. Your knowledge of Vegas will help me on my future visits, I am enjoying your stories from your trip there in September.

Like you I travel alone but also have a wonderful collection of experiences with people I meet all over the world. I am lucky to have a group of personal friends in many places around the world that I can use as stop offs on my journeys and then branch off to do my own thing.

I have already started looking at flights for next year. I am able to get 7 to 8 weeks off next year and intend using some saved frequent flyer points for a round the world ticket. So far it looks like being Singapore, then either of (Capetown, South Africa or Portugul) and on to England, Ireland and then to the USA for four weeks to do some driving around in the north east, my conference in Valley Forge, Vegas and some more driving around in Arizona and then home. Will look out for you in Vegas !!!

Regards,

Keith B – Nashdale

SoloFriendly October 13, 2009 at 10:19 am

So true. Fearing the loneliness is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You've got to go into solo travel with the right mindset and be active, not passive, in seeking out company. Embracing alone time, especially if you don't normally have much of it, is really important too. I'm of the firm opinion that people don't spend enough quiet time just getting to know themselves. But that's another blog post.

You and Corey would love Vermont. There's lots of hiking to be had here, and it really is a beautiful state.

joanna_haugen October 13, 2009 at 8:55 am

You're so sweet Gray! It was such a pleasure meeting you … I can't wait for you to come back to Las Vegas (or for us to visit Vermont)!

All warm fuzzies aside, though, I agree with you completely. You make travel what it is. If you think you'll be lonely, you will be. But if, as a solo traveler, you take the initiative to meet other people, there are plenty of them out there just waiting to spend some time getting to know you.

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