Traveling the world alone doesn’t have to be as out of reach as you might think.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you’re doing. If you are in a position to travel, you can do it by yourself—if that’s what you want.
Of course, there are many different types of solo traveling. You can jump on a plane to Europe and bop from hostel to hostel and country to country meeting fellow travelers every time you bunk down for the night.
Or, you can climb on a motorcycle and cut through Eastern Africa, counting yourself lucky when you finally pull into a destination big enough to have a few other travelers who speak your native tongue.
No matter which form of traveling the world alone you embark on, if you’re on the road long enough, you’ll inevitably find moments, days, and even weeks where the trade winds fail to blow and your sails —and enthusiasm—fail you.
Why You Should be Traveling the World Alone
The freedom and spontaneity offered by traveling the world alone is unparalleled.
Beyond respecting local customs, you are responsible to nobody but yourself. If you want to spend a month examining the subtle differences of temples built in Southeast Asia, who is to stop you? If you want to head up to Vang Vieng, Laos, and eat magic mushroom pizzas—go for it. There is no need to compromise.
Though solo travelers usually start alone, they rarely stay that way. And that’s part of the beauty of this kind of travel. You can link up with a cutie and hike through the rural seaside mountains of Cinque Terre, Italy, and then part ways. Or, you can let yourself be dragged out to the raunchy nightlife scene on Soi Cowboy in Bangkok by a rowdy group of Aussies on their gap year.
The best part is, when you’re tired of spending time with whoever you’ve met on the road, you can easily part ways without hurting anyone’s feelings—a much more difficult task when you’re traveling with a partner or a best friend from back home.
And let’s be honest, your best friend could be the bee knees in New York City, but might be a wet rag in Botswana.
One is the Loneliest Number
Now that everyone, from pre-teens to full-fledged adults, seem to be preoccupied with their social media brand, it’s easy to forget that it can be lonely on the road.
Nobody goes to c*ck crazed Bhutan only to post pictures on Facebook and Instagram of them hiding in their dorm rooms as a creeping depression infiltrates their vacation.
However, if you’re traveling the world alone for long enough, loneliness will saddle up next to you and keep you company.
It can, in fact, be one of the hardest aspects of having your own form of transportation. This isn’t because you’re going to bag a lot of quality time on a nerve-racking bus ride to Saksaywaman, Peru but because wherever the bus is going to dump you and any other tourist is about the right location to meet more travelers.
One good way to battle loneliness on the road is to make an effort to be in community spaces (i.e. coffee shops, coworking spaces, and even hostel common areas). Even if you’re doing your own thing, making yourself available and approachable will open up some doors to new experiences and remind you why you’re traveling solo in the first place.
Another moment that loneliness can really set in for solo travelers is during meal times. After eating three meals a day by yourself for a week, it’s hard not to dine with your thumbs tapping on your phone screen.
Put Away Your Phone
It’s easy to secure an internet connection almost anywhere in the world.
Plenty of rural Kenya has a better internet connection than deep in the mountains of Alaska. However, you don’t want to lean on your friends back home and social media prompts to navigate your way through any lonesome spells on the road.
That’s not to say you should be ignoring people, but if you’re spending more time looking at a screen than you are at the world around you—you might as well be back home, where at least you’ll have a hot shower and clean sheets!
Though it’s common to see groups of travelers all dialed into their phones at a table, it’s even more common to a see a solo traveler further isolating themselves with the soft blue light of their iPhone or Samsung.
And that’s the problem.
If your eyes are down, not only are you missing the magic of the world around you, you’re missing the chance to connect with people. And these people, unlike anyone you’re chatting with on Facebook, can actually jump into the sea with you and splash iridescent waves of bioluminescent phytoplankton into handmade constellations or at least give you a high-five and buy you a drink.
How To Meet People
If you’re relying on public transport in regions with a developed or developing tourism industry— which, at this point, is arguably most regions you probably want to visit—socializing will be much easier than if you’re trailblazing.
Hostels and social networks are usually easily accessible from bus stations and ferries. And, if they aren’t, someone there knows how to get you to where everyone else is usually headed.
Of course, if you’re fed up with hostel culture, Couchsurfing is an ideal way to get some cross-cultural experiences while traveling solo and avoiding tourist hot spots.
Couchsurfing locations can often be a bit out of the way and harder to reach. Make sure you’ve talked things over with your host and clarified how you’ll get to their place. Some hosts are willing to even pick you up.
When traveling the world alone, you do want to keep in mind that you are placing yourself in a more vulnerable situation when taking advantage of a Couchsurfing host’s generosity. Experiences can vary dramatically, so it’s wise to read previous reviews and leave reviews to support the community and future travelers.
Or, you can just take advantage of Couchsurfing meetups, which are often attended by locals, as well as travelers, looking to share ideas and experiences—or practice their English.
Tinder—yes, when you’re traveling the world alone Tinder isn’t just for hookups—can also be a great way to meet people.
Of course, if you aren’t looking for your match to end up in bed with you, it’s good to make that very clear in your profile and in any conversations leading up to actually meeting. Once you’ve friend-zoned your matches, you can score some excellent travel buddies or at least someone to share a meal with.
You can also score a “cuddle” buddy if that’s what’s going to cure your particular type of loneliness.
Better yet is if you are capable of speaking the local language—do so. Giving yourself challenges to get out and interact with the local community is the best way to shake off the blues. Grab a local newspaper, browse the events section, and go poke around.
Let’s be honest, fluently speaking Spanish opens more doors in most of Central and South America than any app or online community.
Final Thoughts: How to Fight Loneliness When Traveling The World Alone
If you feel loneliness setting in when you unpack your bag one night, don’t panic. Don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t worry about it—it’s normal. And, the longer you are on the road, the more likely you’ll find it.
At the same time, don’t dwell on it and don’t let it suck you in. Far too many solo travelers spend their last few days (or even few weeks) holed up in a hostel unwilling to connect with the people around them.
But if you’re not lining up a Couchsurfing host or swiping right like Flash Gordon, put your phone away.
Even if you’re not in an environment where you can speak a word to anyone, keep your eyes up and keep yourself open to opportunities. You never know when someone will spot you and you’ll think, Phuket, I’m coming—which is exactly why you’re solo traveling in the first place.
While you’re at it, check out these sweet tanks—if they aren’t solid conversation starters, we surely don’t know what are.
Tweet @tanksgetaround about your lonely moments when traveling the world alone and we’ll share with our community of travelers to help you bring yourself back up.
GIFS are from Giphy. Images via Isaac Simonelli.
Isaac, previously the managing editor of an expat newspaper in Thailand, is a freelance writer, photographer drone pilot, adventurer, and all-in-all swell fella. Though currently based in Fairbanks, Alaska, he has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Read his articles on TTGA, but also check out his wild travels at www.dicetravels.com.