Questions and comments on whether solo traveling is lonely come up often in travel forums. Scrolling through the solo travel subreddit just now, around every third post is about struggling with traveling solo or trying to navigate some kind of interpersonal uncertainty. On the digital nomad subreddit, questions about making friends come up nearly as often as visa questions. As somebody who works in mental health and a solo traveler, I’ll share some questions (and actions) to consider for healthier solo travel adventures
Are you a kind travel companion to yourself?
First thing I always tell clients is that we never really travel alone. That’s because we’re always traveling with ourselves. And have you heard how you talk to you in your head? If you heard travel companions saying to each other the things you say to yourself about yourself, would you want to travel with them?
Think of yourself like a work colleague of yourself. Are you always second-guessing your colleague’s work? Do you constantly want to talk to them about old mistakes when they’re trying to do their work? Do you tell them they can’t handle things? Avoid giving them responsibility because you don’t trust them? Do you try to berate them and threaten them into doing better work?
Changing this doesn’t mean you have to adopt some toxic positivity fakery. It’s simply about starting to give yourself respect and kindness and at least a day-pack full of trust.
What do you want to get from other people that you need to start giving to yourself?
This is related to the previous question about being kind to ourselves. If we haven’t been kind to ourselves and we don’t give recognition and respect to ourselves, it’s very natural we go chasing that from other people. But other people don’t know we’re looking for that. And especially if we’re trying to get complex emotional needs met in a language we haven’t mastered beyond ordering a few beers, we’re not going to have a good time.
Take a moment to consider what it is you try to get from other people in social interactions, in real life or online. How can you start to give that to yourself?
As you begin to share things with yourself, it’ll also allow you to shift your social goals from trying to get stuff out of other people, to instead giving to others, which is a much more effective way to build community and relationships.
Can you enjoy a meal alone without distractions?
This is more of a challenge and a mental fitness exercise wrapped up in this question. Particularly if you haven’t embarked on your solo travel adventures yet, but you want to, I’d recommend exploring the practice of mindful eating. Have a solo meal in a restaurant and don’t take out your phone or grab a newspaper or watch TV to fill the space. Be there with you and the meal.
This might be difficult at first, and that’s great. Explore why it’s difficult. What needs to change to make it easy? That’ll teach you a lot about changes you’ll find useful in other areas where loneliness slithers up.
To explore solo restaurant travel adventures more, checkout this article on 5 tips for eating alone.
How will you nourish yourself with social interaction while traveling solo?
It is important when traveling alone to have a plan for social interaction and connection. If you’re leaving a job or school or a close-knit community, you may not have noticed just how much social interaction was built into the systems around you. Now you’ll need to create those opportunities.
Online interactions can definitely be a part of this. Regular Zoom calls, joining online groups for travelers, building communities online. I’ve joined a bunch of online groups and help run the Mental Fitness Discord Server, which is great for discussions and meditation sessions that provide regular connection to my community. I also make sure I’m meeting new people in each place I go to, and that I schedule in group events like hikes and cooking classes.
If you’re a garden that needs to get watered with social interaction each week, what does that look like for you and how are you going to make that happen?
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