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Dealing With Loneliness While Traveling

It isn’t my most frequently asked question, but it is probably a firm second. When people meet me for the first time one of the questions I am inevitably asked is:

Don’t you get lonely traveling by yourself?

Before I directly address this question I should back up a bit and explain why I travel alone.

When I first had the idea to travel I asked one of my friends to come with me. I was willing to pay for everything and cover all the expenses.

They said no.

I had several other friends who suggest we meet up while I was on the road. They would fly out to wherever I was and we would travel together for a week or two.

Not a single person ever made and effort to meet me on the road.

I’ve even invited other bloggers on sponsored trips with me. Again, the answer was always ‘no’.

So it wasn’t as if I didn’t try to get friends to come with me, it was either:

  1. They didn’t want to travel
  2. They didn’t want to travel with me.

(In hindsight, I think a lot of people find the idea of traveling much easier than the reality of it. The great trip is always something for “later” or “someday”, but never now. That, however, is the subject for a different post.)

The choice I faced was pretty simple. Either I travel alone, or I don’t travel at all.

For me it was a no brainer.

I’ve never been the sort of person who worried about doing things alone. If I wanted to go see a movie, I’d go see a movie. If I wanted to go to a restaurant, I just went to the restaurant. Occasionally I’d go with one of my friends, but if that wasn’t an option I just went.

I know some people who are terrified at the idea of doing things by themselves. They will not leave the house unless they have someone else to go with them. They view going to a movie or eating dinner alone to be a mark of failure.

Prior to traveling full time I lived alone for most of my adult life. At no point before I started traveling did anyone ever ask me if I got lonely. A fact I find curious and fascinating.

Today I meet more people than I did before I started traveling. The interent has made it possible to meet a wide range of people who I otherwise might never have met. In almost every city I visit I have readers who I meet up with for dinner or drinks.

…and that isn’t even considering all the people I engage with online.

People confuse being alone and being lonely. They are two very different things. I confess that there are times when I wish I had someone to talk to in person, but those tend to be few and far between.

So the answer is: not only am I not lonely, I probably have a much richer social life now than I ever did before.

Don’t let someone else hold you back. If you can travel with another person, great. If not, you’d be amazed at what you can accomplish by yourself.

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Comments

  1. MT Troy says:

    I can relate to this post very well. Before I got married I would often do things by myself. I would ask others but they wanted to different things. I still wanted to do whatever it was that I was planning on so I would do it alone and still enjoyed it. Now that I am married with children, I seek things to do alone from time to time. I will admit that when I travel I really enjoy having someone to go with and share the new experiences but I would still do them if there were no one else to do them with. To bad for those that did not take you up on your offers as they have missed out on so many adventures.

  2. Brittany says:

    Loved this piece! I frequently get the same thing. I went to California this year by myself and everyone said the same, like a young woman traveling by herself is nuts. I asked but no one wanted to go, they let excuses hold them back. Often is easy for people to talk about living than to actually do it, so I’ve learned not to let others hold you back (plus others can have an influence on your experience) . Like I said o found this enjoyable and your blog is inspiring to the adventuress soul!

  3. Cathy says:

    I enjoyed this post very much! I love cycling and sometimes go tours by myself. I even went camping alone. Sometimes I think it would be great to have someone to share the experience with, but I have very few biker friends, and their travel style is different from my own (they want to either go as fast as possible from A to B, or they want to stop at every cafe we pass.) I’ve also traveled abroad alone, and it was often a better experience than when I traveled with someone.

  4. Susanne F says:

    I have travelled on my own for years by now. The most frequent asked question I get is: is it really safe for you to travel alone? and then the next quesiton is: why do you travel alone.
    The answer to the latter is simple: I haven’t found someone who wants to travel with me, and I must confess that there are times where I wish I had a travel partner.

    … and I would never turn down a free travel offer ;)

    Thanks for your article, it is great.

  5. Bob Roney says:

    Gary, Your blog inspires me to get on the road and do some more travel. My first trip to Europe was when I turned 40 and now at 75 I can’t wait any longer for a friend to travel with me. Looking back, that trip was the most satisfying–3 weeks with a Eurorail pass and no predetermined destinations.
    Maybe we will meet up somewhere, If you get to Atlanta .wold love to host you and am a good listener.

  6. Saroja says:

    Great post! Gary. It just echoes my thoughts. I am often aksed this question and a firm first one :) Like you rightly said no point holding onto exploring life for someone else, after all we all have only one life :) Safe travels!

  7. Topper says:

    My partner and I gave up on asking people to travel with us. We have been all over the world and offered free trips for our friends each time we planned a journey, they could even catch up with us someplace. They declined, or when they did come they had a miserable time. It is different for us as we travel a lot and we want to explore every destination in detail. This is often exhausting to people. As a photographer I want to see and shoot it all. So good for you to travel alone, safe travels and actually as an explorer you are never truly alone.

  8. Ed Helvey says:

    Sorry about the mis-post. I’m using my android phone and sometimes the touch screen is too sensitive. I agree with you totally, Gary. I have found the same thing in my life. Since adopting my living free lifestyle I can only say that traveling alone is one of the most freeing parts of it. One example was the Grand Canyon. I’ve flown over it dozens of times during my lifetime, however, I never went to actually see it in person because I didn’t have someone to enjoy it with. Last year I was driving in that region on a trip across the country and decided when I saw the sign in Williams, AZ to the Grand Canyon that was time to go see it by myself and enjoy the splendor thereof. It was truly an awesome experience and I met many people from different countries while standing on the rim at various locations. I’ve traveled in the past many times with travel partners, however, traveling alone gives me the freedom to choose anything I want to anytime I want to. I typically found myself giving into whatever the other person’s interest was as opposed to the things that I personally wanted to do. Meeting local people is so much more interesting because they can give you insight into parts of their region I probably would not have taken the opportunity to see or even have known about. I would just look for the typical touristy things and I’m not really a very good tourist. Like you and many of the other folks who commented I’ve had lots of people look at me askance about my lifestyle and preference to travel alone. And often some would say they would meet me somewhere along the way but never have. I totally enjoy reading your posts, Gary. I also enjoy all the comments. I gain as much insight from the comments as I do from your posts, many times. It’s nice to know that “we” as a group have much in common and I use the “we” as inclusive of all the people who read your blog. Unfortunately, I also realize that we are a very small minority in relation to the world population. I’m coherently in the process of converting a van for full time travel and beginning in January I’ll be traveling around the U.S. full time meeting people, exploring places, learning about all kinds of things, taking pictures, interviewing people about their living free lifestyles, blogging, writing books and doing some seminars and workshops on how to live free. Keep up the great posts, Gary. You provide inspiration for my own travels and adventures. Oh yeah, and I’d gladly join you on an adventure a long as I don’t have to be joined at the hip, if you know what I mean. Cheers, Ed

  9. “They view going to a movie or eating dinner alone to be a mark of failure.”

    I love to do things by myself and when people have a weird look on their face about I always tell them “well I like hanging out with myself sometimes” Some people get it…
    Keep travelling, keep writing, keep savouring the world and keep sharing, thank you for the great post.

  10. Nila says:

    My ideas exactly. You are writing: “People confuse being alone and isolation. They’re two completely different things.”

  11. Nila says:

    Independence is an excellent factor, and alone and lonely are entirely various things. I’ve always stored a travel journal after i take lengthy outings and love telling the storyline during the day – and that’s challenging when you are traveling having a companion of any type. My travel blog, although less and between, are published to my blog so hopefully much more people than simply my buddies and family can be part of the knowledge.

  12. Gary – maybe you agree with what I tell everyone:

    I prefer traveling with someone I get along than traveling alone, but I prefer traveling alone than traveling with an incompatible person or not traveling at all.

    However, traveling with a great companion has a major downside that always bugs me: I meet far fewer locals. Yes, I tell myself that I can make an effort to talk to the guy next to me on the train whether I’m alone or with someone else, but usually when you have company, it’s natural to ignore the strangers around you. That’s a pity and one big reason solo travel is so appealing (as long as you’re an extrovert).

  13. Natalie T. says:

    Why would someone turn down a free trip?! It’s a free trip! I think if you asked that question again you’d get a different response. Traveling alone was the best thing I did for myself. I can say there was only one time where I truly felt lonely on my trip. I also had friends join me on the way – once they saw how awesome it was gallivanting in Europe alone they wanted to come along for the journey. That said, I always meet more people alone than when I’m with someone else. Freedom rocks.

  14. Yvette says:

    Ha- this is definitely my most commonly asked question because no one seems to believe a young 20-something woman would do such a thing. (Though it’s more a safety thing than people wondering about loneliness I think- “you went alone?” “yes” “really?!” “yes!”) When I get a little smart and say “well it seemed like a better option than sitting around at home because no one else would come” I get a nervous laugh as the other person gets the point of their mistaken preconceptions.

    I obviously have no idea how people would react to what I do if I was a guy, but the majority of the solo questions stem from being female. I never realized how many women fear the world until I started hearing about how I should.

  15. Joseph says:

    Very good post. We will get some good idea. Its really inspired me.

  16. i always meet good people while travelling…not a big deal for me..if i travel alone fine if not also fine for me…

  17. i had been travelling sometimes alaone and never scared about it….besides you always meet other people with different cultures and ideas..i wish i am currently travelling..lol..

  18. That’s very true. You should never rely on somebody for getting things done. It is also a kind of inferiority complex some people hold by not doing things alone. Doing things alone helps you face the world. If you make it, you make it in life or else you are never gonna do it.

  19. amusingocean says:

    I Really Like travelling alone. Used to do it for a long time. I’ve kids now in most cases travel together, but savour individuals rare outings alone. Great piece. Just read.

  20. Kim says:

    Almost the same thing happened to me. Years ago, my friend and I had decided to travel in Europe for a few months. She ended up backing out and I decided that wasn’t going to stop me from travelling. So I planned out as much of the trip as possible for the first few days of me getting over to London and then played the rest of the trip spontaneously. Best decision I ever made! I ended up actually being glad she decided not to go cause the trip made me get out of my comfort zone and meet other people while I was out there. I also realized in travelling on my own that I could be by myself or I could meet other people and have someone to travel with along the way. You definitely can’t let other people stop you from doing what you want to do. You have to get out there and experience life instead of cowering at home scared to leave because you might be by yourself. That is how I felt but knew I needed to experience new things and not be scared to try something new.

  21. shamsudin says:

    We sometime need to be alone. In my opinion, this will open up different dimension how you see this world.

  22. Possibility #3: They were intimidated by thought of traveling with you.

    Possibility #4: Didn’t think their travel styles would match yours.

    I used to freelance a lot so I had a lot of time. Most of my friends either had to juggle vacation schedules or weren’t interested in countries I was. Hence, solo. Things are working out, although I occassionally get bouts of loneliness. But being with a mis-matched travel partner w/ a different travel style isn’t fun either. Being solo, I like that I can pick and choose travlers to join.

  23. Kelly says:

    Who are these crazy people that turned down free travel?? Nuts! I’ll travel with you Gary!

  24. Crissy says:

    A friend of mine wants to go on an Alaskan cruise next year. She’s a nice enough girl but I went away with her for 2 days and realized I would rather go on every vacation by myself for the rest of my life before I wanted to get on a cruise ship for a week with her.

    Normally, I ‘m happy to go away with my friends, but I’m not waiting for them to save up money or have the same trip in mind. Life it too short. Besides, when I travel by myself I’m forced to be outgoing and meet people, and I’ve met so many wonderful people traveling.

    Ummm, if you want to pay for my trip to meet and travel with you just let me know when and where!

    Yes, I do get lonely when I’m by myself, but I live alone at home and it happens there too.

  25. Sophie says:

    I travel mostly with my children, but usually manage to get away on my own 4 – 5 times every year. Completely different experiences and both so wonderfully enjoyable. But only when I’m alone do I find time (and peace of mind) to reflect and to write.

  26. Banyú says:

    This post encloses a lot of wisdom, sir. I enjoyed it a lot, it says a lot of stuff that I’ve always have very clear in my mind but I could not put in words (specially in English ;P).

    Thanks for it, I’ll share it on my twitter account.

  27. Claudia Ward says:

    Independence is a wonderful thing, and alone and lonely are entirely different things. I have always kept a travel journal when I take long trips and love telling the story of the day – and that’s a challenge when traveling with a companion of any sort. My travel journals, although fewer and far between, are posted to my blog so hopefully even more people than just my friends and family can share in the experience.

  28. Drina Murphy says:

    I absolutely love the idea of it but in reality I like my home comforts too, even after a much eagerly awaited 2 week holiday, I look forward to going home, then wish I was back again about 2 days later! :)

  29. Daniel says:

    The great trip is always something for “later” or “someday”,

    The amount of times i have heard this said. I actually enjoy travelling alone, but meet people every now and then to travel part of the way with. I like being able to make my own decisions about what i see and do, but i also make every effort to meet as many people as i can along the way. You are never on your own as such.

    I only started to eat in restaurants or go to the movies alone once i had travelled. Travelling alone makes you do things alone, and you get use to it, therefore it isnt a problem anymore. People who dont travel dont understand this because they have never had this option. Great post Gary

  30. They ALWAYS say, “no” to going on a trip?! Who the hell are all these crazy people?

    Also, now that I think about it, this brings up another question…who did I share that cruise ship cabin with…?

  31. Jane says:

    I LOVE travelling alone. I did it for years. I have kids now and usually travel with them, but savour those rare trips alone. Great piece. Thanks for the read.

  32. Fly Girl says:

    This post was refreshing; I am guilty of feeling like if I travel alone I will be lonely. But after researching and reading many great posts–including this one– that it may actually be better for me to travel alone.

  33. Ellen says:

    As Sartre said, “if you’re lonely when you’re alone you’re in bad company”. I have a feeling you’re very good company.

  34. Jenni says:

    I completely agreed with this post. If I want to go somewhere, I go – even if a friend or family member can’t go along. It can be anything from a day hike to a road trip to an international adventure. I refuse to be the one who says “I’ll go someday.” I look at the 10+ years since I graduated from college and have quite the collection of pictures and travel journals. I’m the one who actually goes to visit friends when they move to a new city / country. Two years ago I took my biggest solo adventure andI went on a month long volunteer vacation to Thailand. It was one of the best experiences of my life!

  35. cailin says:

    I totally agree with you Gary! I’ve never been able to offer a friend to come along with me for free but I have asked friends to join me on my travels but they always have to work around work schedules or can’t afford it. I started traveling a lot when I got out of a relationship with someone who was actually one of those people and its as if I was “free”! and right then I knew I was going to mostly travel by myself or not travel at all and I love it!
    However if anytime soon you feel like you want to offer to pay for another persons trip…. I’m always free for going anywhere and everywhere! :) haha

  36. allison says:

    I used to be one of those people who was scared to go out by themselves, despite always having lived alone, liking it that way, and not feeling “lonely”. Once I started traveling, I discovered that I actually had NO problem going places alone. I still love traveling alone, but my friends usually love the idea of meeting me somewhere, or hosting me when I stop in their city. I love seeing people I know, but I’ve also become a big fan of going out on my own and meeting locals/other travelers that I wouldn’t have a chance to meet if I was already with someone.

  37. Erik says:

    Spot on. I love the freedom of traveling by myself. I’m openly glad my wife doesn’t like to travel. I do miss her, but being on the road is a deeply spiritual experience for me and I like being able to do it the way I want.
    I don’t spend as long ‘away’ as you do, I wonder if I would feel differently if I did.

  38. I have to travel alone almost constantly and have had to come up with other ways to consume my mind with other amusements. I travel for business most of the time but occasionally I get to hit the international highway. One important thing I have found amazingly helpful on business trips are the side trips I devise so to have my soul filled even when I am alone and surrounded with work. I get my imagination running and am able to work on my other hobby, which is a film blog I have kept up, and running despite the increase in travel. I find that having the hobby along for the ride is so helpful when alone as it also keeps my mind occupied and not feeling the anxiety or my surroundings. Now granted that does take resources but I found a way to make that work so I could fulfill multiple needs at once. I love to research when I am on some of my side trips as it adds to the imagination in my writing when I get home. When talking with a colleague of mine who also works for Dish Network about the October 1st launch of Dish Network’s new package The Blockbuster Movie Pass I was thrilled as this was just another way they are making my life easier and more fun. Welcome live streaming! It seems like they are always coming up with fantastic ideas especially for individuals like me who have to travel frequently for work. Yet, still must maintain a passion that is very important to me that I would usually do at home. The Blockbuster Movie Pass will now be a combination of two of Dish Network’s prestigious packages the Dish Platinum and the Blockbuster by Mail package allowing me to stream thousands of movies with my laptop or my Dish receiver. How fantastic! I also now have access to thousands of DVD movies, TV shows and games by mail with unlimited exchange necessary for the elegant movie blog I have been hosting for years. It remotely streams directly to my laptop for TV if need be expanding my resources by a huge amount. Therefore, I can research the information I need from the film standpoint while looking into the media aspect as well which covers all the research necessary for the blog, $10 a month seems like a small price to pay for so many people’s enlightenment. My boyfriend is thrilled with the amount of video games available in this new package so that also makes me happy. Upon returning home, I can be at peace knowing that I can just write the blog entry to stimulate the new conversation topic, which is always, relaxing for me.

  39. Scarleth says:

    This is really amazing, i’m actually working on some travel blogposts of places i’ve visited, and i randomly bumped into this website… to be honest i traveled along with someone else and yes it was an amazing experience specially traveling with your significant other if you both share the same traveling passion! But now i want more traveling and well i have contemplated traveling alone and i’ve always been scared to do so but reading this made me really want to do it :) thanks for sharing! and congrats on accomplishing all those travels! cheers!

  40. Lou says:

    Very well said, Gary.

    I traveled alone for the first time this October. I was very apprehensive at first and my family and friends couldn’t believe I decided to do a ‘crazy’ thing like that. Well, I had a great time. As you said, I can do anything I wanted without worrying about another person’s opinion. The biggest difficulty I had was to ask people to take my photo. And of course, not having someone to tell “hey, look!” to.

    Kudos!

  41. Erin Smith says:

    “Either I travel alone, or I don’t travel at all.”

    This is exactly why I went on my first solo trip 6 years ago this month. I wasn’t going to let my poor/married/parenting friends hold me back from traveling the world solo.

    Great post!

  42. Well said, Gary! I kept nodding as I scrolled down the page. :)

    What was most resonant was your statement about traveling alone, or not traveling at all. Immediately, the question popped up: if not now, when? Although I’ll be setting out to catch up with friends around the world next year, I’ll be traveling on my own, too.

    Thanks for your post!

  43. Melissa says:

    Love this little piece – thanks! I often consider travelling alone and how liberating it would be, but I am definitely one of those people who prefers to have a sidekick. You’re changing my mind though…

  44. Ken Smith says:

    My thoughts exactly. You write: “People confuse being alone and being lonely. They are two very different things.”

    Like you, I am often asked if I get lonely. It is most often women asking this question. I try to explain that I am not anti-social and that I sometimes do prefer to be traveling with a partner. But, there have been minor frictions with some travel partners that made me think for a moment that I would rather have been alone.

    For example, I recently made a week-long trip by auto through central Mexico with a woman friend. She was bright and a pleasant companion at dinner. But, while walking through Guanajuato, I would stop to take a photo. She would ask, “Why do you want a picture of that?” I don’t always know why, but that response was interpreted as being rude.

    Before moving to Mexico, I lived in Nice, France. I would watch for promotional air fares. One time easyJet had a one euro fare (plus taxes, of course) from Nice to Dortmund, Germany. I invited a number of friends, but nobody was interested. “What’s in Dortmund?”, they asked. I don’t know and that’s why I want to go. I went alone. As it turned out, Dortmund is not exciting. But, I had an adventure because of my limited German vocabulary (a dozen words, maybe) and I took a train in the wrong direction to a small town that did not see many foreign tourists.

    I’m a regular reader of your posts. You and several other constant travelers have inspired me to leave Mexico and move to another country. Maybe Cambodia.

  45. Amanda says:

    Very good point. Being alone does not always have to equal being lonely. And, if you want to travel, you can’t always wait around for someone who wants to travel with you. Because when you do that, then you run the risk of becoming one of those “I’ll travel later” people. And how many of those people actually travel “later?” Not many.

  46. Andrew says:

    I’ll admit that years before working in the travel industry I cringed at the idea of traveling alone. I look back and wonder why? Now I have no issues with hopping on a plane, visiting a new city and yes eating by myself with no worries whatsoever. I always tell friends who do not travel as often as I do that they do not need to get a big group together to go somewhere. Some cancel plans because they have no one to share the moment with. I say go alone, takes lots of pictures and show them what they missed when you get back.

  47. Romana says:

    Funny enough I had this discussion recently with a friend. I’m married and I always travel with my partner and I’m happy that I have a partner who shares the same passion for travels. However, if I hadn’t met him I think I would still enjoy traveling solo – I proved that to myself when a few years ago I left my country all alone to start a new life in a different country where I didn’t know anyone. Goes without saying that a lot of people advised me against doing this big move, but I’m happy that I didn’t listen to any of them.
    So, I agree! You should never let others hold you back. If you want to do something just go for it! I think that most of the times, it’s not the others that hold you back, but yourself – it’s a lot easier to find excuses, than it is to actually DO things.

  48. I understand you completely, Gary. I had so much trouble getting my friends to travel with me that I started travelling with other people other groups.

    It’s hard to be alone, and yes, it is different to be alone or lonely, but I think it is good to have someone to travel with, because the people you meet are always a the same spot. For that, it must be more difficult to share opinions on the different plaes you visit, since everyone you meet is at their place.

    However, if your friends didn’t want to go with you, it’s their loss. To bad I didn’t meet you when you were young. If you had asked me, I’d start travelling immediately. Probably not for as long as you, because I love home as well, but I’d certainly accompany you on more than a few trips….

    Keep on travelling, dude, and see you when you come to Portugal…

  49. Bingo! There is a HUGE difference in traveling alone and being lonely. I have done this before as well and when you travel alone, it is imperative to connect with other people so you aren’t lonely. When you do, it can make traveling fun. And traveling by yourself and hanging out with new people can be some of the best experiences in your travels!

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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