Nothing feels worse than being on a trip you were so excited about to end up feeling terribly, terribly lonely.
To make it worse you might even be surrounded by other travellers and still feel isolated.
Is this something you can relate to?
In a time when everything looks perfect on social media, it’s hard to admit the harsh reality; you feel lonely when you travel. No one wants to admit that behind the smile, you are miserable.
For the most part, things are great, but now and then you feel the need for connection, a conversation, a laugh with a fellow traveller or a shared drink with a companion.
And as I found out on my solo trip, that’s not always possible, no matter how hard you try.
You can guarantee that every solo traveller feels loneliness at least once during their travels. So, if you expect it, you can prepare for it.
For a lot of people, solo travel is the only way to go.
They love it!
The freedom to choose where and when and what they do.
They accept the ups and downs because inevitably, there are more positives than negatives.
Those that have no one to travel with but don’t want to travel solo, join organised tours. A good solution, most of the time.
They either share a room with a stranger or opt for a room on their own.
But being on tour doesn’t always guarantee companionship. Sometimes we feel the loneliest when surrounded by people.
Both types of travellers can find themselves feeling lonely and isolated.
So, what to do?
14 Ways to Deal with Loneliness on the Road
Combating Loneliness When Travelling Solo
1. Book a Small Tour
I like to begin exploring a new destination with a walking tour. You can return to the places you visited on the tour. They will feel familiar.
Get recommendations about where to eat and what to do from the guide.
You will meet other travellers. Perhaps suggest a drink with the group after the tour.
On my first day in Florence, I met another solo traveller on my walking tour. After drinks with our group, Marcia and I headed off to find a restaurant recommended by our guide. We caught up for another meal a few days later.
At the very least you will be around other travellers during the tour. At best, you will stay in touch. Be open and flexible and take things as they come.
2. Make a Plan and Take Control
You may have created a daily itinerary for yourself. But if you didn’t, and you find yourself feeling a bit lost, make one as soon as you feel yourself floundering.
You may find your itinerary has too much free time and trying to fill it is making you feel anxious.
Simple – change it.
I had loads of free time in my itinerary for Verona. Far too much.
On my worst day, it all seemed to fall apart. Loneliness set in. I asked a couple who were in front of the Arena taking selfies if I could take their photo for them. They looked at me with utter disdain and contempt.
Normally I would brush that off. If I had been with someone else, we would have had a chuckle about their attitude.
But instead, I burst into tears and went back to my hotel. I was exhausted and clearly emotional.
I didn’t want another day like that, not knowing what to do.
I created a new plan, cramming it with activities. Small but meaningful things to do like enjoying a coffee at a local patisserie, taking the funicular up to a lookout to admire the views over the city, time to wander and get lost in a part of the city I didn’t know, eating a decadent lunch, climbing the tower at sunset and revisiting the Christmas Markets at night.
I went back to basics.
When you travel for a while you get used to filling your days, one thing can lead you to another. But if that is not working, then go back to basics and plan everything, until you feel confident again.
3. Go Slow
Do a lunch crawl – entrée at one place, main at another, dessert somewhere else and finish it off with a drink at a different bar.
Book accommodation close to the city or town centre so you can pop back to your hotel to rest, drop off shopping, eat, nap, work or read.
Having to fill an entire day is tough, especially if you are staying longer than a couple of days in one place.
I find that impractical. I am not on the go all day at home, so why would I be when I am away. Exhaustion can set in quickly and will only exacerbate your feelings of isolation and loneliness.
4. Go on a Day Trip
Seen enough in your location but you’re not ready to move on?
Then do a bit of research, hop on a train (or drive) and visit the next town, city or village. Explore.
Keeping yourself busy, getting excited over a new location, researching and organising travel will take your mind off being lonely.
I am a huge fan of slow travel. Although a lot of people would argue that staying in one place longer can lead to boredom, I like to use the time to explore further afield.
Keep travel time to a minimum (for me no longer than 2 hours each way on the train). You don’t want to lose too much time travelling.
Too often itineraries are filled with popular destinations, and we forget the smaller, possibly even more interesting places close by. Day trips are the perfect way to sample those locations.
Book an organised day tour, which might be a nice reprieve from having to organise everything yourself – sit back and enjoy the day while someone else does the work.
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5. Expect to Feel Lonely and Plan Accordingly
I know you want to avoid it.
But if you expect to feel lonely at some point, you can plan for it. That way, you will not be left floundering when it happens. Instead of letting your emotions take control you can divert to the plan you created.
Even when people surround us, we can feel lonely.
In fact, that’s when I can feel the loneliest. There can be people everywhere but if you can’t make a connection with anyone it can feel desperately isolating.
So, what can you do if you are sitting alone at a busy café and no one invites you to sit with them?
I would order a drink I loved or had been wanting to try – the local red wine, the divine looking cocktail, an indulgent Affogato.
I would take the opportunity to sort my photos on my phone. Post on social media.
It was a good time to send messages home or write in a journal, even read a book.
I love to people watch.
And of course, you can use the time to start planning your next day – check timetables, consult Google Maps.
A lot of us work hard to avoid being alone. But learn to master being alone, and liking it, and you will find a freedom like no other.
If you don’t know how to fill a long evening, then don’t go out at night.
I am an early riser; therefore, I go to bed early. Of course, when I travel, I like to experience different things in the evening like night markets, a show and great restaurants.
But not all the time. Travelling is tiring, and it’s OK to have early nights. Instead of eating dinner at a restaurant, eat lunch. Buy a bottle of wine and something light for dinner in your room.
There are no rules, travel your way.
6. Celebrate Small Wins (with gelato)
Lower your expectations. If all you do for the day is go for a walk, pop into the supermarket for food and wine, then that’s OK. Reward yourself for small wins. Chocolate is always a good reward!
I won’t go to a bar on my own to fill in time. I get anxious about going into new places, especially unfamiliar crowded ones. But I am comfortable enough to sit at an outdoor café and order a drink.
As your confidence builds, do more. It will become natural.
Before you know it, you will be standing alone taking in a breathtaking view and smile, because you are doing the solo thing and you’re enjoying it.
You will soon realise you do not need anyone else to validate your enjoyment.
When we travel with other people, they act as a buffer. If we need to talk, we can. When we are tired, we tend to rally when others around, you push yourself more.
But when we are on our own, it’s easy to succumb to tiredness and emotions. You can find yourself easily upset, tempted to stay in bed or not leave your room.
Go treat yourself to a gelato! Gelato is the answer to all that ails us, isn’t it?
7. Choose the Right Season to Travel
The more travellers around, the higher your chances of connecting with one of them.
There are fewer tourists in the offseason. And not as many travellers to connect with. That was the case for me travelling to Italy for three weeks in November and December.
I also did not join as many tours in Verona as I did in Florence or Bologna. Most tours did not run that time of the year.
If you travel in the busier months – May, June, July, August and September in Europe you won’t have trouble chatting to people whether in a restaurant or café, a market or bar. Tourists from all over the world are visiting and happy to interact. And there will be a plethora of tours to join.
What did I do? I had to become ok with being alone, fast. But I prefer travelling in offseason and expect less people
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8. Find the Right Accommodation for You
Finding the right accommodation is important. You will feel more comfortable in the right environment.
If you want to be more sociable, stay in a hostel. If you don’t like the idea of sharing a dorm, book a private room. A lot of hostels organise tours and activities, and there will always be other travellers around to speak to.
I also enjoy staying in apartments, and even though I won’t meet other travellers that way, it is an opportunity to cook for myself (something I love to do). That means shopping at supermarkets, food markets and speciality stores. It gives me a purpose.
An apartment also allows me to spend time doing other things like working, writing and journaling.
Other options could be a hotel with a restaurant and bar. You might feel more comfortable heading downstairs at your hotel and enjoy a drink at the bar instead of going out. Your hotel is already a familiar place to you.
9. Evening Activities and Late Admissions
If you are having trouble filling your time in the evenings, find evening activities or venues that open late.
Research before leaving home. Make a list of activities and venues to visit in the evening, including opening days and times, you can refer to when the opportunity arises.
We visited the Louvre in Paris on a Friday evening when it is open until 9.45 pm. We had kids and wanted to spend a maximum of three hours looking around.
You can join an evening tour, a great way to fill your time at night especially if it includes drinks and dinner.
10. Find a Purpose, Indulge Your Interests
Do you like taking photos? Then spend time sorting and editing them.
Is journaling your thing?
Whatever your interests, build them into your trip.
Indulge your hobby by finding art supplies, craft supplies, embroidery, fashion – whatever it is, find a shop you can spend time browsing. Or join a class or find a museum dedicated to your interest.
Even if you don’t buy anything, you will be engaged. And if you do buy something, it will be the perfect souvenir.
Build time into your day to indulge in that activity. Travelling doesn’t mean sightseeing all day, every day. Having a purpose can make travelling more meaningful.
And if that means spending an hour or two over a glass of wine writing or drawing in a journal, cooking with local ingredients you bought at the local market, editing your fantastic travel photos or reading because you don’t get the chance at home or thumbing through a cookbook, then do it.
You don’t need to always be on the go. You also need to be you.
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11. Create a Challenge
Next time I go to Florence I am setting myself a gelato challenge.
Each day I am going out to find the best gelato from a list of stores I have created, and I am going to rank them. I will write my thoughts and details about each one.
It may not seem much, but it will be something to do, something to blog about, and its gelato. Wait? I mentioned gelato before, right? Perhaps I am a little obsessed.
But it could be a pizza challenge. Or a chocolate challenge. Or a photo challenge. Get creative.
Perhaps you have created a list of all the restaurants you want to try. Or the types of dishes unique to the area.
Have fun with it.
12. Establish Habits
Did you find a restaurant you like? A cafe?
I know you may want to try as many different ones as possible but if you are feeling lonely and lacking in connection then going back to a place that feels familiar is comforting.
You will more than likely establish a connection with the staff if they see you a few times. It’s nice to be recognised and welcomed.
That’s another advantage of slow travel that I love — finding a “favourite” place to frequent.
During a six-day stay in Cortona with my small group I was leading, a friend and I would go out early for a walk, and before returning to our hotel, we would stop for an espresso at the same café bar each day.
Later in our stay, while the group was engaged in an activity, I took the opportunity to enjoy a solo lunch at the same café. I was greeted like an old friend.
You can do the same thing at a bakery, buying a fresh croissant each day or fruit at a fruit stall at the local market.
It’s a lovely feeling to connect with locals. And knowing you will do something familiar can help stave off loneliness.
On Tour – Alone
What if you join a tour group, but you are on your own, in your private room and everyone else is sharing with a roommate?
Do you feel lonely even though you are surrounded by people all day?
Perhaps friends stick together and explore during free time. Maybe no one asks you to join them.
At the end of the night when everyone heads up to their rooms do you feel left out? Do you feel isolated with no one to talk to about the day?
There are a couple of things you can do to ease feeling lonely while on tour.
13. Plan Your Free Time
Be the knowledgeable one.
Don’t leave everything up to the tour guide or other group members.
Read your itinerary thoroughly. Take note of how much time you will have free. And plan around that.
That way you take charge of your day and won’t feel at the mercy of others. And if you are feeling confident enough, ask others to join you. Especially if they are looking lost and not sure what to do.
Don’t focus on not being asked to join others; focus on making your trip memorable.
Of course, the likelihood that you will join others is high. You may not need your plan at all. But the fact that you have it will make you feel in control.
14. Create a Night-Time Routine
We can feel most vulnerable when we are tired.
So be prepared. If you are at all worried about feeling lonely because you are in a room on your own, then create a routine.
Of course, you can be flexible.
But if you find yourself struggling you can refer to the routine and stay busy and focused. It doesn’t matter if it seems simple, the point is that you have a focus.
Here is an example of my routine:
- Clean out and reorganise handbag – file receipts, replenish your cash, throw out any rubbish etc.
- Do handwashing, fold/hang up clothes and organise clothes for the next day.
- Go over the next day’s schedule – do I need to organise anything? Do I have a plan for any free time? Book online tickets?
- Set the alarm for the next day if needed.
- Pack luggage if moving on the next day.
- Update my travel budget, write in a journal, post on social media.
- Go about my regular personal night-time routine – shower etc.
- Indulge – perhaps a glass of wine and chocolate (or two).
- Settle in and read, listen to music, go over the highlights of my day.
Most of us do these things without thinking about them. But if you create a plan to follow (yep, I mean write it down as a checklist), your mind becomes focused, and not worried about being lonely, or missing out.
One of my favourite things to do at night while on my own in Florence was to pour a glass of wine, turn the lights down low in my room and open the windows wide.
I could see the Duomo from my room, and I would stand at my window sipping my wine watching people going out for dinner, locals closing up stores for the night and heading home, friends greeting one another in the street and I would feel intense pleasure at being a part of it all.
Coping with Being Lonely
I was watching a video, and the speaker (I think it was Mel Robbins) said, “We need to stop waiting – waiting for someone to help us, to make us happy, to save us”. “No one’s coming! It’s up to you.”
I feel that’s what solo travel is about.
It’s up to you.
If being lonely feels uncomfortable, let it. Being uncomfortable isn’t going to kill us or hurt us. It’s just a feeling. It will go away.
The thought of being alone can be frightening. But imagine learning not to need others? That anything you want to do can be done and enjoyed on your own.
Imagine the freedom!
Stop beating yourself up. Travel is a process. Learning to be alone is a process. Be patient.
Don’t feel guilty if you spend a day reading instead of sightseeing. It’s a holiday, not a marathon and certainly not a competition to see who can visit the most places.
Go for it!
If you are travelling solo or thinking about it, you might find these helpful:
- Everything You Need to Know Before You Solo Travel
- A Unique Program – Learn How to Solo Travel
- Do You Feel Lonely When You Solo Travel?
- Why I Solo Travelled and How it Changed Me
- 5 Lessons I Learnt from Solo Travel