The lack of wifi and thus the connection with the outside world – despite some really good conversations with newly-met friends shared over a bottle of whiskey last night – made me look inside and actually I’m feeling a bit lonely for the first time in a while.
Someone considering turning into digital nomad has lately asked me this question: ‘How do you cope with loneliness while travelling solo? I’m afraid I would really miss my friends and family’. Looking back at the last year, a year spent travelling between several places in 10 countries – I remember feeling acutely lonely a few times. The ice festival in Harbin, China. – 30 degrees, stolen wallet, and not a person speaking a word of English in 3 days. The empty beach in DaNang. And the wifi-less day on Koh Rong Sanloem.
That’s it. 3 days out of nearly a year. Life sucked 2% of the time, but it was worth it for the 98% that was generally amazing.
Coincidence? No. I don’t simply happen to be an always-happy person. I don’t naturally magnetize people around me and make friends terribly easily. Nor am I a loner who enjoys being on their own all the time. On the contrary, I tend to overthink and brood whenever given the chance and I used to experience loneliness, boredom and frustration a lot more than now.
What changed? I realised that feelings are a choice. I believe emotions are a natural feedback to our situation that they are meant to provide us with guidance – whether we are doing something right or wrong – but we usually have influence over our situation or at least the way we perceive it and respond to it. And that way we can change our feelings.
So when travelling solo and feeling lonely – we can choose to brood and feel even worse – and then blame the solo-travel-situation on it and avoid it (and miss out on all the amazing experiences and lessons that solo travel offers) – or we can pause and reflect on why we are feeling lonely – and what conditions must be met for us to feel otherwise – and then act upon it.
Feeling lonely? Go to a bar and ask a stranger what brings them there. They don’t speak any language you know? Try with another one. Crack a big smile and don’t worry they will think you’re a psycho – you will probably never see them again anyway.
Do something productive. Don’t scroll mindlessly through Facebook or Instagram. It will only make you feel worse. Unlike what social media lead us to believe, other people’s lives are also not all roses, rainbows and unicorn farts. Chat with a close friend instead. Catch up with 10 people you haven’t spoken with for a while. No internet? Good. Download some self-development books in advance for that occasion. Write a list of things you want to accomplish and learn this month, in 3 months, 6 months and a year. Visualise your perfect life in 5 years. What one thing can you do *NOW* to get you closer to that goal? Learn 20 new words in a foreign language. Listen to a podcast and summarise it. Write a long letter to a close one. Journal.
And remember – while travelling alone in a foreign country may sometimes amplify the feeling of being ‘all-alone-in-the-world’, loneliness is a normal part of human experience and you can experience it anywhere. In a full room at a party. With your loved one(s). At work. And it’s ok.
Don’t miss out on amazing things in life for fear of being alone. Your tribe will wait. You will be able to pick up where you left off. You will make new friends. If you feel like going, go. And enjoy your journey.
*I falsified my hypothesis that I can get substantial results at work while travelling in developing countries and moving every few days. I couldn’t. So I decided to go back to Europe and focus on work, while leaving my travel plans for later 😉