Updated on February 19th, 2021
One of the biggest fears when you decide to venture out into the world as a solo female traveller is that of loneliness. After embarking on a new life after the tragic loss of my husband, I now believe myself to be somewhat of an expert on this. Here I discuss the question of Alone vs Lonely & give you my 15 top tips on how to combat this & the fear of solo travel.”
Everywhere…even at home!
One of the big questions I am often asked is “Don’t you find travelling alone lonely?” I’ll be honest, of course, it can be! Or it can be if you allow it to be. However, with over 30 years of travel & many solo journeys under my belt, I have picked up lots of tips & tricks on how to combat loneliness on the road. Travelling solo is an empowering experience for any woman & if loneliness is something which is holding you back, then here are my solutions to help you.
Alone vs Lonely
Loneliness is defined by the Oxford dictionary as:
- Sadness because one has no friends or company
- (of a place) the quality of being unfrequented and remote; isolation
Alone is simply “having no one else present”.
Travelling solo, of course, has the chance of being all of these things but also an opportunity to truly discover who you are.
Being alone does not automatically mean being lonely & even if it did, it is not necessarily sad. Don’t get me wrong I have experienced moments of crippling loneliness. I undertook this new life of travel as a direct result of losing my husband. For 20 years he had been my best friend & my constant travelling companion. Terry was the person I enjoyed spending all my free time with, we had the best fun together & he knew me better than I knew myself. He was a larger-than-life character who was loved by everyone who had the pleasure of his company. After almost 20 years together, we still walked everywhere hand in hand.
Going from that to spending time alone away from home by choice is a challenge all its own & at times the sound of silence was deafening. But, I’ll be honest, feeling alone while travelling is nowhere near as lonely as being alone at home.”
Solo travel has also given me the opportunity to find out who I am again now I am alone once more. When you spend that amount of time as part of a couple, it’s important to take time to understand who you are. The last time I had been alone was when I was travelling solo in my twenties through Europe, Australia & Indonesia. Then I came home to the UK & met Terry. And there I stayed very happily for the next 18 years.
In order to deal with all of this & emerge, not only without loneliness but also a feeling of strength & empowerment while travelling alone has been a journey in itself. Initially, I was very concerned about how others would see me. Will they all stare at me? Think I’ve been stood up? Have no friends? Am trying to pick them up? What if nobody talks to me? Or even worse, what if they do & I have to tell them the awful truth? What if I can’t control myself & cry in public? As a result, I have developed techniques along the way which help me to deal with my situation.
Age is not just a number
I’ll be honest. The world of travelling is different when you’re over 40 in comparison to your 20s. When you’re 20, all you have to do is check into a hostel & you have a ready-made community of travellers & new friends. However, once you get to your 40’s & are travelling alone, we are a much rarer breed!
In my experience this makes it even more important where you go & what you choose to do. Then you can enjoy learning the strength you have & make meaningful connections with the people who are lucky enough to cross your path.”
Alone vs Lonely – 15 Top Tips for Combatting Loneliness as a Solo Female Traveller
The first question is, do you want to be alone? Just because you have taken the decision to travel solo does not mean being alone all the time. Far from it. It is a choice & once you have made it, it’s also your choice every day whether you do or don’t engage with others.
1. Join a tour
The best way not to be lonely is to have some ready-made travelling buddies & that is the joy of a tour. I have joined tours in Peru, Bolivia, the Gálapagos Islands & Costa Rica. The main company I have used is G Adventures who I would highly recommend.
When I find myself in cities, then day trips or walking tours are a great way to orientate yourself, learn more about the culture & meet other travellers. It is easy to spot those who are travelling alone & strike up a conversation from there. Maybe followed by a lunch together or someone to explore the area further with?
Whatever your interest, head to an area where it is popular, & find others who enjoy it too! How about hiking, diving, sailing, yoga or a safari for starters? Go with an open mind & make some friends. Alternatively, find something you are keen to learn more about & go to take lessons or explore it further.
3. Join Meet Up
If you are looking to meet people in the local area, then consider registering with Meet Up. Meet Up is a platform completely designed to introduce local people who pursue similar interests. This can involve exploring the area you have chosen to visit, joining a creative group or even taking a class to enhance your career.
In my twenties, I spent lots of time staying in hostels & was rarely alone or lonely. But now the crowds are younger, so as a solo traveller over 40 (or 50 like me), they can make you feel more alone. I also find big hotel chains soulless & impersonal.
Nowadays I prefer smaller independent hotels or Airbnb style accommodation. Communal breakfast is a great way to meet other people & find out about their plans or recommendations. The people at reception are always friendly & keen to help you discover the best in their area. Why not hang about in the communal areas rather than your room to feel more like you are part of something & maybe start to help new arrivals with your favourite activities?
I have never tried Couchsurfing but the very nature of it is to meet someone local & stay in their home. Their strapline is “You have friends all over the world, you just haven’t met them yet”. What more encouragement do you need? Accommodation is free & who better to take you around their local area than your host? If you don’t feel comfortable to stay, they also organise events in over 200,000 places around the world.”
Being Alone But Not Lonely
Being alone means I meet more people. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it is something I wholeheartedly believe. When alone, I make way more connections than when I’m travelling with friends. You just need to open yourself up to the possibilities & opportunities. I guarantee they will happen. Staying safe while you’re doing it is a whole different subject.
For more on this check out my Safety Tips for Travelling Alone.
5. Be aware of your surroundings
Being open to interactions is the easiest way to get them! Nowadays we spend so much time with our faces buried in our phones & when you are away from home this is even more tempting. But what better way to immerse yourself in a new country & culture than to look up & observe? People watching has always been one of my favourite sports & when you are a long way from home it can be a pricelessly valuable pursuit. If you have your head down engrossed in what is happening miles away on social media, feeling lonely, then you will have less chance of seeing, experiencing & finding out more about your new environment. The more you look up, the more open to connecting with people you are.
I feel the same way about earphones. Generally, I don’t like using them for safety reasons, but they are also an automatic way of saying “Stay away, I’m busy”.
So, if you can’t spend time on your phone while you’re out, how do you keep busy? I never leave home without my book, guidebook or notebook. Writing can make you more open to conversations than the phone. Journaling is not just a good way to record your trip for posterity but also a place where you can capture how you feel. If I am feeling lonely, documenting it can help relieve the stress.
Reading your guidebook while you’re out is also a great way to engage with others. It is a great starting point for conversations around recommendations.”
Never be afraid to ask questions. I always like to engage anyone in conversation & when it’s someone who is doing their job it makes it much less awkward. When you are checking in to your accommodation, at a bar, restaurant, shop or the local tourist office, ask questions. Anyone working in these environments is usually local, personable & will be happy to provide answers. They are also most likely to speak English. Even if they don’t, there will often be people around who are desperate to practice their language skills. If that fails too, there is always joy in sign language & a smile.
If you aren’t confident to ask questions, then here are some to get you started: What are the best places to visit here? Which is your favourite tourist attraction/beach/hiking route/ snorkelling area/restaurant/bar? What are the most popular places for people to visit? Anywhere which is less known to avoid the crowds? How do I get there? What is the local speciality food that I should try?
8. Smile & be open
This is the most important piece of advice I have! Overwhelmingly I believe in the power of a ready smile & welcoming eyes. Even if you are concerned about starting a conversation yourself, then just being welcome to interactions will encourage others & make you feel less alone in doing so.
Another way to combat loneliness is to stay connected. I often start a What’s App group when I go away. I share photos, funny stories & discoveries from the day with my closest friends. It’s the perfect place to get a virtual hug if I ever feel I need it too.
10. Be Prepared
Download your favourite TV shows & podcasts & take them with you. Nowadays you can access Netflix or Spotify (paid prescription) anywhere in the world to bring the familiar along on your travels with you. Just a bit of your favourite music or friendly podcasts & spending time with characters you love can help combat feelings of loneliness you may experience.
What to Avoid
Personally, I find cities the loneliest places to be. Everyone seems to be with their loved ones & will appear to you like they are having an amazing time. This will only amplify your isolation. In addition, avoid anywhere which is popular for families & worst of all couples. Smaller towns, tourist or beach areas have a tendency to feel more friendly & welcoming.
12. Facebook vs Fakebook
The important thing about What’s App is that it is NOT social media. Facebook, Instagram etc have become synonymous with everyone having an amazing time. Constant checking can make you feel much worse & like you are really missing out. People rarely post when they are down & miserable, so when you are, seeing others having the time of their lives will not help you.
Selfish though it sounds, when I’m away, I post my news but spend limited time scrolling through others. If you’re feeling a little low, it will not help you.”
13. Nights out
For many women travelling alone, it is not sensible or safe to go out at night but that can work to your advantage. I often have my main meal in the afternoon. Many places are empty, I get great service & have more time to ask plenty of questions. I also have my notebook with me & they often think I’m a critic (with TripAdvisor, now aren’t we all?). This makes them even more attentive ;).
What if you just want to be alone?
14. Do it!
I am a naturally shy person & despite choosing a career in sales, I still struggle to start conversations with strangers. Somehow when it’s your job it’s so much easier! This means that if I am keen to speak to anyone it takes a huge effort to find the appropriate “targets” & approach them. It can be exhausting & sometimes I just don’t have the energy. But that’s OK. At the end of the day combatting loneliness is all about being comfortable in yourself & enjoying your own company.
15. Learn to enjoy your own company
Travelling solo can be lonely, that is the nature of the experience. The loneliness, however, does not need to be deafening. Through challenging myself with travelling solo, I have learnt to be comfortable in my own skin, confident in myself & made more friends than ever.
There are lots of tips & tricks you can deploy to help you combat those feelings of loneliness. I hope through sharing mine it will allow you to embrace the experience & feel empowered by your situation. Most of all, I hope I have convinced you that alone is a very different thing to being lonely.
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