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Travel Throughout the World: Loneliness When Abroad

Updated on December 25, 2007

There are many hubs and bits of advice out there in the world that deal with ways to save money when traveling, methods of getting the best hotel rooms or hostel beds for the lowest prices, and even how to best meet the locals. Yet one point that is important to address is the loneliness that comes from traveling. This is especially true for travelers, as opposed to tourists.

Typically, tourists go abroad for a mere 2 or 3 weeks, scuttle about trying to see all of the sights and other “must-see, must-do” attractions. As well, tourists usually travel in groups of 2 or larger, and so for them, loneliness is not such an issue. Travelers, however, tend to travel for extended periods of time, sometimes years, often trailblazing through exotic places that few tourists dare venture, and many times they fly solo. It is here that the trouble begins.

The first preventative to this great loneliness, which often is replaced by deep melancholy, is to travel with someone else, when you can. Of course, even when in a crowd, as the idea goes, we can sometimes feel alone. Having a travel companion is not an absolute panacea to satisfying our social needs, but it is a great beginning.

Next, stay in touch, as best you can. Today the world of communications has blown up so greatly that there are few places where you cannot find a phone or cyber café. Further, wireless technology can be found in every capital city in the world, if not in the outback nether-regions where travelers tend to go. Laptop computers have also grown smaller and lighter so that bringing them along to find a wireless hotspot is a strong possibility.

Cell phones now exist that can reach basically anyplace in the world, many with email and Internet capabilities. A few years ago a story appeared in the press about a mountain climber who was trapped on a ledge on Mt. Everest. He was caught in a storm and knew he was going to die. Yet, with the wonders of technology, he was able to make a final call to his wife on his cell phone, and tell her goodbye. While this story is quite saddening, it illustrates the availability of anyone in the world to you when you have a phone as you travel.

Another obstacle to clarity and joy during travel is being away from home during the holidays, particularly the Winter Solstice-centered holidays like Kwanzaa, Christmas, Chanukah, or whatever holidays you and your loved ones celebrate together. Being away from family at this time, especially when everyone around you in a foreign nation are celebrating with their family and friends can be nearly devastating; I speak from experience on this. So, if you can be home at this time, do so.

Of course, this is not always a possibility. If you’re traveling you’ll want to make friends as best as possible. There are many “tricks” to this, most of which you already know, as these are the same methods of initiating friendship in your own country. Chat someone up about the nice shirt he’s wearing, the book she’s reading, your love of beer in the country you’re visiting, whatever.

Another way is to get people to come to you. A great way to do this is with games that you can play at a café table, such as Set and other such card games, or in a town square, such as hackeysack. I’ve had special success with this as, though hackeysack is not known all over the world. As it is very kinetic, it attracts attention immediately, while it also has elements in common with the planet’s favorite game, soccer/ world football. In the Netherlands, Greece, and Mexico, notably, I’ve simply had to start kicking about a sack and people rush to greet me and play the “strange game.” It’s not long before they’re inviting me to lunch at their home, to have coffee at a café, or to watch a soccer game with them.

A great way to go in dispelling loneliness is to keep yourself busy, as with reading, listening to music, writing in a journal, or even learning about the culture you are experiencing, as from a tour book. This is especially important for the alternate reason that knowing the cultural differences, including the viewpoints, customs, and ceremonies of a country can make you feel more of a participator and less of an outside observer.

Finally, eat well, exercise –participate especially in cardiovascular exercise, preferably for a minimum of 45 minute each day, and when feeling especially blue, eat a little chocolate –you’d be amazed at what some of the chemicals in chocolate, like theobromine, can do for you.

This should be a great start to staying positive when loneliness might otherwise intrude in your psyche. If you come upon other techniques, please, send me an email and tell me your thoughts.


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    • Sean Fullmer profile image

      Sean Fullmer 10 years ago from California

      Lissie, I think that you're right on the whole, people in the flesh are always better; but I enjoy touching base with old friends and family from time-to-time.

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 10 years ago from New Zealand

      I think the worst thing youi can do when traveling alone is spend too much time in cyber cafes checking up on people at home - it will make you a lot more lonely - get out and connect with the place you are at!