The Solo Traveler’s Guide to Dealing With Loneliness
Turns out the thrill of exploring a new place alone doesn’t negate how difficult it can be
Last December, I embarked on a month-long solo trip to Eastern Europe. I’d been feeling a bit stalled personally and professionally, and I thought a big adventure would help me get unstuck. I booked a flight to Estonia, reserved a few nights in an Airbnb, and planned to figure out the rest when I got there — after all, everything was up to me.
It was a thrilling thought: I was exploring a foreign country entirely on my own, with no one else’s schedule, wants, or needs to consider. I wandered the charming cobbled streets of Tallinn, the capital city. I sipped hot sea buckthorn tea at a Christmas market and bought a pair of reindeer-patterned leg warmers to cope with the single-digit temperatures. But a day or two later, shivering under the weak afternoon sun and surrounded by groups snapping photos, it hit me: I was really, truly alone in a place where I knew no one. And even though I’d chosen to come there, I was lonely.
Almost as soon as I recognized my own loneliness, I was disappointed by it. Feeling this way seemed at odds with the spirit of a solo adventure. What I didn’t know then — but have since come to learn — is that even if you genuinely enjoy traveling by yourself (and I do), you won’t necessarily love every single minute of it. In addition to that burst of quiet joy you feel watching a breathtaking sunset in solitude or the rush of pride you get from successfully navigating a new transit system, you’ll probably have a few moments when you’re tired of having no one but yourself for company.
For most of us, a little loneliness is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to ruin your trip. Here are a few ways to deal with it.
Give yourself permission to feel lonely
My initial reaction to loneliness was to beat myself up. It wasn’t just that it was ruining my trip; feeling this way also clashed with the identity I’d been mentally constructing. I wanted to see myself as an adventurous person, and in my mind, adventurous people didn’t get lonely. There must be a “right” way to travel alone, I concluded, and whatever it was, I wasn’t…