Loneliness on the Road: How to Cope with the Downside of Solo Travel
Solo travel is an incredible experience. You undergo so many mental and emotional breakthroughs and face many opportunities to grow. But to experience growth, you must overcome some hardships. On this journey, I discovered it is human nature to crave interaction with other people. Although you get to communicate with many people during your travels, developing a connection is not guaranteed. And language barriers only contribute to the problem. Some days this predicament will serve as an unfamiliar blessing and other days you will just wish you had someone to hear and understand you. I had this epiphany as soon as I began my first solo trip abroad and continue to experience the same challenges, but I have found some ways to tackle this feeling of loneliness when traveling alone.
When I first got to Thailand I was completely terrified.
It’s not that I haven’t been to a developing country before, but the level of discomfort I felt was overwhelming. Coming from the city of Los Angeles, California and moving to a remote, rural town, half way around the world, is not a small move. I am not insinuating that everyone will have the same experience, but this was mine. To help my transition, I contacted Sara Thacker, from Greenheart Travel. Although I knew this was a phase that I would overcome, I was struggling to shake the feeling of discomfort. Sara was extremely helpful, and sent me a worksheet that had a list of coping strategies that Greenheart Travel has created for the exact panic I was experiencing. Complete life saver! She reminded me how important it is to take a step back and remember to embrace all these changes as they were – temporary. Overtime I grew more comfortable with the idea of being here, and it inspired me in more ways than I could have ever imagined!
Even though I am making an active effort to adjust to my surroundings, I still find myself feeling lonely.
In Lom Sak, not many locals speak much English so I have made an effort to pick up as much Thai as I can. It has been quite rewarding to not only add a language to my repertoire but to also be able to get around and make my best attempt to speak to people in my broken Thai. Sometimes my attempts do fail, because either I have butchered the pronunciation or people are just shocked at my ability to speak Thai that they don’t even hear me out. It happens, but it’s all a part of the experience. Thankfully, I was able to be-friend some foreign teachers, who are other English teachers from the Philippines, western nations, and the Chinese teachers at our school. I have also been able to meet some local friends who speak English. Most of my local Thai friends have also lived abroad, and to my surprise, I learned this is not a common thing. Even amongst the people I know back home, not many people have traveled as much. For myself, I have had a passport for as long as I can remember, but you might be surprised to know, according to Forbes, only 50% of Americans actually possess a passport.
Before starting my time in the classroom, my TESOL (one of many certifications you can receive to teach English abroad) classmates and I were advised that the Thai culture does not generally embrace change. Thai people are content and comfortable with their lifestyle here and like to keep it things the way they are. It is a very family oriented culture and everyone sticks together. So, coming to a small town, I expected to see a small-town mindset, and I didn’t expect to be able to relate to anyone. I was wrong. I COULD relate to people here, even though they live a completely different lifestyle and by standards unfamiliar to me. But the differences did not define their mindset, and did not surpass the need for human connection. But it’s still a hustler’s world here, and we don’t get together as often as we like. Everyone works just about EVERYDAY! Everyone is so busy, but I continue to seek those interactions with individuals I could relate to, or that had more time to talk, discuss ideas, and share personal stories with.
So, I decided to start making more of an effort, and find other ways to make friends.
During my breaks, I help in other classrooms, on weekends I leave my bedroom to explore the city, and tried taking on an even more hands-on approach by joining social clubs and forums online. When you look, there are a plethora of resources available!! And to my surprise, I found out that I’m not alone! A ton of people (especially those who travel often) have trouble finding their support group being away from home. Joining a few groups on Facebook and discovering many communities of women who travel, was a great source of encouragement and networking. Reaching out and looking for connections has been the best decision I made, and the percentage of people who could relate was extremely reassuring. It felt good to have my feelings of loneliness humanized, through the forums and the coping list from Greenheart Travel.
I’ve learned that although the feeling may be common, it’s in our hands to decide what we will do about it.
Whether we continue to sit in loneliness or seek out a way to turn things around to help ourselves, is completely up to us. It’s human nature to want connection, but how much are we willing to work for it? Even without social media, I have made several friends here in Thailand both local and foreign. These friends don’t all live right in my town, which is why the loneliness persists. Some of my closest friends here aren’t from my home country, but we have all figured out a way to connect and bond with each other. This struggle is an amazing opportunity to meet new people, build new relationships, and connect with like-minded individuals globally! Every day won’t be perfect, but you can make sure your experience is everything and more of what you want it to be.
Don’t let the fear of rejection or even the presence of loneliness stop you from traveling. If you have any desire to DO IT! Get out there and see what your heart is aching for! You won’t regret it!