A Little Confession… Yes, Sometimes Travel is Lonely

Alone is a beautiful thing; it’s when I process my thoughts, absorb new travel experiences, find unexpected friendships, and detox from being “on” with other people. Lonely is not so beautiful a thing, though if I’m honest, the lonely, soul-searching lessons I learned over the past four and a half years were as instructive as any. For all that I love time alone, and I do, I have felt  sharp moments of pain staring at myself in a mirror in a random foreign country, questioning my decision to travel solo so long and so often. In tackling this subject, a subject readers email me about on a weekly basis, I aim for honest and not an upbeat “you should totally go travel solo!” I hope I always hit honesty in my writing, but sometimes I shy from the weighty subjects because there is a delicate balance between validating that I too share a fear and noting how and why I overcame the need to let that fear lull me back into conformity.

traveling alone at loch ness scottland

Solo in solitude as the only person taking in the bright sunshine on the shore of Loch Ness in Scotland.

Many parts of solo travel have made me a stronger person, but I respect that there are nuances to each of us — what makes solo travel so right for one person can become a negative for someone else. And so in framing this discussion, as we look at the nuances of being alone and tips at the end for fighting lonely, let’s to look to the English language first.

We have two words in English to describe the feeling of being alone: loneliness and solitude.

Each word centers on the principle concept of having no company, yet they exists on opposing sides of a single spectrum of the human experience. One day the very circumstances that trigger solitude turn into an inward bout of its darker counterpoint, loneliness.

Counselors and therapists, or even advice from a trusted best friend, gift us with a chance to reframe a situation. They help us take an overwhelming moment in life and reframe how we perceive it. Though it’s harder to do alone, it’s a muscle I still work at; every day of my life I try to train myself to find a new perspective on an old pattern, feeling, or negative situation. Most negative feelings and behaviors in the human experience have a counter-positive like this, a word we use to express the other side to that very same situation.

When does assertive cross into argumentative?

Or vivacious into loud?

When does the welcome respite of solitude shift into loneliness?

In recognizing that one day I revel in solitude while the next wallow in loneliness, I give my brain a perspective it can latch onto for this yo-yo of emotions cropping up every so often. And in looking at the many times I have rejoiced in my ability as a solo traveler to read a book for hours at a park, or to pace myself through a museum, I recognize that loneliness is an impermanent state and one I just have to ride out until it slides back down the scale into solitude.

On Sharing Travel with Others

into the wild

The iconic image of McCandless, at his Alaskan campsite.

In a divergent train of thought, let’s move back into my personal experiences with loneliness on the road.  The book (and film) Into the Wild is a wonderful, heartbreaking, and lovely read. The book bears into this discussion because I often think about a sentiment Christopher McCandless wrote before he died. McCandless marked this passage in Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago:

“And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness … and this was most vexing of all.” 

In the margins of this book, he scrawled, “Happiness only real when shared.”

There’s no way of knowing how close he was to death at that point, but he was isolated and alone in the Alaskan wilderness for months when he read this book. I can only speculate from my own experiences about what he was feeling to prompt writing such a statement, but it feels like loneliness from where I sit.

Sometimes when I hit the road I think about that conclusion McCandless came to before his death and I assess if I feel any of that creeping into me. Will I regret not seeing my family for the next six months? Invariably the answer is no, and that is partly because I am rarely actually alone on the road. I meet travelers, I pass time with them, and I meet locals in each new place and pass time with them too. In leaving solo, I am not truly alone, and I think that’s the key under it all. With communication at hand and hostels filled with other backpackers I have experiences to pull me from any bouts of homesickness.

I’ve been nostalgic for home, but less often than I feared before leaving. And less often than I think most readers who email also fear. The fear of having no one to talk to never manifested for me on the road, or at least not for very long. I’ve had clashes with culture shock that left me overwhelmed for a couple of hours, perhaps a day or two of generally feeling down, but that’s contrasted with more than four years of most days being new, fresh, exciting, or at least interesting (because I won’t claim laundry days are either fresh or exciting, but hunting down the laundry, negotiating for a rate, etc — it’s interesting!).

On Personality Types

Any conceptions you hold about an ideal personality type for travel is wrong. There is no ideal, there is merely how you take your approach to the world and mesh it with travel. Extroverts may not worry so much about the lonely aspect of travel because they’re confident in their ability to make friends. But introverts who have emailed me see some travel bloggers sharing photos of raucous groups celebrating on beach bars in Thai islands and wonder if they’re destined to sit alone, holed up in a hostel crying in their tea. Neither type is better suited for travel, nor is either type excluded from loneliness because loneliness is not about just being alone, it’s about the emotional place you’re in at that moment.

Tophu nway, Shan soup.

Some people fear eating solo; when your food looks this good you get over that fear pretty fast. And with the market culture in Asia, mealtimes buzz and hum with interesting activity.

I am, at my core, a bit of a loner. I am super sociable too, that’s for sure. And I smile a lot, which gets mistaken for being an extrovert (I end nearly every tweet with a smiley face, I know it’s obnoxious but I can’t help it).  But in reality, large groups overwhelm me and I can ramp up into manic.

If you want to talk Myers & Briggs types, I’m an INTJ, and the analysis is pretty solid. I will note too (being prone to meticulous logic) that it doesn’t say anywhere in there that I make the “perfect” solo traveler. It’s just me, and I bring all that with me as I navigate new countries and find new friendships. For there are many new friendships even for introverts.

Rather than personality types, I really think it comes down to curiosity. Leave to travel with curiosity and you’ll find the new people and experiences that light you up inside and battle away any notions of loneliness.

On Sickness and Loneliness

I move back to the quote from Into the Wild. McCandless looked at the end of his life fast approaching and he was sick, isolated, and sad; I felt so deeply for him as I read that part of the book. Those three feelings form the darkest combination of loneliness I know. And if that trio met often in my life I would seriously consider traveling less.

I have classified myself as “seriously sick” only a few times since traveling (and once in high school). The worst occurred in 2009 while I backpacked in a remote area of Laos. In that moment, I faced a loneliness I had never known because I honestly questioned if I would live through the night. It’s still one of my darkest moments in all of my travels.

How close I was to dying that night is something I’ll never know for certain, but I was weak, exhausted down to my soul, and sick enough to scribble some last thoughts for my family. Thinking back on that night spent alone on the cold-tile of the bathroom floor, after six days of self-medicating my worsening sickness in a remote area of Laos, makes me tear up. I was at a low point in my life, and if that doesn’t make someone contemplate the choices that put them in the middle of Laos without access to a phone capable of calling for a medevac, then I don’t know what else would (and I would have accepted medevac without hesitation).

Laos Countryside

A beautiful but remote area of Laos far from the Thai border and thus far from medical care.

There is no happy conclusion to this section on loneliness, it’s the only one I can’t explain away and tell you gets better. I can only say the moments are rare, and the circumstances of being in such a remote area while getting such a serious illness are not common. I recognize that it’s not common even though it happened to me.

Last month I looked at the fear of rape as the most salient point in the solo female travel argument, and I noted that I had no antidote for it — I strive to lessen the chance of that happening, but other than that I continue on with my life. I feel that way with sickness and dark loneliness. I don’t take my life lightly, and the Laos experience gave me a deep appreciation for the technology allowing me to touch base with friends and family. Which I do, often. And then I release the rest to chance.

On Missing Family and Friends

Beautiful Tuscan Landscape

My only friend to join me on my RTW, Jenn and I backpacked through Italy and Croatia for a month!

A reader once emailed me intimating that perhaps I don’t have people back home who I miss, going so far as to ask if I love my family (I chose not take offence, it’s a fair question). I miss people and moments every single day I am on the road. I missed several “big moments”  in the lives of my friends and family as a trade-off to this journey; my four closest friends each had a baby in 2011. I missed each birth. I Skyped them from the road, my voice cracking from my spotty wi-fi cutting in and out; I shouted my congrats and sent all my love propelling across the oceans toward them.

And I continued traveling. Despite “missing” these people and moments, I am certain this is still the right time and right choice for my life.

8 Tips for Travelers Fighting Lonely

If your time on the road is tending toward the darker end of the spectrum, to fight the lonely I offer up these ideas:

  • Call home. Call your parents or best friends using either Skype or Google Voice; if they’re savvy you can even video-chat or FaceTime with them. Those friendly voices are often the best cure when I’m feeling blue, and I’ll even indulge and spend several hours just catching up with people so I erase the feeling that I’m missing out on the lives of people I love and care about.
  • Volunteer. Selfless-service is a great way to recalibrate your sense of gratitude and happiness. As an added bonus, it often allows you to interact with other great people who will also help pull you from your funk. (::cough, cough:: I wrote a book on international volunteering should you be so inclined).
  • Find other travelers. Though I have always found showing up in a new place provided enough new people for me, my level of interaction would be downright anti-social for others. If you love the experience of meeting new people, organizing trekking partners, and finding travel buddies, there are numerous forums to get you there. I have used Couchsurfing in the past with success, I got great advice from the indie travelers in BootsnAll’s forums before my RTW trip, and the Thorntree from Lonely Planet is a good starting place if only for the sheer size of their user base. And for a ton of other options, this site shares the a list of travel forums.
  • Stick with travelers you like. In the early days, it was hard for me to honor my inner lemming and take others up on their offers to tag along. Sure a day trip is fair game, but to up and join a formed group of other travelers … surely they’re jesting and don’t want me to say yes?” Yes, they do or they wouldn’t offer. I have met amazing people by pairing up and agreeing to take off my solo-travel mantle for days and weeks a time; trips that beat away any fingers loneliness that were creeping in and formed lifelong friendships.
  • Indulge in the mindless. Partake in your couch-worthy activity of choice and refuse to feel guilty. That may mean spending a few hours catching up on Nashville (I’m guilty of streaming this show), or with a good book, or surfing the internet. As long as you enjoy it, it’s fair-game.
  • Splurge. Give yourself a break in whatever way you like to splurge. Book a nicer guesthouse for a few nights (this can combine nicely with TV time if you choose well), get a massage, treat yourself to a tasty food that makes you feel good. Sometimes lonely creeps up when other things about travel combine and compound over time.
  • Remember, this too shall pass. Loneliness is impermanent, and riding out an evening or two of feeling low happens to me on the road, but also at home. Part of being human is recognizing that  to have our highs, we must accept there will be days comparatively lower. But if it’s more than loneliness and has moved into lingering depression, seek help.
  • Check in with yourself. Listen to your intuition and know that maybe you should go home. While some solo travelers are comfortable with a year away, others with three months. Honor who you are and what you need. In that moment in Laos, I thought with ever fiber of my being that I would never see my family again. When I came out on the other side of my illness, I looked closely at my travels and realized I needed to stay aware of at what point I may reach a similar moment and stare at regret instead of intense sadness. The dynamics of my current travel style — half a year on the road, then a few months at home — were born from that moment in Laos. During that first year of travel, I realized that after being away from home for more than six months I entered a time when I would regret not seeing family and friends if something serious happened to either them or to me.
sunset mexico

A young Mexican boy fishes on a quiet beach in the last light of day.

Other Entries in the ALA Travel Fears Series:

  • Why I Decided to Travel the World: A close look at the personal motivations for my 2008 round the world trip, as well as what made me want to stay on the road all these years.
  • How We Make the Big Decisions: How do you know if you’re making the right choice in your own life? This piece takes a look at how we should make the big decisions in our life and where the risks and questions lie.
  • On Safety and Solo Female Travel: What’s it like to travel as a solo female, and what are the real fears versus perceived fears for travelers.
  • On Health and Travel Sickness: Getting sick on the road is a primary concern for a lot of travelers; this post takes a deep-dive on where, when, and why I’ve been sick on the road, as well as tips for staying healthy.
  • On Fear, Vulnerability, & the Less Sexy Side of Travel: This is the intro piece about why I started the Travel Fears series on ALA.

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50 Responses to A Little Confession… Yes, Sometimes Travel is Lonely

  1. Shannon O'Donnell July 5, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    I think you nailed it with the routine, that’s how I have managed to get through and really enjoy the solo time on the road. Like you, it still is lonely sometimes without someone to share in the experience. I am glad to hear that you went to Central America though, that you faced those fears and understand now what you like and enjoy in travel. :)

  2. Jen Traxel July 5, 2015 at 1:46 am #

    I travelled with a group for 32 days in Central America and still felt alone doing that because I didn’t know anyone. It took me till about day 24 to relax and feel comfortable with the culture shock and routine. I went to Portugal last year to backpack with my brother.. I was there for three days alone before he joined me. I found it nerve wracking and I had a lot of anxiety until the day he showed up. For some reason, it just feels so comforting to have someone to share in the experiences.

    I have such a strong desire to travel the world long term. I am just concerned about this fear and travelling solo. Being at home it all sounds great and amazing, but I know once I go I always get home sick and think about home. This fear is definitely real… thank you for sharing your experience!

    Jen
    The Intuitive Mermaid
    http://www.theintuitivemermaid.com

  3. maa13 February 13, 2015 at 4:02 am #

    Thanks for the awesome read. I am a female 28yr old solo traveling in Thailand. I’ve never solo traveled, or even traveled all that much really. I’ve only been here for a week and I am helplessly lonely. I’m trying to be the strong person I know I am somewhere hidden under this fear, but I’m afraid, and sad that I’m alone. I thought I was an extrovert and so do all my friends, but I’m more like the introvert in my hotel room crying in my tea. I got bronchitis while in Bangkok, which didn’t help, I miss my boyfriend (not to mention our relationship is strained), and I just feel awful. I’m on an island, stuck overpaying for tuk tuks by myself because I can’t drive a motorbike. Sorry for the complaining, but what should I do? My plan was to be here for another 5 weeks!

    • Shannon O'Donnell February 13, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

      I am so sorry to hear that you are having a rough time right now. A week isn’t very long, there is an adjustment period where you have to get into the swing of things and learn how to seek out friends and places that help you overcome the loneliness. A few thoughts: are you in a private/smaller place on the islands? The Thai islands are biiig party spots, so if you are into that, then you should be able to stay at some of the more budget bungalows and find some people to party with. But, if you are looking for a different vibe, consider booking a cheap flight up to Chiang Mai and starting on some of the cultural spots up there? They have cooking classes you can join, and group trips to the Elephant nature park, and very full hostels. Look at the area where you are and see if it is helping you meet other people — not all regions are great for socializing. You ultimately have to do what you feel is right for you, but consider totally changing up your location and the vibe of the place you are visiting (Siem Reap, Cambodia is close to you as well!) and then look for other groups of friendly backpackers. There is no harm in finding a group and then following them around for a week if you hit it off (I often do this, meet some people at a full hostel and then join their plans to visit temples, etc). Unless you are a partier and love sunning yourself, get off the islands and head to some of the other cultural spots (sunning can be lonely and if you don’t like to party then you are in the wrong spot to be traveling solo). Alternately, find a cooking class on whichever island you are in, or learn how to dive (built in community as you make friends with others in your class and your dive instructor), take a language class, find a homestay, or ask around and see if there is any volunteering on the island. You have to actively seek out which of your interests let you interact with the local culture. Good luck, I hope you don’t give up just yet. (and big hugs, you are not alone, there are people there who want to talk and travel with you, you just have to put yourself in the right spots to find them). :)

      • maa13 February 14, 2015 at 7:23 am #

        That’s amazing advice and makes perfect sense. You said in your article though if the loneliness starts to feel like lingering depression to get help. Well, unfortunately I’m not really questioning if I’m depressed. I am. This is extremely difficult for me. Get help? Where, how? Should I just go home and deal with the embarrassment for the sake of my health?

        • Shannon O'Donnell February 14, 2015 at 10:37 am #

          Hmm, if you arrived in Asia depressed than you should talk with your family about next steps. But, if you’re feeling down now, situationally since you arrived, consider that it could be just a normal fluctuation and you should think about the activities I mentioned. Good luck.

  4. WEG December 31, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    I was only gone for 3 mos., mostly in Western Europe, Sept.-Dec. 2013. I cherish my time alone and though I was never truly lonely, I DID experience some boredom with my own company by the last few weeks. I was in Florence for three weeks and wanted to connect with others, so I used Couchsurfing.com and found a group of expats and natives that gathered for dinner each week. I met with them a couple of times and made a new friend from Russia and we met a few times over those three weeks as well. I never really missed my friends/family, between calls, Skype and FB. Also, two of my friends joined me on the road for a short time and my mom spent 10 days (and Christmas!) with me in Florence. Magical!

    • Shannon O'Donnell December 31, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

      That sounds absolutely perfect, and it really is the people who help make a place memorable. I am so glad you were able to combine some couchsurfing in your trip as a way to meet locals and find new people nearby. Thanks for weighing in and sharing your experiences.

  5. Laura June 9, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I just what I needed to hear, this too shall pass and I’m not alone in feeling lonley while traveling.

    • Shannon O'Donnell June 9, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

      I am so glad it resonated with you Laura, it’s definitely not just you and with time and some comfort activities, it’ll pass. Shoot me an email if there is ever anything I can do to help.

  6. Erin December 30, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    Hi Shannon, and everyone else!

    Firstly, fantastic article. I am planning a few overseas trips at the moment which I have felt a deep seeded pull to do for quite some time now. it’s a little as if a time had been picked for me, allocated very long ago, at which something internal would click over and a new phase of my life would begin, and I would need to go. Alone. Your article has really helped me to come to terms with probably my only real fear about these travels, and that’s loneliness. The trips I have planned are all volunteer trips, and as such I’ll have the opportunity to meet lots of other volunteers, but even so loneliness is not always about how many people you surround yourself with.
    Secondly, I was wondering if you could provide some insight/advice as to how you became a travel writer. I am a journalism student and a keen traveler, and am always interested in hearing how people managed to combine these two magically fulfilling activities. When I saw that you had written a book about volunteer travel, my ears pricked up, as this is exactly where my passion lies.

    Thanks Shannon, and happy travels everyone!

    • Shannon O'Donnell December 31, 2013 at 1:54 am #

      Hi Erin, so happy to hear the article resonated with you. I know how daunting the prospect of friendships seem, but with the volunteering especially you will have a built-in network for that. For the writing, this is a tricky one for me. Though I have built up this blog, I actually make the bulk of my living from freelance consulting. I share some thoughts here on the topic: http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel/#money and I know that Matador Network has a travel writing course I have heard good things about. Mostly, it’s starting now, writing everyday and getting better, getting better known within the community, and sticking with it if you love it! :)

  7. Andy October 16, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    What you say about loneliness is quite real and true. I personally love traveling alone but have found myself on occasion missing friends or family, who I enjoy talking to. There is something to be said about the solitude of traveling alone though. It is that you have more opportunity to reflect on what you experience, which is something that is much more difficult around others.

    Andy

  8. Emma August 18, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    I see you have done a lot of traveling in Scotland. My aunt and her son live in Scotland and I had the privilege of visiting them with my grandmother at age 16. I am 17 now and going to visit them again in the summer. Most of my travelling around the country will be solo this time. I will only be doing day trips, but can you write a detailed post about safety do’s, don’ts, and other experiences when travelling through the highlands? I would love to read it and I would also love some tips and recommendations!
    Thanks!

    • Shannon O'Donnell August 18, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

      Hi Emma, you travels back to Scotland sound like heaps of fun and I really hope you have a wonderful trip — it’s so nice that you have family and a base there and can explore. For tips, I have a post I wrote a few years back that is still relevant: http://alittleadrift.com/2009/09/5-tips-plan-uk-backpacking-trip/ and I really recommend that you stay in hostels and meet other people, that is the best way to find new friends. Let me know if there is anything else I can help with and safe travels!! :)

  9. Sally Bucey July 20, 2013 at 12:33 am #

    Loneliness is no fun, but like you said, you can ride it out and it always abates, eventually. The tips were great. :)

  10. traveljunkette July 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    Such a well-written and honest post, Shannon. A must-read for any solo travelers!

  11. Shelleyrg July 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    It’s nice to be reminded that almost all solo travelers feel lonely at times. Sometimes it can feel like that emotion is reserved only for you- particularly when you see groups of travelers at a cafe talking and laughing together. And it seems to be something that you don’t move passed, no matter how long you travel. That’s comforting in a way, as you can tell yourself it’s normal and it will pass.

    • ShannonOD July 15, 2013 at 11:49 am #

      It is so easy to get mired in the feeling of loneliness sometimes because you are so very removed from that which makes it pass faster perhaps at home — gone are the comfort foods and easy cultural similarities, on top of the distance from home. But as you said, it’s knowing that it comes and then passes that can help ride out the feelings when you see those laughing travelers at the table nearby. Safe travels and thank you for sharing :)

  12. Roxanne Rockett July 11, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    Thank you so much for this incredibly brave, open & well-articulated post! As a nonstop traveler for the past 20 months (often solo) I could definitely relate! I also think of & miss dear friends & family every day, while simultaneously feeling pulled forward by curiosity & a sense of difficult-to-describe purpose. It’s posts like this one that help me to keep moving forward & to help my loved ones understand my journey. Thank you!

    • ShannonOD July 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

      Sometimes its only another wanderer who can get what it’s like to live in these types of moments because I do believe it’s as if some of us are called to that curiosity you described. Safe travels and please don’t ever hesitate to reach out for a chat or hello if you need a friendly ear (likely I could use one then too!) :)

  13. Bridges and Balloons July 7, 2013 at 11:34 pm #

    I really love this series Shannon. It’s so beautifully thoughtful and rings true with many of my own experiences. I used to travel a lot by myself and still do occasionally when Steve is off filming. I love so many elelemnts of travelling alone but I always struggled a fair bit with loneliness. As you say, It was the times of illness/sadness that were the hardest.
    The issue of missing friends/family is a somewhat separate issue for me. I rarely feel lonely when travelling with Steve, but I do miss my close friends and family. It’s a balance I haven’t quite found yet.

    • ShannonOD July 9, 2013 at 12:24 am #

      You are very lucky to have Steve by your side as you guys are on this journey, but I do know that it doesn’t always take away the feeling that there is something else perhaps trading-off for our life that is a bit out of balance. It’s so difficult to marry the long-term traveling with the more “conventional” lives the people we love are leading.

  14. Heather July 7, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    I’m an only child and an introvert, so I have always been very comfortable being alone. Large gatherings are stressful to me and I find group travel to be tiresome. I usually travel with just one other person: my husband, mother or a close friend. Recently, I took my first solo trip to Hong Kong and was energized by it! Knowing that I could navigate the city on my own was so empowering! Periodic social media check-ins helped me feel connected and a good book kept me company. It definitely won’t be my last trip alone!

    • ShannonOD July 9, 2013 at 12:13 am #

      A solo success! I am so glad you found that solo travel worked for you — even traveling with family and friends now, there is a quality to the travel experience that shifts when you’re on your own. It’s liberating and you’re right, “energized” is a great word for it. :)

  15. Lauren @ AllThingsGo.co.uk July 7, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    An interested and well thought-out post. I’ve been travelling for 5 months and there have been only a couple of times when I’ve felt lonely. These are usually when I’ve been ill or when I’ve been stuck somewhere I don’t like because of waiting for something like a visa. I’ve always been a ‘loner’ as you say, but I miss my family dearly, and miss being able to go for a drink with friends. Having said that, I’ve fully embraced my time alone – I’ve read 45 books in 6 months, started writing a novel, kept up blog posts almost daily, and started to figure out what I want from life. On the whole I tend to think that being alone (rather than being lonely) is fantastic and freeing but I just guess it’s how you interpret the situation that helps.

    • ShannonOD July 7, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      Exactly right Lauren, I too have found that for the most part I really enjoy the ability to read and spend time thinking and processing. And friendships on the road are always possible too, I think that surprised me the most when I left — the sheer number of other people backpacking! It’s just those rare moments really, and thankfully they are few and far between these past years. :)

  16. Katie @ Swoon Divers Travels July 3, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    Well said! I think you’re so brave to not only travel solo, but to put it all out there for all of us to read and learn from. Sometimes when you’re so far away you forget how simple it is to connect with family and friends back home! (Or at least I do.) After Skyping or even just Gchatting and I feel completely renewed!

    • ShannonOD July 4, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

      Thank you Katie — like you, sometimes just seeing my best friends name in my gchat window for 20 minutes as we swap updates is enough to kick a funk. Cheers and thanks for sharing your own experiences with loneliness here. :)

  17. camorose July 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Thanks for writing this, Shannon–it sums up much of my own experience so well. I have a roommate right now who hates being alone, and I have such a hard time understanding where she’s coming from: as much as I love hanging out with my friends, I also genuinely enjoy my own company! I’m not sure if it comes from being an only child or not, but I find so much joy in reading, writing, relaxing by myself–even though I still love meeting new people! I know that has definitely helped as me as I travel: I enjoy being able to create my own balance between being solo and being with people.

    • ShannonOD July 4, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

      It can be so difficult when you’ve learned how to enjoy the peacefulness of solitude to see the counter — I too have a friend who is much more sociable than myself, and striking that balance can be tough. Though I have to say, sometimes it’s good to have them around as they kick our butts into having fun more often too ;-)

  18. Caanan @ No Vacation Required July 3, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Another thoughtful, well composed post. Except now I have a neck ache as I found myself nodding “yes” the entire time I was reading it :)

    Very cool that you bring personality type into the mix. The work we do relies heavily on that sort of insight, so it was interesting to see you touch on it as it relates to loneliness and solitude.

    Your curiosity and search for deeper understanding is such an inspiration.

    • ShannonOD July 4, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

      Aww, thanks Caanan. I really want to sit down and grill you more about your work at some point too, I find the art of maximizing someone based on their natural tendencies fascinating, and something that’s so easy to overlook in interactions and business (where it’s perhaps most valuable!). I owe you both a glass of wine (or beer) and a conversation next time we cross paths! :)

  19. Will Liu July 3, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    Shannon, I think your ‘T’ function did a wonderful job analyzing the complex, often private, emotion associated with alone/solititude that comes with wanting to be out there and the need for deeper human connection tied to family and old friends.

    Being an “I’ and “T’ myself, its a double edge sword. It is because of our introspectiveness, and analytical ability to look objectively inward to meticulously breakdown feelings for the root cause, that gave rise to this honest piece you have written here. Yet this wonderful trait often cuts the other way; intuitively finding the cause of emotion means we feel the full blunt, in this case, loneliness.

    Thank you for sharing personal thoughts and useful pointers to deal with an emotion all travelers at some point will encounter.

    BTW, love the composition of photo “Solo Loch Ness in Scotland”.

    • ShannonOD July 4, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

      Thank you Will! The first time I really read my analysis a few years back, and then read the others it really occurred to me that we all process life so different, (and boy did that make life easier when I realized accepted that! I do think that some of my tendencies toward introspection are that double-edged sword, and coupled with the habit of “handling things myself,” it has made me learn some hard lessons in loneliness over the years.

      I so appreciate you sharing your own thoughts and experiences here Will, and I would love to cross paths one day to chat more over a drink. :)

      • Will Liu July 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

        Definitely would love to cross path and meet some of my favorite trail blazers like you. Central and South America is on my list. I’ll be sure to say hi when near your neck of the woods.

        • ShannonOD July 6, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

          Perfect! I’ve had a lot of great times in CA too, so lemme know when you get here and I can connect you with other friends in the region too perhaps! :)

  20. another Shannon OD July 3, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    I remember traveling in England on a school break when I was in college. I loved the bustle of the city and was busy for the ten days–but I didn’t have anyone to process with at the end of day, and didn’t realize how my extravert self really needed that. I spent time reading the obituaries and planning my funeral. (I’m given to great drama. Too true.) That taught me some good things. “Writing my obit” became a clue for me for years. I’d love to run into you somewhere along the road!

    • ShannonOD July 4, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

      I love that you learned how to recognize when you weren’t honoring your own personality with the levels of interaction you need. I can be prone to drama myself sometimes (though the writing your obit is a gem, that cracked me up). Thanks for sharing your own experience, safe and happy travels! :)

  21. Meghan King July 3, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Thank you for this! I really needed to read it. I am currently living in Cambodia and lately have been feeling so lonely since all of my western friends have gone home. I am with locals all day which is amazing, but at the same time a little isolating when you can’t relate culturally. Your article has reminded me that it is not permanent and will pass, just have to ride it out.
    :)

    • ShannonOD July 4, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

      Sorry to hear that Meghan, I know that summer in Southeast Asia can mean the crop of expats leave and are replaced by the much more transient summer backpacker population who pass through. I know exactly what it’s like to love the culture you’re in, but miss some of the ease that comes with having friends nearby. It will pass, but if you need an ear in the meantime, let me know and we can set up a Skype and chat!! :)

      • Meghan King July 6, 2013 at 10:30 am #

        Thank you so much, Shannon! It means a lot that you take the time to respond and offer to be there if I need to talk to someone. :)