Posted by: Alicia Phillips | August 8, 2013

Beating the Blues of Solo Travel

Isn’t it lonely traveling on your own? This is a question I get asked a lot. This and “Aren’t you scared to be alone?” or “Do you ever get bored?” And I can answer “Yes” to all of them.  

Lately I have been feeling a little bit more lonesome than normal. Partly because I am getting a little travel weary and partly because I won’t see another familiar face for another 2 months. It happens when I’m sitting on a train and I don’t feel like talking to the stranger beside me because I am tired of constantly having the same conversation with different people. “Where abouts are you from?” “Arkansas? I’ve never met anyone from Arkansas” “How long have you been travelling?” “Fiji? What was that like?” Where are you going next?” “You’be been gone from home for HOW LONG?!?!” Blah Blah Blah. Sometimes I just want to sit with someone I know and talk about things that have nothing to do with my nomadic tendencies. Ya know? Or when I am sitting in a restaurant and am surrounded by couples or groups of friends laughing, it would be nice to be sitting with a friend instead of twiddling my thumbs and staring out the window. And on days like yesterday- it was my 27th birthday- it would have been nice to have shared the brownie I bought for myself with someone. 

But, on the flip side, travelling alone is one of the most empowering and exciting things I have ever done! I have time to collect my thoughts and reflect on who I am and what I am doing with my life. No one disturbs me or influences my decisions. When I make a wrong decision (like booking the wrong hostel or missing my train) I only have myself to blame, but when I make the right decision- it’s all me! I can eat or not eat whenever or whatever I want to, or if I decide last minute I want to go visit somewhere else I don’t have to consult anyone, I just go. I can plan my trip at my own pace. If I want to spend all day in a museum, or a coffee shop, that’s okay! If I like the feel of a little town I can decide to book another night or two.

Most of the time, alone does not equal lonely. 

Also, when you are travelling alone you are more approachable. It is easier for people to ask you questions or strike up a conversation with you if you’re sitting alone. You tend to gravitate towards other solo travelers and end up meeting some REALLY interesting people. And some real weirdo’s, but they can be interesting too!  

These are some guidelines I like to follow when I am feeling a little lonesome and a little blue:

1- Stay in backpackers places. Even if private rooms are super cheap (as they are in SE Asia) stay in a dorm with a communal kitchen/living area. This is a great way to meet people and talk. Maybe even find someone to spend the day/weekend with! And if possible, travel by train. If your stuck on a train for 15 hours you don’t really have any other choice than to talk to your neighbors. 

2-If possible make plans with friends to meet up in foreign cities in the future. I have been doing this during my travels. I met up with friends in Sydney, Melbourne, Bangkok, and I am meeting a friend in Hanoi. This gives me something to look forward to and is a nice break from being alone. 

3- Explore. Grab a tourist map and put on some walking shoes. Pack a water bottle and a book/journal. Walk down old alley ways, eat in hole in the wall diners, sit in a park and people watch. Acknowledge and cherish the fact that you are thousands of miles away from home and living life in a new and interesting place. 

4- Do something scary. Scary as in challenging. Rent a scooter, go spelunking, take a hike in the jungle, go skydiving, go scuba diving, take a surfing lesson. Step outside of your comfort zone a little bit. Or just do something fun like a cooking class or a language class. 

5- Pamper yourself for a day. Get a pedicure or (in my case) get a Thai massage every day! If I’m tired of eating noodles and fried rice for every single meal I’ll go to a McDonald’s (they are everywhere) and order a thing of fries and a coke zero. Find a cinema and go watch a Hollywood movie with subtitles or a super fun Bollywood movie. Makes me feel better. 

6- Read a fun book. I just recently bought a book talking about the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and the history of the Khmer Rouge. I thought it would be smart of me to get a little history before I go and visit the killing fields and war crimes museum in Pheom Pen. After about 10 minutes of that I decided that I really needed a feel good novel to balance things out, or else I might go into a depression. So I started reading a lovey dovey Nicholas Sparks novel as well. Oh Nicholas, you get me every time. 

7- Talk to family. When I was in Fiji for two years I spoke to my family maybe once a week or every two weeks. Not that often, mostly because the more I talked to them, the more homesick I was, therefore making it harder for me to be in Fiji. So I cut myself off. But now that I am travelling I find that talking to my mom every other day or emailing/skyping with my siblings and friends makes me happy and excited to go home. When they say they are proud of me and happy that I am having this adventure, it just makes me want to keep going and stop feeling sorry for myself. 

8- Take it down a notch. The times when I get the most anxious and stressed out and lonely are when I have a strict schedule to follow. Booking plane tickets, train tickets, hostels, ferries, day trips, visa runs, AHH! So I have started by slowing things down and only planning my adventure one week in advance. I don’t know where I am going to be in two or three weeks in the future, probably Cambodia but I can change that if I want to. As long as I am in Hanoi airport on October 2nd (the date I fly home to Memphis!) I’m good, I can do whatever I want between now and then. No worries! 

As for being scared to travel alone? Not once have I feared for my own personal safety. America is by far the most dangerous country I have been. Of course, I am being smart, and a little bit lame. I don’t go out to bars and clubs at night on my own. once it gets dark I go back to my room. I try not to put myself in situations that could get ugly. The only time I get a little scared is when I go somewhere brand new, no one speaks English, all the signs are in a different language, I’m standing alone in the middle of a train station with people rushing around me, I’ve no idea where to go or what to do- but that is the exciting kind of scared, which is good! 

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Responses

  1. Alicia, I think you’re doing great. I look forward to reading your blogs. I would never have guessed that PCV we had dinner with in Suva, the one from the South, would go on such an adventure. Now, I have a girl friend from high school whose daughter is a PCV in Cambodia. My friend, Jean, is super nice. Would you be interested in hooking up with Sam? Let me know. My email: marcia.arnold@gmsil.com.
    Dan should be getting home in about a month or so.

  2. Alicia, thanks for the introspection and good suggestions for solo travelers. Great post!


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