What To Do When You Feel Lonely Travelling Alone

feel lonely travelling alone

I’ve been at this solo travel a while now – in fact, last week marked five years since I quit my job as a lawyer and set off on a one-year adventure that still hasn’t come to an end.

And along with the highs of travelling solo, of which there have been many, there are still times when I’m consumed by an overwhelming sense of loneliness.

Yesterday was a perfect example: it was 9 p.m. in  Montreal and I was wandering the streets looking for something to eat, yet I couldn’t make a decision because everywhere I looked there were couples, families and groups of friends. And then there was me. At that moment in time, I felt like the only person in the world who was on their own. And then the chatter in my head started: “loser”, “look at you, all alone and all these people out with friends and loved ones – all the things you don’t have that.”

Of course, none of this chatter is true.  I’m going out on a limb and saying anyone who’s strummed up the courage to take a solo trip is by definition not a loser. Also, most of us have someone somewhere who loves us. And, were it not for the thousands of miles we’ve taken ourselves away from them, those people would love to join us for a chat or a hug.

But it’s hard to grasp those logical thoughts when we’re feeling lonely. And it can be even harder to admit out loud that we’re going through a bout of loneliness – because isn’t that the most ungrateful thing in the world when we’re on an epic journey, to feel glum? Plus, loneliness is embarrassing, right? It’s a sign of failure?

So, instead of dealing with your loneliness out in the open, you probably turned to the anonymity of Google and found yourself here. The good news is, I have some insights to share. After 5 years of travelling alone, here’s what’s worked for me when I feel lonely travelling alone.

feeling lonely travelling alone

Tend to your basic needs first

First things first, tend to your basic needs and see if that solves things.

When we’re hungry, thirsty, cold, tired or in pain it’s easy for those basic needs to snowball into something bigger. Last night I was a combination of hungry, thirsty and tired and when I look back at my lonely feelings now, I realise I needed nothing more than a huge bite of something to eat and several hours’ worth of bonding with my bed.

Sit for a minute and listen to your body – what is it asking for? Over the chatter of your brain telling you you’re a loser for feeling lonely (or that you’ll never connect with another human being again), it can be hard to hear our physical needs.

If you’re in so much of a funk that you can’t see straight, try to treat your physical needs anyway – grab a bite, drink a pint of water (or beer), have a nice shower and a lie down.

Feel better? Great – write yourself a note: “I don’t feel lonely, I’m [hungry/tired/etc] and pin it to your forehead for next time.

Still feeling lonely, read on.

Reality Check:

Your loneliness is a figment of your brain (that, apparently, hates you)

Being alone is a physical thing, but feeling lonely is an emotion that comes from your brain. Think about that for a minute and then revel in the knowledge that you’re able to change both of these states – the physical and the emotional.

Let’s start with the brain first, because that’s something we supposedly have 100% control over (though if you have actually managed to 100% control your brain, click off this article and go write a book – trust me, you’ll sell it for billions and will never had a lonely minute again). It’s time to step back and have a long, hard, objective stare at the situation.

feel lonely travelling alone

Be rational – look at the bigger picture

If you’re part way through a longer trip, think about your trip so far. The chances are you’ve already met some amazing people and although they’re not with you now and your present state of being alone is taunting you into thinking you’ll never meet anyone else ever again, that’s simply not true. It’s statistics: with over 7 billion people in the world, you’re going to meet someone you connect with eventually… and it most likely going to happen sooner than you think.

If you’re so down in the dumps you can barely remember the good times, get out your photos – they’ll jog your memory and have the benefit of not being able to lie.

Have a chat with your inner chatter

Most of us are our own worse enemy and when our minds get into a cycle of berating ourselves for being alone, it only makes us feel more lonely. If that’s happening to you, it’s time to have a chat with your inner chatter. If you’ve ever walked into a hostel common room or bar or shopping mall and struck up a conversation with a stranger, you’ve already achieved what your brain is telling you that you can’t currently do.

Regardless of what your mean brain says, I’m telling you objectively that you’re an amazing, brave and adventurous soul who is doing what many people want to do but do not have the courage to do – you’re travelling the world alone. Yes, there will be some lonely times, but above all else, you’re awesome. This is a fact. If your brain refuses to agree, sent it to me, I’ll have a chat with it.

Give yourself a break!

If you’re feeling bad (mentally) about being alone (physically), you probably fall into that category of people who are too hard on themselves. puts hand up

Being alone doesn’t have to be something to fear. If you can’t change it (see below for tips on that), why not embrace it. Chances are, a couple of weeks down the road you’ll be surrounded by so many cool people that you’ll look back on this period of loneliness and wish, just for five minutes, that you could have some of that lone time back.

feel lonely travelling alone

Make friends with your loneliness (and yourself)

Introspection isn’t always a fun activity, especially if you brain is already set in criticise mode, but using alone time to think about the bigger things in life (who you are, what your dream are, how you can be a better person) can help you emerge from your loneliness a stronger, better informed and wiser person.

After completing a 10-day Vipasanna retreat in India where I had nothing but silence, vegetarian food and my own thoughts to keep me company for 10 day, I can tell you that this process is unlikely to be fun, but I felt like I’d travelled 10 spiritual light years in just 10 days.
feeling lonely travelling alone meditation

Indulge yourself

Feeling down in the dumps is the perfect excuse for a bit of indulgence. It doesn’t need to cost a lot – a coffee with a view over a stretch of water; a cupcake and a bit of journaling; a long run or bit of yoga – all those activities you’ve been too busy to indulge in while you’ve been on the road, go indulge in them now. A massage can be a cheap treat in some countries and don’t underestimate the power of a pedicure when you’ve been wearing flip-flops for month (goes for you too, guys).

Whatever your heart desires, go make it happen.

Have a Netflix binge

On the surface, staying in-doors and watching TV is exactly what you shouldn’t be doing when you’re on an amazing trip but, guess what, we can’t be in full-on explore mode all the time. It leads to burn-out – something that might be adding to your sense of loneliness.

When you’re feeling down, finding comfort in favourite tv shows or feel-good movies can be a real mood booster. At least once every couple of months I check myself into a hotel room with no purpose beyond a Netflix binge watching session. Judge away, but sometimes there’s often nothing more restorative.

Read a book

When your brain is in full analyse, criticise and problem-solving mode (must-find-a-friend, must-find-a-friend, must-find-a-friend), it doesn’t realise that it’s probably making things worse. The better solution is distraction and along with a Netflix marathon, there is no better way to tune out of the world and your obsessions than by reading a book.

But it must be a good book or the absorption won’t be complete.

feel lonely travelling alone

How to be un-lonely

Sometimes it’s more than just our minds telling us how alone we are, sometimes we are just plain lonely. Human contact and connection is something we innately crave, after all. But don’t worry, there are things you can do to fix that, too.

Look at your location

Some places are easier to meet new people than others. Drop me in a small beach town in Mexico and I’ll probably have a handful of new friends within a few hours. Plonk me in London…New York…Paris and I’d probably leave the city a month later with not a single new person known. It’s easier to meet new people in some places compared to others. You’ll know the circumstances and places where you tend to thrive versus wither.

If you can, change location and head to those places where you usually tend to meet friends. If you can’t go just yet (because you don’t want to miss out on seeing the sights in the place where you’re feeling lonely), then put a plan in place for the near future and tell yourself you’ll meet new people very soon. Because you will.

Go somewhere you know (or where you know someone)

There’s no point sticking to a travel plan if it’s making you miserable. If loneliness is consuming you, consider backtracking or sidetracking to a place where you know some people – that might mean going back to a place you know and love and where you left some friends behind or taking a detour to a place where you have existing friends or family.

Just be careful about speeding home. It’s awfully tempting when you’re feeling alone but give it some time. In most cases, the feeling will pass.

Guilt someone into visiting you

It’s not always possible but it’s always worth a try – a message to your Facebook friends or a chat with family, see if any of your loved ones fancy coming out to see you. I’ve been very fortunate to have several people come visit me in various places along the way, though it’s not always about me being fortunate – often those friends and family are looking for an excuse for a trip. It’s doing them a favour, really! Win-Win.

Warning: a fresh bout of loneliness is almost certainly going to set in as soon as your family or friend returns home – make sure you’re in a social place and try hard to make some ‘overlap’ friends (people who will still be around in a few days) while you still have the comfort of your loved ones with you.

Join a tour

Spending a day in the company of others is a good way to bond with new people and often pick up a travel friend or dinner invitation. A word of warning: think about the kind of tour you book before you go on it. Try your best to book a tour that is run by a hostel – that way, you’re more likely to spend the day with other solo travellers. Book a tour from a hotel or a big-booth ticket tout and you’ll probably end up spending the day with groups, couples and families – hardly the aim of the find-a-friend plan and more likely to make you feel worse.

feel lonely travelling alone

Check into a hostel

Sometimes I feel awkward in hostels (it’s an age thing) and they’re not for everyone but they are by far the most social spaces you’ll find in any town, village or city. These days, most of them have private rooms you can book if don’t want the ‘social’ aspect to extend to your sleeping space and many hostels have bars you can visit even if you slink back to your Omni Hotel at the end of the night. But, above all else, head to a hostel and you’re almost guaranteed to find your tribe.

Sure, some visitors might be out of towners on a weekend break with friends, but there will absolutely be a whole swathe of solo travellers who have, at some point, admit it or not, felt the pain of loneliness on the road.

Note: some hostels are more social than others. If the place you’re staying isn’t well set up for meeting others (it’s too big or the communal spaces aren’t often used), find another place to stay.

feeling lonely travelling alone hostel

Have dinner out – but choose wisely

Eating out alone can be one of those activities that makes loneliness feel worse not better but there is still scope for using a solo dinner to your advantage. I’m a big proponent of eating alone – probably because I’m a big foodie and the alternative (packed sandwiches and Pringles scoffed silently in a hotel room) horrifies me more than the idea of being alone. But some restaurants are more intimidating than others.

If you’re looking for the best places to dine solo, here are a few suggestions:

  • any place where you can eat at the bar;
  • ramen shops – quick, cheap eats like ramen shops tend to attract more solo diners;
  • any place within a couple of blocks of a hostel;
  • some hostels have a bar that serves food (hey, we’re on a making friends mission here, not a Michelin-star food search);
  • any place that has solo diners right there and then – use your eyes!

feeling lonely travelling alone dining

Connect with friends online

Spending your night online chatting to old friends can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s a great reminder that you’re not all alone in this big wide world. Equally, it can make your currently loneliness and distance from your friends feel all the more acute. Use your discretion on this one and you’ll learn very quickly whether this is a good or bad activity for you in the face of loneliness. For me, I find it makes me feel more lonely…and often leads to me looking at flights home.

Make new friends online

The power of the Internet is immense. So immense that you can have a ready-made group of friends in under 5 minutes if you put your mind to it. There are plenty of ways to make friends online. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Check out Meet Up – I use this to find writing and language groups around the world but there’s all sorts of activities on there – walking, yoga, bands, artists.
  • Facebook groups – there are lots of private Facebook groups for destinations or local interests – join some and see what’s going on.
  • Tinder and Internet Dating – this doesn’t have to be about dating (unless you want it to be), just add a note in your profile that you’re new in town and looking to make friends.
  • Exhaust your own contacts – I bet that someone you know will know someone who knows someone where you are. I’ve done this a couple of times and the power of connections is mind-blowing.
  • Message me! As well as talking you down off the ‘loser ledge’ (a place I’ve stood more than once, so I understand the view), I’ve become that person who knows someone who knows someone who’s probably in the place where you are. I’m always happy to chat online so drop me a line by email or find me on Facebook!

feel lonely travelling alone

Stop being so damn anti-social

Ok, that doesn’t exactly fall into the supportive category but, go on, admit it, you could try a little harder to meet people, couldn’t you?

Last night, when I was feeling lonely, the truth was I had a Brazilian friend in the city who I’d met a few years ago in Argentina and she’d already asked me if I wanted to join her and her friends for dinner. Equally, I had another travel friend (from Canada who I met in Hawaii) who was going to a party. I could have called on her, too. Yet, I wandered the streets alone, feeling sorry for myself. When I took a proper look at my situation, I was tired, not lonely (thanks, jet lag) and the second I crawled into my PJs and opened my book I felt better. However, I also could have pushed myself into a more social situation instead of wallowing in self-pity.

If you’re not sure how to pull yourself out of your anti-social state, here are some tips:

  • if you’re in a space where you’re currently alone (hotel room/hiding in a bathroom), get out!
  • set yourself a 10-person challenge – strike up a conversation with at least 10 strangers in a day. I bet one of those conversations leads somewhere beyond the weather;
  • go and speak to that other person in the hostel/hotel lobby who is on their own – you may not become life-long friends, but how do you know if you don’t try;
  • order a beer at a bar and chat to the bar tender;
  • get on a tour… go for dinner in a solo-diner place… go to a book store and get some reading tips…go to a Meet Up…go on a date…go to open mic night…my point: the options are endless.

Homework: Make a list – make it now – of at least 10 ways you could meet someone today and work your way thorough it. Come and report back – tell me how you got on and for every failure or time you’re spurned, you gain a story.

Conversation starters

And finally, when you’re in the middle of a maelstrom of loneliness, self-consciousness can set in, making it hard to come up with that great conversation starter. So, I’ve got some for you. Some more anodyne than others but the point is to start!

  • Where are you from – I HATE this question (it the most asked question in the travel world) but sometimes the words come from my lips for want of any other inspiration. It doesn’t matter – it still breaks the ice.
  • Have you been [insert place] long – this is a great prelude to i) can you recommend any places for me to visit (if the person you’re speaking to has been in town for a few days); or ii) do you want to have a look around together (if they’re a new arrival too)?
  • Have you eaten anywhere good here – I’ve been known to ask strangers this question all over the world, loneliness or not. Often my motivation is finding good food but finding a dinner partner can be an added side-effect.
  • Do you know what the nightlife’s like here – code for: wanna get a drink?
  • Are you reading anything good at the moment (I long for someone to one day say the name of my blog).
  • What’s the weather been like – this is another much hated question of mine because we Brits spend way too long talking about the weather but again, if nothing else pops to mind, it can break the ice.
  • Where have you been/where are you going/how long are you away for – also amongst the most over-asked questions on the road that can feel super tedious if you hear them once a day but, hey, it’s travel and don’t we all love to talk about travel?
  • How’s the wi-fi – this isn’t really a question, it’s a way of breaking someone’s gaze from their laptop/phone/tablet and back into the real world where you can maybe…just maybe…connect.
  • Would you like some pasta/a glass of wine – feed and water people and you’ll find a friend for life. You might feel a bit desperate ‘buying’ friends but I’d bet it’s a nicer feeling than being lonely.

And, if you’re feeling particularly bold:

  • I overheard that you were going out for dinner – I’m new here and on my own, would you mind it I joined you? This can take a bit of bravery but I’ve tried it and I’ve never had anyone refuse me. (Helps if you don’t look crazy/on the edge of despair when you ask).
  • Have you ever felt lonely while you were travelling – you’re really putting yourself out there with this one and all but an idiot would recognise this as an admission of loneliness and adopt you as a friend. If they don’t, they’re probably not the kind of person you want to hang around with. Stuff them. Idiots.
  • I’m doing a survey – what would your last meal be if you were on Death Row – great conversation starter but can lead people to think you’re a little crazy. Use it wisely.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not very, 10 being very), how embarrassed are you by your last sexual encounter – best used on a group of drunk Aussies.

There are people who live their lives surrounded by people – their families, their partners and their friends and still feel lonely. The fact that you feel a bit alone when you’re thousands of miles from all the people and things that are familiar to you is, I would say, inevitable. The important point is to recognise your loneliness and deal with it – whether that’s by waiting for it to pass (and it will) or doing something to make yourself feel less lonely.

I’ve never had a bout of loneliness that lasted more than a few days. In a world where you’re moving and the world is moving (full spin around the sun every day, apparently), chances are you’ll reconnect with life, the world and it’s people within no time and you’ll forget that ever felt the need to read this article.

feeling lonely travelling alone experiences

Happy travels, you brave, lovely, fellow solo travelling people.

Have you ever felt lonely while you were travelling? How did you deal with it? Any other good conversation starters to add? Let me know in the comments below.

Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 50 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

29 Responses

  1. Elle
    Elle at | | Reply

    Thank you so much for this post. You’ve described exactly how I am feeling. I’ve been round the world with friends in the past, but i’m currently lying in bed in a hostel, on day four of a 12 day solo trip to California. I thought i’d be fine. I mean its only 12 days. I was 100% unprepared for how I currently feel. Its hit me out of the blue and I feel i’m never too far from bursting into tears. I’m in a city I love, but i’m alone and I’m not coping well. I have a list of fun things to do. However I find myself on skyscanner looking for a flight home in a few days, cutting my trip short. I know that is insane.

    I find I dont really want to talk to my friends or family on the telephone as i’ll just weep (pathetic I know). So i’m sticking to whatsapp.

    I wish i could rid myself of this absolute most awful feeling. If anything its made me feel how much I would love to be settled or on this trip with a partner. But hey, the grass is always greener aint it 🙂

  2. Valerie
    Valerie at | | Reply

    Just came across this while looking for blog posts in solo travelling. Currently travelling through Australia and arrived in Sydney today. Had one of those lonely day but this made me feel heaps better 🙂 you have a new follower !

  3. Melanie
    Melanie at | | Reply

    I love this. I just came across it while eating alone in a remote village in Bali after having a “what am I doing” day. Thank you! I’m 10 days in, I’m sure I’ll get better at it! I’d already made friends in different places but we’ve all moved on. I’ll read this again tomorrow to help 😁

  4. Sarah B
    Sarah B at | | Reply

    I just found this and it has saved my bacon! I am on a safari in Masai Mara, supposed to be in a group, but is just a German couple and me! And they are staying elsewhere so am eating on my own. They leave tomorrow and is just be and the guide. I booked with Bamba and they told me 7 people were going. Was about to call it off and go home early but will stick it out. Has come at the end of a tirng solo work trip so I was super excited being with people – think that’s why it has been difficult. Thanks for the tips! Xxx

  5. Robin
    Robin at | | Reply

    Thank you so much for this helpful information/tips. I’m on my first trip alone, day 3, and started to feel lonely. As it turned out, I was just hungry. I’ll get better at this, I hope.

  6. Earl M
    Earl M at | | Reply

    I have always, 20 years, traveled for work and disliked it. It is the nature of my career and my degree that drives it and changing employers never helped. The last few years I feel lonely and bitter about traveling again the moment I step out of my home. On the road at my company’s sites I either constantIy feel in misery or seethe with anger at being away from home again. Keeping busy with the job at hand that brought me there does not push away the bitterness any more; I regret ever getting into my field even though it is something I do very well, and love. Unfortunately it takes me away 60-80% of the time.(Though I was lured to this current job with a promise of just 20-30% travel.) Worse, my pain and toxic mood seep out to the point that others know it. Though I remain functionality excellent in the work I get feedback through my boss that people immediately dislike me, or feel like they need to walk on eggshells around me when I am on the road.

  7. Sally Welsh
    Sally Welsh at | | Reply

    Great post! Just what I needed to read today. I’m currently travelling by myself in Thailand and haven’t spoken to anyone in days! I am normally ok travelling alone, although seeing happy couples always gets me a little, this trip though I’m really struggling with the loneliness. I would love to meet some people to hang around with but I’m just terrible at striking up a conversation and I always feel like people look at you strangely when you are travelling alone.

  8. no_scars@hotmail.com
    no_scars@hotmail.com at | | Reply

    Beer. Bring beer. You always make friends with beer. I haven’t had it end up in a fun night with random people yet. 🙂

  9. Nic Green
    Nic Green at | | Reply

    Good to see some reflections on the theme that travelling is not always the best of times. So many people say that it’s ‘living the dream’ but there are certainly challenges too, especially missing family and friends. Whilst my wife and I have each other to share and remember things with, we find that a lot of other travellers assume that we don’t want to be disturbed and so don’t try to engage us in discussion as much as they would individuals. Of course, it doesn’t help now being in our mid-40s, especially in those hostels where most young people are there to do things that young people do. Strange that being in a couple can also be isolating. Would be a good idea to try interrupting some of the couples too sometimes….

  10. Scotty Elliott
    Scotty Elliott at | | Reply

    My most awkward experience traveling solo like this was being in a very cheap (like a soup kitchen cheap) Chinese eating place (somewhere in Malaysia) & already feeling awkward & alone an old Chinese man came & sat at the table with me, I quickly realised he wasn’t the slightest bit interested in communicating in any way. It wasn’t until much later I learnt it is Chinese custom/superstition that briefly brought us together to share a table. The number one is very bad luck for many Chinese including seem being the only one at a table. This old man simply sat with me for his own benefit as well as mine. He did seem rather p***ed off when I tried to communicate, even a little, with him, stupid foreigner (me) 🙂

  11. cristina
    cristina at | | Reply

    Great post!!
    Exactely what I experienced the last 8 month in Asia. For me its not difficult to talk to a stranger, but I really!! suck in groups. Going over and starting a conversation with a group….not yet found out hoe it goes.
    Bud being lonley was not sooo often an issue, and I don’t mind eating alone in restaurants and all that stuff.
    THX so much for the story! Keep it up
    Cristina

  12. Claudia
    Claudia at | | Reply

    I like being by myself way too much for feeling lonely when I travel solo. I have done it for months and never really felt like that. I like eating by myself when a restaurant is packed with families and couples, even 🙂 But I am weird, I know… When I go get lonely on the road, all it takes to feel better is calling my mom, dad and sister and chat with them. Or log on into facebook and find my friends, send them a whatsapp message. 🙂 thanks for this lovely post!

  13. rbphilip
    rbphilip at | | Reply

    Can’t evEn imagine being lonely. All those couples with kids have crappy expensive lives and wish they were you.

    It’s easy to confuse the need for sex, food, water or other physical needs for loneliness. Lots harder to be lonely at breakfast with some fellow traveller who spent the night helping you scratch an itch..

  14. mary hood
    mary hood at | | Reply

    The worst for me is eating at a restaurant by myself.. I always feel so awkward! But we can only change our loneliness and meet people if we put ourselves out there. Nice job, Jo, thanks for the tips 😉

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

Leave a Reply