On loneliness

I’m laying in bed, recovering from a pretty rough case of food poisoning (FYI — Thai tea, fried eggs and avocado are much more enjoyable on the way down than the way up), and I’m thinking about loneliness. It’s a topic and feeling I’ve thought about and experienced a number of times on this trip, and in my current sad and miserable state, it’s top of mind.

Travelling solo is at times exhilarating, anxiety-inducing, freeing — and lonely. If you’re following me on Instagram you’ll see photos of fun moments, beautiful views and new cultural experiences — the highlight reel of my trip so far. What you won’t see, are photos depicting sleepless nights when I am questioning my choices and feeling lost, moments when I am missing friends and family back  home, times that I feel overwhelmed and unsure of my next steps, or moments where I am surrounded by people but feel completely disconnected from them; sometimes I feel all of these things at once.

I do value and appreciate alone time, but loneliness and quality alone time are different experiences.

Being an extrovert has been a gift all my life — I (generally) enjoy talking to strangers, I don’t find it difficult to approach new people or strike up conversations, and it brings me joy to connect with new people and form new friendships. I have been very fortunate to have met (mostly) kind, generous and interesting people on this trip so far. But sometimes all of the newness wears on me…I crave familiar places, emotional intimacy, and silence with people I know, who know me. I have felt intellectually and emotionally exhausted at times on this trip, tired of having the same introductory and superficial conversations over and over again: “Where are you from? Where have you travelled? How long will you travel for?” etc. And being an extrovert doesn’t protect me from rejection — I have reached out and opened myself up to a number of people, only to be brushed off, ignored, not included in conversations or excursions, casually forgotten…it still hurts.

Sometimes I feel sad that I don’t have someone or others to share certain moments with. I can relay a story afterwards, of course, but it’s not the same as experiencing something with another person beside me…having an experience that connects us forever. However, fully experiencing loneliness has made me appreciate the moments I CAN share all the more: chatting with fellow trekkers in a mountain lodge, enjoying a beer on the street corner, cracking crab claws together at a seafood restaurant, admiring a cityscape from a rooftop terrace.

The fact that I am so privileged to be on this trip, that I worked so hard to save for it, that I can witness so much beauty and feel truly awed by different cultures and incredible places — it doesn’t diminish the loneliness I occasionally feel — it simply helps me accept the feeling and sit with the discomfort until the feeling passes (as it inevitably does).

To close — I’m really glad to be on this trip, and to be doing it solo. I’ve had a lot of fun, I’ve already learned so much, and I look forward to learning more. I want to keep challenging my thought patterns and become better at appreciating the moment for what it is. But a word of caution for anyone considering this kind of solo trip or who thinks that it’s a total escape from banality — this type of travel is not all excitement and fun. You will likely feel lonely, homesick and question what you’re doing; you might spend a feverish night in bed, wishing for a cool hand on your forehead, and someone to bring you a glass of water. You will be challenged. But I think it’s worth the struggle.

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8 thoughts on “On loneliness

  1. Loneliness is the gateway to an imagination and creation of some wonderful things. Growing experience and a chance to really enjoy and love oneself … I am alone a lot … I love people and hearing different stories but to develop the art of being alone and happy and excited for each moment is truly a gift in itself

  2. It’s interesting because I went through the same thing after HK exchange when I went to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. I was essentially there by myself despite trying to recruit people for 3 years to go with me. Fortunately, I met up with some friends there on some of the days but I had tickets to 6 different events with no one to go with. As much fun as it was to be part of the overall environment, and to be able to say I was there, I still felt a massive desire to want to share my experience and feelings in the moment with others. In a way, it diminished my experience because I was alone. I think subconsciously, I don’t like solo trips because of that experience.

  3. Thank you for sharing a different reality of solo travel. While I absolutely loved my first recent solo trip, there were times I wanted to turn over to a friend and share something funny but there was no one. Nevertheless, I know that I got so much more out of experience and I’m glad I went alone. http://wp.me/p4aARi-cz

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