How I prepare for (occasional) loneliness in my solo travels
Like everything awesome in this world, solo travel has some downside. I've been traveling solo at least once a year for the past 12 years, and each time I've found myself feeling lonely - and not in a "aah finally some ME time" way. I'm not exactly a social butterfly who needs to be surrounded by people all the time, and I'm a bit shy of joining groups of people larger than four. But naturally the chances of feeling lonely are higher when you #solotravel; when you want to share an emotion or an experience with someone.
So instead of thinking about how to avoid loneliness, I think it's better to prepare for it when you need to just like everything else in you prepare in your bag. Here's how I prepare for it.
The more popular the destination, the easier it is to find walking tours. They're easy to book last minute and you're in the company of like-minded travelers. The same works for other kind of tours but please check out reviews about the tour leaders or guides being pushy on behalf of their commercial sponsors.
Do People Watching
I can't describe how much I love 'people watching' (without being creepy LOL). Find a central street or square or park, pic a spot where you can sit for hours with a warm drink and snacks, and just observe the local going about their lives. Sounds boring? Well, not if you're inquisitive about the local culture & habits. If you're in #Malaysia, you may find people handing cash while holding the elbow (to be polite). If you're in #Japan, you may notice people bowing in gratitude to cars who stopped for them at a crossing. If you're in #Vietnam, you may see mobile phones stuck into their helmets as they scoot by you. It's like watching a movie that you produced.
Connect with the Locals
I personally think my travel is incomplete without having at least one opportunity to sit with a local over a meal and a long conversation. I'm fascinated by their stories, and how similar these may be to mine. I've had such treasured moments with a 20-something devout catholic woman from France to a 60-something gay small business owner from China. Most of these events were serendipitous, until I started using Solopacker to find locals. Solopacker allows me to find people who share my travel interests (like I love history & museums), and I like the fact that each member is verified by another community member before they can start using the app to connect with travelers like me.
A hands-on activity that does not need WiFi
And if you don't have one, I suggest you find one soon! ;-) Most people would choose reading a book, but that doesn't work for me. So my go to solo activity is to cook with local ingredients (this is one reason I book either a guesthouse with free-to-use kitchen or a hostel). One of my friends loves to doodle onto local newspapers and compile these as a travel journal. Going on Youtube or your social media account that needs good quality WiFi does not count. Why? If your aim is to feel less lonely, you cannot be plugging into a virtual world that was meant to socialise. Trust me, it will make you feel worse even after hours of scrolling down the feed.
It's funny how we assume that feeling lonely is an absolute negative experience. More recently, I've come to find that loneliness and the negative emotions associated to it are, after all, a powerful way to feel more connected. It's a 'zone' for you to calibrate the relationships with your friends, family and community that you treasure most. So while you cope with loneliness in your next #solotravel, remember that it is a beautiful part of your larger travel experience.
If you want to connect with locals whom you can trust, check out Solopacker.com.