Loneliness. There. I said it.
It happens; it happens to all of us. For some of us, it happens the moment we leave our doorsteps and step into the unknown. For some of us it takes months, or years. But there will inevitably be a time, somewhere on your travels, when everything seems to be going fine and then – BAM – it hits you. Right out of nowhere, smacks you in the face. And just like that – you’re lonely. Lonely, and alone.
It’s a little strange, because if I can speak on behalf of most solo travelers, we’ve generally mastered the art of being alone. We’re really good on our own. Being alone is easy. But being lonely… well that’s a little different, isn’t it.
I don’t write this post to scare anyone away from solo travel. It’s not about that. There is nothing in this world more sublime and enlightening than time spent roaming the planet on your own terms. So take this post with a grain of salt, please. It’s not here to curb your passion for wanderlust.
I should also admit to you that I wrote this post several months ago, when I was living and working in Turkey, and have been debating for far too long whether I should publish it or not. After much thought, and a bit of convincing, I finally decided to share it with you. Considering it’s something we all go through when we’re on the road, probably many of you can identify with it, and several of you probably have some ideas on how to counteract it. I think it was the thought of exposing my vulnerability that I was shying away from, but I always appreciate honesty and lucid frankness in others, so I suppose it’s my turn now. :) Right?
Why Do We Get Lonely, Anyway?
It’s not being away from home that’s causing my loneliness. It’s not that I don’t have friends here, because I have a few. To be honest, I don’t really know what’s caused this overwhelming feeling all of a sudden. But for those of you who can identify, you might liken this feeling to a sense of claustrophobia. Which seems strange because I’ve never had so much freedom in my life. And it’s suffocating.
Maybe it’s because I’m always so far away from home. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so far away for so long that I’m not even sure where home is any more.
Maybe it’s because I’m seeing all my friends get married, have children… Babies are literally invading my facebook news feed. Not that I’m jealous… am I?
It probably has something to do with the fact that I’m getting older. I’m alone. And away from everything familiar, for the third year in a row. Maybe it’s because for the first time in a long time, I miss having companionship. I miss hanging out with friends. I miss evenings drinking port with my dad and I miss laughing at stupid reality TV shows with my mom.
It might have something to do with the fact that I’ve got so much time to spend thinking about how alone I am. Where I’m living – in a little village on the outskirts of Turkey’s smallest city, a 45 minute walk from anything civilized – is absolutely removed from any sort of hustle and bustle. This is not an Istanbul or Ankara or Izmir experience. This is a small Turkish village experience, and I appreciate it for that. In fact, I love it here.
But, for the first time since I left Canada, I’m feeling misplaced. It’s unexpected, out of context, and puzzling. Because I’m in a beautiful place in the world. I’m teaching, I’m traveling; I’m doing what I love to do. I have a backpack, no possessions, and all the freedom in the world. But somehow, and don’t ask me how I got here – because I don’t know – but somehow I’ve arrived at this plateau. There’s nothing here but a signpost and a vast expanse of what appears to be very barren land in every direction (I know better than to accept this as truth – the lands aren’t barren – they just look that way right now). I simply don’t know where to go. There are so many routes – for the first time in my life, they’re almost blinding me – and I don’t know whether I feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed anymore. I just don’t know which way to go. I’m lost. Not because I don’t know where I am, but because I don’t know where I’m going. Does that make sense? I’m staring at this stupid signpost as if I’m waiting for it to make the decision for me. I’m at the crossroads of Settling Down and Seeing the World and Meeting Someone and Jumping the Next Flight to Madagascar and Buying a Home and Volunteering in Ethiopia and Starting a Family and Going to Grad School and Getting a Job in Antarctica. And I don’t know anything about any of it.
So I’m Starting to Panic.
Can any of you identify with any of this? Something about the place I’m at, and the length of time I’ve been away, and the heightened awareness I have of my solitude that comes from living in the Middle of Nowhere again.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that my solitude is suddenly tangible. I can taste it. I have so much time to think. And when my thoughts are as three-dimensional and dynamic as they have been lately, the result will inevitably be an explosion. It’s really just a matter of time.
Am I happy? Truly, yes. I love my life. This I know for sure.
Life (& Death) Goes On.
Life goes on when you’re on the road – it doesn’t pause, or wait for your return. Much has happened in my life in the last few months, and that’s likely where a lot of this is coming from. I’ve had to face the deaths of two people who were very close to me, and as much as my friends and family have been there for me, there is only so much they can do when they’re so far away, and so much of it I need to deal with on my own, anyway.
Death is never an easy thing to deal with, but it has literally knocked the wind out of me this time. The sense of emptiness that comes from the passing of a treasured friend leaves gaping holes in the heart, ones full of agony and sadness, and I think even the strongest person would have trouble dealing with these things alone. Wouldn’t they?
For the first time in my life, I can’t seem to find my feet. I’m faced with the fragility of our existence in a way I never have before. Life is so beautiful. I want to share it with people I love. I want to share it with people who love me, too.
So, when loneliness starts to gnaw at you – and inevitably it will – what do you do? When you’re on the road indefinitely and this dreaded loneliness kicks it up a notch – and I mean really kicks it up – what do you do? When those small pangs of homesickness or short stints of sadness creep in, they usually pass after a few hours, days – weeks, at the most. What do you do when they refuse to leave?
When You’re on the Road & Lonely, What Do You Do?
I’ve compiled a list of some things that help me when I’m on the road and feeling lonely… Do they sound familiar? What works for you?
Watch a good movie, or a TV series that makes you laugh. Sometimes just getting your mind off everything works miracles. (My go-to’s are Step Brothers & Seinfeld.)
Go out and meet some new friends. Join a sports team, or a hiking group. Strike up a conversation with the next person who might possibly at one point in their lives have spoken English, ever. ;) Obviously the difficulty with this increases the further you remove yourself from touristy areas, but it can still be done. Try smiling at people you pass on the street. Every person in the world speaks this language. :)
Surround yourself with good food and drink. Whether you go to the nearest grocery store and pick up the ingredients to Mom’s secret recipe for spaghetti and meatballs, or head to the pub and order a steak and a pint, surround yourself with food and drink that makes your tastebuds scream “thank you”. Your belly will be warm and satisfied, and hopefully your happy belly will make your head happy, too. Being in a pub around other people does wonders, too, even if you can’t speak the language. Unless you’re the only person in the pub. ;)
Dive into a good book. Assuming you can get your hand on a book in a language that you understand, reading is a great cure for loneliness. I like to pair my book with a glass of wine.
Explore like it’s your job. Get out there and be the biggest tourist ever. If you’re traveling for pleasure, it’s now your job. Go. Take pictures. Write notes. Make sketches. Create little stories from everything that you see. People watch. Stare awkwardly at everyone who catches your eye. There’s bound to be some comic relief there at some point.
Skype. I love skype. Skype with everyone you know. And if you’re really lonely, call me. I’ll skype with you any time (chances are, I probably need it, too). :)
Listen to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” On repeat. Until you smile. It won’t take long, trust me. Or watch this. :)
Remember why you’re here. You put yourself here for a reason. You’re nowhere near anyone you know and you knew exactly what you were doing when you came here. Enjoy it, damnit. It’s a real treat to have all this time to yourself. You’re probably making people at home jealous by just being where you are. Might as well see the beauty in it. You won’t have this opportunity forever.
Remind yourself of the benefits of traveling solo (even though you probably want to throw Number 6 off a bridge right about now).
Well Would Ya Look at That. I Gone Done & Fixed Things.
Well, what d’ya know. I just talked some sense into myself. Apparently the best cure for loneliness when you’re on the road is to write a blog post and knock some sense into yourself!? ;) Ha. What am I even doing, wasting all this time feeling bad for myself???!!!
Loneliness is a reality that comes with the territory. We can choose to be dragged down by it, or we can embrace it. If that means we pause to watch movies, read a book, drink wine, smile at strangers, explore the neighbourhood, skype with loved ones or write blog posts until we feel better, if we put our minds to it (or just give our minds a break, once in awhile), we can overcome anything. Even that ghastly monster we know as Loneliness.
Am I right?
Or am I right. :)