How to Beat the Solo Travel Blues
Travel Alone: How to Beat the Solo Travel Blues
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world, you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often though, they hurt.” – Anthony Bourdain
I write this story retrospectively, reflectively, after I’ve had time to digest and analyze my travel marks. It’s not something I laugh about now that it’s passed. It’s something that I hope never happens again, but I am better prepared if it does happen again. I’m not examining clinical, diagnosed depression in this story. I’m referring to the “blues” and how a mildly depressive state can affect your travel plans.
I learned that I mustn’t place expectations on my travels. Expectations almost always result in disappointment. When I was extracted from my comfort zone and separated from friends and family, I wanted to crawl under the covers in my soft Airbnb bed. Luckily, the owners of the home were at work all day, so I took the time to suffer through my misery and concoct a plan. I’d survived a month alone in Sydney, and I’d already booked a trip to Thailand and Cambodia that would depart in a few days.
It was difficult for a “planner” like me to have no plan. It was downright boring.
I contemplated changing my flight to return home to California, but then considered my longtime desire to see Southeast Asia. “Alright. I’ll go to Thailand and Cambodia. If I’m still in this state after three weeks, I’ll change my ticket to fly home.” I didn’t fly home. I fulfilled my original plan of a four-month journey, culminating in a New Year’s Eve celebration in Sydney Harbour.
I was sure solo travel was the answer to my problems, but new problems arose because of new situations and environments. A budding relationship was placed on hold, a job of 15 years was given up, and a home was displaced. It was difficult for a “planner” like me to have no plan. It was downright boring. “You can do whatever you want when you wake up in the morning. You don’t have to work like the rest of us here at home. Just get up, smile, and go see something,” a friend advised, as we chatted on Viber. Easy for him to say.
That was my attitude as I was booking the trip, but I was unaware that too much free time can be detrimental. I wasn’t using it constructively. I was allowing myself to get lost in stories about the past and spend too much time in an analytic state. I needed to learn to relax and enjoy the present moment, rather than think about what might happen when I returned home. After stewing in my despair, I took small steps to remedy my affliction.
I readied myself for the day and took a walk through Centennial Park in Sydney, following the paths and losing my thoughts in the massive trees. I followed the Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk, reveling in the constant crashing waves and sloping walkways. I subscribed to five tenets toward recovery:
Travel Alone: How to Beat the Solo Travel Blues
1. Get outside
Slather on some sunscreen and take a walk. Escaping your comforting bed or other confinement will force you to alter your thoughts, possibly discovering a new resolution. The sun’s rays will remind you where you are and rekindle your reasons for travelling there.
2. Talk to strangers
Meeting new people will help take your mind off your own suffering. Approach someone in a book shop and ask for a recommendation for your travel region. Go to a popular tourist spot and share its magnificence with a complete stranger. Join a Meetup group to find like-minded thinkers.
3. Connect with family and friends
Get on the phone, Viber, Facebook, or Skype to see familiar faces and hear familiar voices. It will be reassuring. Connecting with people you know will reinforce the purpose for your journey.
4. Journal your thoughts
I never read my old journals unless I’m searching for a certain detail. The catharsis ensues during the process, not after, but that’s my own opinion and experience. Don’t become stalled or intimidated by the writing process. If complete sentences are too much to handle, jot down sentence fragments or key words to get your expressions on paper.
It seems like meditation is touted as the panacea for all ailments lately. Well, from my personal experience, it is. Being alone with my thoughts is frightening, but it allows me to use better judgment and clarify the problem at hand. Sitting alone in the present moment soothes your past worries and ameliorates your expectations for the future.
As I write this piece, on the eve of my departure for a two-month long journey to India, I will invoke my own advice if times get tough. I will recall my past blunders, not obsessively consider the future, and soak up the fleeting present moment.