A confession: Sometimes when I travel alone I’m frightened, sometimes when I travel alone I’m frustrated, amd sometimes when I travel alone I’m lonely.
Having circled much of the globe solo, I’m STILL susceptible to feelings of loneliness and isolation when I’m way out there. With no one to distract me and far from the comforts of home, I’ve not yet completely mastered suppressing obsessive, vicious cycle negative thoughts. That betrayal that I thought I had tucked away neatly into my subconscious years ago? Well, it tends to rear its head when I’m stuck on a camel plodding its slow, rhythmic way through Wadi Rum or lying on my back, staring up at the stars and Atlas Mountains from the Kasbah du Toubkal tower.
THE GOOD NEWS
The good news is that traveling alone can also be incredibly rewarding, fun and empowering.
I’ve learned that traveling solo is a skill, and it becomes easier, and more enjoyable, with experience. Like most worthwhile challenges, you just have to suck it up and to do it. Then do it again. Figuring out how to roll with the situation, understanding how to curb your fears, quelling that nagging voice in your head: mastering it becomes heady, addicting stuff.
If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company. - Jean-Paul Sartre
TRAVEL ALONE: TRICKS & TIPS
Change locations frequently. Typically three days maximum in one place is enough to see the sights (sites?) and get the feel of my location. Maintaining a tight schedule forces me to stay busy: I don’t have time for boredom, self-pity, regrets, etc. If I don’t change my city after three days, I will at least relocate to another hotel.
Load-up your iPod. Podcasts, podcasts, podcast. They make wonderful companions and turn tedious activities (waiting, exercising, driving, etc.) fun. I’m amazed by how many with-it people I know who don’t subscribe to them.
Indulge in reading. Download the number of books that you think you will read on the trip, then add one more. Too many distractions (cats, satellite radio, L trains, the refrigerator) come between me and my Infinite Jest at home: but reading Infinite Jest from a cave hotel in Cappadocia or in a hammock overlooking the Amazon is, well — infinite bliss.
Stay connected with friends and family over email or Facebook. Daily reminders that people thousands of miles away are thinking about me and interested in my adventures keep loneliness at bay.
Walk. This trick works at home, too. When The Mean Reds creep up on me, I slip on my Fitflops and head for the door. A change of scenery erases my mind.
Take an Ambien. It’s not cheating to chemically silence your thoughts late at night every once in awhile.
Forget what your mother told you, it’s ok to talk to strangers. That person you don’t know standing next to you in line? Say hi to him.
Engage in rituals. When I travel alone I’ve learned that a little bit of structure keeps me grounded, whether it’s an early morning cup of coffee and the local paper, a 3:00 beer in the sun, or checking my email at the internet cafe at the end of the day.
Establish goals. My goal in Hanoi was to locate and buy chon (coffee beans “passed” by a civet). I was determined to walk 20 miles a day in Stockholm. I pursued the perfect photo of a neon-lit alley in Hong Kong. My trip to San Sebastian was all about hunting down the regions’ best pintxos (tapas). Executing upon a mission keeps me focused.
Travel alone. Just do it and you’ll be glad you did.
PODCASTS I RECOMMEND
Comedy Bang Bang: A high-spirited get-together between host Scott Aukerman (“Mr. Show”, Producer of “Between Two Ferns”) and his funny friends
How Was Your Week with Julie Klausner: My new imaginary BFF
Judge John Hodgman: Podcast Justice
Real Time with Bill Maher: He’s irrepressible, opinionated and, of course, politically incorrect
The Moth: True stories told live
Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me!: NPR’s weekly current events quiz