How to tackle loneliness on your solo trip

By Female Traveling Ornithologist (last updated February 2023)

This post is about changing your mind. Feeling lonely or even anxiety as you are experiencing everything on your own as a solo traveler.

Maybe you know the feeling already.

The trip, the people, the weather is nothing like you expected.

You are stuck in a foreign country for several more weeks, and you are considering rebooking your flights or cancelling your project. You tried it your way, and everyone else seems fine, and maybe you feel like you’re the odd one out.

Everyone feels lonely from time to time

When you are thousands of kilometers away from home, the food is weird, WiFi connection is poor and you just want to see you mum or dad or maybe just your bed at home.

I have felt lonely from time to time during my travels, most recently in Belize and Guatemala.

I had a lot of expectations about how social life would be during my internship at T.R.E.E.S and at the animal rescue center, ARCAS. During my internship, we were very few people. We were all tired from bird banding from 5 am to 10 am, followed by data entry and some days the Manakin monitoring program.

I was expecting to be hanging out in the common area, talking every night, playing games, having a beer or two once in a while. But everyone were just relaxing by themselves in their own rooms.

People have different expectations, and it was okay for everyone to rest in the evening and watch Netflix or read on Reddit all night. But I didn’t expect to watch three seasons of The Crown during my internship in Belize.

People have different expectations, and it was okay for everyone to rest in the evening and watch Netflix or read on Reddit all night. But I didn’t expect to watch three seasons of The Crown during my internship in Belize.

I was feeling lonely and like I didn’t fit in. Maybe it was because I was European and hence didn’t understand the jargon or the jokes.

At ARCAS, I had noone to talk to because everyone were chatting in Spanish to each other and the employees at the Center. I didn’t know any Spanish and I was struggling really hard.

Loneliness or feeling like an outsider

When you are having these thoughts, you need to look into yourself and think, why am I feeling lonely? Or sad? If you are missing people to talk to, maybe you need a change in environment.

At Bellas Backpackers in San Ignacio for instance, I met three amazing people in the kitchen. Two German girls were cooking in the crowded communal kitchen, and I didn’t know anyone and was hanging around. But then I sat down with them, they offered me some food and we had the most exciting evening I have had in weeks. Talking for hours, having a drink and laughing at each other. Maybe we got along because we were not Americans, Canadians, Australians or British?

In the same hostel in my dorm, a Dutch guy had just arrived from the Netherlands. He was also traveling solo like me. He was very quiet and just relaxing in his bed, getting the hang og the climate and the vibe of the hostel. I invited him to my new ‘European gang’, and later we all discussed our plans.

I was heading to El Remate for a small retreat and to replenish my energies. One of the Germans and the Dutch guy decided to meet me in El Remate a few days later, and we had a blast!

About wanting different things from your time abroad

At Bellas Backpackers I also met a Polish girl from the USA. She was feeling anxious, since her traveling partner was not as adventurous as her. The Polish girl wanted to see EVERYTHING! The German girls and I spoke with her, invited her along, and we spoke about how it’s okay to want different things.

When you arrive in a new country, you can have different reactions. It is okay to change your plans along the way. Remember, it is YOUR money, your LIFE and your TIME. You are responsible for making your travel the most enjoyable as possible.

It is okay to feel anxious, scared or homesick. But it is okay to change your mind or go bungee jumping, if that is what you want to do!

I wouldn’t change my stay at T.R.E.E.S nor ARCAS for anything in this World. These experiences made me stronger. I met amazing people from all over the World, I worked with the most amazing and dedicated staff and animals in both places.

Listen to your gut, and change things if you feel unhappy. Ask the project leaders or staff for help or resources if you are feeling down. Call home and talk to your boyfriend, husband, sister, grandmother or a doctor. Keep in mind the time difference between you and your loved ones, and it may be necessary to schedule a video call so that it suits both you and your safety network back home.

Consult a doctor if you are acutely depressed or fearing for your own mental health!

It’s okay to retract and sit for yourself and read a book or listen to music, if that’s what you want to do. No-one is asking for you to be extremely outgoing or hangout every day. The common area could also be a place where you could meet new people, and make new friends and maybe plan together!

Why you need Travel Insurance

This is where Travel Insurance comes in handy! If you for any reason need to consult a doctor or a hospital while a broad, it is absolutely essential to have Travel Insurance as your safety net. You literally do not know when and if you might need it! And once you get sick while abroad, it is already too late to get things covered. In some situations you may not even be able to travel home for treatments, and the hospital bills may pile up (thousands of dollars!). If you have any known health conditions that may worsen during your travel, please please make sure you are covered for your travels.

Even if you think it is a bit of an unexpected expense for you to add travel insurance, it will cover your ass in the future.

Personally I have only needed medication for pain or infection while traveling, but people that I know have had infected mosquito bites, broken limbs on skiing vacation, and even mental health problems, all occurring during traveling. All were conditions that needed to consult a doctor and/or a hospital while abroad.

In Europe we are lucky to have a Blue Health Insurance Card, which you have to bring when you travel in Europe. This card helps us when we need medical help in Europe.

After the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, it has been more common to use online therapists and more and more self-help apps have been developed for mental health care. I have tried the Apps ‘Calm‘ and ‘Mindfulness‘ for meditations on the go, but mainly at home when I need to relax and clear my head. During the Pandemic I also started to do yoga at home by watching free yoga classes on YouTube (my favorite is Yoga With Kassandra. All I need is my mat!).

Traveling in remote parts of the World

When traveling to remote parts of the World, there may not always be a good WiFi connection. You may be traveling in other time zones, hence making communication with people back home even more difficult.

I have learnt from my many travels from remote locations that it is absolutely ESSENTIAL to have a local sim card to use in my phone. I have had mobile reception on a remote mountain in Kenya, in the jungle of Belize, in the outback of Australia. And every time I had a local sim card with reception.

The reception wasn’t always great, but it was there on-and off. It helped me many times to stay in contact with people back home, and to look for resources while traveling. My boyfriend even had an online job interview with his now employer while we were in the outback in north-western Australia!

Ask the local people what phone company has the best reception for your purpose. For example, we would get the fastest connection with Vodafone in the big cities like Perth, Sydney and Launceston, but we needed to have reception in remote areas of Western Australia and some parts of Tasmania. Therefore we both got sim cards from Telstra.

© All photos are my own and may not be used without permission.

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