Do I get lonely?
Jun 05, 2004

"You are traveling alone.  Don't you get lonely?"

People have made the mistaken, though logical, assumption that I wrote an article about loneliness, because I'm lonely. Sometimes, I do get lonely, but I wrote this article because I've been asked the above question a hundred times. 

I'll start my answer with a true story - A week ago, I was sitting at a bar on the beach, alone.  I was thinking about loneliness and scribbling the notes that would later become this article.  Then, a hot Finnish blonde and her hot German redhead friend sat down on the barstools next to me.  They tell me that their Mexican (hot brunette?) friend is on her way.  I put away my notes.  It was like the Charlie's Angels had joined me for a drink. 

Unfortunately, the Charlie's Angels don't always appear to cheer you up.  Traveling the world alone does sometimes get lonely.  But it isn't that bad.  When you get lonely you just retreat into a novel.  The rewards of traveling alone certainly outweigh the occasional loneliness. 

Oddly, the times that I feel the most lonely are in the most touristy cities.  There are tons of people.  Plenty of people speak English, but no one is excited to meet a tourist.  The locals ignore you, or want to sell you something.  The tourists are involved in their own activities and chat among their friends.  Bangkok is like this.  There are times that, I'll sit in a restaurant with 40 other tourists, but cannot find a way to join their conversations and will have no one to talk to.  That's a lonely experience. 

When you do get lonely, you rarely stay lonely for long.  If you have a good book you can retreat into that for a while.  Otherwise, your loneliness quickly overcomes any shyness and forces you to introduce yourself to strangers.

More often though, the problem isn't meeting people, but remembering all the names.  Backpacker guesthouses are very social places.  You walk in and almost immediately have a dozen new friends.  The friendships tend to be brief and shallow.  Only rarely do you make enduring friendships.  The conversations get very repetitive:  "Where are you from?", "How long have you been traveling?" It's not the same as hanging out with friends that you've had for years, but it is enough to keep you from feeling lonely. 

Off the beaten path, you're actually rarely lonely.  The few travelers stick together and help each other out.  When you meet the other travelers in places like Indonesia and East Africa, there's an instant bond and an implied friendship. 

Way off the beaten path there may be no tourists at all.  You may not be able to speak a word of the local language.  There may be no one for you to talk to.  But way out there, I find that I'm completed sucked in by the adventures or struggles (depending on the day) of traveling.  I'm busy absorbing the sights, the sounds, the smells around me.  Thinking about being lonely rarely ever occurs to me. 

Then there are places like Myanmar.  All of the kids run out and shout "hello".  All of the pretty girls smile and wave.  It's very hard to feel lonely in a place like that.  Way off the beaten path the locals tend to be most friendly.  You don't need to speak their language to feel welcome. 

Email also helps.  The internet is there if I am ever feeling depressed (not often), or have a need to share a story.  It's not the same as being in the same room with friends and family, but at least I can easily enough keep in touch with them. 

I'm also often asked:  "Why don't you travel with a friend?" The easiest answer to this, is that none of my friends have the motivation and nerve to travel for years through some of the more dangerous places of the world.  Some of my friends have said that they're going to fly out and join me for a while, but none have yet.  In part, that's my fault.  I have a vague plan, but not a schedule.  I never know when I'll be anywhere, so it's hard to catch up with me. 

But, also I'm very happy traveling alone.  I can live my life on a whim.  I feel like staying in and reading a book today.  I feel like climbing a mountain today.  I feel like taking the night train to Budapest in search of a bagel.  There's no debate or compromise.  There's no effort in making a decision.  The total freedom you have when traveling alone is amazing. 

My 'office' on Ko Chang

You also meet many more people when you travel alone.  First of all, loneliness is the instigator which forces you to introduce yourself to people where you ordinarily wouldn't.  But, you're also more approachable when you're alone.  Individuals and groups often invite you to join them.  Ironically in places where I'm making lots of friends and having a great time, I meet couples who complain they feel lonely:  "No one talks to us".  People assume that couples want to be left alone, but they often end up feeling excluded. 

So, that's it.  I get lonely, but the loneliness isn't that bad.  There is no question that I'm happier now, occasionally lonely on a beach in Zanzibar, than I was spending all day behind a desk. 

Nancy - Jul 03, 2004

You make very good points although if one of your friends picked a place I am sure you would manage to get there when they showed up.  You didn't mention the fact that you are lucky to be a man and that you haven't met too many women traveling off the beaten path alone.  You probably know that you are lucky that way because you are enabled.

Lorna - Jul 19, 2004

I agree with you totally but unfortuately I also agree with Nancy.  There are some countries where off the beaten track travel is not really a viable option for a solo woman.  Tho' I suspect thisis thankfully slowly changing.:)
Oh well I'm gonna give it ago anyway and see what happens;)

Phil - Jul 22, 2004

I really like this article - captures many on my own thoughts (and im sure many other peoples) very well.
In reply to Nancy below though - I'd disagree amount not many woman travelling alone of the beaten track - I can honestly say I've met probably about the same amount of woman travelling alone than I have men , although I do appreciate the added worry / dangers.

Samantha - Aug 28, 2004


I just stumbled onto to your site and this is only the second article that I have read, but I wanted to let you know I loved it.  It's so nice to read something that is simple, honest and not contrived.  I am not nearly as world travelled as you but even so I have had the same experiences and it is always nice to know someone goes through the same stuff.  I too am always asked, "you're going by yourself, aren't you going to get lonely?"
I love the way you write and I am sure you will accomplish everything you want to.
Good Luck with the future travelling, writting and bar ownership.

Joshua - Sept 30, 2004

"The difference between loneliness and solitude is your perception of who you are alone with and who made the choice."

--anonymous quote from my Outward Bound readings book.

Krista - Oct 15, 2004

Hey Adam, I found your site thru a link on Joshua Berman's site.  I enjoyed this article immensely, as I love travelling alone (when I can unload family & friends!).  I'm also a writer, working on my 2nd unpublished novel (which I should be doing instead of surfing travel writing sites).  Thanks for the info on your site - Krista

Michael - Nov 13, 2004


we met in Nairobi.  I was travelling also on my own and can only approve your comments.

Good luck on your onward journey,


Richard - Feb 05, 2005

I have the privelage to travel and study alone and with larger groups, in a variety of diverse places, and came to realize what I enjoy must is to travel alone.  Especially, the journies you take off the beaten path, where few Americans tend to vacation, and the locals and other foreign tourists seem to be more approachable and looking for conversation.  But my best experience "on the road" is when I am alone, and as far away from American society you can be.

My last few trips have lead me to the Island of Cuba.  I went alone and I never experienced a day of loneliness there.  It was quite a journey, a place unkown to many Americans, a realm full of surprises and contradictions, tests and revelations.  But when I returned I was compelled to share my experience and had the obligation to communicate what I have learned and could not even fathom.

The beautiful City of Havana is a city that never sleeps, it's a place of ruins, a place of rumba and salsa, a real place with a rich culture and resilient people who live in only ninety miles away from the U.S.  A place where once could never be lonely, the city is full of conversation and adventure.

In my few years in Cuba, I never missed a McDonalds, a Walmart, a KFC or Pizza Hut.  Cuba is a place where there is nothing American and I love it.  The only thing American was the old remains of Hemingway's drinking spots and the old cars on the streets of Havana.  This old national treasures rolling down the narrow cobbled stoned streets in Old Havana coughing up smoke as they cruise around town.  And I love ever bit of it.  No Americans, lots of European and Canadian tourist to converse with.  And of course the incredible hospitality of the Cuban people living in Castro's Cuba. 

In closing, Go see Cuba alone or in a group.  Stand up for your right to travel and experience the wonderful country that is only ninety miles away.

I went to Cuba and fell in love; fell in love with the old colonial buildings even though they were in crumbles, held together by fate; fell in love with the old sea wall the Malecon and the tranquility of the sea; fell in love with the lack of American consumerism; fell in love with everything Cubam, and only in Cuba can I find solitude without loneliness.......


Thanks for the info Richard.  Perhaps someday I'll make it to Cuba.  :-)


Mitko - Aug 16, 2005

I like the things you are talking about i this article.  I've been thinking about the loneliness I experience when travelling alone, but I never did it for long enough to explore it as much as you seem to have...  thanks for writting this article :)!

dan - Aug 19, 2005

Being alone sounds like a dream.  I cannot get away from life repsonsibilities and committments long enough to enjoy begin lonely.  In fact i would enjoy it!!  I'm not really a writer a photographer for this site destination360 I'll go back to planning the next shoot.  Thanks for the nice words.

lemaire - Feb 25, 2006

As I told you before I found the old map of Marco Polo and I am following the road of the caravan of tea, spices, horse and silk in the South of China.  So what about solitud?  I don't know exactly but I enjoy to travel alone.
Take it easy and mind the step. 
Lao Fei (my chinese name who means "old, respectable and high person".

mena eied - Mar 18, 2006

hi adam do u remember me im mena the inter net cafe boy in dahab i leave the work there and i joined awrk in sharm el shakh i hope to remember me do u stell in dahab i enter your site it is avery interisting site u collacting alot of photos from all the placeas u visit it is agood work from u well done


I do remember you.

Thanks for the comment.  I'm in Cairo now, but will be heading back to Dahab soon.


EuroThug - Apr 09, 2006

When I where my first trip alone,11 years old I, it was funny but strange.
I walk around in London alone, travel around Isle of Wight.
I don`t remember so much, because it was back in 1973.
I allways loved to travele alone!
Then you travel independent, you have to take contact and meet new friends.
Specialy if your a experienst travler it`s a waste of time to bring friends.
I`v got a lot of friend during the last 33 years around the world :-)

Briar - Apr 20, 2006

I love your exploration of the "loneliness" question!  You write extremely well.  I think this World Traveller gig agrees with you!  It could well be a book, too, you know.  A successful book.  People always want to read about the adventures of the Marco Polos in our species.

Take care!


Laura - Apr 24, 2006

I'm a young woman and fairly apprehensive about my trip that I will be taking alone.  My boyfriend was supposed to come along with me but decided he wasn't ready.  After reading this article I feel more confident about my decision to leave everything familiar and finally take some risks.  Thank you so much for the article about loneliness, it really put alot into perspective for me. 

-Laura :-)

Brian Johnson - May 01, 2006

Hey Adam, I agree.  I get so lonely sometimes on Khoa San, yet in Myanmar, or Bangladesh, or Eritrea, we are never alone! 
by the way, what comment service do you use??  Pretty cool!

Sarah Smith - Nov 13, 2006

Seeing as you've travelled to many places I would love to go somewhere interesting with a lot of cultures, and that hasnt been bombarded with tourists..but it seems impossible to find out where or how to get there.  I f you have any resources you can send or tips of any sort I would really appreciated it.  I want to escape this superficial world and experience the hard and amazng times of people who really work for what they need...thanks alot ..ur the bomdigity


Sarah, it's simple and obvious actually.

1) Pick some place that few people heard of:  Kyrgyzstan?  Albania?  These places are unlikely to have any tourists at all.

2) Pick a war zone.  The images conjured up by that term, and not necessarily correct - there may not be constant gunfire and explosions.  Actually, one side of a country could be at war, and the other side of the country could be completely safe.  Sudan has almost no tourists.  I believe that the number of tourists in Nepal is actually dropping.  And so long as you don't actually go looking for trouble, I'd describe both of these places very safe. 

3) Pick up lonelyplanet, and go some place that is _not_ in the book.  Or pick some place that the book tells you has nothing to see or do.  This is the easiest one.  Just go anywhere that's not in the "bible", and you're likely to find a place completely unaffected by tourism. 


Crispin Ang - Nov 26, 2006

It is a great article that you ahve written.  I have travelled with people and I have travelled alone.  I have to say that when you travel alone you meet so many people and there is often no compromise.  If you travel with someone who does not want to do what you want to do, then the trip is a nightmare!

Frank - Mar 05, 2007

Cheers mate.

Thanks for the uncluttered, down to earth advice.

So where are u now?  Your story has given me the confidence to at lease have a crack at walking by myself in Aus/and at best my ultimate dream
of getting to Nepal to have a look around.

Becky - Apr 11, 2007

I don't know how i found this page, but i'm glad i did.  after living abroud for a few months and doing a bit of solo traveling during that time, it's nice to know i'm not crazy for feeling alone, even amongst tourists.  while 'lonely' can be tough, i also know traveling in a large group can be, well, miserable.  going it alone has been much more rewarding!  i can identify a great deal with what you've posted and it's inspiring as well.  i never really did get far off the "beaten path" but next time, i will give it a go! 

it's been a few years, where's life got you now?

Phoenix - Jun 11, 2007

Hi Adam, I just love your site.  One of my best friends currently resides in Turkey and keeps her travel journal on, and I must admit I am.  I also spent some time (5 years) overseas, although I stayed in one country the whole time.  I've often thought of travelling again and starting a travel magazine.  Give me a holler if you're intereted in a partnership.


Loc - Aug 16, 2007

I love this site.  I'm planning for a one year trip around the world.  I am a female Asian, so traveling around the world is like a taboo to my family and friends.  I can speak a few languages, so traveling can be a great help in terms of practicing.  Last summer I took a leave of absence from work for three months and traveled to a few coutries in Asia & did lots of amazing things.  Now getting back to work and a comfortable lifestyle is nice, but kind of sad and quite boring.  I'm saving up for a big trip again.  A question for those travel experts, how much money would be reasonably required for traveling one year?  I'm now living up with the excitement of a dream & saving plan.

See more and feel more, guys!

Leave a comment


Email addresses are private.


HTML is not supported.

Spam check:
Enter this number: