I received the following email from Katy Greene almost two months ago. I promised to reply but now, weeks after I said I would, I’m actually doing it.
Are you traveling solo? I have traveled solo most of my years b/c my friends either didn't have the time or the money. I LOVE meeting new people and chatting with them about their lives, I learn so MUCH, but those are not deep connections, those are momentary. As I grow older, I find that I'd rather share the experience, it's just not so fun to see something so beautiful and have no one to see it with. Sunsets reminiscing about what we saw/did that day... are so much more satisfying with a friend, a traveling companion.
If you are traveling solo, how do you deal with those moments of wanting a more than a transitory relationship?
At the time, I responded from Malaysia
Hello Katy, Thank you for your question. It is an important one that deserves a good answer. I have given it some thought since receiving your email. I just want to let you know that I am working on my response. Meanwhile, I am in Malaysia leaving on a jungle excursion tomorrow, so I may not be getting back to you again for maybe two weeks. But I will get back to you. Promise.
Now, many weeks later ...
Yes, Katy, I travel solo almost exclusively. Except for a month with my adult son in Peru, and a month in Southeast Asia with a friend, I’ve been traveling solo for the past 33 months.
Actually, I prefer to travel solo rather than with a partner/companion or group. My answer might be different if I had the right partner. But I don’t. I guess you don’t, either. Finding that special person can be difficult. And often it takes time.
As Mark Twain wrote in Tom Sawyer Abroad, “... there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
So what do we do?
Make New Friends
Many people -- I count myself among them -- have overcome loneliness by making new friends and lasting relationships among many of the people we meet.
To make new friends, you need to make yourself “available.” That is one of the great benefits of traveling by yourself. Too often with a partner or group your focus is restricted to the people you are with. And potential new friends often don’t initiate a conversation with you if you already appear comfortable with your group or companion.
Traveling solo naturally frees you up for new friendships. You just have to take advantage of your opportunities to turn your “transitory” relationships into more meaningful and lasting relationships.
However trite or cliched, it is a truism that real travel is not about places you go, or the things you’ve seen, it’s about the people you’ve met and the friends you’ve made, and the stories that come of your shared experiences.
Consider every opportunity as a chance to make a friend. If you enjoy meeting people, talking with them, and learning about new things, you are well on your way to relieving your loneliness.
But you need to fan the embers of those chance encounters and keep them smoldering when you and your new friend inevitably go off in different directions.
What I mean is, lay the groundwork for more lasting friendships by taking the initiative, speaking up and talking to people. Don’t be shy. Just as important, listen to the people you meet. Ask them about their families, what they do, why they travel, what they like, where they’ve been, where they’re going. Take a sincere interest in them, and be open about yourself in return.
Most important, ask for their contact information and give them yours. I have found that printed business cards with my name and contact info make that more convenient. People tend to remember me better that way. And, of course, always carry a notebook and pen to make notes and write down the contact info of others.
If there’s time while you are both where you are in your travels, invite your new acquaintance(s) to meet you over a meal, or coffee, or to attend an event, where you can build on your foundation of friendship. Do not be shy.
Express hope to a new friends that you’ll meet again somewhere down the road in your travels, or that one day you may visit one another where you each live.
Then make sure you stay in contact with them from time to time. Nothing more than a brief note to say hello and perhaps rekindle a fond memory or two is all that’s necessary.
I now have dozens of friends in many parts of the world that I’ve cultivated in this manner, and my interactions with them, even at a distance, help keep me going.
The Reality of Loneliness
We as travelers also should realize there is value in being lonely. It is a basic human feeling that at times we cannot avoid. We have to just accept it, embrace it, accommodate it and learn from it.
From a positive, practical perspective, loneliness gives you the time for introspection, for writing, reading, listening to music, and just plain thinking, all outside the familiar environs of relationships that often funnel your thoughts down the same old comfortable paths.
I have found it helps also to accommodate loneliness by carrying music and books as “friends” to soothe my soul and boost my spirit. I have found it also helps to develop a philosophy of travel that defines what you do, as well as why and how you travel. Keep those tenets of travel in mind and refer to them often.
Finally, Your Answer
How do I deal with “wanting more than a transitory relationship?”
Certainly, part of it is learning how to turn those transitory relationships into long-term friendships.
And perhaps just as important is understanding loneliness, discovering ways to cope with it, and being comfortable enough with yourself to endure it.
For even if I am alone I can enjoy a beautiful moment for myself without the despair of feeling lonely because I know that life is good, people are friendly, the world keeps turning and I will find my way through.
I understand that everyone is not like me. But that is the way I have found joy and peace in my travels. We all must find our own way.
May your travels always lead you to a better place in your heart.
David Hunter Bishop is a retired journalist from Hawaii who quickly tired of retirement life and hit the road as a solo traveler in August 2016. Since then he's traveled through 16 countries on four continents and is currently enjoying life in Chiang Mai, Thailand. For more about David's journey, see published interviews with Nomadic Matt and Expat Focus, and in A Confluence of Adventure Writers, with Sarawak (Kuching, Malaysia) Tribune writer James Ritchie.
David's Articles On Other Travel Blogs
GARIFUNA SETTLEMENT DAYS: Colorful festivals celebrate Caribbean History and Culture
SELVAMONOS: An Alternative Arts and Music Festival in the Amazon highlands
ANIQUEM: Reinforcing Human Connections Through Travel
PROMISES, PROMISES: Tourists High and Dry in Siem Reap Rip