Loneliness

20 June 2015. Filed under category Nomad.
Feeling Lonely

Feeling Lonely

I have a list of topics I’d like to write about one day. I was flipping through the list when I came across one that I added to the list during my first year as a nomad, in Mexico. Here are the stray thoughts I had written down alongside the title.

Sitting alone, in a room, on a Friday night, no friends, drinking alone, feeling damn sorry for myself. There are dark dark sides to this life too. I sure hope the bright parts will outweigh the dark. Embrace it? Not kicking myself about it? Maybe I should learn some Spanish? Or go out? Or put the music on high and dance in my tiny little room? I really don’t know.

I need a protocol for these moments, as they will be quite frequent.

Nothing will happen while I am here. Better head out.

Almost four years later, these feelings still come from time to time, especially when I first arrive in a new city. People ask me if I don’t get lonely. Of course I do. But there are ways to handle it, a protocol as my younger self said. And as you get better at handling the tougher sides of the nomadic life, including loneliness, the bright parts will (hopefully) outshine the dark.

How to handle loneliness.

A new city can me you feel alone.

A new city can me you feel alone.

Loneliness is part of any life, but the nomadic life is particularly prone to it. The first thing to do when loneliness descent on you like a dark cloud is to not overreact. It is just an emotion. The more you wallow in it by feeling sorry for yourself, the less able you are to fix it. This is of course easier said than done. When you sit there in a room with not a soul in town that you can call a friend or even an acquaintance, it is damn hard to not sink further and further into those dark thoughts.

Dark thoughts have a tendency to breed more bad emotions. A feeling of loneliness can, if left unchecked, breed feelings of being a failure, inadequate, unwanted, etc. Remind yourself that you are feeling lonely because you have arrived in a brand new city where you don’t know anyone! Feeling lonely at those times is perfectly reasonable and human.

Having gone through it a few times, it gets easier. You can catch yourself entering the same mindspace as you have other times, and remember that it is a temporary thing. It will pass. You won’t feel like that forever. It is just a matter of how long, and you take action to shorten it.

How to beat loneliness.

Staying in and plugging into Twitter does not help.

Staying in and plugging into Twitter does not help.

Being able to handle loneliness is good, but it will never be a pleasant emotion and you will have to fix the root cause, preferably sooner than later. It won’t just fix itself. You have to do something about it.

The first tip is what you should not do. Do not stay in. Whatever place you’ve rented, get out of there. When loneliness weighs heavy on you, it can be really fucking hard to muster up the energy and oompphf to cross that threshold, but you must must must get out, even if it is just to go and have an ice cream at a park bench and watch the world go by. Staring at your own four (alien) walls will feed the loneliness. If you work from home, either get out as soon as you log off, or work from a coffee shop.

If you prompt must have a destination for going out, use sightseeing as your motivation. Make a list of things to see and do in your new city, and get out there and do the list. Whatever it takes to get you out.

Busying yourself with stuff outside your door helps, but it won’t fix the underlying problem, being that you don’t have any nearby friends. The solution to that problem is obvious; make some friends!

We have all made friends in the past, but for many, these are the kind of friendships that simply congeal out of the background crowd of work colleagues and football teams. It’s rare for people to actively make new friends, but nomads will have to do exactly that.

I’ve found the direct approach best. Just go up to people, say hi, explain that you are new in town and looking for people to hang out with. You can do this at bars, coffee shops or one of the many themes Meetups. Do whatever works for you. Just make sure that it is effective! You don’t have time to let these friendships form passively around you. You’ll need to work at it! Most likely, you’ll have to be the person taking that dreaded first step and initiate contact. Fortunately, it gets easier the more times you do it.

Do you need to make bigger changes?

What changes can you make to be more connected?

What changes can you make to be more connected?

If the loneliness comes back every time you make a move, and it last a long time and causes you a lot of grief no matter what you do, all despite your best efforts to fight it, then perhaps it is time to reconsider bigger parts of your life.

Should you perhaps pick other kind of destinations? For example, I have an easier time making friends and fighting loneliness if I go to an English speaking country. Or perhaps you should go to places ‘for a reason’, meaning you have some activity in mind that you want to do when you get there, such as learning tango or volunteer in some community project, something that will get you in touch with people.

You could try to stay longer in whatever place you go. If it takes you as long as a month to build up some friendships, it would be a shame to leave soon thereafter to start all over again? Maybe stay six months instead?

Perhaps you could favour destinations where you already have friends? It is OK to return to places where you’ve been before! This is your journey; you get to call the shots.

Finally, you could stop being a nomad. It isn’t something you have to do forever. It is not for everybody. Quitting is not admitting defeat; it is making active choices on how you want to live. More people should quit that which does not work for them.

Travel Updates

It’s been almost two months since I left Madrid. During this time, I’ve been jumping from one place to another, never staying more than a few weeks.  I first spent a week playing board games in Antwerp. Then I returned to London for eighteen days to see friends and attend the hag-stag party of a friend. I then flew to Long Beach for a couple of weeks to see Don. We went on a bike ride through the desert, escaped from Sherlock Holme’s locked study and danced two-step. Next I flew to Sweden to attend the Storytelling Festival of Ljungby. I’ll stay here one more week before going on a Mediterranean Cruise.

Pictures you ask? Why, there is a picture for each day over at my Daily Photo page! Want this fed to you every day? Easily done my friend! Just follow me on Instagram.

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How do you deal with loneliness?

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  1. Oby says:

    Hi Gustav,

    I loved this article. It was well written and heartfelt. I can relate to some of the things you said, yes I know I live in London and have many friends. But there are times when I am extremely lonely and I am alone especially with what is going on in my life. Still, in those times I look for the bright lights and know that the will come.

  2. Diego says:

    As a person that has moved a fair share of times, I guess I know a little bit what you mean. Of course that in my case I wasn’t in any of the places as a nomad, but this need of having people in my life was always there. The problem is that I’ve always been the type of person that has a slightly hard time just going up to people and saying hi. So in my case I found it profitable to just split my time between moments of staying indoors doing activities I treasure and (whenever I felt I would start to feel the walls shrinking around me) moments of going outside for a walk, getting to know the surroundings and doing things with other people around me. Eventually I would always find myself more at ease and make new friends.

    1. Of course, the ‘problem’ of loneliness is only a problem if it feels like a problem, as is the case for most extroverts. Introverts who are quite happy with their own company should force themselves to go out and mingle just for the sake of it. I’m not saying you are one, Diego. Just remembered that I didn’t say this in the article. So, if you feel good about taking your time and easing yourself first into a feeling of familiarity with the surrounding and then friendships, that fine, as long as it feels fine.

  3. NomadNemi says:

    Good post on an important part of long term traveling!
    Last year when I had just hitchhiked to Oslo and was on my way to bike to Gothenburg I got a strong feeling of loneliness that quickly turned into insecurities and a sense of failure, so I took a train home the next day and have regretted it ever since.

  4. Brittany says:

    I love this article! I am not a nomad yet, but I do suffer from separation anxiety. This makes it difficult for me to think that in two months I’ll be in India for the next nine months chilling out. I have moved several times, and I know how hard it is to feel like everything is temporary! I deal with it by making sure I know just that though- everything is temporary. I love it, but it is bittersweet. Thanks for the great blog!

    1. Nine months in India with separation anxiety, that will be interesting! It might be easier if you keep in mind that you are pushing yourself to do something new and exciting, and that any emotional pains are growing pains, and thus a good thing, a little like workout pain.

  5. Nev says:

    Hi Gustav, I met you some time ago in NZ and been follöwing your travels…and guess what, now I in the middle of my own travels…..the affect you have [thanks] I now find my self alone and a week to löng in Berlin, I only have four months but the löneliness has hit this week. Strange but welcome timeing with your blog. I Think we fear traveling alone..I did. Just getting on the plane going what the hell and get on with it helps.

    1. I think people should have realistic expectation when they embark on mid-to-long term travel. It’s too easy to think that is is going to be one long party. Often we are fooled into this by seeing friends and acquaintances having unbroken facebook postings from fabulous trips, but much of that is from shorter trips and of course selection bias.

      I absolutely think that travel is something most people should do, if for nothing else than being forced to cope with unknown situations and learn to take care of themselves. It is a great way to ‘grow’. But, going into it with the expectation that there will be days when we feel lonely or lost makes us face those things as the ‘overcomeable’ challenges they are; not as a sign that we made a terrible mistake.

  6. Edina says:

    Getting yourself out of the four walls is a good idea, however I think that a moments reflection and acceptance are essential.

    Before you run out looking for a bar / meet or park bench, collect your thoughrs. just take a deep breath.
    Take a deep breath and accept how you feel and don’t run away from it, otherwise it will return. Sitting alongside your demons takes away their power and loneliness can be a real demon.

    Accept… “I am feeling lonely. I am the type of person who deals well with their own company and that’s why I am here and that’s why I have chosen to put myself into this situation. Not many people would choose to do this; the feeling will probably pass”..

    1. Travel provides plenty of opportunities to learn new aspects of your own psyche and how your mind works. So, yes, I agree that it is a good idea to take a step outside yourself and look back in and learn. For a while. Then I really do recommend doing something to fix the loneliness. It is after all something we can take steps to mitigate.

  7. Marischa says:

    It is not during my travells that I feel lonely because when you open up to it you encouter so many people all with an interesting story. I do a lot of hiking and allmost every hike I end up with people I have met during the day, have a drink or a meal together. My loneliness start when I get back home. With so many nice experiences, all those conversations and pictures in your head. I am so thrilled by all the things I have seen and done and everybody at home is still their booring self. It is like I can not connect to the people at home anymore, only to other nomads… Within days I feel this urge to start travelling again. I just can’t pick up dailly life anymore and the need to travel is so strong that it litterally hurts… That is when I feel very, very lonely 🙁

  8. Brian B says:

    Two rules about loneliness/sadness: 1) Don’t isolate – get out amongst people. Being holed up in your room only makes things worse.
    2) Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and the last thing anyone needs when down is a downer drug. Go out for coffee and pastries. Chat up the person at the next table. Groups can be insular and cliquish but they may welcome you too. You’ll feel better and so will the other single person. Most people I’ve met like foreigners and their stories. They wish they could travel more too and you give a window on the world they don’t (yet) know. You’ll like their tales too – life as a local.
    To me when I’ve met local people and often been invited for dinner, to a party or just to hang out with their friends is special. I feel I’m really getting part of local culture and the people are the culture. You get to climb into their heads for a little while and learn a lot about other kinds of people. Architecture and art are nice but there is a lot to be said for living as a local even if it is short term.
    In Stockholm I got invited to join their party. I loved it. But I was seemingly the shortest man there and most women were my height. Later in Costa Rica I was the tallest man at the party. But I got to know the people and got over my self conscious thinking. They seemed to like me and wanted to know my life.
    I’ve been a Sweden-a-file for years starting with books by Moberg as a teenager. I got interested in social democracy and the welfare state. I had to see it for myself. I loved Bergman movies but the people seemed so dark and bleak.
    Cheer up folks you live in a very advanced highly moral society (comparatively), are secure financially and healthwise. Happiness is not stuff, it is relationships – family and friends and sometimes even near strangers. “The best things in life are not things” I don’t know who first said this but it is so true.

  9. Svetla says:

    I was constantly taken for a fool and made fun of by my classmates when I was in preschool and in school years. I found out very fast, that I can entertain myself without anyone around me! Find a hobby that you can practice anywhere anytime and alone ! I loved watching movies, siteseeng, brainstorming , bike riding , picture taking. But scense I became a Christian, I am never alone, lonely or need the world for anything to beat loneliness. I always took my loneliness as something as an advantage over other people ! Think of it as a way to be free to read, to learn to explore to brainstorm to mind surf the world That is an amazing feeling. Also, learn how to enjoy your own company and not to find completeness with others but with yourself! Loneliness is a state of mind and it can be beat. I hope that helps! Prayer is the ultimate helper to me these days.

  10. Dantheman says:

    I really liked this article a lot! Seeing as how my nomadic life is starting just next week, this has been one of my biggest fears for the whole thing. I’m extremely nervous because I will only have a bag of clothes and a few bucks to my name but I plan on making the most of it. Any further advice you might have would be greatly appreciated.

  11. Luciana says:

    Your articles are helping me a lot! I chose Taiwan as my first destination to learn traditional Mandarin. Now I think I might have done the wrong choice, specially because I was still underage when I arrived. I choose to go by a home stay program so I could live like a native, learn faster and be In a social circle. Unfortunately it wasn’t what I expected, young people here (at high school / collage age) almost don’t go out and aren’t as open as people in South America ( I’m from Brazil by the way ), and most are shy. I tried to make friends at school but the language barrier is too big, their liking for foreign people allow me to have some interaction but it doesn’t transcend the school ground. Its so difficult to make friends in this country, at least I know other exchanges students but I wasn’t the only company I was hoping for… ( English is not my native language, sorry for any mistake )

    1. Wow, that is quite the undertaking! Learning traditional Mandarin in Taiwan. Jeez! You don’t go for the easy way, do you? I’m very impressed by you even attempting such a thing, so no matter if it works out just how you imagined it, or not, you should be proud of yourself for dreaming big and going for the unexpected. Take care of your mental health, and don’t stay in a bad place so long that it hurts your soul.

How do you deal with loneliness?

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