A Wandering Widow Post
“I can’t even begin to imagine how you are taking in all these incredible experiences on your own. You are totally allowed to feel the loneliness and sadness, understandably. The inspiration for us comes from watching you get back up even when you feel all of that and see you continue on to a new experience.”
My Kid Sister
The Grief Journey
In the world of grief counseling, the phrase “grief journey” is a popular one. It’s so widely used that many of us despise it, despite being a good description of the path through grief recovery. We wander alone, in a strange land where we don’t speak the language, don’t know anyone, and are lost and afraid. We have a hazy destination called “better” but no guide to help us get there. It’s isolating and lonely, and your only choices are to continue or just lie down and die.
So after surviving a year of my grief journey, I had some solo travel experience under my belt. You’d think a long-term trip through Europe on my own would be easy-peasey-lemon-squeezy after walking through hell alone. And it was, for the most part. But there were still a few lows to contend with.
Life As A Solo Traveler
Ever have a day when you’re feeling so low you don’t know how to pick yourself back up? Since I left home, I’ve had a few. Part of it comes from travel fatigue, but most of it comes from the solitude of being a long-term solo traveler. Add in the grief milestones that show up as pages fall from the calendar and it can sometimes get tricky.
I often hear from people, both men and women people, that they don’t know how I do it. They can’t imagine they could ever do it on their own for this long. Honestly, sometimes I don’t get how I do it either. It’s important to note that I don’t choose to travel solo. There are many that do because they love it, and I respect and admire that. What I choose is not to wait for someone else to be available to travel with me. Live Now, remember?
I’ve made amazing friends on this journey, the kind I intend to keep forever. But there are times when you just want to share the beauty you are seeing or the adventures you are having, with someone else as they are happening. For a while, the loneliness was overwhelming enough I toyed with the idea of throwing in the towel and coming home.
So Low When You’re Solo
Imagine my dismay when I realized that the same empty-house syndrome I left behind in Boise followed me to Europe. When you go from a full house to a house of one, the silence is miserable. Just being at home is painful. I’m a big ole’ tree-hugger, but I left TVs blaring in every room of the house for the background noise until I moved out. (Even now, in one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited yet, I have music playing to drown out the silence.)
I did a good job keeping myself busy the first few months on the road, but as I got tired I slowed things down. And guess what? When you’re not on the go 24/7, the quiet loneliness returns, and not even a kick-a$$ playlist can drown that out. Although my playlists are pretty damned good and only get better as I discover new music along the way. (Shout out to those of you who send me suggestions, keep ’em coming.) But I digress.
Solo Doesn’t Mean All Alone
Fortunately for me, the universe is always there to remind me how NOT alone I am. My kid sisters are always there for the long-distance hugs, the boost, or the kick in the pants I may need. I make new friends, and we buddy up for shenanigans and laugh-so-hard-you-snort adventures (you know who you are). My long-time friends check in for pep talks and gossip from home and whatever juicy tidbits I may have to share from the road.
They keep me going, even when I’m not so sure where, why, or how I’m going. But, if I think about it, that’s all part of the adventure. And I love it. All of it.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Top 10 Tips for Beating the Long-Term Solo Travel Blues
Many people experience low moments on the road. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way to help combat those.
1. Have a plan
I got this tip from another long-term traveler, and it’s one of my favorites. Acknowledge the lows happen and have a plan. That way you won’t be surprised when they hit. I allow myself a day here and there to stream movies or TV shows from back home, or just stay in bed and sleep.
2. Video calls
Facetime/Skype your peeps. It will help you feel more connected to those you love. I have scheduled calls with my Bestie and hear from at least one of my sisters daily. And nothing melts my heart faster than Facetime kisses from my little monkey prince, my not-so-baby nephew.
Sign-up for activities that allow you to meet people. Airbnb experiences are one of my favorites, but classes, workshops, and guided museum or day tours can work too. Cooking classes and pub crawls are some of my favorites. And of course you know I can never get enough live music so seek it out in every new place I visit. I’ve met some of my favorite people in pubs, concert halls and opera houses.
4. Find your rhythm
I’ve learned I need to throw in the occasional organized tour or visits to friends to make sure I’m spending enough time with other people, especially if it’s around a grief milestone. While I enjoy my privacy and solitude, I don’t enjoy long stretches of being on my own. Plus, it’s nice to be lazy sometimes and let someone else handle all the travel details. (Insight Vacations is my favorite for reasonably comfortable organized tours in Europe. If you want a private tour in Romania, I like Unzip Romania.)
5. Treat yourself.
Concerts, fine dining and spa days are all good options to give yourself a boost. Can you say ticket and table for one? Making a reservation usually means avoiding the annoyed “you’re here alone?” question and gets you better service. And don’t be shy. I will always ask for the table with the best view when I make my reservation so I have something to look at besides my phone.
You may still get surprise you’re fine dining alone, though. My favorite “you’re here alone?” was from the charming maître d’ on Christmas night in Vienna, and since I had a reservation he wasn’t asking for confirmation. He was very offended the universe had me alone in his fine restaurant on Christmas. The next five times he asked he was just plain annoyed the universe had me alone at all, tsk tsking all the way to my Danube River view window table. Oh yeah, he was definitely my favorite.
6. Keep a consistent work schedule
If you’re a digital nomad, keep a consistent work schedule whenever possible. Knowing you have a conference call to Minneapolis in the morning/evening can help keep you both connected and on track.
No surprise, the girl who has a playlist for every country she visits also has a playlist for those days when I’m just not feeling the long-term travel love anymore (conveniently named Lisa’s AWESOME Mix). Rocking out in my hotel or flat is usually all I need to get my groove back. (FYI, AirPods aren’t always your friend, but that story will end up in an upcoming travel bloopers post.)
I’m the last person to mom out and tell you to eat your veggies and get enough sleep, but I’m religious about my Vitamin D when I’m in low sunlight areas like Ireland in the winter. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, maybe take a look at how you’ve been eating/drinking/sleeping lately. It does make a difference in your mood.
9. Don’t push it
You don’t have to see everything. Make sure you schedule downtime, or it stops being as fun. And when you start getting run down is when you’ll invariably get sick. No one wants that. Living like a local is part of the fun of long-term travel, and you don’t see any locals running themselves ragged to see all the sights.
Remember why you’re doing this. 🙂 A few minutes to sit and contemplate all the reasons you’re grateful to be here should cheer you right up.
I didn’t include hostels or Airbnb rooms (vs. Airbnb apartments or houses) on this list since I didn’t stay in any, but I’m told both can be great accommodation choices if you want to be around other people. Same goes for B&Bs, which I did enjoy on many occasions if I was in a town for only a few days.
Sidney Wiley says
Thank you so much for sharing this post. I’m planning my first solo travel for year now and I’m sooo anxious at a time. I would definitely use your tips.
Lisa Ikeda Bain says
Enjoy! It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. XO, L