Lessons in Traveling: Loneliness and Being Alone

There is a weird juxtaposition (an SAT word I use way more than I ever thought I would) in traveling between being lonely and desperately wanting to be alone.

One of the biggest things you encounter when traveling is meeting new people. I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, observing new social interactions, experiencing new personality types, and just generally getting to know people with a diverse range of experiences. Unfortunately, one of the things that almost always comes with saying hello is saying goodbye.

With the extremely temporary and transitional nature of my current travel, I don’t stay places very long before I move on to something new. This means that while I get to know lots of new people, I also say goodbye to them before long at all.

In this day and age, with various forms of social media (of which I only use Facebook and Instagram) it is easier to stay connected to people. However, not everyone you meet has a Facebook profile (which actually seems to be becoming more and more common for people in their twenties). When you meet people who don’t have a Facebook, that are fellow travelers without addresses and who are leaving the country soon or only have a foreign phone number, this makes staying in touch basically impossible. So now, when you say goodbye and head your own ways, it is probably goodbye forever. This adds an extra layer of sadness to interactions that you know will come to an end before long.

I’m meeting all kinds of incredible people and because I am only staying in each place for a few weeks, it forces you to bond quickly (something that is fairly easy when you spend almost all of your time with the same few people). This quick and intense connection is then a little heartbreaking when you just nod, wave, or hug, say goodbye and know that you will probably never see that person again.

It also is making me feel a little jaded. What is the point in making meaningful connections when I will just say goodbye and never see them again? I could be anyone. I can tell people whatever real or fake stories I want and they will never know. I can completely swap up my personality and no one will be able to tell there is any difference. I can basically behave however I want and no one will think it is out of the ordinary. This has the potential to be incredibly freeing but in reality it is just kind of depressing. When someone makes a joke about some music making them want to spin in circles, I want to grin and say, “You know me, all music makes me want to spin in circles.” But the truth is, they don’t know. No one that I interact with on a daily basis really knows anything at all about me.

How do you make long term, meaningful bonds when you know that in two weeks you might never see this person again? How do you reach that ‘I’ve known you for years’ style friendship in only a couple weeks? How can you say goodbye a hundred times before stopping really feeling like saying hello anymore?

I don’t know. I haven’t figured them out yet. I’m not sure they are possible. If they are, I hope I figure them out soon because this lack of deeper connections makes me feel very lonely at times.

On the flip side of feeling lonely, I also often really, really, really want to be alone. How does that work? When travelling, especially when woofing, you live in hostels (with a lot of other people always around) or you live in someone else’s house. This can feel really strange because it always feels kind of like you are intruding in someone else’s home. This is strange because you never really have your own space. But in addition to feeling like you don’t have your own space, you often don’t. Whether this is sharing a room, constantly being busy helping other people, or just hanging out with other people, it can feel like you are never alone because you actually are never alone.

As an introvert, this is very difficult. Hanging out with people all of the time can be great but it is also extremely physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. How I cope with this is by spending a few hours by myself. This can be doing anything from reading a book, going for a walk, watching Netflix, or even just sitting and staring out a window. It is hard constantly being around people after awhile and when you just need that precious alone time, sometimes it is incredibly difficult to find. Where do you go if the weather is gross, you share a room with two other people and the house is always busy? I haven’t really figured it out. If nothing else, this traveling adventure has given me a new found understanding and appreciation for having your own home/apartment/room/office or any space that you can retreat to and have some relative confidence that no one will disturb you for awhile.

What do you do when you are in the middle of a crowd and yet feel more alone than you could have thought possible?

 

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