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Cheap travel: A traveller marvels at the colosseum in Rome

Feeling Lonely is Normal but Treatable

Loneliness is a serious health crisis. 9 million people in the UK say they feel lonely either often or always. It affects people of all ages and backgrounds.

The health effects of loneliness include:

  • Increased risk of dementia
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of depression
  • A 29% increase in your risk of death

Statistically, feeling lonely is more risky than obesity and equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. If you care about your mental and physical health, make sure you tackle loneliness when it arises.

As a solo traveller, the overwhelming sense of being lonely has hit me at times. No matter how much you consider yourself to be a lone wolf wanderer, being away from your friends and family for extended periods takes its toll.

Here’s what you can do to reduce feelings of loneliness.

1. It’s Lonely at the Top: Embrace Cheap Hostels

In my time as a solo traveller, I’ve felt the most lonely when I was making the most money. I treated myself to fancy hotel rooms, but they just felt so empty and quiet. I’d wander the corridors and even head down to the bar, but most people in these kinds of hotels aren’t there to make friends.

They might be on a two-night business trip or a couple seeking privacy. No matter how much cash you have to splash, sometimes it’s good to just get yourself a hostel. Sure, it’ll be noisy and you might not get much sleep. But you could make some amazing new friends. When you’re in the company of interesting and like-minded people, it’s hard to feel lonely.

2. Visit Home More Often, Even if You’re Not Lonely

Loneliness rarely comes on suddenly, but is built up after being isolated for extended periods. I can normally go a few weeks on my own before it kicks in, but everyone is different. As soon as I’m home with my friends and family, I no longer feel lonely. Once my spirits are lifted, I’m ready to set off into the world again.

Six months or a year is a long time to be apart from the people you grew up with. Make a commitment to go home more often. It may just be for a few days, but it’ll help stabilise your emotions. Do this even if you’re not feeling lonely, as a kind of pre-emptive strike. Stave off the loneliness before it sneaks up on you.

Don't feel lonely in Warsaw
Me, shortly after arriving in Warsaw. It was fun to be alone at first, but I was glad to make a bunch of amazing friends quickly.

3. Make Plans

If seeing people you know is rare, then you should aim to make it something of an event. Don’t just agree to meet people, but actually make plans. Maybe your best friend’s favourite band are playing in their local area. Maybe treat your mum to a surprise on Mother’s Day. Just find some reason to make sure the time you spend with loved ones is high-quality.

When feeling lonely, the act of making these plans can help you to feel better. Your loneliness will be replaced with feelings of excitement and anticipation. You’ll be able to put a concrete date in your diary and count down the days until you can see people again, giving you peace of mind.

4. Reconnect with Your Current Surroundings

I have this weird habit of wanting to be somewhere else, regardless of where I am. I vividly remember walking the streets of Bangkok thinking, “Man I wish this was Nashville, how cool would that be?!”

Like, dude. You’re in Bangkok.

When you’re home, you’re desperate to get away, but when you’re abroad you miss home. Take time to realise how lucky you are to be in location. A few weeks ago this was but a dream and now it is real. Practice mindfulness to plant yourself back in your surroundings and really enjoy the moment.

Don't feel lonely in the mountains
Though I’m alone in this photo, I hiked in the Rocky Mountains with a lovely Russian girl that I’d met in an Irish bar, making this trek a lot less lonely.

5. Sometimes, You Need to Be Alone to Not Feel Lonely

Loneliness and being alone aren’t one and the same. When you travel, you’re often completely surrounded by people you don’t know. It’s a constant struggle to fit in with a new group of people. It gets exhausting and that feeling of being alone in a crowd is the feeling of being lonely.

Instead, try being alone on your own. It’s a whole different thing. If you’ve been staying in overcrowded hostels, then book yourself a private room. Once you’re in there, you can relax and be yourself. You have complete control of what you’re doing and all your loved ones on your phone. Give them a call and spend some time reconnecting with familiar companions.

Loneliness will hit all solo travellers at one point or another. Be prepared for it with these five tips, so that you cope with feeling lonely in a healthy and constructive manner.

Help me promote better travel!

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