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The 4 best ways to conquer loneliness on a solo trip

Tears were shed; travel experts were consulted

Coyote Buttes North, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

By Meredith Carey, Condé Nast Traveler

These are things I wish I had known at age 22, when I broke down crying in the pasta aisle of Genoa's Eataly, totally overwhelmed on day one of my first solo holiday. (Yes, that means I was at Eataly in Italy.) I had planned out most of my week-long trip from Genoa to Tuscany, with a stop in Florence, leaving a few openings here and there to be spontaneous – including this, my first meal alone abroad, far away from my home city of New York. Here's the thing: spontaneity plus jet lag-induced exhaustion plus not knowing the local language (and not doing enough research in advance) equals wandering in the dark, stomach grumbling, for an hour until I stumbled upon the most American thing I knew. I was overcome with the feeling of being… totally alone. I wished more than anything I had brought someone with me – to hype me up into crossing the threshold of any of the neighbourhood restaurants I had already passed, to commiserate in hangriness, and honestly to forgive me for just wanting something familiar.

Now, 10 or so of these trips later, I have the confidence and tools to make the most of a city on my own – plus the ability to forgive myself for solo-travel selfishness – but there are still a few pangs of loneliness that crop up consistently. I might be delirious from jet lag; or I haven't spoken English in days; or I cave in and check Instagram to see my friends hanging out together, without me. It doesn't matter that I'm doing something I love, or that I'm truly excited about being in a new place – loneliness is a come-one, come-all affliction.

Turns out I'm not the only one. Here, our expert travellers, including Samantha Brown, presenter of Places to Love, and Condé Nast Traveler US’s contributing editor Mark Ellwood, share how they avoid or conquer their own solo-journey blues.


BE ALONE IN A CROWD

‘One of the inevitable side effects of travelling by yourself is loneliness; no matter which way you cut it, at some point you are guaranteed to feel the sting of isolation – even true introverts like me. But that is also the beauty of being alone: you are completely in charge of how little or much time you spend with others. If I'm feeling lonely, I seek people out. Usually I join in on a group activity, such as a walking tour or a cooking class – something that will attract like-minded people. All it takes is a quick "hello" and you’re making new friends. More often than not, people are really open to solo travellers, and I’m regularly taken under the wings of others. Sometimes when I’m lonely I’ll go to a place that’s packed, such as a market or local shopping centre – a few hours spent wandering around those crowded spaces is enough to make me happy and grateful to return home alone.’ By Liz Carlson, writer of travel blog Young Adventuress

‘I do think a lot has changed because of social media, which has made it easier for those who travel solo to meet others. Meetup is an online platform that enables locals to find people who share their interests, but it can be used by travellers to the area, too. For instance, when I was in Hong Kong taping Places to Love, we went for a hike with the Hong Kong Hiking Meetup group. They told me they’ve had people from all over the world join them.’ By Samantha Brown, presenter of US TV show ‘Places to Love’


MAKE FRIENDS AT BREAKFAST

‘You know the diet maxim that’s intended to slim waistlines without depriving us of anything: eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper? I apply that whenever I travel alone. Breakfast is a wonderful meal to linger over when you’re by yourself. Read a book, plan for the day, chat with the staff – that’s when they're likely to be their least busy, and the fact there’s no alcohol involved makes the conversation less chat-uppish than it would be at an evening meal. Make lunch lighter, as you’re on the go, and make dinner, where you can feel most self-conscious, a snack at the bar with a glass of wine. It’s quick, casual, and very much lets you merge into the crowd in ways that sitting alone at a table in a dining room might make harder.’ By Mark Ellwood, ‘Condé Nast Traveler US’ contributing editor


BECOME A PART OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

‘Loneliness is a huge factor when you travel a lot, but it can also become an important motivator to have a more personal interaction with a place. At the end of a shoot day, I would go for a walk and just naturally find myself in neighbourhoods where I could sit in cafés and restaurants. I didn’t care if it was the place everyone was raving about or one with lines out the door – to me, it was just a local spot. I would even go to supermarkets and pick up groceries to take back to my hotel room. I was able to be part of everyday life and it was so comforting.’ By Samantha Brown


LEAN INTO THE ALONE TIME

‘It’s about changing your mindset. Instead of focusing on all the activities I’m not doing or moments I’m not sharing with someone, I concentrate on all the things I’m able to do because I’m solo. Lounge in a bathtub for 30 minutes? Stare at my skin in that super-magnified bathroom mirror? Flip through a book at a café? Write an itinerary that’s 100 per cent filled with what I want to do? Sleep diagonally in the king-sized bed? Yes, I get to do it all, no questions asked.’ By Jordi Lippe-McGraw, ‘Condé Nast Traveler US’ contributor
Style & Culture,Solo Travel,Travel Tips

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