I‘ve had an incredible response to my blog about loneliness. Thankyou so much for all the comments in messages and on here- it’s interesting but not surprising to see just how many of us feel so lonely at times. I’m right here, I heard you, and maybe one day this little blog will have a forum for people to connect on! For now, keep reading for my musings and scroll down for loneliness-busting tips. 😉
One of my personal heroes is Christopher McCandless (want to have a friendly fight over this? Take it to the comments… or the Thunderdome). He ran away from his douche-y parents at age 22, adopted the name “Alexander Supertramp” and went on a solo quest to Alaska. Sean Penn directed a film about him, called “Into The Wild”- I think it’s on Netflix at the moment (where there are also some really nice comedies and happy-happy-joy-joy films for afterward. Just saying…….)
Chris McCandless- “Magic Bus Day!”
One of the last things Christopher does is come to the conclusion that “happiness is only real when shared”. I’ve defended this guy’s rather, um… questionable decisions very passionately indeed but I cannot get behind this one! It is a statement that is very easy to agree with during the times of crushing loneliness that occasionally hit me as a solo traveller (and other lone wolves too, clearly) but the idea that we can never be happy unless we’re accompanied is terrifying and I can’t and won’t believe that.
A few months ago, I took the Megabus through Scotland just after dawn and it hit a diversion, so this nearly empty bus wound its way along tiny roads toward mountains that looked blue through the mist, past black conifer forests, the occasional field of sheep, and under one or two circling buzzards. I had my MP3, a view, a bar of Green and Blacks chocolate and a book I’d wanted to read for ages then serendipitously found in Dublin’s “Secret Bookshop” (Horns, by Joe Hill). I realised that nobody on this bus knew who I was or where I was heading. Nobody on Facebook knew where exactly I was- I just said I’d be out of reach*. I was happy and that moment was not shared. I spent that evening in my dorm room, snuggled up in bed alone watching Red Dwarf and it was exactly where I wanted to be. I was happy and despite the presence of my dorm mates, my happiness was not shared. When I’m at home dancing like an idiot while howling along to Motley Crue, planning my next projects and waiting for a meal I cooked to be ready, I am happy. Similar moments of ‘me’-ness are not shared.
Left: the “if you’re in my bunk, get out” kit. Right: my face if you think I share my chocolates.
I consider myself an extroverted introvert: I love company but need, need, NEED to be alone more often than not. The amount of times I’ve been in a room full of people and thought “I’d be so much happier if none of you were here” is beyond counting! I’m used to my love of people and hatred of “People” but am still learning how to handle loneliness, though knowing myself well helps. For me, trying to chill in a crowded room when I am missing my various tribes is the worst thing I could possibly do. Obviously you may be different but for me, being alone in a crowd is like staring at an expensive menu with a fiver in your pocket. You probably won’t find £50 lying on the floor or a special deal just as you’re about to walk away. It’s only films that work like that. When people are already among their own, the lone person will blend into the background no matter how loudly they think their isolation is shouting.
“Lost in Translation” is not the kind of film I usually go for but I watched it by accident in a hostel and thought it was beautiful, and perfectly captures the loneliness I talked about in my previous blog.
I asked the internet hive mind what they do to combat the inevitable moments of loneliness, infrequent though they may be. (If you choose to spend your life travelling solo, it’s usually a given that you like your own company.)
Here are some gems of wisdom. Some may work for you- it depends on who you are:
1) Are you hungry, tired or stressed? I’ll talk about this more in a later entry about keeping healthy when travelling, but check the absolute basics even though it sounds obvious! Things feel so much worse when you’re already hungry or a blister is annoying you so tend to your simplest needs first and then see how you feel.
2) Keep busy. Go and get food, eat it while on your way to a gallery or exhibition. Buy a notebook and write down how you feel about the show or paintings. Jump on a coach trip and decide to visit three of the most interesting looking attractions in that place. Come back to your hostel in the evening and look online for a film or documentary you’ve never seen- or an old favourite. Learn some yoga or another language until it’s time for bed. Anything that will keep your mind off things.
3) Remember that this feeling is temporary and one day soon, you may long to have a bit of that solitude back… usually at a time you can’t get it! I once spent a day at an M.C. Escher exhibition longing for someone by my side I could talk to and marvel with….. and later made a special trip to see a Salvador Dali picture, where I inwardly cursed everyone from the nearby child to the security guard continually burbling on his walkie talkie for their mere presence!
4) Remember that everything has a price. Sometimes the price you pay for living this incredible lifestyle- whether it’s a permanent or temporary one- is that you have to have some of the experiences alone.
5) If there’s a group activity designed to get people talking- like a communal dinner- then go! In the words of Effie Trinket (The Hunger Games) “Chins up, smiles on!” Be sociable and friendly. Start up conversations. There may well be other lone travellers or groups to make friends with.
6) Listen to music! Make playlists, find new bands and rediscover artists you thought you’d forgotten. If you’re somewhere with internet, find some musicians from the country or area.
7) Don’t sit in a crowd, hoping to make friends. In fact, don’t seek out people to hang out with- not only is desperation something people can sense and be put off by but if your best efforts fail, you’ll feel even worse. Go somewhere beautiful- a mountain, a field, a coffee shop with a view if you’re in a city- and scribble in your notebook, put together a playlist or meditate. Decide to enjoy the peace that comes with solitude on this occasion- you’ll meet someone to share an adventure with another day. For now, you are enough. 🙂
I promise, you are going to be okay.
p.s. I posted another version of this back in my post “What A Lovely Day” but here I am again on the Daddy Warbus- one of a few shots where I did my Wastelanded version of the “Into The Wild” film poster.
* Safety disclaimer: somebody DOES always know where I am even if it isn’t posted on farceberk. 😛