So you want to set sail, take off in an RV, or backpack around the world. Will you feel lonely?
You betcha. Everyone feels lonely sometimes. But not everyone feels lonely the same way. Luckily, the more you know about loneliness, the better you’ll deal with it when it crops up while you’re traveling.
Feeling Lonely While Traveling
If I’m honest, I’ve probably felt more lonely living on land than I ever have since living on board our boat.
But I think it’s natural to ask yourself if you’ll feel lonely when you’re leaving your old life behind and embarking on a new one.
After all, you’re saying goodbye to people you care about and see every day. You’ll be living a life that few of your old friends will understand. And you’ll measure time living in the same spot in days or months instead of years.
With all the huge changes in your life, you may find yourself feeling lonely from time to time.
Types Of Loneliness
There are many different types of loneliness. I’ve noted five you may be subject to if you set out on the nomad’s life.
Will your aging parents or young adult children need you? How will you stay in touch with your grandchildren?
These are the kinds of questions many people ask themselves when they set out on an adventure. I’d be willing to bet real money (if I had any) that fear of missing family and friends is probably the biggest barrier to wannabe cruisers or RV livers.
Missing your community
Do you belong to a book club? How about a religious congregation? Or an exercise class you’ve been attending for years?
Americans, in particular, have a reputation for being individualistic. It can be easy for us to forget that we’re members of communities. And that it can be surprisingly difficult to leave behind the groups we belong to.
Lacking intimate friendships
if you argue with your spouse while boondocking in a national forest, who will help you explore your feelings? Who will help you talk through your anxiety about squalls on the open ocean?
Heck, who will laugh at your stupid puns or crude sense of humor?
If your romantic partner is also your best friend, you may do fine. Then again…
Estranged from your partner
Nothing will stress your relationship more than carving out a new life together in a tiny space.
I can tell you that nothing has taught me more about myself or my husband than setting sail together. And some of the lessons have been devastating.
If you and your partner are normally joined at the hip, feelings of isolation and loneliness can appear when you’re struggling to get along.
Outsider in a group
Sometimes we’ll land in a marina for a long stay. My husband finds it much easier to work plugged into shore power. And it’s hard to argue that taking the dog for a walk at least twice a day while anchored is easy.
Although you’d think that extroverted me would enjoy landing in a marina, I sometimes find it lonely.
Marinas filled mostly with locals instead of cruisers can be desolate any time but sunny weekends. But the most lonely I’ve been in a marina was one with a small group of liveaboards.
They were nice people. But they had formed their own community. Going to the shower through the mob of folks enjoying beers on the dock felt like walking by the popular kids’ table in middle school.
The next time we planned a long stay in an area, I was happy to land in a marina with a warm and welcoming group of liveaboards who invited me into their community while Mike traveled off the boat for work.
How You Feel Lonely
If you’re human, you’ll feel lonely at least sometimes. Personal differences, however, will change how you feel lonely.
Perhaps if you consider your personal circumstances, you’ll manage to stave off loneliness. At least most of the time.
Introvert vs Extrovert
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Both get lonely (yes, extroverts—introverts don’t dislike people; they just need to regroup alone). In fact, introverts have the potential to be more lonely with some travel styles.
Many introverts prefer to have a few close friends and may form deep relationships. While many extroverts (like myself) love lots of light interactions with a wide range of people.
I love making chitter chatter with taxi drivers. A new boat lands in the anchorage and I look for a chance to ask the owner all about it.
To me, a stranger is simply a friend I haven’t met yet.
I’m not nearly as good at forming close, long lasting friendships as my introvert sister. I have a feeling she’d find cruising the Intracoastal Waterway far more lonely than I do.
She’d probably be far better than me at other ways of traveling.
Your travel style
I love following the stories of people crossing oceans—especially solo travelers. But I know I’d never want to do it with any fewer than five other people.
I can’t imagine anything worse than crossing the Atlantic with my husband while he sleeps more than half the time I’m on watch.
But I love hopscotching up the eastern US coast.
I enjoy seeing different towns and meeting their residents as I travel through. Also, I love swapping stories with other cruisers.
What could be better?
Relationship with your partner
Do you like your partner? Do you work well together as a crew?
If you do, or can learn how to, you may find your bond increasing as you depend on each other day after day.
But if you can’t get past the inevitable stresses every relationship experiences when starting a new adventure, you may find being in the constant company of your spouse a very lonely experience.
Support of those you leave behind
You may think you’ll miss your family and friends more if they react to your nomad dream with support and love. But at least you’ll want to reach out to them from the road.
However, if your family accuses you of being selfish or can’t understand why you’d ever interrupt your career, you may find yourself avoiding contact with them. Which will increase your loneliness.
What To Do When You Feel Lonely
So loneliness is inevitable for nearly all of us. How do we keep it from becoming overwhelming?
Be kind to yourself
It’s okay to feel lonely. It’s certainly not a failing. It’s just part of being human.
The biggest risk of being lonely is feeling unloveable.
No. Just stop it.
Connect with others
The lonelier I feel, the more I pull away from people. I need to fight it. You do too.
Connect with others. Share your feelings with your partner. Make a long distance phone call. Reach out to someone through social media.
Yeah, it’s obvious advice. But many people need to hear it.
Help someone else
How can you connect with something bigger than yourself?
Perhaps you can sign up for a citizen scientist program. Do a favor for a stranger. Or reach out to support someone else who needs it.
Another way to connect with something bigger than yourself is to be creative.
Grab your camera or pencils and make some beautiful images. Write a poem. Sing a song.
You’ll be amazed at how hard it is to feel lonely when you tap into your creativity.
Spend time in nature
I hate silence.
When possible, I take my work to a library so I can surround myself with noise. I play music when I’m doing physical work. Silence makes me feel lonely.
But I’ve spent an hour happily watching dolphins and birds in a remote anchorage. Nature is noisy. Even when it’s silent.
And it’s never lonely.
Consider your options
If you experience more than occasional loneliness, it may be time to change things up.
When I connect with struggling people in cruising and RV groups online, it’s amazing how many of them only see two options. (If you’re on Facebook, there are two awesome private groups you may like: Full-Time RVing: The Emotional Journey and Women Who Sail [sorry, men, women only]).
But there are many ways to decrease your loneliness besides giving up your nomad dreams.
Build new communities—volunteer as an administrator on an online group. Travel in a different way if your current method is hurting you. Stay longer in one place. Invite someone new to travel with you. Hook up with a buddy boat or camper.
If you can’t figure out what changes will help you feel less lonely on your journey, reach out and ask others for advice.
Who knows? Maybe the people you meet looking for ways to feel less lonely will be the ones who make you feel less lonely.
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