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Feeling Lost, Confused & Lonely While Traveling?

Lost, Confused & Lonely While Traveling

If you were to read every article on this blog, you would probably notice that there are only a handful of occasions when I speak about travel or any of the destinations I’ve been to or any of the experiences I’ve had over the years, in a negative manner. This is not some trick and I am not trying to deceive anyone into thinking that travel, or more specifically, long-term travel, is nothing but a never-ending stream of overwhelmingly positive experiences. But I do believe that our own attitude affects our own travels and if we do find the right mindset, we can find the positive in just about any destination we come across.

Of course, while almost 14 years has passed since I first started this journey of mine, my memory is also not so terrible that I can’t remember feeling scared, confused and lonely while traveling around Bangkok and its surroundings back in 1999 and feeling as if travel was significantly more complicated and frustrating than I ever imagined. It was my first real solo travel experience after all and those first few days were tough, very tough.

I couldn’t understand the language, I had no idea about the local customs, I didn’t know which places were safe, which should be avoided, what foods to try, what had a higher chance of making me ill. I didn’t have any friends around, I didn’t know who to trust or how to find out any reliable information and I didn’t even know what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing every day.

So, to say that travel is without its struggles would be misleading. What I prefer to say is that travel has its struggles, but they can be somewhat easily overcome.

How to Overcome the Struggles of Travel

Take a deep breath and start talking. That’s really what it takes. In the end, the only way to learn some of the language, the only way to learn about the customs and where to eat or what’s on the menu or how to find information is to communicate with those around you. Talk to the shop owners, ask your waiter a question, start conversations with fellow travelers (many of whom are wandering around struggling with the same things as you!), rely on the hostel staff for some advice.

Don’t be afraid to make a few cultural errors, to completely butcher some local phrases or to sound like a fool from time to time…we all do it, even experienced travelers! That’s how we learn and as a result, that’s how we overcome the challenges that travel involves.

Who cares if your attempt at saying “hello, can you help me find the train station?” in Turkish ends up sounding like “hello, can shoes eat fried mangoes?”. Chuckle with the local person you asked, who will undoubtedly be chuckling if not staring at you with the blankest face you’ve ever seen. No big deal! Why? Chances are that after that chuckle is over, that same person is going to help you out or they are going to help you find someone else who can help you out. People are overwhelming friendly all over the world, even when you need to find mango-eating shoes.

If you’re at a restaurant and you can’t read the menu. Ask! It sounds so basic but I know that it can be difficult to do when you’re in a foreign land and you don’t speak the language. Ask anyway! Pull out your phrase book and say “Chicken?” in the local language while pointing to a dish on the menu. Look up the word for ‘recommendation’ and ask your waiter to do just that. You’ll see that such interaction will almost always lead to assistance. People will help you figure out what’s on the menu or where that train station is located. That’s just what people do.

Meeting New Friends

And whenever you do meet someone that is willing to help you out, take a moment to ask your other questions. Ask what is acceptable versus rude behavior in certain situations. Ask if a particular area is safe or not. Ask what foods are the best to try. You’re not expected to know everything before you arrive. And the majority of the time you are going to get answers and you’re going to not only walk away with more confidence but with a smile on your face at the interesting interaction that took place.

Another option is to visit websites such as Couchsurfing.org and meet up with locals wherever you are, locals who have a profile on that site simply because they want to meet up with you. This is not just a site to find couches to sleep on. There really are endless numbers of people all over the world who just want to meet travelers for a chat because they enjoy meeting different people. You’ll notice these people very clearly because they have a coffee cup in their Couchsurfing profile. Meet up with some, ask them questions, learn from them and make some friends.

(I am often asked if I am lonely while traveling. It’s actually the opposite. It is hard to have some alone time while on the road, simply because I am constantly around new people everywhere I go.)

Most of the fear we have while traveling is a result of not talking to anyone. We feel alone as we wander the streets, we feel helpless, we feel that there is nobody around us that we can communicate and share our days with. But there are hundreds, thousands, even millions of people around us all the time and all we have to do is open our mouths and start a conversation or two. Once we do that, the entire situation changes and before you know it your worries, along with the challenges that have been so frustrating, will suddenly disappear.

So if you’re out there in the world struggling to enjoy your travels and wondering how on earth others can be on the road for so long feeling so lost and lonely while traveling, just start talking. The more people you talk to, the richer your travel experiences and the fewer struggles you’ll have. In fact, you might end up having so few struggles that you’ll want to continue traveling for a few extra months….or even years.

If you’ve traveled before, do you agree that interaction is the best solution? If you’re traveling now, are you dealing with some of these struggles?


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26 Responses to Feeling Lost, Confused & Lonely While Traveling?

  1. Kirray says:

    Absolutely when holidaying or travelling anywhere with or without friends/family, it is always going to be a much better experience making new friends and talking to people around you. However, when travelling sometimes new friendships can become very intense quickly and this can be difficult when you travel onwards away from these new friends.

  2. Shelley says:

    I remember those first few hours after I got off the plane in Bangkok on my first solo adventure. I was so scared and overwhelmed. But it didn’t take long to get over that fear once the excitement took over.
    I remember one trip to Tokyo, where I was going for a few days to meet my cousin who was working in a law firm there. I was meeting him at a subway station, and all I remember was being so nervous. I had no cell phone, no way at all to communicate with my cousin. What if I was at the wrong station? How would I find him?
    But it all worked out, and it seems like it always does. I actually miss those butterflies in my stomach, that feeling of being in a new place, with no idea how to speak the language, where to go etc. Such a rush.

  3. Life would be pretty boring if you didn’t talk to anyone no matter where you are, either at home or anywhere in the world traveling. The more you talk to people on your travels the more confident you will become to start talking to people everywhere. So Eearl you are spot on and when it comes for you first trip, be sure to stay in hostels and start ease into it by starting your conversations with people there, you will be surprised how friendly and helpful people really are.

  4. Jonas says:

    Earl, what country do you find most reasonable to go to for the first time when starting to travel(in terms of job opportunities). I’m very close to buying a ticket to Playa del Carmen but concerning making money while I’m there and living cheap I’m not so sure, it has left me wondering… what country is the best? I love nightlife and beaches <3. Is Playa del Carmen a good place to start?????

    Thanks!

    Jonas :)

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Jonas – It really depends on what skills you have or what kind of work you’re looking for. As for Playa del Carmen, it’s not so easy to find work there unfortunately. The jobs there go to locals and the only foreigners I know who have found work are making very little money working in a hostel/hotel or cafe, definitely not much to live on. Most foreigners living there either work online or have started their own business many years ago in Playa before it became the popular destination it is today.

      But again, it depends on the kind of work you’re interested in as to where would be the best place to start.

  5. Excellent post, as usual. So Earl, any thoughts on settling down in one of those wonderful places you’ve visited?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Rashad – So far, no thoughts of settling down for more than the periods of time I stay in one place these days. I prefer having a ‘base’ like I’m doing in Bucharest, while still traveling around as well. But if I wake up tomorrow and decide it’s time to settle down, then that’s what I’ll do :)

  6. Sam says:

    I’ve travelled both alone and with my partner, and I would actually say it can be harder to meet new people when travelling in a couple, as opposed to travelling solo. As a single traveller, you’re perhaps more approachable (by both locals and other travellers), and in a couple people sometimes assume you don’t want extra company. This is not to say I’m unhappy travelling as a couple, it’s just different. Anyway, great advice as usual, Earl!

  7. arpitha says:

    interaction is probably the best solution in most cases. not just while travelling.Well written, as always

  8. Kyi says:

    This post is exactly what I’m looking for to be ready for my first solo trip. As always, this is another great post and advice from you. Now I know what to expect from my upcoming trip and can be prepared for it mentally.

  9. Barbara says:

    Such wise advice! I find that the best way to feel part of any new culture is to make conversation. Sometimes the words come out right and other times not so much. But as you mentioned, usually after the laughter stops the communication begins. We have faced some very nerve-racking situations only to fine that most people, even those speaking a different language than us, were more than happy to give us a helping hand.

  10. Jessica says:

    I definitely agree with this! My tendency when I’m intimidated is to draw inwards, and not talk to anyone, but when I started traveling alone, I quickly realized that the exact opposite approach is much more effective. Particularly when it comes to attempting another language – I was really afraid of making mistakes, but I’ve found that most people are so happy that I even try to speak their language at all, and it’s not a problem if I say a few things wrong.

  11. Gaelyn says:

    As a mostly solo traveler I find it easier to interact with locals than when I’m with someone else. People around the world are usually friendly. And CouchSurfers is a very good bet.

  12. I’m a somewhat introverted traveler and there have been times when I feel really lonely. Other time’s I’m around lots of people and very social.

    I travel alone and sometimes it’s difficult to get buy but as long as you’re ‘armed’ with a smile, I’ve found that things work out easier.

    I’ve been at street side food places where everyone there is looking at you, the only foreigner in the place. They brought over the guy with the best English to try and communicate and I signaled that I want something to eat. He said one thing that they serve (either what he recommends or the only thing he knows in English) and without understanding I smile and nod. I got a great meal for under $0.50.
    This memory in particular was from Mandalay but I’ve had similar experiences all over and have always enjoyed the food.

    I’ve found that changing my outlook and putting a smile on my face drastically improves my experience and the interactions I do have while traveling.

  13. Bernardo says:

    “Take a deep breath and start talking.”

    Sage advice! If it sounds simple it’s because it really is. And it makes all the difference. I’m still relatively new on this whole travelling affair, but I was fortunate enough to also experience this in my first solo experience last year. I was on a train to Lahti (a town I knew nothing about), wondering how the hell I was going to get to the address I had in my paper. I noticed a laid-back and young group of people talking and laughing near my seat and thought to myself “if they also leave on my stop, I’ll ask them to help me.”

    Next thing I know I’m surrounded by Finns, drinking local beer with them and meeting all sorts of crazy people (and their stories!).

    As for your Turkish example, it reminded me of when I once tried to ask in my not-so-eloquent Spanish where I could withdraw money in the area and instead ended up with a “where can I steal money from the ATM?” lol.

    So, the moral of the story is, as you say: just TALK. People, especially in smaller countries, are always happy to see a foreigner interested in their country. This I genuinely felt. Besides, worst case scenario you come off as a stupid tourist to a random person you’ll never see again in your life. The opportunities and possibilities of actually interacting, in my opinion, far outweigh this slight bummer.

  14. Lars says:

    Again another strong post Earl!

    I definitely agree with the fact that taking the step to communicate is “the” step to start it all. As I strongly believe that things happen for a reason, I guess while traveling you have also have to except those lonely moments, scared moments and it will only make you a better, stronger and smarter traveler! Again, great post! Till the next one Lars

  15. Steve C says:

    Without question, talking with others will get you out of any funk. I think that being lonely is a choice. You can choose to be silent, or you can choose to get involved. If you want to have a good time, you will. Be positive. It also rubs off onto others.

    I try not to be a complainer as that will bring other people down with you. There’s also an art to conversation. It’s kinda like the “Do unto others ……..” rule. You have to be a good listener. If you hog the conversation, others will just give up and leave you standing there, talking away with nobody listening or caring, then presto, lonely again!

  16. Agreed that good communication is a big part of successful travelling and it definitely makes things a whole easier, but what I am personally finding even more important is: 1. being actually comfortable alone and 2. having a really good sense of humor…

    Admittedly it took me quite a while to be fully comfortable on my own when I first started travelling and it just felt awfully strange to go to a restaurant all alone while thinking that people around me were looked at me as if I had no friends. But luckily after about two months into my first trip, I got over this insecurity and all of a sudden I felt completely comfortable on my own. Meeting new people and having company seemed to happen then completely effortless…

    The good sense of humor along with the ability to laugh about oneself at any given time is actually in my eyes the most important quality one needs to develop in order to fully enjoy travelling for a long time. If I would not have been able to laugh about all the stuff that is happening to me every single day, I would probably have ended my trip a long time ago. But instead, I am sitting in my cheap, roach infested hotel room in Nepal, smiling and wondering what life is going to through at me next… : )

  17. Cindy says:

    As always, your wisdom brings me some peace of mind, and luckily for me closes some loose ends! I suppose I’ve been solo traveling for about 3 and a half months now (nothing on many travelers but I’m content) so I’ve had my fair share of those wandering lost and alone moments – and all I have to do is pluck up the courage to talk to somebody, and not once have I had a terrible experience because of that. In fact, I’ve ended up meeting some really great people.
    People are generally more than happy to help! And like you said, even if they can’t answer your question, they will help you find somebody who can!

  18. Sid Owsley says:

    Starting conversations with people is exactly how I traveled through six countries in Africa for six months. By talking with people I was invited to stay a peoples homes on more than one occasion. I even attended a wedding in Zimbabwe and witnessed the birth of a new friends first child in South Africa.

    • And that’s the spirit! That’s why most people travel. To be part of the culture for a while, not just look at it as it was a show to look from our comfortable first row seats! I love when local invite me to some typical ceremony. Or just to spend a night in their houses. In Bangkok i met a family, and after 20 minutes they were inviting me in for dinner! People are AMAZING. No need to be afraid. The more we open up, the more we gain in terms of experience and friendship.

  19. Lauren says:

    Hey, thanks for responding to my question! :)

  20. Lois says:

    What an insightful post! I’ve had my share of solo travels as well and I thoroughly enjoyed them! I agree that if you’re open minded and friendly and take the time to know the locals, you will never be lonely on the road. Thanks for sharing this!

  21. Making local friends goes a long way! Conversation is always a great starter. Back before I was involved, I would always look for someone of the opposite sex to start a conversation with, because you never know where that might lead in terms of finding some local companionship as well as a back door into the culture/society.

    But being conversant is key; can’t be afraid to put yourself out there to find people. As you say, communication skills are paramount for travelers.

    I’ll also second the whole Couchsurfing forums thing….also TravBuddy forums. Those two places have TONS of local events listed so you can find people and places to go and things to do when you are on the ground in an area.
    Personally, I don’t like solo travel. I don’t mind going somewhere alone, but once I get somewhere I always try and find local friends or people to hang out with because experiences are always best shared :)

  22. You are absolutely right that communication skills is a big part of a good traveler.
    But, we’ve noticed, that many travelers are looking for this “culture shock” and frustration.
    This makes them feel, that they are finally out of the ordinary and normal environment.
    We are among those travelers of course :)

    • Gadi and Tun,you are so right!I smiled when i saw your reply. I’m one of you :) searching for the cultural shock and the thrill of it. I can’t help it. The more difficult it is, the more i enjoy it. Even when i feel tired, uncomfortable, misunderstood and lonely. I guess this puts me into the masochistic group of travelers!

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