Loneliness. It’s one of the most popular things I get asked about, so I’m actually surprised I haven’t answered this yet in a dedicated blog post: and it’s maybe because my answer is many-sided (and possibly a bit contradictory). So let me begin:
In the past two years since selling my house and becoming nomadic, I have honestly never really felt lonely. Truly: I have never felt deep isolation or prolonged loneliness.
And I say this for a couple reasons:
If I crave social interaction, luckily, there are people all around me. Solo travel doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I can reach out and connect with someone at any time — for small talk, for deep conversations, for an adventure or activity buddy, for sharing a meal. [And maybe, also, because I’ve traveled in mostly westernized nations where somebody somewhere speaks English… I’ve yet to be surrounded by the utterly, starkly unfamiliar, and I’ve yet to experience real culture shock. THAT, perhaps, might induce some feelings of isolation and loneliness; you’ll have to ask me later.]
Alone is a state of being, while lonely is a state of mind. Being alone gives me a chance to think, to reflect, to absorb, to grow, to regenerate — and it’s very important for my emotional and mental well-being. When I travel solo, I can be alone when I choose to be alone, and it doesn’t automatically mean I feel lonely.
I may have a fleeting moment of loneliness, but it’s very rare, and it passes: because I find it easy to meet people and connect while traveling if I want to. I love exchanging ideas, hearing different outlooks, and being both validated and challenged on my views — and I also like my periods of introspection. I prefer solo travel and having the choice to connect vs. traveling full-time with friends or a partner where my introvert-recharge-time is harder to come by.
Does it get lonely being a nomad?
So, in short — I am almost, if never lonely, and I have the confidence to reach out to the strangers around me. But what about sustained connections?
This one, I’m finding, is a toughie. I think the nomad life has taught me a few important things about relationships:
- Physical proximity does not equal closeness, or rather, closeness is not dependent on proximity
- True friendship means that, even if distance and time separates you, when you do meet again it feels like no time has passed
- Technology makes connectivity easier than ever, the world is small, and people who want to stay in your life will
- On the flip side, words are nice, but actions are everything — relationships need momentum and maintenance to sustain them
- If he doesn’t want me, that’s a reflection of him, not me (or my shortgivings)
- It only takes one, but there is not only one person for everybody
- Longevity in a relationship is not my goal — impact is
The hardest thing about nomad life, emotionally, is leaving behind people prematurely. It’s one of the reasons why I constantly fight with myself — I want to stay in places for longer, and do more “slow travel,” so I can forge those connections — but at odds with that is my desire to see new places. I sometimes feel like I may be losing out on fortifying a foundation with a friend or love interest when I leave a city… and to self-soothe, I lean back on this: “People who want to stay in my life, will.” Of course, I am disappointed when they (mostly love interests) fail to show up for me.
But at the same time, it’s not as hard for me to say goodbye as I think it can be for others. Many people are confined by the constructs of geography in a way that I’m not, and I think that’s why me leaving doesn’t affect me (as much) as it has affected the people I’ve left. When I say goodbye and the other person is tearful or stoic, sometimes I wonder if I’m cold-hearted or unemotional for feeling less than they are.
[I know some of what I say is more relevant to romantic interests/connections, other points more relevant to friends, and some to both. Perhaps purposefully, I have not included designations.]
But then again, I know this — that the world is small, that people determined to see each other again will, that the internet means we can stay connected like never before — and maybe that’s the test. So I don’t say goodbye. I say, “See you later!”
This is what I wrote just a short time after embarking on the nomad life (about two years ago). I still largely feel the same way, which could be why I’ve thrived at this lifestyle:
Truthfully, the nomad life suits both my introverted and extroverted tendencies. My social butterfly / extroverted streak loves meeting tons of new and interesting people and exchanging ideas, and is never bored due to the near-constant stimulation from new places and experiences.
The introvert / escapist in me gets to move on before I’m fully emotionally exposed. Being nomadic and the constant cycle of home bases makes it easy to unwittingly keep new connections at arms’ length vs. allowing them into my close friend circle. I know this about myself, and I don’t like it; it can be hard for me to wholly open up, especially knowing that my presence will be temporary. But I understand — it’s self-preservation. This mindset keeps my heart in one piece when the time comes, inevitably, to say goodbye.
Over this journey, and during my other travels, I’ve meet some amazing women (and men) who could very well become my ride or die if we were in the same place. I wish we had more time together, to get to know all the ins and outs, to make more memories, to have those shared experiences that just come with time. And then there’s those romantic possibilities that experienced “a failure to launch,” perhaps due to the perception of my unavailability, and not enough time spent together.
Cycling through places is truly bittersweet — bitter because I just got a taste of what life would be like. The people, the places, the potential love interests. But sweet — because a new adventure is right around the corner.“Discovering Some Bittersweet Truths, Six Weeks Into Nomad Life” – October 2020
I think it remains difficult for me to allow others all the way in, in what I deem too short a time span. But I remain hopeful, and dedicated, to investing and reinvesting in those relationships with the amazing people all around the world who I love and who love me. ❤️
I would love to hear from the people who’ve left their hometowns (or countries of origin) and who’ve left their loved ones behind, whether still on the move or settled somewhere new — how do your thoughts and feelings compare?