Too much alone time!
June 30, 2012 11:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm having some anxiety about traveling alone. Please hope/help me!

For unknown reasons, my anxiety about the five days I have alone to travel this month is through the roof. I'm looking for hacks, tips, suggestions, etc. Details below.

-I'm a 33 year old woman. Married, but my partner is in the US.
-I have five days alone in europe before I meet my friend. Three full days alone and two days with people on one end or another.
-I'm in Thessaloniki, Greece, but was thinking of traveling to Athens before coming back to catch my plane to Italy.
- I'm a seasoned traveler and I love being alone, but I can't shake some sadness, loneliness, fear or something about those three days.
-I have a decent budget and can spend money to do cool things, but am worried they will be worthless without someone to share them with.
-I have friends in Europe, but would putting a plea on FB be weird? Seems like it might get my hopes up for naught.

I'm a little worried this is a complication from some travel I did alone many years ago. I was sad, lonely, afraid, etc. feeling like that is coming back to haunt me. So any tips on how to get past that, have fun, meet people (I'm very shy) would be welcome!
posted by mrfuga0 to Travel & Transportation around Greece (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've traveled alone quite a bit and I've experienced all these doubts and fears.

I think a really important thing to remember is that loneliness is not the end of the world. Sure, you might be lonely once or twice during those days, but it's only a few days and it will end. In fact, I think it's a good opportunity to actually get comfortable with a bit of loneliness. The less afraid you are of it, the more confident and secure you'll be as a person.

am worried they will be worthless without someone to share them with.

In what way? The idea of what's worthless or not is literally all in your head. You get to decide what's worthwhile and what's not. The Parthenon is just as worthy whether you see it with 8 of your closest friends or all by yourself.

As for meeting people, my best suggestion is to stay in hostels instead of hotels. IME, lots of different kinds of people stay in hostels, and it's a great way to meet people. If you'd rather not stay in a dorm, many have private rooms. You could also consider something like and look for a place with hosts who seem friendly.
posted by lunasol at 12:14 AM on July 1, 2012

I don't think it would be weird to post to Facebook and say "Hey! Will be in Greece on these dates! Anyone in the general area interested in catching up?"
posted by chiefthe at 12:14 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a seasoned traveler and I love being alone, but I can't shake some sadness, loneliness, fear or something about those three days.

Me too, and I think I know this incredibly vague malaise, and I don't understand it either. Last time I felt it was in Rome in the middle of the summer, and I just wandered. I made like Camus or someone equally pretentious and just walked in this place... i drank from the Trevi Fountain, saw Bernini at the Borghesi, and gesticulated wildly with street vendors. I now associate it with some kind of dissatisfaction with "mere tourism" and the opportunity to feel like you belong to a place (or the desire to belong to a place rather than being a tourist) for a time and cultivate the feeling some.
posted by cmoj at 1:28 AM on July 1, 2012

I am have travelled alone a lot. And I can relate to your feelings. Keeping a journal has always helped me when travelling alone - it is like having someone to talk to.

Also, the few times that I let the feeling get the better of me, and did not travel - I regret greatly. Many years ago, I had a choice to travel alone to Berlin and see the Berlin Wall (while it was still standing), or stay at the house I where I was, and pass 4 days in a quiet village, not really seeing or doing much. Now, when I ever I hear or see anything about the Berlin Wall, I remember that I gave in to a vague fear, and passed on a chance to see it.
posted by Flood at 4:02 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I travel alone a lot and whenever I feel 'lost' (this vague feeling you describe) it helps to talk to people - walk into little stores and let the shopkeeper explain you local stuff. You could also look for a local to meet up with you and show you around - on couchsurfing or hospitalityclub.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:34 AM on July 1, 2012

Seconding hostels. I'm traveling alone now and have met some great people so far. The great thing about traveling is that everyone is interesting, including you, because you're all foreigners. People want to hear about America and everyone loves talking about their country, so you always have stuff to talk about.

Don't plan too much, just play everything by ear, and try to say yes to new things instead of being afraid.
posted by empath at 6:14 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keeping a journal (or, maybe a blog to share pictures/stories with others at home) might help... I always look at solo travel as a great excuse to be completely selfish- you can go wherever you want, linger over coffee/wine until you are ready to leave, go shopping, etc etc with absolutely NO compromising to accommodate what someone else wants to do.
posted by Fig at 7:38 AM on July 1, 2012

I feel anxious traveling alone in certain places but not in others, and realised that this anxiety was tied to whether I knew I had somewhere safe/secure to go back to at the end of the day.

I don't know if it's the same for you, but I'm thirding the suggestion of finding a centrally located hostel with good reviews that provides a space for travelers to hang out e.g. a common kitchen. Alternatively, a decent airbnb host is a fantastic resource.

I know certain cities, especially in Europe, have volunteer guides that will take you around for free if you book in advance. Or walking tours run by companies where you tip the guide at the end. Maybe you could try looking out for things like that, as an avenue to meet fellow tourists you could hang out with subsequently?

Also, you could always liveblog your awesome adventures! If you put up pictures on Facebook as you go along people will comment and you won't feel as isolated in the world.
posted by swimmingly at 7:49 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have traveled alone frequently and yeah, there's that weird haunting loneliness about it, often, and it's hard to shake. The last time, I spent five days in Paris by myself, and I specifically tried to focus on:

1) Fantastic museums that I could do on my own timeframe and see exactly what I wanted to see
2) Finding cozy places to come back to and have crepes, or a creme brulee and a Kir, or whatever I felt like
3) Spent money on AirBnB in a very central location so that I could always come back, warm up (well, it was 19 degrees outside), and only carry a book and a map and a bit of money. It was sort of a strange arrangement, but there were always people around, which helped.
4) Talking to shopkeepers really did help
5) Getting to walk 7-10 miles a day at my own pace, and keeping a fun map of everywhere I'd ended up

So those are tailored to the things I love-- pastries, walking everywhere, zillions of museums-- and they're the things that are slightly harder to do when I'm travelling with my partner, who believes more in "meals" and "not walking 5 miles to the crepe place" and so forth. Are there things you love, like cooking or the beach? Maybe there's a way to do a cooking lesson, or a market where you can get unusual ingredients. If you like shopping, maybe there are unusual vendors nearby, or a place where they handmake sandals-- something that involves more interaction and time than you can usually get to see. Fan of churches, or tiny villages? See if you can plot a course and walk or take a bike and explore-- maybe if you're focused on little milestones, there won't be a chance for the anxiety to creep in. And take lots of pictures!
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:12 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some thoghts about traveling alone from an old book called Vagabonding by Ed Buryn, a book which changed my life, a catalyst enabling me to embark on the first of many international journeys:
...being lonely, while not particulary a pleasant state, does make you much more sensative to what's happening. That poignant ache you feel serves to engrave experiences into your memory. You think deeply abot things, about yourself and about yourself in relation to things. It's worthwhile.
posted by Rash at 8:40 AM on July 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

I travel alone quite a lot, and before my most recent trip (to thailand, about a month ago), i had the same feeling. And really, it wasn't that i was nervous, it was (i realized) that i didn't want to travel alone, and i felt sorry for myself that i 'had to'. (In the past i've travelled alone happily. But this time i wasn't feeling it.)

I found it helped to do two things:
1) Reframe what you're doing. It's not about a "wonderful travel experience" (which you may think requires another person) it was about "seeing cool places, eating interesting food". In otherwords, try to think more in terms of the 'activity' and less in terms of the 'experience', and then you won't be focusing so much on an experience gap, but rather on a set of activities that sound pretty awesome!

2) Have a plan for what you want to see and do and where you're going to stay and eat. (And then obviously feel free to deviate from it.) Having a plan made me feel less like i was floating in this unstructured expanse of days. (Travelling with someone else implies structure, usually - even if the structure is just 'hang out with john'.) So grab your guidebook (or whatever) and start planning out what you want to see and do, and then each day create a plan for that day. (Then, of course, if you meet people you want to spend some time with, you won't have that feeling like you're aimless and that you need them, you are an equally self sufficient entity is who can spend an afternoon with them by choice, not because you're by yourself and have nothing to do!)

It'll help!! :)
posted by Kololo at 9:02 AM on July 1, 2012

I travel alone a lot. Being alone can suck, but on the other hand you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, without worrying whether the other person is happy about it. Embrace the freedom!
posted by phoenix_rising at 9:51 AM on July 1, 2012

I've traveled solo a bit.

The trick in any situation is to focus on the positive points. The plus side of this time alone is you can celebrate you!

What do you enjoy? Spend a day sampling pastries. Check into a spa and indulge. Take a class or hire a guide who can tailor the day to your interests. Are you a member of any international organizations (Sertoma, etc.)? Religious groups, professional groups? Perhaps you can catch a local meeting or participate in an on going project. Do you have a collection? Expand it with a search at the local flea market.

I find solo travel often opens up serendipitous moments. A solo is more approachable than a couple or group and wonderful exchanges can occur. You also have the ability to change direction at any moment allowing the chance to see what's just around the bend. No discussion, no compromise - the ability to be totally in the moment and responsive to your whims and curiosity!

Shift the focus from wishing there was someone to share the experience with and enjoy the opportunity to luxuriate in being able to do whatever you wish.
posted by cat_link at 10:21 AM on July 1, 2012

Sign up on Couchsurfing and make some social plans with locals. It's what it's for.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:28 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Somewhat different from the above suggestions but when my sister traveled on her own through France to meet up with some distant relations, she would skype with my sister-in-law in the US every evening to tell her what she'd done and relieve the loneliness, which was made more intense by the fact that she didn't speak more than a few basic phrases in French and was traveling through small villages where not many people spoke English. She was also well in her 60s and this was the first time that she'd traveled totally on her own. She survived it although she said that she probably wouldn't do that again for more than a week. It was the second week that got to her. So it's five days, you should be fine, but if not, if you can't get one of your friends to come out and meet you can you arrange a time at the end of the day that you can chat with them, tell them about your day, and everything that you've seen?

By the way, I live alone (and have for 20 or so years) and generally travel on my own, and while I love it, there are times during even the best of trips in the most beautiful places that I experience an aching loneliness (especially if it's somewhere that I don't speak the language).. It's natural or at least it happens to a lot of people, and it usually passes quickly. Like others suggested, I always bring a journal and a good novel to get lost in during rest stops in cafes or on my own back in my hotel room at night.
posted by kaybdc at 2:53 PM on July 1, 2012

I hope this isn't too presumptuous, but as a woman who has travelled alone and that currently has a Greek partner, I wanted to offer some places to explore if you do end up in Athens. I hope that having some friendly suggestions and knowing that someone is thinking of you might help you feel a bit pluckier?

I love this little bar, Briki (or Mpiki, if you're Greek), but sometimes it's closed in the summer months because Athens is like that. They have really good "vromiko," or dirty-water hot dogs, on that little square (Mavilis)- perfect after a night out. If you're up by the Parthenon, there is a fab open air cinema that plays lots of old Hollywood classics, Cine Thissio. You haven't seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail til you've seen it drinking a beer with the sky above and ancient greek ruins spread out in front of you. Here is a list of other open air cinemas in Athens. It's a very greek-y thing.

If you get the chance, I would very much recommend a ferry trip somewhere from Athens, or Pireus rather. Some of the islands are hours away, but others like Aegina are really quite close. My boyfriend says that you should go to Corfu and from there you can catch the ferry to Italy very easily (if you cancel your plane?), and that Athens will be unpleasantly hot right now. I think you'll be fine either way.

I like to bring a lot of english-language reading material with me when I'm travelling alone, but that's just me. It's a mediterranean country, so waiters are not going to hassle you to leave your table before you're ready. Perhaps you could learn to play backgammon (tavli in Greek), if you want to have an easy in for meeting people around? Even if you suck at it people are willing to beat you.

Sorry I don't know more about Thessaloniki. Let us know how you do in your travels from bougatsa land! You're going to have an awesome time, and even if there are some bumpy parts, it's just a few days and either way you'll have some very exciting sounding stories to tell when you get home. That's a win in my book!
posted by Concordia at 4:09 PM on July 1, 2012

Wonderful suggestions, Concordia, and Kololo reminds me of something stressed by the Savvy Traveler -- you should have a mission, or plan, maybe for each day. Research your destination and make a short list of the things which sound most appealing to you (in your case, in Athens), like museums, historical sights, market squares and shopping areas (or maybe even one specific store you heard about) and then go each day to one of your objectives. Along the way, you'll be shopping, sight-seeing and having lunch, so it'll be an adventure even if your destination is closed, or you can't find that one, so what, whatever happens might become one of the stories you tell about this trip, years from now.
posted by Rash at 7:14 PM on July 1, 2012

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