Travelling for an extended period
November 21, 2016 2:16 AM   Subscribe

As a 50th birthday present to my self, I am going to be spending six months in the US and Europe. My plan is for it not to be too hectic so I will be based in a couple of cities for a month or so (probably plan mini trips from there). I am going to be alone. How do I avoid becoming lonely?

The cities I had in mind were New York, San Francisco, Paris, Barcelona/Madrid and Dublin with the largest chunk spent in New York. How would you advise me to spend a couple of months on my own in each city? How does one meet people? Are there groups that I could join? I have been living in London for most of my life and I kept busy with family and never actively went out to seek friendships. They just happened without huge effort. As I'll be entirely on my own, I do not want to get depressed. I enjoy the company of people but am not the kind of person who attracts people like some people do. As an example, if I'm eating alone in a restaurant, even a touristy one, I've never had people join me. I really want this 6 month period to be special, filled with interesting encounters and new friendships, a period where I witness personal growth and widen my horizons. Any advice and suggestions appreciated.
posted by ashawill to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
One thing you could do is reach out to local expat groups. A quick Google found this one:
(No idea how good it is)

I am part of an expat group in the city I live in and they're always planning mixers and trips. Of course, you may not necessarily want to limit yourself only to fellow British people but it's a start, I guess?
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:46 AM on November 21, 2016

Pick a sociable hobby (or a hobby with a dedicated group of people around it) and find groups via Meetup or classes in each city. If it's a craft you'll come out of your six months with a new skill as well.
posted by tavegyl at 3:02 AM on November 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

posted by wenestvedt at 3:12 AM on November 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not sure if you're a drinker, but if you are, find a bar you like, strike up a conversation with the bartender (so best not on a Fri/Sat night), bartender introduces you to customers, and you have a small group of folks to hang out with for the evening.
posted by Ducks or monkeys at 3:54 AM on November 21, 2016

Seconding quiet nights at a bar or cafe. In the States I feel like you're more expected to drink, but in continental Europe at least it seems like caf├ęs have a larger number of people drinking non-alcoholic, which is nice.

Exploring any hobbies if you have them is also quite good. You might not have this extend to real outside-the-hobby friendships, but it can be a good way to have some social interaction and stay sane. I'm living solo in Europe right now (am from the US) and find that while I am a little lonely sometimes, getting out to my gym is a nice chance to cultivate some low-level friendships.

Probably it would make sense to spend time exploring totally different neighborhoods. I can only speak from personal experience about New York, but there is such a radically different feeling between different neighborhoods, and you might find it easier to meet people in different ones.

One thing that hasn't been said is the importance of forgiving and not beating yourself up when you are, despite your best efforts, lonely sometimes. I have spent a fair amount of time living alone abroad and, no matter what you do, sometimes you won't feel great. Try to make sure you have some way of keeping that in perspective and relaxing so that it doesn't become too much of a negative-feedback loop.

Congratulations! It takes a lot of bravery (and some obvious good fortune) to make a trip like this happen. I hope it's amazing!
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 4:55 AM on November 21, 2016

Seconding MetaFilterIRLs. Also most cities (at least here in Europe) have Facebook pages of expat associations which are constantly seeking an excuse to meet up and have a drink. Admittedly they're not locals (although a lot of locals do get invited), but it's a start to meet someone and ask for recommendations.
posted by aqsakal at 5:13 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Theme travel: decide on a theme and plan your trip around it. It could be anything from writing / photography to arts / sports to skills learning, that will enable you to meet people and possibly learn a new skill or practice your hobby.

I actually like the idea of a food trip where you enrol in a cooking class once you arrive in a new city. Then blog about it to expand your base.
posted by Kwadeng at 5:44 AM on November 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Get a job.

When I was in my late twenties I did a 14 month trip. I had saved money before and didn't have to work. It was WAY to much free time. Although I was going to meetups, hanging out in social hostels, etc, there are inevitably many moments when you're alone as a solo traveler and the lack of routine made me really fixate on loneliness and I became pretty depressed.

I'm more of a digital nomad now - I teach English online and do some graphic design. Around 30-40 hours of my week is work and I spend the rest of my time exploring whatever city I've chosen for that month. I am so much happier and FEEL so much less lonely, even if I'm brand new to a city and know absolutely no one.

Even if you won't keep doing your current job, I highly recommend doing *something* work-like on at least a part-time basis. You could volunteer somewhere or work as an online conversation partner for people who want to learn English. Even if the project I'm working on isn't inherently social, feeling like I have a bit of purpose and structure to my time has made me enjoy "slow travel" so much more.
posted by horizons at 6:21 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cooking classes! I found a tiny little cooking supply store in Paris that also gave cooking lessons a few times a week. It was geared towards the locals, no English was spoken and gave me a chance to practice my French in a relaxed environment. Plus French food at the end! I've also seen classes targeted to tourists and expats.

Language classes. Easy to chat with/get to know people that you see regularly.

Guided tours are also good. I did a walking tour in Venice and it was fantastic. I learned much more than I would have just wandering about on my own and I had lunch with a nice group of folks. Not something to do everyday but was a nice one off.

I travel alone quite a bit and it's easy to spend an entire day only speaking to waiters or cashiers. It's hard to have meaningful exchanges unless you make an effort. If you're staying in one place long enough, pick a favorite cafe to frequent and become a regular.
posted by shoesietart at 7:01 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used couch surfing to meeting people (and not actually couch surf) a few years ago when I was traveling internationally. It worked out great - not sure if the couch surfing culture or website has changed since then. I did have to do quite a bit of vetting though...
posted by Toddles at 7:49 AM on November 21, 2016

What's your residency status, and have you planned for that?
posted by humboldt32 at 7:59 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

British passport with unlimited stay in the EU (at least for now) and up to 90 days in the US.
posted by ashawill at 8:06 AM on November 21, 2016

Join internations!

Find meetups on Couchsurfing!

Find conferences relevant to your interests!

Learn a hobby or take a language class in that country!
posted by erattacorrige at 8:52 AM on November 21, 2016

You could create a project (photograph, like the Sartorialist, or anthropologize like Humans of New York, or film a documentary), wherein you talk to strangers and talk to them about their lives. I see that you're a woman, so it might not be the safest thing to do in a big city. But it's something I'd love to do.
posted by kinoeye at 9:26 AM on November 21, 2016

When I lived in Paris, a couple of friends got me to take a yoga class with them at a tiny studio in the Marais. It was a great way to learn and practice a particular French vocabulary of the anatomy I would never have otherwise encountered, and we all ended up having lovely lunches afterwards.

I'm an avid museumgoer, and find that it's nice to strike up conversation with people I meet in galleries. Museums also offer wonderful guided tours in a variety of languages. I always learn something, and it gives you a nice period of time with a group.

I would definitely be interested in cooking classes too, or maybe even learning a new art or craft.
posted by gateau at 10:07 AM on November 21, 2016

I would normally recommend staying in hostels if you want the option of socialising while travelling solo. Many hostels have private rooms available, so you don't have to bunk down with a dozen other people, but you have the option to socialise in the common areas. However, at 50 you will be much older than most of the other travellers. It's definitely unusual for older people to stay in hostels but not unheard of. I stayed in hostels in New Zealand for several months when I was in my early 30s. I was on the upper end of the average age, but I did meet a few travellers in their 50s or older.

Look up some meetups in the cities you're travelling to.

Finally, I found keeping an internet connection to home helped fend off loneliness. Facebook, email, video chat, even checking your local news. Fending for yourself in a strange city, especially in a foreign language, is exhausting. Allowing myself time in the evening to veg out with hostel wi-fi or going to an internet cafe let me recharge whenever I've travelled solo.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 11:47 AM on November 21, 2016

I'd suggest staying in much smaller cities. In big cities, people tend to wrap an anti-social protective barrier against strangers, because there are just so many strangers and city dwellers only have so much bandwidth for meeting people/determining if they're trying to sell something or convert them/fending off creeps/becoming friends with someone and then losing them when they move to Dublin/etc.

There are lots of beautiful towns in each of these countries that have incredible culture, social opportunities, and adventure. A few suggestions in the U.S.: Portland, OR, New Orleans, LA, Minneapolis, MN (all on the big side, but more friendly than NYC); San Luis Obispo, CA, Boulder, CO, Portland ME (smaller); Seward, AK, Chelsea, MI, Taos, NM, Bellingham, WA (even smaller). Also, Canada is beautiful.

Once there, all of the above suggestions are great, and some of them are safer than in a big city (e.g. kinoeye's suggestion to have a project).

And as far as places to stay, airbnb offers a lot of interesting options, with varying levels of social contact, and that's another avenue for you.
posted by Capri at 6:53 PM on November 21, 2016

The suggestions to take cooking or language classes are SPOT ON. The number one best thing I always do when landing in a new place for any kind of extended period is to immediately sign up for a class or club or something that interests me. It's an excellent way to meet kindred spirits in unfamiliar places. I've met a lot of long term friends in new places simply by taking a calligraphy class or going to a zine workshop or attending a regular game night, and the fact that you are on a round-the-world trip will make an excellent ice breaker!

Having a theme or project in mind for your trip can also be a great way to guide your visit, but also put you in contact with interesting people. Example: one of my friends and I both really love medical and/or surgical museums, so whenever either or both of us go visit a new place, that's the first thing we look for. If you're genuinely interested in the sight you're seeing, it also makes it a lot easier to chat at length with the staff members about it, which they are usually quite happy to do if they're not super busy.

Also, if this sounds like it might be up your alley, volunteering for a short time can be a great way to meet new people and also do some good while you're on the road. I went on a solo two week UK trip a few years back and ended up volunteering as a "gopher" at the sci-fi convention I was already slated to go to* and wound up meeting loads of awesome people who I'm still friends with on Facebook to this day.

Good luck and have fun on your amazing trip! If you end up in Pittsburgh, PA on your travels, MeMail me! I'd be happy to show you around.

*I get that this wasn't exactly service volunteering, but it worked out nonetheless. :)
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:09 AM on November 22, 2016

This is not a tip per se, but as a Londoner you may find it surprisingly easy to strike up conversations with strangers in the U.S. cities you visit. This is a generalization of course, but I think we tend to be a lot more talkative here than in the U.K.

This is a tip. I'm solidly middle aged and gave up drinking a long time ago. So I don't want to stay in hostels when I travel and I don't want to hang out in bars, both typical "how do I meet people" advice for travelers. I find that hotels that offer buffet breakfast tend to be great places to meet other travelers. It is like the social aspect of a youth hostel without the rooms full of bunk beds.

I have also found that with personal digital devices and social networking, it is much harder to feel lonely while traveling than it used to be. One can be much more connected to home now. A little photo uploading and chatting before bed each night can go a long way. (Of course, taken too far, I think this can lessen enjoyment of your trip too.)
posted by Cranialtorque at 9:36 AM on November 22, 2016

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