Very good question from a reader. I wrote up a pretty thorough reply, and now I'm recalling a number of times i've been asked this. So, here we go -
You are travelling a lot, so I've been wondering if you feel lonely and if that's the case, how you deal with it. I don't mean to sound too personal, just for the record, so if you do not wish to answer, go ahead (just let me know if that's the case, or point me to some reading, maybe?). I have found that when travelling for extended periods of time in places one does not know people, or when moving, changing location, that a certain lack of close contact with people can occur. This can lead to demotivation (concerning activity in general, work...), paralyzation, distraction causing lack of devotion to work and the like. Well, you are often writing about many friends, and I suppose you mean over the internet? Is that enough, or a temporary substitute? How do you counteract low-states induced by such cirumstances? (If they occur, I don't know if you have the problem, it just seemed a possibility).
Thanks a lot,
Good observation. Yes, you're 100% right - lack of contact with people is a big problem with traveling.
My first attempt to "live on the road" was when I departed from the USA to Europe in 2008. I'd done quite a bit of traveling, I knew the in's and out's of it to a large extent, and my apartment lease was up. I sold or gave away most of my things, got down to one suitcase, and hit the road.
It was enjoyable for around three months. After that, yeah, it's exactly like you describe. In fact, that's almost a perfect description of how it went with me. I mean, there's other little details, but yeah, it was a problem. I didn't travel at all in 2009, after I'd actively traveled for the few years before that.
I've identified a few things you have to do to live on the road. I mean, I don't have a checklist per se, but it's what I now naturally do when I get to a new place. Things like finding a place to exercise, a cafe conducive to thinking, a place with healthy cheap food are all key to do early on.
Then, people, yes. I thought in 2008 that Skype/cell phones/email would be enough, but I was wrong. You need face to face contact. I try not to go more than a month without meeting someone I like face to face, and ideally even more frequently than that.
I loosely schedule some of my travel around that - one of the nice things about traveling is you meet people who travel, so you can try to link up with someone in Hong Kong or Shanghai or whatever, these are big cities that travelers are frequently passing through. So if 3-4 of my friends are getting together in one place and I have no reason not to go there, I'll swing through.
The longest I went this year without face time with someone I had a connection with was around a month exactly - two weeks in Northern Thailand, and two weeks in Cambodia. After that, a mentor of mine was visiting Phuket, so I linked up with them. Then two weeks alone in Hong Kong, then linking up with people I knew in China.
If I know I'm going to be somewhere a while without seeing any of my friends or acquaintances, then I try to reach out to people that might be interesting in the area. Friends of friends, people I know a little bit from professional circles, whatever. I met Cheng Soon from Hacker Monthly here in Malaysia for instance, he's a good guy. We spent 3-4 hours together, and that's really enough combined with Skype/phone/etc to stay sane. You don't need a ton of face time, but you do need some.
I think eventually I'll have some home base/home outpost type setups where I've got connections in a city. Like, I've got lots of friends in London and New York, so I could swing through either place and get really social for a month or two. I think that'd be a good thing, especially if you're out in remote areas. New friends are good, but there's also something to be said for catching up with people you've known for a while. It's different - it's less discovery/excitement, and more catchup/how'd-that-go/updates/etc. You get more perspective from people that've known you for a while, because they can see if you changed. They ask questions about a project that you finished six months ago, so you reflect on that, etc. Sometimes friends/acquaintances see the larger picture of your life better than you can yourself, so I think it's important to see people you know when traveling and not just make new friends. (Though, new friends are great too)
That's more or less what I do.
-Identify key spots when I get to a new place - exercise area, thinking cafe, good healthy cheap food
-Try not to go more than a month without face to face time with someone you respect
-Some Skype, email, calls, etc.
-Occasionally some very social time in a home base/home outpost type setup
Also, I didn't mention this before, but I think there's an acclimation penalty when you arrive in a new area. Like, your senses get kind of overloaded for a day or two. When I first traveled, I used to change where I'd stay in the same city or country every few days. I think that's a terribly bad idea if you need to do any sort of "grind work" type production. Maybe it's good for inspiration (maybe - I'm not even sure about that) - but now I try to move around less unless it's really necessary. If the first place I stay somewhere turns out to suck, sure, I'll move. That's important too. But overall I try to settle in for 3-6 weeks, at least, so I don't have to keep paying the acclimation penalty.
Also, the biggest mistake I've made when traveling is leaving a place I'm really happy too soon, just for the sake of leaving. I've finally stopped doing that. Visas permitting, I'll stay a full 3 months if I've got a really good rhythm and life in a place, which is what I did in Vietnam.
Helpful? It's something I've wrestled with, it's taken me a while to figure out. I'd advise anyone to have a fallback plan if they start to go crazy their first time on the road, to go back to their home country and know roughly where they'll live, where they'll work, etc, so they can just execute the plan if the road gets too hectic. This time is cool though - I'm much better prepared, I know my needs and limits, and so far it's been an absolute blast. I'll spend a while longer in Asia, I haven't swung through Japan this trip which is my favorite country, and probably go through the Middle East and Mediterranean next.
This is interesting. Many of us (well, a number of friends and I at the very least) would be thrilled to do some travelling before settling down in one or more places. Yet other aspects of our lives have kept us from doing so. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. It just doesn't leave a lot of room for physical relocation.
That said, there may be brief opportunities here and there to do some short bursts of travel. I think in this situation, what stops most people from doing it (excuses aside) is that they don't have the experience or the time and attention required to figure out how to do it properly.
Where should I go? For how long? What do I pack? How do I meet interesting locals? Interact? Not stick out the wrong way? Should I rent a place on a monthly lease? Try a hostel? Live another way? Do I set it up online? Or wait til I get there? And the biggest unknown: how do can I be confident I'll know what to do next after I arrive? And not just use up my entire time there adjusting?
What I'm getting it: you have the experience since you've already tried various things. Perhaps you should put together a small guide for people wanting to travel without the accompanying trial and error. And eventually include some success stories of others for an extra boost of trust. After getting to know you a little through your blog and seeing that your head's on straight and not just out to make a buck (as opposed to some other publishers of "how to" books I've seen), I'd purchase such a resource.
Also, does anybody else find it slightly amusing that this post on loneliness while travelling is published as "p=404"?
I eat pretty well and take pretty good care of myself. But it's taken quite a while to get here - before 2006, I had a pretty standard American diet. Lots of pizza, junk food, fast food, liquor, soda, sweets, etc. I smoked cigarettes, cigars, sheesha, and other kinds of tobacco.
Since then I've refined my diet and I eat pretty well. I have more energy, feel better, look better, and God willing, I'll live a lot longer as a result. It's a gradual process though, and I'm still improving. There's a few things I use to do it:
First, I'm all about incremental improvement - I think trying to crash change your diet is unlikely to work unless you have immense amounts of willpower and self-discipline. If you do have these Herculean amounts of will and discipline, you know who you are and don't need my advice. If you're more mortal, then you'll want to pick one or two things to be refining in your diet at a time.
Second, there's two ways I quit food or habits I don't like - "hard quitting" (cold turkey) and "soft quitting" (gradually reduce my consumption and eventually eliminate it). I pick which of these routes to go based on how convenient it is to quit something outright and if there's any detox process. If there's detox (like there was with nicotine), I think it's better to just get it over with once instead of constantly feeling deprived as your body re-adjusts to its new biochemical levels. The most successful method for quitting smoking is cold turkey, isn't it? Something like 80% of successful attempts to quit smoking are cold turkey? I don't have the statistics onhand, but that's the general idea. Quitting something like sugar, bad oils, or excess salt might be easier to do incrementally, since you need to replace the consumption with something else.
Which brings us to third point - I actively introduce new good behaviors before and during the time I quit something. Now, I don't know if the following is a good strategy, but it's what I did - when I started cutting down the sweets I ate, I increased my consumption of the kinds of salty foods I already ate: Chips, french fries, nuts, etc. Later I cut the salt content back. I don't know if that's a good habit, but it's worked okay for me. I also try to actively introduce fruits and vegetables before I quit something - it's hard to go from no fiber food that's highly processed to stimulate you immediately to fruits and vegetables. Fruit tastes bland compared to ice cream. So I introduce fruits and vegetables first, get comfortable with them, then increase my consumption of them as I decrease or eliminate bad consumption.
I land in Narita Airport, Japan, pull two thousand Yen out of the ATM, and get on the train for Tokyo. From memory I walk down familiar streets until I get to the New Zealand Embassy in northern Shibuya, where my friend Elliot lives. I haven't seen him in almost two years, and have only emailed a few times since then, but it's as if I never left. We joke around, walk to dinner, and make plans for the weekend.
The next day I pop my Japanese SIM card into my phone and call my friend Toby to let him know that I'm around. He tells me about a party he's throwing in Yoyogi park, so a couple other friends and I join him.
Nothing about these individual scenes is particularly noteworthy. That's the point. In various places around the world I have enough good friends that I can have a pretty normal life there while visiting.