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've been traveling consistently now for over eight years. In that time I've visited around seventy countries, many of them several times. But how I travel has changed considerably over those years.
While I might think that there are some "wrong" ways to travel, I don't think that there is one correct way to do it. Goals and circumstances change, and different travel styles accommodate those changes.
Maybe more than anything, I'm using talking about travel to illustrate something that I like to harp on: the idea that you should constantly reevaluate your habits and patterns to make sure that they suit you. Sometimes we build identities around things we do rather than things we are, and that's unhealthy.
My first serious international trip was nine months long. Todd and I sold everything, packed small bags, and circled the world. Some of our stops were short, but several lasted for a month or two.
Back then my goal was to just see and understand the world. I had a vague idea that my outlook on life was limited by my surroundings, and I wanted to see what life was like in different places. Staying for long times and removing myself from the United States accomplished that.
I can't say now that I've seen and understand the whole world, but that's no longer a weak point. I understand a lot more and have seen a lot. So while I still move closer to those goals when I travel, they're no longer the primary reasons I do it.
Now I travel in much shorter bursts. I'm in San Francisco for three days, was just in Las Vegas for four, Austin for two, and San Francisco for a few before that. I don't think I've been in any one place for more than three weeks consecutively in the past three years.
At the same time, I return to the same places over and over again. It's impossible for me to count how many times I've been to Tokyo, Vegas, San Francisco, the island, or New York in the past few years. Budapest is new on my radar, but I've been four times in the past year or so.
A big principle in my life is flexibility. I try to build myself into a flexible person. I don't need to be a master of too many skills, but I strive to be proficient at a basic level across as many disciplines as possible. At some level I can program, dance ballet, speak ten languages, rap, lead groups, entertain people, write, do construction, appreciate art, cook, and do many other things. I'm a beginner in many of those areas, but having any proficiency gives me a lot of flexibility in what I can achieve and where I can be useful.
This principle also extends to travel. My goal is to be able to be anywhere at any time if the situation calls for it. If there was a good reason to be in Shanghai tomorrow, it wouldn't be a big deal to get there. I've got frequent flyer miles banked, can counteract jetlag, can work on the plane as well as at my destination, and can get by in Chinese. In the same way that someone's day might be altered but not totally disrupted by a change in weather, my life is altered but not disrupted by changing my location.
While before I used to go to places for the sake of the place itself, now I move around more because of the people. I always come back to San Francisco because it has the highest concentration of good friends. My friend Nick and his family invited me to go on a cruise with them in the Baltic Sea this summer, and my friend Jimmy was planning on being in Europe afterwards, so I'll spend the late summer and fall in Europe.
The hassle of switching locations used to be a big deal, so I would try to minimize it by staying in one place for long periods of time. As I've grown accustomed to it, moving around a lot impacts my productivity and schedule far less than it used to, so I do it more.
I've also found that certain types of travel aren't as valuable to me as they used to be. I used to find solo travel exciting, but now I'm most likely to hole up in my airbnb and work if I'm by myself. So if I'm going to be by myself, I just go back to Vegas where cost of living is low and productivity is high. Traveling to new countries just for the sake of seeing a new place is also less exciting to me. I still enjoy it, but it's less revelatory, so I only do it if there's some other reason to go.
This is how I travel now, but I expect it will change in the upcoming years. If I was traveling this same way ten years from now I'd be concerned that I had stopped evolving as a person. After all, our habits and routines should reflect who we are.
Maybe I'll even stop traveling. It's hard to imagine that now, but you never know. Part of being flexible is having the flexibility to stay in one place if there's some reason to.
Travel is a big part of my life, so it's worthwhile to examine it and make sure that it still reflects my priorities and goals, and isn't just a vestige of an old identity. It may not be travel for you, but it's worth examining those things that take up a lot of your time to make sure that your time is being spent in a way that aligns with your goals.
Photo is a bamboo forest in Noumea, New Caledonia. Probably the most "off the beaten path" place I've visited recently.
My new book sales have been really bad! I still enjoyed writing the book, but you readers have spoken... I will only write self-help books in the future. I'll probably write the next one I have planned in the fall.