Traveling solo has changed my relationship with loneliness. After visiting over 20 countries alone, I’m now more independent than ever

  • I have traveled to over 20 countries solo and I love my solo adventures.
  • When I talk about my travels, people ask me if I feel lonely. Sometimes I do that, but mostly I love it.

I have lived on three different continents and have traveled to over 20 countries alone. When I share this with people, I often get looks of admiration, followed by, “You went to all these places alone? Weren’t you lonely?”

And yes, sometimes I was. Having time to sit with my loneliness — rather than running from it — has been the greatest gift solo travel has given me.

I’ve learned that loneliness often hides something else

While living in Shanghai, China from 2016 to 2019, I made it a routine to vacation in Bali, Indonesia. On my third visit, I sat in a quaint restaurant in the middle of a rice field and waited for the stunning sunset, one of the reasons I returned so often. I felt the acute pain of solitude as I looked around and saw numerous couples and groups of friends conversing.

Before giving in to the self-pity that often accompanies loneliness, I took a moment to question how I was really feeling. I realized that over the course of all my visits I’d done so much on the island that while I was looking forward to a glass of wine as I watched the day fade into night, I wasn’t quite as excited about Bali anymore like in old times . I’d seen all the Buddhist temples, eaten at all the night markets, had massages at all the spas, and done all the outdoor activities I wanted to do.

Traveling alone changed my relationship with loneliness.  Having traveled to over 20 countries alone, I am now more independent than ever
Keturah Kendrick in Bali.Courtesy of Keturah Kendrick

It turns out I wasn’t feeling lonely that much — I was just feeling bored, and having a girlfriend or close friend with me wouldn’t have made much of a difference in addressing that core feeling of boredom. I might have had someone to vent to or do something new with, but I’d finally exhausted my Bali bucket list.

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I realized that I love to travel because I thrive on the novelty of a place. It rejuvenates me: simply choosing a new destination to explore would solve my problem and resolve the mood that had overcome me, and I was relieved to find that my own company was still enough. I had heard that Malaysia and the Philippines also have great islands and beach towns and thought I might try one of those places next time.

Loneliness is an emotion, just like any other

As I went from place to place, I realized that part of what makes loneliness hard to deal with is the way we deal with emotions. We see people roaming the world alone thinking the choice must have been made for them, rather than assuming they made a choice for themselves. There’s this idea that feeling lonely is a shameful thing, as if it’s directly related to a flaw in our character. In reality, when you accept what you are experiencing and make room for another emotion to take its place, it is just another emotion and one that will eventually pass.

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When you arrive in a new place, you experience many emotions, and when you travel alone, loneliness is inevitable. During my first few months in Rwanda in 2014 I also felt excitement, confusion, acceptance, rejection, a sense of community, hope and varying degrees of sadness. And I felt all of these things before I even had the chance to leave the country and travel the African continent.

Traveling alone changed my relationship with loneliness.  Having traveled to over 20 countries alone, I am now more independent than ever
Keturah Kendrick in Mexico.Courtesy of Keturah Kendrick

Later, on a solo trip to nearby Kenya, I experienced a litany of emotions. I was filled with pride when I found out about the Maasai. I was amazed by the giraffe center and the elephant orphanage, but I was also irritated by all the other people who went there with me because my least favorite part of traveling is being around crowds at tourist attractions; It was frustrating to experience such conflicting emotions at the same time. Later, returning to my hotel, I welcomed the feeling of being alone and relief soon flooded over me.

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Now I can appreciate solitude and move through it to a place of gratitude

Yes, sometimes I enjoy the best food in Addis Ababa when solitude walks in and sits beside me. I’ll mind my own business and take selfies in front of the Big Buddha in Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves when he sneaks up on me again.

But I’ve learned to appreciate solitude. To thank him for joining me. After all, I’ve been filled with drunken laughter on many girls’ trips. Cuddled up with a friend after a romantic day trip out of town. These were all valuable experiences. However, it was the journeys with myself that gave me the greatest appreciation for the life I enjoy as a black woman with expendable income and control over my own schedule.

Traveling with myself has redefined my relationship with solitude. I now count it among the many privileges I enjoy that previous generations of women did not have. For that I will be forever grateful.

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