It comes on like a cold. Symptom by symptom, sometimes suddenly, sometimes unnoticeable until you are in the throws of the worst of it. And how it’s handled is dependent, person to person. It’s what I call nomadic loneliness. Solo travelers may attest that traveling in foreign lands (especially in places where the entire language is different) can breed intense loneliness.
This loneliness stems from the isolation that comes from stepping outside your own cultural context and into another. Conversations change, inherently, and the realities of camaraderie bred by lingual connection between peoples becomes very apparent. In fact a conversation or, simply, human interaction becomes a priority and necessity. It’s easy, within your own comfortable group at home, to forget how quiet you can be among people, how much you can recede into yourself when others around you are talking and interacting. But being the constant, wordless observer takes a toll on a body. It can also take a lot of the fun out of travel.
Never having struggled with loneliness in my life at home, I figured I’d be a perfect candidate for solo travel. But a three month stint over seas in countries where English is most definitely a second language, gave me my first taste of it. The fact that the first nine weeks were spent in a close knit community based environment, with almost constant discussions definitely caused the solitariness of the rest of my trip to be more acutely felt. Having spent the time at L’Abri (the commune-like place) being enlightened to the importance of language and how it shapes so much of our lives, cultures, and thoughts, gave me an interesting perspective during the rest of my trip. But to give you some of an idea of what one might go through during their first solo back-packing trip, what follows are some mini- chapters on my traveler’s shock and the isolation that lead to it.