Why Frequent Travel Can Lead To Sadness and Loneliness

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

Back in 2014 I first shared a comment left by reader DJ, called “The Curse Of The Traveler.” I consider it to be the three most profound paragraphs you can read about frequent travel. The story explains why travel can be enlightening while also making one feel sad and lonely.

I know many of you have read this before, but it’s too good not to share again, for anyone who is new to the blog or missed it last time. I was reminded of it a couple of days ago, when a reader asked for a link to the story on Twitter.

Here it is:

An old vagabond in his 60s told me about it over a beer in Central America, goes something like this: The more places you see, the more things you see that appeal to you, but no one place has them all. In fact, each place has a smaller and smaller percentage of the things you love, the more things you see. It drives you, even subconsciously, to keep looking, for a place not that’s perfect (we all know there’s no Shangri-La), but just for a place that’s “just right for you.” But the curse is that the odds of finding “just right” get smaller, not larger, the more you experience. So you keep looking even more, but it always gets worse the more you see. This is Part A of the Curse.

Part B is relationships. The more you travel, the more numerous and profoundly varied the relationships you will have. But the more people you meet, the more diffused your time is with any of them. Since all these people can’t travel with you, it becomes more and more difficult to cultivate long term relationships the more you travel. Yet you keep traveling, and keep meeting amazing people, so it feels fulfilling, but eventually, you miss them all, and many have all but forgotten who you are. And then you make up for it by staying put somewhere long enough to develop roots and cultivate stronger relationships, but these people will never know what you know or see what you’ve seen, and you will always feel a tinge of loneliness, and you will want to tell your stories just a little bit more than they will want to hear them. The reason this is part of the Curse is that it gets worse the more you travel, yet travel seems to be a cure for a while.

None of this is to suggest that one should ever reduce travel. It’s just a warning to young Travelers, to expect, as part of the price, a rich life tinged with a bit of sadness and loneliness, and angst that’s like the same nostalgia everyone feels for special parts of their past, except multiplied by a thousand.

Al-Maha-Activities - 30

Brilliant, and always puts things into perspective!

  1. I don’t agree. I travel a lot on my own. It’s never easy finding traveling partners and if you can eat alone, sleep alone and be happy with your own company, you are in paradise. The grass is not always greener on the other side and you could be just as lonely with you bf living some domestic life. The itch to travel would start again and as you know Ben, when its in your blood you simply can’t stop traveling. I go back to many of the same haunts and just having a coffee at my favorite cafe or getting high on an island an walking the same beach is my world. I like my world. No world is perfect but maybe we aren’t supposed to find paradise. Paradise is the travel and search to find it…off to my favorite coffee shop tomorrow over 7,000 miles away. 3 weeks from now returning to a AirBnB I love in Bali for a week. This is our short life to live and if we get lucky and find someone during that journey…great! If not…keep moving forward. <3

  2. I’m new around here. And this text clarifys a lot. Specialy the part where you want to share more than people want to hear

  3. Lucky, the travel you do is going places without going anywhere. You know it. The hollowness echoes my friend. I’ve been stuck doing what you do but with an outside job.

    Five star travel and dining is nothing without someone to share it with, and once you share it….like you seem to have found with Ford, sincere congrats….you’ll probably realize the travel was merely a means to a more moderated end. At your age you’ve had a absolutely killer run of success. Best of luck on whatever is the next stage.

  4. Haha. Looks like someone wants to settle down. This feeling is no different than the playboy who says he feels so empty after laying countless hotties. Now he is looking for a connection (please insert appropriate genders to suit your PC tendencies)

  5. A wise man once said “if you feel lonely when you’re alone, then you must not be in very good company”.

    The loneliness has nothing to do with travel, though maybe it can amplify it for some people.

  6. I guess I’m fortunate in that I have found what is as close to my Shangra La as I’m going to find. It’s Key West for me. I have been fortunate to have traveled a fair amount both by commercial airplane and by private boats. I really like the intense relationships you create that may only last hours (not the ones you pay for). Sitting over a drink and talking about life, the universe and everything, then poof – you’ve moved on but so much wiser and more fulfilled, even knowing you will never likely see that person again. I don’t find that necessarily sad. It’s what I travel for. Then I get to come back to my little spot that always makes me smile when I see it from the window or peeking over the horizon.

  7. I primarily travel solo. I’ve been averaging about 300K miles a year for last 3-4 years now. Sure there’s times I wish I had someone else there to share the time with but there’s other times that I’m happy to be in my own world controlling everything I do. Like someone else said, it’s not always easy finding someone who will hop over to Europe or Asia for a few days. On top of that, you have to make compromises and only do things both of you like, or only eat places with food that both of you like, etc.

    A good example is my upcoming trip to SE Asia (HK, Vietnam and BKK) this summer. I’ll be going at this alone considering the few people I travel with as a group (when I do) either have no interest in those places or don’t like the food or don’t have the means to go.

    Personally, I have tons of fun travelling by myself. No stress dealing with someone else and their needs and you have 100% control of your trip. Pick a place that interests you and go and enjoy yourself. I get people all the time asking me how I even enjoy travelling by myself and the above is all the reasons I give them…

  8. I also do a fair bit of solo travel. Most people don’t get it, but personally, it has never bothered me. Sometimes, it would be nice to have a travel partner, but I would rather see the world than wait for someone else who can/wants to do it with me. It all depends on personal preference.

  9. At least you’re traveling for leisure, enjoying nice hotels, first class travel and interesting international destinations. Loneliness is spending a week in the Chicago suburbs in February at a run-down Hampton Inn, working 10 hours a day and dining at world class restaurants like Applebee’s.

  10. When I was 24, I flew from Australia to the United States, and took a six week trip around the country by myself.

    I met someone on that trip who I married the following year. We’ve been married 28 years; I can understand that if you are traveling by yourself for a long time, you will not have the chance to develop deep relationships, which take time.

    Nowadays, I still travel solo, but it’s usually for just 3-4 days at a time, and only a couple of times a year. I enjoy my solitary trips, because I get to visit places that my husband does not have an interest in visiting, but it’s although I love those trips, it’s always nice to return home at the end of the trip, to the most important thing in life – my husband and son.

  11. As a 300k + miles a year traveling photographer, I crave every moment I’m on the road to experience new cities, mountains, seas, and cultures. I return home to my little town in central California where i know i’ll one day slow down my life to live with a wife, dog and my friends. Everyday I thank the lord for having a job and passion this dynamic instead of being an accountant or mechanic.

    As someone who voluntarily reviews hotels and airline products at an incessant pace, I can imagine it would get lonely. How could you pass through India and not leave the airport to see the Taj Mahal, Ganges, or try some street food?

    Use where you are at now to TRULY see the world and grow as a human, but aim for an end goal that will deliver you happiness and peace. Having something to work towards will assuage all doubts and emotions but that of purpose.

    Sorry to preach, your blog is incredibly interesting and useful, but from one traveler to another… know that there are more important things that we’ve lucked into than just a reverse herringbone seat and a pretzel roll.

  12. Almost brings a tear to my eye. I read it the first time you posted it, and it’s just as true now as it was then.

  13. The clue is balance Ben…and there is a poem (Original in Spanish) that I think has another clue. It is from the Cuban Mirtha Aguirre. Ill translate it for you at the end.

    Soledad (Mirta Aguirre)

    ¿Habéis tenido, alguna vez,
    Una estrella en la palma de la mano?
    ¡Ah la estrella, la estrella!
    Que síntesis de anhelo y de ternura,
    Que tenaces insomnios,
    Que vender alma y sangre por su beso.
    Y después, ahí esta:
    Una estrella en la palma de la mano.
    Y nada más.
    Como no sea encontrar a quien dársela.

    Loneliness (Mirta Aguirre)

    Have you ever had,
    A star in the palm of your hand?
    Ah the star… the star!
    What a synthesis of longing and tenderness,
    That stubborn insomnia,
    To sell your soul and blood for its kiss.
    And then, there it is:
    A star in the palm of your hand and nothing more.

    Unless you find somebody to give it to.

  14. Yeah, that’s pretty good. I work in ESL, an itinerant profession, and this description sums up one of the pitfalls.

  15. Wow, when you run out of ideas for posts, just stop posting. Don’t bring up posts from 2 years ago to fill space

  16. Glad you posted this! I’m a long time solo traveller and I love every bit of it. The freedom to set your own agenda and meet new and interesting people along the way is an incredible gift. I feel very fortunate to have my six European trips each year even with all the travel hassles and weather issues. On balance, it’s very rewarding.

  17. I posted before but it had a link in it so maybe it was flagged.

    Travel can and does lead to depression. One story that really resonated with me is that of Leanne Bearden. This wonderful, vibrant, beautiful young woman, traveled the world for over a year with her loving supportive husband. Upon returning to the U.S. she fell into a deep depression. She took a walk one day and never came home. She took her own life. (you can google their travels) Her Husband has since founded a foundation (UP Foundation) to deal with depression.

    Having lived abroad most of my adult life, never in any country longer than 2 years, I also feel it. I always feel like I am constantly missing something or not living life to the fullest. I also feel like the trappings of a “successful life” in America are deeply un-fulfilling and somehow silly and vapid, insulated from the greater world.

    I have a great job, very few bills, my house is a 5 minute walk from the beach in Los Angeles, and I have an Amazing wife (who I met traveling) and many friends; But the time I spent in the Peace Corp, backpacking on a shoestring, teaching English in the Czech Republic/Japan/China/Indonesia, picking fruit in Australia, and working on a sailboat were far more fulfilling and interesting. Accruing possessions and ticking off every box on the “American Dream” checklist just doesn’t cut it and feels like a leash that controls me, not something that enriches my life. After seeing how much happier one can be without the 3000 sq ft house, 2 cars, kids, multiple tv’s, tablets, gadgets the dream becomes a nightmare.

    When I came back from my travels we went directly to my small Midwestern hometown and promptly fell into a deep depression. I absolutely could not live there long term.The town I once loved and felt like my only true home became a stifling oppressive monochromatic prison. How did I ever live there, hell I LOVED that town before!

    Thankfully my wife and I got an offer to move to Los Angeles, which offers enough cultural diversity to keep one at least moderately satisfied and has an airport that allows us to use our vacation time to its fullest. But even L.A. or NY don’t offer enough for us to live permanently. We have put together a plan that will allow us to live abroad permanently, albeit on a tight budget. I actually shouldn’t say “albeit” like its a negative. Life, to me, means more on a tight budget. For us the experiences feel deeper and more authentic when we are on a tight budget. For us, its the only way to move forward.

  18. Thanks for posting the story. I am a newbie on this blog and I’m glad you repeated the post. I don’t agree with the story and IMHO I think that travel and new experiences make for a more interesting personality. I always look forward to broadening my horizons and consider myself lucky to meet interesting people during my travels. I don’t see the downside.

    Great blog – I’ve learned a lot in the short time I’ve been on here.

  19. Experiences matter. Travel is all about discovery, immersion and in some ways the search for the one place where I might belong – atleast for me. Luckily, I have discovered that I’m quite content as a loner, which enables me to go to the places where no one wants to, where no one has heard of, and in some cases where no one else has before and potentially ever again. Hope you find your place (figuratively or literally) through your experiences. There is no harm in searching as long as you recognize what you also have (family, friends, yourself).

  20. +1 for solo travel. After my marriage of 24 years ended, I thought my life was over. I have a wonderful career and great friends and family, am financially secure, and enjoy my own company (perhaps too much), but all experiences are richer when shared with someone you love.
    I’ve made my peace with finishing this journey alone, and I have to admit that once you get used to solo travel, the idea of having to cosnider another’s desires and preferences does really sound terrible.
    I wouldn’t want to be a traveler with no home (I LOVE coming home), nor would I want to travel most of the time, but a small trip every few weeks and a big one every quarter or so suits me beautifully. I’m not searching for perfection –Atlanta is ideal for me–but I do enjoy sampling other places.

  21. It is only when you begin to travel that you realize how amazing this world is. And also how cruel. No matter where you go on the planet – from the most wretched slum to the most pristine tropical island – you are going to see and meet people who live there. And you are going to realize that, for most of those people, that place might as well be the entire world. For most people on the planet, the place they are born, is the place they will spend every single day of their lives.

    The more you travel the more you realize that the cliches are true – that those who do not travel are reading just one page in the book of life, or that travel is fatal to prejudice, or that at the end of life no one laments not spending enough time at the office. You also see, first hand, that people are basically the same. They all want the same things – to provide for their children, to keep them safe, to set them on the path for a better life.

    The more places you visit, the more you realize that no one place is perfect. Paradise lies in the moment, and moments change. But that is ok, because you are one of the lucky few who can change your moments, sometimes at a moments notice. You can go somewhere just to rest or just to walk, or just to eat.

    You can fly to Rome and not stand in line at the Colosseum, because you’ve done that already. This time, you can go to a small residential neighborhood on the outskirts, sit at an outdoor table in the warm breeze and do the “When Harry met Sally” thing – point and say – I’ll have what their having.

    You don’t have to wait for summer to swim or winter to frolic in the snow, because it is always summer or winter someplace.

    You can go to a beautiful tropical island and lie in the sand ,and then leave way before it becomes too boring.

    Instead of going to a museum you can go to the source – study monuments in Egypt, compare mosaics in Europe, collect sea shells in the Seychelles.

    Of course you will never find the one place that has everything – and thank God, because if you did, you might be tempted to stop traveling. Instead you will go the mountains when you need the mountains, and the ocean when you need the sea. And if you are really lucky, you will bring back bits of those places, to the place you call home. So the small wooden statue you bought from the old Burmese man who spoke no English, or that hand knotted rug you so obviously overpaid for at the bazaar, or those delicate hand painted Easter eggs from that small town in Eastern Europe, where the cloistered nun took a few minutes to speak with you, and tell you how she made it, and what the design represents. Each of them a treasure. Each the key to a memory. Each one, priceless.

    The more you travel the more your realize that the most obnoxious people in the world are the ones who go to a few places and then brag about it. Using travel as a club to show how superior they are. Travel should never make you feel superior. It should make you feel privileged, yet humble. Privileged that you are one of the few who truly gets to “see the world” and humble to realize that you, your home, your country, are such a small part of it.

    Travel – and education – really are the only things you can spend money on that make you richer.

  22. Loved the post and just as much, I loved everyone’s comments. Proves that we are so different from one another. We all search different things, we all have different dreams.. than there is Kyle. Must be one old lonely dude who throughout his life always looked for the perfect post that never came.

  23. I love seeing so many people say they love solo travel. I love it too. I have no problem being alone and actually prefer it. I get all kinds of comments about going it alone but I’ve made it to the age where I give zero You Know What about people’s opinions. I’m not crazy about the city I live in but my family is here, I have nephews and a niece that I want to see grow up. And when they are all grown up, who knows what can happen.

  24. >>I’ve made it to the age where I give zero You Know What about people’s opinions. <<

    When I was 20 I cared a great deal what people said about me.

    When I turned 40 I didn't care anymore what people said about me.

    When I reached 60, I realized, finally, that no one is talking about me.

  25. Travel should be a compulsory subject and experience from early school. Along with yoga n meditation.

    That’d save the world.

    Solo is fine…..and if there is depression after a seminal or cathartic event in your life….like childbirth, honeymoon, war, death, separation, surgery, whatever else…etc….then pleeeeaaase…travel some more. Dont just sit and unravel. Let yourself be- somebody’s interesting character, muse, a witness, the drifter, the someone who changed someone’s life….
    ….perhaps your own, even….

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