One thing I never expected? Traveling alone is hard.
Turns out that traveling is the same thing as, you know, living. Except it’s in a different place than you’re used to. I have to grocery shop and shave my legs and worry about money. And to be a disgusting American for just a minute: siesta is a pain in the ass. Everything’s closed and I need to buy shit to make a salad because tengo mucho hambre, you guys.
Just like in real life, I need down time, I get bored sometimes, I want to work out, and sometimes I lack motivation. Sometimes I don’t want to do a damn thing because I’m pissy and tired and in a bad mood and I don’t want to spend money. Guess what–still feel this way on the road.
I’m not quite sure where I thought I would get the boundless energy to constantly feel free and excited and happy and creative. I get tired of walking around places, regardless of how new and beautiful and Spanish they are. I miss running and going to a good, hard yoga class. I miss drinking Micheladas in my friend’s kitchen with her kid running around. I miss my boyfriend. A fucking lot.
By far, the hardest part is not knowing the language. All throughout high school and half of undergrad, I studied Spanish, but couldn’t speak a lick of it when I got here. Sure, I could’ve done more to prepare, but I didn’t. (I did, however, borrow “Spanish for Amigos” from the library before I left with the best intentions. It has proven to be semi-helpful with what people really say when they speak as opposed to “classroom Spanish.” Vale.)
Ringing true to what people have said over and over again, the best way to learn a language–or anything for that matter–is to be forced to do so. Or at least shamed into doing so. Personally, I would much rather wrestle my way through my mind-rolodex of Spanish II vocab to ask someone a question than mutter a shameful “Habla ingles?” right off the bat. But it’s stressful, even though I’m supposed to be on vacation. Lonely, tired, and homesick, I found myself in a Solo Traveler Funk.
Ok, so how to move on from it.
1. Give yourself permission to feel crappy
This was a tough deal for me. How could I feel anything but ecstatic while traveling in Spain? To think of the envy in people’s voices when I told them about my pending trip–if they could see me kinda bummed and a little out of it. But pretending not to be in a bad mood just makes it worse. If you don’t allow yourself to feel shitty, then you’re essentially putting it off and prepping for a meltdown that will inevitably hit. Catch your travel blues while they’re starting to manifest rather than waiting til they’re about to erupt. Admitting to yourself that traveling alone is a big feat is part of accepting your bad mood; it’s a huge change and can be really scary. But you know that and you’re doing it anyway. So sit with that emotion, it’s all a part of the experience.
2. Take some home-style downtime
For me, this was sitting in a park writing, then doing some restorative yoga, then watching Mad Men for three hours before falling asleep for twelve. Then I did it then next day, too. Just because you’re a visiting doesn’t mean you need to take in every touristy sight the second your roll into town. Now, I have the luxury of spending quite a bit of time in each of the places I’m staying: Barcelona was a week and a half, Sevilla was four days, Granada is five, Madrid for 7 and Istanbul for 7. That’s more than enough time to see everything I want to see, because actually spending time in each city outside of toursity sites is important to me. This offers for lots of downtime should I want it. But if you don’t have a couple days to blow on doing nothing, then do something familiar. Do yoga on the regular at home? Look up a yoga sequence online, or if you’re in an English-speaking country, go take a class. Cook one of your favorite meals if you have access to kitchen facilities, or go see a movie you’ve been wanting to see (Spain dubs everything but sometimes the movies are in English with Spanish subtitles).
3. Get a pedi. Or a massage.
Or something equally pampersome. By this time, you’ve probably done a lot of walking. In sandals. Over cobblestone and/or dirt roads. I have, anyway. In Barcelona, I tracked down a reputable and relatively inexpensive place to get my toes done. I got to thumb through some Spanish tabloids, soak my feet, get a little lotion rubbed on ’em, and relax for a bit without worrying what to do next. I left feeling surprisingly rejuvenated and with cuter feet to boot. Aaand because I need to have a huge bag with me constantly, my shoulders have been achy and tense. Massage in Istanbul? Don’t mind if I do. (Hammam’s get ready: this girl loves to be exfoliated.)
4. Talk to your people
I’m not ashamed to say that I talk to my man nearly every day. We send stupid pictures and mushy songs and video chat and regular chat. My friend Isyemille knows the intricacies of my everyday life, even from Spain. My mom writes every day and expects a response every day. Traveling doesn’t mean you’ve been exiled. Even if you’re not feeling particularly lonesome, keep the people you love in-the-know about what’s going on with you and how you’re feeling, what you’re doing, and let them know how much you (genuinely) miss them. If you are feeling a little down, keeping in touch and knowing what’s going on in their lives will help you to feel less isolated–and you won’t have weeks and weeks of their lives to catch up on when you get back and vice versa. Tony suggested to me that making future plans for the summer actually helps you see beyond the present funkiness–and he’s totally right.
Also talk to your people that you may not even know yet: if you hear someone speaking your language in your accent–say what up. It’s a nice reminder of familiar territory. Sometimes, even walking past a Sephora and knowing I could go and swatch some eyeshadow on my hand is weirdly comforting. Oh, and hearing top 40 blaring in chain clothing stores instantly cures me of any homesickness I may have felt.
5. Reconnect with why you’re here
It’s easy to lose sight of the reason you’ve decided to take your trip. Even if it’s just to see exciting new things, you’re doing it. Realize that this bummed feeling is temporary, and that you’ll feel better soon. Do what you need to do to reconnect: journal, draw, meditate. Do something quiet and introspective and outdoors if possible, even if it’s just sitting in a park. Connecting with a quiet, inner space will help put things in perspective: you’re on holiday! You’re doing something amazing! Eventually, you’ll forget the not-so-great parts of your trip and only remember the fabulous things you saw and felt.
So yes, after taking a few days to myself, I’m at nearly 100%. Five weeks is still a long time to be out and about, but I feel rejuvenated and I’m ready for Madrid and Istanbul.
Have something else to add? What do you do when you’re in a vaycay rut?