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It’s a lonely planet
Lottie speaks out about loneliness on the road
“Omg, you have the best job in the world” – All men in my dating app DMs, 2022
We’ve all had this in some form or another, haven’t we? A friend, distant relation, a doctor perhaps, has remarked at your exciting career choice. I have a few stock responses when the men I chat to in dating apps give my job their astute review. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” is the easiest, most chill response I can give. Or if I want to offer a more balanced view I might say “It’s not as glamorous as it sounds, but I can’t complain.”
Hm. Can’t complain. We can’t, can we? We get to experience all manner of once-in-a-lifetime events, visit remote and wild places, stay in otherwise unaffordable hotels, meet and talk to utterly fascinating human beings, and see more “bucket list” places in a year than most people will do before they actually kick the bucket. As so many of us will dutifully admit: this job is an immense privilege. We cannot complain.
But you know what, I will. In fact, one of the reasons I am on these dire dating apps is because of a complaint I have about this job: it is lonely out there on the road. Those savannah sunsets in South Africa, the hot air balloon flights over the Emirati desert, the five-star hotels in the Maldives or Seychelles or Mauritius – it’s all, indeed, a privilege. But it’s one I’d much rather be sharing with someone else.
It isn’t just those blockbuster moments, though, is it? It’s often the mundane stuff, too. The waiting around in airports, the sitting in silence on the plane for hours on end (panicked silence, in my case, because I hate flying), the awkward amble around museums – institutions that are designed to spark conversation, but there’s no one to converse with because as travel writers, we are usually alone. And don’t even get me started on the empty hour before dinner after you’ve done a day’s work pounding the city streets. Even, and sometimes especially, on a group press trip, loneliness can strike no matter the number of other humans you’re travelling with.
Loneliness so heavy I get stuck
For me, sometimes the loneliness feels so heavy I become stuck, weighed down and unable to move. I’ll find myself lying on the bed in my hotel thinking about how I should get out there and experience it all, find more stories, immerse myself in the new culture that awaits. But often, it all feels too overwhelming to face on my own – not because I’m afraid or nervous or anxious, but because these are the moments that are often better shared and I have no one to share them with – so instead I stay put and berate myself for the wasted time and opportunities.
The solo travel movement – by which I mean the glamourisation of travelling alone through the media and in books – hasn’t helped. I ended up in the thick of it when I worked at Rough Guides. As part of the online editorial team, we produced countless articles about travelling solo and released this video, which went viral on Facebook racking up millions of views over the space of a few weeks. This rhetoric around solo travel being the best way to explore the world was supposed to be empowering, but it only made me feel inadequate: why didn’t I love it as much as everyone else seemed to? Perhaps because, thanks to this very cool but very weird job, I was forced to go it alone too often.
We’re social creatures, after all. Even introverts need social interaction now and then. So spending extended periods of time alone is difficult, not to mention spending extended periods of time alone in a foreign place where you might not speak the language and you know very little about the destination. Loneliness, in this job, is par for the course and – I’m slowly learning – nothing to be ashamed of.
The loneliness of freelancing
It doesn’t just stop when we get home and back to our normal lives, though. When we return from that solo trip, we’ve got the loneliness of the desk to contend with. Freelancers especially will no doubt find this difficult. With no colleagues to bounce ideas off or complain to at the watercooler or in the office kitchen, we spend our days battling with words in near solitude, perhaps just a dog or cat or gerbil for company.
So what can we do about it? My usual knee-jerk reaction is to take to Twitter, overshare a bit and then doom scroll for a few hours over my meal-for-one. This, dear readers, is not a recommended solution. Instead, here are a few other things that actually help me:
Join Facebook groups with other freelancers and actually engage with them, don’t just lurk!
Create a WhatsApp group with other travel writers, freelance or not, to bounce ideas/issues off at times of need.
Find your “work wife”, a term coined by Anna Codrea-Rado: “You need a freelance buddy—someone who gets it and understands what it is like to work for yourself.”
Ask for that plus one! You won’t always get it, but PRs and tourist boards are often happy for you to bring someone along if the trip is suitable and you (or your guest, rather) can pay for their flight/meals etc.
Talk about it. Whether it’s friends, family or fellow travel writers, we all know talking about it is much better than not.
This was our final instalment of the October mental health series, which has been made free and available to all subscribers for the whole month. If you’ve found this helpful and would like access to our entire archive and all future weekly emails, become a paid subscriber.