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Failing at Solo Travel and Going Home Early: How to Cope With Loneliness, Anxiety, and Burnout

Solo travel is one of those things that you have to try to see whether or not you like it. The reality is that not everybody is cut out for solo travel. Some people can’t deal with the loneliness. Some people experience anxiety when they’re constantly meeting new people and having new experiences. Others simply miss their friends and family back home. It’s also easy to burn out when you’re traveling long term.

If you’re not enjoying your trip, you might be thinking about cutting it short and going home early. This is common. Many solo travelers experience this feeling at some pout on their journey. In this post, I’ll share some tips to help you deal with those feelings. Before you change your flight, give yourself some time to think things through so you don’t regret your decision.

If you do end up failing at solo travel and cutting your trip short, it’s not the worst thing in the world. At least you went out there and tried it. That’s more than most people can say. You learned something about yourself. Of course, failure doesn’t feel good. 

Over the past 12 years, I’ve solo traveled to almost 70 countries. I have never cut a trip short and come home early but I have changed my plans on many occasions. There have also been a few occasions when I almost threw in the towel and came home. In fact, my first solo trip when I was 18 years old almost ended in the first week but I was able to power through. I’ve learned a few tips to help me deal with those feeling of wanting to go home.

Zac on the Great Wall of China
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Before You Go Home

Before you cut your trip short, be sure to at least give yourself a chance. If you’re having a miserable time, try to stick it out for at least a week or two. It can take some time to get into the groove of solo traveling if you’ve never done it before. Solo travel has a serious learning curve. You have to do everything yourself including booking accommodation, figuring out transport, finding restaurants, etc. It takes time to get used to it. You have to get used to doing things alone.

I have read stories of solo travelers calling it quits after the first week. They usually have some kind of negative experience like getting scammed or getting sick. Then they stay in the hostel and then fly home without even giving it a chance. 

If you go home early, there is a good chance that you will regret it. Most people don’t have the opportunity to go solo traveling whenever they want. It’s something that you have to save up for and take time off for. Before you go home, really think about it. Depending on your lifestyle, you may not get that many chances to go solo traveling. 

Before you go home you should:

Check into a Nice Hotel for a Few Days

If you’re thinking about going home, consider checking yourself into a decent hotel for a few days instead of staying in hostels. At the hotel, you can relax in your own private space. You don’t have to talk to anybody or do anything. You can get some good sleep. This can be really refreshing. 

At hostels, you never have any privacy. They can be noisy and smelly. It’s hard to get a good night of sleep. Hostels can be great for meeting people but they can also be a bit overwhelming. Particularly if you’ve never stayed in one before. Sometimes you need some privacy.

My Airbnb in Bali
I booked myself into a comfortable Airbnb in Bali after I was feeling burned out

Go Somewhere Else

If you’re not enjoying where you are, it can help to move to a different place. Maybe you got scammed. Maybe the people are unfriendly. Or maybe you’re just not enjoying the city you’re in. 

Try going to a different city. Go to a smaller town, go to the mountains, or go to the beach. These areas are always more laid back. Moving can give you a fresh start. 

If you’re not annoying the country you’re in, you could go to a completely different country. Take a bus to the next country over or book a budget flight to a nearby country instead of going home. You won’t fall in love with every country you visit. If you don’t like it, try someplace else. 

Some countries are better suited for solo travel than others. Choose a place with good public transport, good food, friendly people, and lots of tourists. These places are easier to get around.

I didn’t care for Tanzania. The people were unfriendly, my phone got pickpocketed, and I just wanted to get out of there. I took a bus to Malawi and started enjoying myself again. 

Zac at Lake Malawi
Relaxing on the shore of Lake Malawi

Slow Down

Slowing down can also help. If you’re moving around every couple of days and partying too much, you will get burned out. 

Maybe you just scheduled too much into your itinerary and you can’t keep up. This is common with first time travelers. They want to see and do everything but there isn’t enough time. 

Consider cutting some spots from your itinerary and traveling slower. Stay in one city for a week or two or even a month. This gives you the chance to recover. Traveling slowly is also much less stressful. You don’t have to pack and unpack all the time. You can take some rest days.

Personally, I prefer to travel slowly. When I was younger, I used to move around every couple of days because I wanted to see everything. Now I prefer to stay in one place for a couple of weeks to a month. It’s much more enjoyable.

Zac in Rio de Janeiro
Last year, I spent 2.5 months in Brazil. I could enjoy it much more because I was traveling slowly.

If you Get Sick, Give Yourself Time to Recover

At some point, you will get sick while traveling. You’re exposed to lots of germs that your body isn’t used to. You’ll be in close contact with lots of people on buses, trains, and planes. You’ll also be eating food that your gut isn’t used to. It’s easy to get sick. You can’t avoid it. 

When you get sick, slow down and give yourself time to get better. One of the main reasons people cut their solo travel short is sickness. 

When you’re traveling, it’s easy to get sick but hard to get well. I’ve had colds linger on for weeks while traveling. I almost came home from Thailand last year because I caught a cold that I couldn’t throw. I booked myself into a hotel for a week and rested until my strength came back.

Make a Budget and Stick to It

I have met travelers who had no choice but to go home early because they spent all of their money. Overspending will cut your trip short. You don’t want to become a begpacker.

It’s easy to overspend while you’re traveling. Particularly if you like to party. You could easily spend hundreds of dollars on a night out and ruin your budget. Some things are more expensive than you expect. I have noticed that accommodation costs have increased substantially over the past few years. Unexpected expenses can also pop up. For example, maybe your phone gets broken. It may cost several hundred dollars to buy a replacement. You need to be prepared.

Before your trip, make a budget and try to stick to it. For some help, check out my guide to making a travel budget. 

Take a Day Off to Do Nothing

When you’re traveling, you’re always on the move. You’re sightseeing, packing and unpacking, taking long bus rides, etc. Sometimes, you’ll just feel exhausted.

Take a day to just do nothing and recover. Sleep in. Watch a movie or tv show. Read a book. Play video games on your phone. Order delivery or room service. Do whatever makes you happy. Go to bed early and get a full 8 hours of sleep. 

The next day, you’ll wake up in a better mood. You’ll have more energy to continue on traveling. 

I was really burning out while traveling in Africa a few years back. The long bus rides and scammers were getting to me. One day, I bought some KFC and stayed in my hotel and watched movies all day. I felt refreshed after.

Zac at Lake Kivu, Rwanda
Relaxing on the shore of Lake Kivu, Rwanda

Set a Goal For Yourself

At a certain point, travel can feel pointless. You’ll get tired of the routine of moving from one hostel to the next and then looking at another temple or going to another beach. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

If you’re feeling this way, it can help to set a goal. Maybe you want to learn something new. Take a language lesson or a cooking class or ski lessons. If you’re learning something new, you’ll feel like you’re accomplishing something.

I learned how to Scuba dive in Thailand. I also took some surf classes in Mexico. Picking up some new skills made me feel like I wasn’t wasting my time.

Eat Some Familiar Food

If you’re feeling homesick, try eating some familiar food. Treating yourself to a nice filling meal of something you enjoy can really improve your mood and reduce homesickness.

I love sampling different types of food while I travel but sometimes I just feel like something familiar. When I’m feeling homesick, I like to treat myself to some fast food. Usually, I go to McDonald’s.  

I remember one day I was in Lima, Peru feeling really lonely and tired. I had just taken a long bus ride and I didn’t meet anyone at the hostel I was staying at. In the evening, I decided to go to the McDonald’s across the street. After eating some familiar food, I felt so much better. Fast food is my guilty pleasure while traveling. I rarely eat it at home but I love it when I’m on the road.

Join a Group Tour

If you’re feeling lonely, overwhelmed, or anxious and you don’t want to continue traveling alone, you could consider joining a tour instead of going home. You could book a day tour to a nearby attraction or a multi-day tour around the country. 

When you take a tour, there are always other people around for you to chat with. You won’t feel lonely. The guides also take care of everything for you. This makes the trip much less stressful. You can just enjoy yourself. For more info, check out my guide to solo travel vs group travel. 

Make Some Friends

If you’re lonely, making some friends can really help. There are a few ways to do this. I have had the best luck at hostels. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with someone in the common area. You’ll likely meet some other solo travelers there. 

You could also use social media and other apps to meet people. Fire up Tinder and see who you meet. You could also use Meetup.com or Couchsurfing.com to meet locals or other travelers. You could volunteer or take a language or cooking class. 

There have been periods while traveling where I haven’t had a real conversation for weeks at a time. As soon as I make a friend to chat with, I instantly feel better.

Check out my guide to meeting people while traveling for more ideas

Take a Long Walk or Go for a Hike

Find a nice place to take a stroll. Waterfront areas and natural areas are great for this. Taking a walk is a great way to clear your mind and think. It’s soothing. At the same time, you’ll get out of the hotel and get some exercise and see some of the city. 

While you’re walking, try to reflect on why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling. Think about whether or not you actually want to go home or if you can power through. Think about what you’re actually missing from home. Make some plans for the rest of the trip. Walking can help you think more clearly.

Zac at Wadi Rum, Jordan
Hiking in Wadi Rum, Jordan

Give Your Family and Friends a Call

Talking to people you love will help you feel better. Tell them that you’re feeling low. Explain the situation to them and talk it out together. You’ll feel much better after hearing some familiar voices. Your friends may even be able to offer you some advice and help you make a decision.

When I was younger, I would always give my grandma a call. Talking to her always made me feel better. I remember sitting in a hotel room in India feeling really depressed. I had food poisoning and I was exhausted. After I spoke to her, I felt so much better. 

Shorten Your Trip

Maybe you planned to travel for 3 months but you’re thinking about going home after a month on the road. You can shorten your trip. See the main sites that you wanted to see then go home.

I wouldn’t consider this a failure. You still traveled. You just bit off a bit more than you could chew. There is no shame in coming home early. 

Zac at the Sphinx in Egypt

When to Call it Quits and Go Home

If you’re really not enjoying solo travel after a couple of weeks, you could consider cutting your trip short. There is really no shame in it. You’re on vacation. You’re supposed to be having fun. If you’re miserable, there is no reason to be there. 

Solo travel isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t enjoy it and that’s okay. There are a number of good reasons you might want to come home early including:

Sickness or Injury

If you get seriously sick or injured, it might be a good idea to cut your trip short. Sickness is a very good reason to go home. You can recover better when you’re home with your friends and family. You can always come back when you’re feeling better. 

Running Out of Money

If your money starts running short, you should go home. At the very least, you should have enough money to buy an airplane ticket home and re-establish yourself once you return home. Don’t burn through your emergency fund and retirement account. You’ll regret it later. When you start running low on funds, head home. 

Missing Your Friends and Family

Missing your friends and family is also a great reason to go home. Maybe you have a girlfriend or boyfriend back home who you miss. Maybe you have children. You might miss your parents. Travel is great but spending time with the people you love is even better.

Sickness or Death in the Family

Maybe someone in your family got sick. This is a great reason to come home. They may need your help and support. If someone in your family passes away, you may also need to go home early to pay your respects. 

I came home from a trip early last year to spend time with my dad after he was diagnosed with cancer. I was with him through his treatment. 

Mental Health

Another good reason to go home is for mental health purposes. Solo travel can be a very lonely and isolating experience. You will spend hours by yourself while you’re taking the train. You’ll go sightseeing alone. You’ll eat alone. If you’re an extroverted person who needs lots of social interaction, this can take its toll. You may experience some depression. 

Solo travel can also be anxiety-inducing. You don’t have anyone to rely on if you get in trouble. Sometimes, you won’t know where you’re going to sleep the next night. You may travel through some dangerous countries where there is a high risk of falling victim to a crime. Maybe you get robbed or scammed. This can also take a toll on your mental health.  

If you feel your mental health starts to decline, it may be time to come home to deal with your depression or anxiety. 

I have dealt with depression and anxiety during all of my trips. Particularly social anxiety. I have trouble socializing and making friends. I constantly doubt myself. It hasn’t ended a trip yet but it is something I struggle with.

Zac on the Tropic of Capricorn

Dealing with Homesickness

If you’re traveling for more than a few weeks, you will experience some homesickness at some point. It’s unavoidable. You’ll miss your bed, your friends and family, and your favorite foods. If it gets bad enough, you might just want to go home.  

Homesickness alone isn’t a good reason to go home. There are plenty of ways to treat it. I’ve experienced homesickness on most of my trips. Usually, it goes away after a few days. When I’m feeling homesick, I call home, eat some familiar food, and take a day off to rest and watch some movies. That works for me.

Dealing With Fear and Anxiety

Chances are, you will experience some fear and anxiety when you’re traveling. Arriving in a new destination is anxiety-inducing. You don’t know what to expect. Maybe you saw some scary stories in the news. Maybe the country doesn’t have the best reputation. 

For example, you will probably experience more anxiety when traveling to more dangerous destinations than safer destinations. For example, I felt more anxiety arriving in Brazil than I did when arriving in Japan. Brazil has a bad reputation for safety. 

When you arrive at a new destination, you also won’t know how to get around. You won’t know the language. You may not know how the currency works. The culture can be foreign.

Fear of the unknown is completely normal. I would bet that almost all travelers experience some level of anxiety when arriving somewhere they’ve never been before. I don’t really have any tips for overcoming this. You just have to embrace it. Over time, you will be less anxious when you arrive in a new destination.

The act of travel can also cause some anxiety. You need to find the bus station and make it on time. When you arrive in a new city, you have to find your hotel while wandering around with all of your luggage. This can cause some anxiety.

The best way to deal with this is to give yourself plenty of time so you’re not rushing. Go to the airport 3 hours early. You will have to wait around but you won’t have to worry. Bring a book to pass the time.

Some of us also suffer from social anxiety. Talking to new people from different cultures can cause some stress. You may fear that you’ll accidentally say or do something offensive. You don’t know the local culture.

The best way to deal with this is exposure. After you travel for a while and talk to different people, you will get used to it somewhat. I have found that travel has eased my social anxiety somewhat.   

It can also help to keep in mind that you can always go home if things get too intense. 

Zac in Bogota, Colombia
I was a little afraid of traveling in Colombia because I had read so many horror stories about people getting robbed.

Saying Goodbye

While solo traveling, you’re not always alone. You will meet people at hostels, on tours, and while in transit. You might even travel with the people you for part of your trip. It’s easy to make friends when you’re solo traveling. You will quickly form a strong bond with the people you meet.

One of the hardest parts of solo travel is saying goodbye to the new friends you made. When you eventually go your separate ways, you will feel incredibly lonely. This is the worst part of solo travel. Worse yet, it happens over and over again. Every time you reach a new destination, you meet new people. Every time you leave you have to say goodbye. It’s incredibly depressing.

When I was traveling in Thailand when I was 20 years old, I made a great group of friends on Koh Pangan island. We were all there for the Full Moon Party. We spent a week exploring, eating, and partying together. Saying goodbye was so hard. I missed my friends for weeks. 

When I was in Kenya, I met an Irish guy in the hostel in Nairobi. We ended up traveling all the way to South Africa together overland over the course of about 5 months. We became great friends. Saying goodbye was hard. We still keep in touch 7 years later but we haven’t seen each other since.

How to Deal with Saying Goodbye

There are a few ways to deal with these sad goodbyes. Keeping in touch with your new friends helps. Follow them on Instagram and send them a message once in a while. They could turn into a lifelong friend. Maybe you’ll see them again when you’re in their neck of the woods. 

I met a Belgian guy in Cambodia. We kept in touch. The next year, he happened to be visiting California. He ended up crashing at my place for a couple of days. It was nice to see an old friend that I met while traveling. 

The sadness will also go away naturally over time. You’ll move on to your next destination and make a new group of friends. You’ll still miss the old ones but your new friends will help to keep your mind off it. 

Another way to avoid these difficult goodbyes is to simply keep to yourself. I do this sometimes when I’m only going to be someplace for a couple of days. I don’t bother trying to make friends because I know I’ll just have to say goodbye after a day or two. 

You could also change your travel style. You could travel with a friend or family member instead of solo traveling. This isn’t always an option but it’s a great way to avoid this. It’s nice to travel with somebody you already know because you won’t have to say goodbye.

Taking shorter trips also makes the goodbyes easier because you know that you’ll see your friends and family back home soon. 

Remember that Solo Travel Has Peaks and Valleys

You will experience both extreme highs and extreme lows while solo traveling. While you’re exploring Machu Picchu, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. While you’re on a 15 hour night bus ride, you’ll wonder why you’re doing this to yourself. The next day, you’ll meet some incredible people and make some lifelong memories with them. A couple of days later, you’ll have to say goodbye.

During the high periods, you’ll want to travel forever. During the low periods, you’ll just want to go home. While you’re in a low period, just remember that the good times will come again. If you give it a few more days, chances are, things will turn around. Try not to go home during one of these low periods or you may regret it. In my opinion, the high periods make enduring the low periods worthwhile.

Zac in front of a bus in Kenya
This bus trip from Ethiopia to Kenya was a really low point. It was hot and never-ending. When I got to Nairobi, things turned around.

Going Home Early

If, after reading all of this, you decide to go home early, that is perfectly fine. You may feel some shame or embarrassment. Some family members or friends may tell you ‘I told you so.’ At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. At least you got out there and went someplace new. You also learned something about yourself. Now you know that solo travel isn’t for you. You can change your travel style in the future or just stay home. 

Maybe you just don’t like travel as much as you thought. People often romanticize travel without realizing how difficult it is. Maybe you don’t like hostels and you prefer to stay in luxury hotels. Maybe you miss your boyfriend or girlfriend. Whatever the case, now you know. You won’t make the same mistake again.

When I started solo traveling, I didn’t know whether or not I would like it. I had never traveled alone before. I had never left North America before. It just so happened that I fell in love with solo travel. I’m still solo traveling 13 years later. 

My First Solo Trip

My first solo trip almost ended before it began. When I flew from Los Angeles to London, the airline lost my backpack so I didn’t have any clothes when I arrived. It took me 2 hours to find my hostel (this was before I had a smartphone. All I had was my handwritten directions). I didn’t meet anyone at the hostel I was staying at. I was too nervous to talk to anyone because I was younger and less experienced than everyone else. After all, I was only 18 at the time. 

For the first 3 days, I pretty much just stayed in the hostel hoping the airline would find my stuff. I had to call the airline from a payphone every day because I didn’t have a phone.

On the 3rd day, the airline finally found my backpack. I decided to travel to Amsterdam. After a delay, I didn’t make it there until midnight. I didn’t book a hostel in advance. When I arrived, I found that all of the hostels were fully booked. I didn’t know that I had to book in advance. I ended up spending the night on the street. 

It was a disaster. I had no idea what I was doing. I remember calling my dad from a payphone almost crying and lying to him that everything was fine and that I was having a great time. Part of me wanted to take the train back to London, change my ticket, and fly home. 

I decided to give myself a few more days to see if I could turn things around. I hadn’t even been gone a week yet. It would have been embarrassing to go home so soon when I was supposed to be traveling for 3 months. I had also already paid for a 3 month Eurail pass that I didn’t want to waste. 

I booked a spot in a campground on the outskirts of Amsterdam because that was the only place that had any availability. At the time, I was traveling with a tent. I was also on a tight budget and the hotels were expensive. This was the best decision I made. The campground was just outside the city center, next to the water. 

It was so nice having my own space in my tent. I took the tram into the city during the day to explore then went back to camp at night. I relaxed for about 3 days then took the train to Copenhagen.

In Copenhagen, I didn’t really meet anyone. The hostel I stayed in was big and not really social. A few days later, I took the train to Stockholm. That’s where my trip really turned around. I met a great group of people at the hostel and spent about 5 days sightseeing and going out and exploring with them.

The rest of the trip was pretty smooth. There were some hiccups here and there. There were some periods where I was lonely. Overall, it was a great trip. It just started out a little rough.

Zac at Petra, Jordan

Changing My Travel Style

The only reason I am stil able to solo travel is because I changed my travel style. I couldn’t travel the same way I did when I was 18. I used to move around every couple of days, sleep on buses and trains, and spend all day running around sightseeing. Now that I’m in my 30s, I couldn’t maintain that pace. These days, I travel slowly. I stay in one city for 2-4 weeks. This allows me to take my time. 

In the past, I counted countries. I dreamed of visiting every country. Sometimes I would travel to weird placessomeplace just to say I’d been. These days, I couldn’t care less. I just travel to the places I know I will enjoy. Occasionally I visit someplace new. 

Finding your own travel style will greatly reduce your chances of failure. If you aren’t happy with your trip, slow down, join a group tour, move into a nicer hotel, or change your location. 

Have you failed at solo travel? Share your experience in the comments below to help other travelers!

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