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Meet the Four Monsters of Solo Travel

by Cynthia Ord Oct 27, 2016

OVER THE PAST TEN YEARS, I’ve moved abroad five times, lived on five different continents and visited over 30 countries. Most of it has been solo travel, for better or for worse. After the last big solo trip, I journaled “I’m done. Too many monsters.”

But here I am, back in the solo travel saddle. Along with all the wonder and beauty of it, I still face the same old beasts. So I’m learning to keep them in check.

The disappointment monster


I had an exciting plan for my short visit to Myanmar: a bike tour from the town of Kalaw to Lake Inle. The weather had a different idea. It was pouring rain when I arrived, so I made a split-second decision to cancel the bike tour and just get to the lake by taxi instead.

Guess who was in that taxi with me. The disappointment monster, smouldering in my head. When I’m traveling alone, she just stays in there, all caged up.

How I tame her: I manage expectations. I stop framing what I do as “travel” and reframe it as real life as a nomad, with all its ups and downs.

The loneliness monster


What can I say about the loneliness monster? He’s totally silent and awkward. He seems to follow me around. He’s usually the one who greets me at the airport, right on time. A real shapeshifter, this one. Lately, he’s taken the form of large-scale heartbreak in Ethiopia, a cultural chasm in Thailand, and a language barrier in Bulgaria. Everywhere I go, he’s homesickness, and he’s also the isolation of working full-time online, remotely.

How I tame him: I throw things at him, like good books and movies and favorite podcasts, to ward him off. I call friends and family back home. I join groups that meet up and go do fun things. I work from a coworking space. Or I just accept him and we go for a jog. He’s not so scary after all — just a sensitive guy who prefers to be called solitude. I’m pretty sure we’re both INFJs.

The photo monster


Nothing is good enough for the photo monster. She convinces me that I want — no, need — awesome travel photos of myself. But then she ridicules all things selfie. If I hand off my camera to some stranger or a fleeting acquaintance, you know what the photo monster does? I swear, she sees to it that they take only one crooked or blurry or ill-timed shot.

She loves to point out how un-photogenic I am. “Hey look, another crappy you-traveling-solo snapshot,” she taunts. “What’s up with your cheeks in this one?” Then she and the disappointment monster have a good laugh. I delete.

How I tame her: I stopped inviting her everywhere, stopped forcing photo ops. She’s winning though. I fret over the many photos I haven’t been in and the few that I have.

The envy monster


In Chiang Mai, I met a handsome couple from Atlanta whose joint-effort luxury adventure blog had me crying tears of green. This was no isolated envy attack. Bumping into so many people who have also taken their gig on the road, it’s hard not to compare myself. The envy monster is a multi-headed medusa: livelihood envy, talent envy, equipment envy, trip envy, and couple envy, to name the ugliest of them. The more I slay, the more they multiply.

How I tame her: Gratitude. I zoom way out to a bird’s eye view and look at the big picture. My freedom to wander the world as I work and to meet all sorts of people is privilege. It’s a rare gift. See what I did there? Now I’m jealous of myself. Take that, you monster.

This article was originally published on Cynthia and is reprinted here with permission.

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