The FloQ

Travel Insights Blog

The FloQ

Travel Insights Blog

5 Ways Travel Can Help You Connect

Feb 13, 2024

Katya Lopatko



15 min

Modern life can make us feel lonely and disconnected, but there’s a lot we can do to change that. Here’s how travel can help you connect with yourself, with others, and with the world.

Unsplash / Eddi Aguirre

Modern life is notorious for making us feel lonely and disconnected. Blame your stressful job, your addictive phone, your car-centric city, or your college friends, who all either moved away, got a significant other or a high-power job and are now too busy to play pickleball or hit trivia night at the local brewery. In short, blame adulthood — or at least adulthood as we know it.

First things first: what do we mean when we say we’re feeling lonely or disconnected?

Both describe a lack of connection, but they’re not exactly the same thing. According to Google, everyone’s favorite dictionary, loneliness means “sadness because one has no friends or company,” while disconnection is defined as “the state of being isolated or detached.” So technically, while loneliness usually means you’re missing quality connections with other people, you can have lots of people around you, even close relationships, and still feel disconnected. Disconnection can also be aimed at many things in life, not just relationships: we can feel disconnected from ourselves, our work, our sense of purpose, our surroundings, or even from reality.

You probably know the feeling: nothing is terribly wrong, but you’re just not excited to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe you feel a little hazy, or like a little SIM, going through the motions of your life mechanically. Maybe you’re hanging out with a close friend or a partner, someone you know you love and appreciate, but you just can’t tap into that warm fuzzy feeling. Maybe the little things that usually make you happy, your side hustle or weekend hobby, or even just the smell of fresh coffee in the morning, have lost their sparkle. Instead of making plans or even stepping out for a walk, you just end up laying on the couch scrolling for hours.

Sometimes, feeling disconnected can be a signal that there’s something deeper going on, and it may help to talk to a professional. But most of the time, these are just normal reactions to daily life, phases we all go through from time to time, especially in the modern world. In many ways, the societies we live in are designed for disconnect, from stressful, competitive jobs that demand all our time, energy, creativity and emotion, to the disappearance of third places, public areas where we can hang out and feel part of a community. No wonder there’s a loneliness epidemic that’s seriously affecting our physical and mental health, and the health of our communities.

Unsplash / Kylie Lugo

Unfortunately, each one of us is unlikely to single-handedly the loneliness epidemic. Unlike what self-help books and listicles will tell you, loneliness isn’t just a private feeling, and it’s also not an inevitable part of adulthood. It’s a structural problem, a side effect of political and economic policies across the modern, industrialized world. Whole books have been written exploring the causes of the loneliness crisis and suggesting solutions, but diagnosing the problem is just the beginning: lasting social change takes time and collective action. In the meantime, without losing sight of the big picture, there’s a lot we can do to feel more connected in our daily lives, baby steps that can have ripple effects in our close relationships and communities.

Most of the things we can do to feel more connected are painfully obvious, like getting off your phone, moving your body, eating some veggies, touching grass, talking to a good friend, and getting back into the activities that make you feel like a carefree little kid.

Another way to put it: channel your inner Italian grandpa. Yep, Italian grandpa. Allow me to explain.

Have you ever been to a Southern European country, like Italy, Spain, Greece, or even the south of France? Besides delicious seafood and charming pastel houses with strings of laundry fluttering in the breeze, you might have noticed this international landmark: clusters of elderly gentlemen playing bocce ball in a park or square.

“A variety of boules, played in southern France. This was taken some time ago, in the mid-nineties, in the tiny village of Caumont, Tarn-et-Garonne. Makes a lovely summer image.” / Flickr / It’s No Game

So, how does a modern, young-ish adult channel the carefree vibes of a Southern European gentleman in high-waisted pants and a beret? Where does one go, and what does one do, to feel this one with yourself and with the universe?

Besides having some good pasta and a hearty glass of red wine, preferably for lunch on a weekday, I would recommend the obvious: go on vacation. Even a little vacation does the trick; no need for something fancy, like a month-long sojourn on the Amalfi coast. It can be as simple as taking a day trip to a nearby town, or even visiting a new area of your own city. The destination doesn’t really matter; the important thing is that you take a break from your routine and focus on experience for its own sake.

Whether you go alone, with a buddy, or with a group, traveling has a way of snapping you out of a rut and helping you get in touch with yourself, with others, and with the world around you. Without further ado, here are five ways travel can help you connect.

1. Connect with yourself

Unsplash / Derrick Payton

One of the beautiful things about travel is that it’s one of the few little islands of time in our lives when we’re focused simply on experience: not being productive, not taking care of our little tasks. All that is part of being a functional human, of course, but if we’re always in productivity mode, we’re unlikely to be noticing and enjoying the world around us. Yes, it’s a cliché — stop and smell the flowers and all that — but it’s also true.

When you’re on vacation, especially solo or in a small group, you have the luxury of doing things just because you want to. Suddenly, there’s no schedule, no to-do list, unless we make one for ourselves. Some of us might be tempted to approach travel the same way we do work or chores: make a big list of stuff to do and rush around checking it off. But most of us would agree, I think, that at least in theory, the point of doing all those things is to have the experience and memories, not just to finish it. To take a silly example: the point of doing the dishes is for the dishes to be done, not to feel the warm, soapy water pouring luxuriously over your fingers, but the point of a weekend bike ride isn’t to get back home and sit on the couch again, but to feel the sun, smell the flowers, listen to your podcast, etc.

Suddenly having no structure and obligations can be disorienting, even anxiety-provoking. But as you make your vacation plans, challenge yourself to really consider what you want to do, and why — don’t just follow the guide book, but really reflect on the most pleasant, inspiring and ultimately worthwhile use of your time. Again, most of us do this automatically on trips — we don’t want to spend our previous vacation time looking at boring ancient statues when what we really want is to sample and rank every gelato in Florence.

In short: traveling gives you a rare window of liberation from the tyranny of your to-do list, so you can choose your daily activities based on who you are, what you want, and how you feel. When you do that, you’re forced to reconnect with yourself, spend some time marinating in your own whims and wishes. When there’s no task to do and experience is the only goal, you suddenly have a lot of unstructured time to spend in your own head, time that can also be used to get to know yourself. This might mean getting in touch with thoughts and feelings you’ve been pushing away, consciously or not, which can be uncomfy, but ultimately worth it. Plus, you’re on vacation — if you get too existential, there’s always a cute shop, cafe, park, garden, or some other delightful surprise to cheer you up.

2. Connect with strangers

Unsplash / Hongwei FAN

Ok, this one is almost as scary as connecting with yourself. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been raised in the generation of stranger danger. While a lot of this is reasonable caution — please don’t let your kids take candy from strangers in white vans — it also trains us to view all people we don’t know, and especially in public spaces, as a threat. Actually, this is a pretty recent thing; “stranger danger” became a common catch-phrase in the US in the mid 80s, when public panic about child abductions swept the country after several highly publicized cases. In recent years, however, the “stranger danger” slogan has been revised. Data shows that relatives, not strangers, are responsible for the vast majority of crimes against children.

Still, if we were brought up with stranger danger, we probably carry these ideas into our adult life. Over the past decades, it’s become less and less acceptable to talk to people in public. If you’re skeptical, just watch any movie made before 1975 or so: they’re full of people chatting each other up in public. True, part of our newfound aversion or IRL encounters is a by-product of the internet. It’s now considered much more normal to date someone you met on an app than on the street, or even in a bar, but if you ask your grandma, she probably won’t see it that way.

For older generations, the internet can appear like a scary extension of the mean streets, but with added anonymity — think of early chatroom lore, full of creepy old men masquerading as teen girls. These fears spilled over into the early days of online dating, or any type of online socializing, but now, most of us feel safer going out with a person with a verified Hinge profile than with someone from the local dive bar (provided all common-sense precautions are taken — tell a friend where you’re going, meet in a public place, etc.).

All this is to say that, while safety always comes first, everyone loses when we learn to instinctively distrust all so-called strangers. On a societal level, it weakens community ties; when we project our fears onto public space and the people we see there, we’re more likely to retreat into the bubble of our own homes, families and social bubbles, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. In short, we become more selfish, more disconnected. So what do we do?

On a personal level, we can start by gently testing our assumption that strangers are evil and scary by chatting with them in a safe, low-stakes way. That’s where travel comes in: when we’re away from home, we’re both more likely to strike up a convo with people we don’t know, and also more likely to be well received when we do it. To put it another way, travel temporarily lowers the barriers to connecting with strangers, which can make even small interactions pay off in big ways.

First off, you have more practical reasons to talk to strangers: think directions, recommendations, etc. In this case, locals are your best bet, but you probably don’t want to start by chatting up a rando on the street. For best results, be strategic: go for the people who most likely can and want to help you. Service workers are a good bet, especially in a vibe-specific spot; think cute coffee shop, vintage store, bar, bookstore, bike shop. Look for places that draw people you might have something in common with, the less commercial, and the less crowded and busy, the better.

Unsplash / Toa Heftiba

As always, it’s important to read the room — if the barista looks stressed and there’s a giant line behind you, maybe that’s not the moment to pick their brain on the best local art galleries. Keep it brief and to the point; don’t lurk or ask them out after their shift. Of course, for service workers, being polite to you is part of their job, but in the right setting, they could be genuinely happy to connect with you. And who knows — another local customer might hear your question and chime in with their own thoughts, and in that case, you know they’re doing it out of the goodness of their heart. Most locals are flattered to be asked for recommendations; wouldn’t you take it as an ego boost if someone thought your vibes were good enough to suggest fun things to do around town?

Then there’s the other kind of stranger, the fellow traveler. They may or may not be able to give you practical tips, but on the bright side, they’re probably in that same vacation state of mind, feeling free and flirty enough for a low-stakes chat with a stranger. Something about traveling tends to loosen our social inhibitions — at least, that’s how I explain ending up in a dance hall outside of Rome with two of my best friends and an Italian policeman. Don’t try this at home, kids.

In all seriousness, there’s an automatic bond we often feel with fellow travelers, as well as an unstated agreement that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. With these fleeting travel encounters, there’s usually less pressure on the interaction, since it’s understood that the connection is temporary. Without the worry that this person might try to maneuver their way into your everyday life (ie. text you to get coffee every Saturday for the rest of your existence), or that the things you say to them will somehow spread to your colleagues, you can be as unfiltered as you want. That’s why, paradoxically, we often feel most comfortable confessing our deepest thoughts and feelings to people we know we’ll never see again.

Unsplash / Anna Vander Stel

Even though the connection is temporary — at most, you’ll add each other on Instagram and react to each other’s stories for a couple years before one of you deletes the other in a mass unfollowing — it’s worth your time, and can have lasting benefits. These random conversations can be extremely powerful, restoring our faith in the kindness of humanity and showing us that we have more in common with others than we think. Ideally, you can carry this spirit of openness into your life back home, even in small doses. Something seemingly small, like looking up from your phone when you’re checking out at the grocery store and complimenting the cashier on their tattoo, can add up to a greater sense of connection in your community.

3. Connect with friends and loved ones

We often travel not just to see a place, but to visit people, so it seems pretty obvious that travel can help us connect with the people in our lives. Visiting long-distance family and friends, even for a few days, can do wonders for the relationship. As great as modern technologies like Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime are, these can’t replace the act of physically being together, as many of us learned during the pandemic. Plus, in an age when you can easily have a virtual conversation with anyone in the world, the extra effort of traveling to see someone takes on greater meaning.

And when you get to experience someone’s daily life first-hand, you connect with them so much more than simply by hearing about it. You can actually picture what they see, hear, smell, etc. when they’re having coffee in their kitchen, or walking to the corner store, or winding down on the couch. You might visit their favorite bakery and taste their favorite scone. You get the picture.

Unsplash / Alicia Steels

On the other hand, traveling to a new place with friends or family can also bring you together. Away from the demands of daily life, you suddenly have all this unstructured time to be present and focus on bonding with each other. Plus, one of the major ingredients of strong connections that’s often missing in adult friendships is having new experiences together. Too often, we only meet up with our friends over coffee, drinks or dinner to catch up on what we’ve been doing, instead of actually doing something together. But when you travel, you’re by definition doing something new together. No wonder trips are so often some of our best memories with friends, family and partners.

Finally, for all these reasons, a trip could be the perfect chance to make some new friends. Time for a shameless group travel pitch: by planning a trip with a group of former strangers, you’re creating the perfect environment for new connections to take shape. As children or teens, these situations are often created for us in the form of summer camps, church trips, Girl or Boy Scouts, community service or academic trips in school or college. We’re pooled into a group based on a common goal or interest, and more often than not, we end up with at least one good friend. Why not recreate that experience as an adult, with the added element of intentionality that comes with choosing your travel companions? I’m just saying, think about it.

4. Connect with surroundings

Unsplash / sterlinglanier Lanier

Contrary to what many of us think, you don’t actually need other people to feel connected. You can feel your absolute loneliest in a crowd of people, as the cliché goes, even (and perhaps especially) if those people are supposed to be your best friends. On the other hand, you can feel wonderfully in tune with the world on a solo stroll, or even a solo trip, just by feeling yourself take part in the rhythms of life around you.

The trick is to step outside of your habits of perception, and travel can be just the thing. On a basic level, you’re forced to pay more attention to your surroundings, even just to get around. In a new environment, you’re much more alert to cues from the outside world — where to go, how to behave, etc. In a more subtle way, being outside of your normal surroundings sharpens your awareness of the outside world, so you’re more likely to notice the type of small details that would normally blend into the background of your everyday commute. When everything is new, your brain automatically works harder to process it.

Don’t take my word for it; many smart artists and theorists have described and used this kind of sharpened awareness. The literary critic Viktor Shklovsky coined the term “defamiliarization” to refer to an artistic technique that gives us a fresh perception of something familiar, making us see it as if for the first time. All types of art can achieve this, from literature to film — the trick is to take off the goggles of habit and direct our attention to small details, making them strange and new.

To access the sense of wonder that comes with this fresh perception, we can either read Tolstoy, as Shklovsky suggests, or we can simply visit a new place, where things don’t just seem new, but actually are new. Even so, for full effect, it’s important to treat your surroundings with curiosity; put your phone down, don’t take pictures for a while, and just look, paying attention to small details. Pretend you’re an alien on a mission to catalog a new planet: how are you going to describe your journey to your fellow alien beings who have never seen a human, or a cat, or a Target before?

Unsplash / Dasha Yukhymyuk

One final piece of inspiration: the Situationists, a radical collective active in the late 50s to early 70s, mainly in France. To break out of the dull routine of modern, consumerist life, they came up with a method called the “dérive,” or drift, an unplanned wander through the city with no goal other than to notice your surroundings and how they make you feel — soaking in the vibes. Specifically, this walk was supposed to create a break from the routines of work, chores and errands that structure so much of our lives, creating space for that same kind of fresh perception that puts you in touch with the world.

5. Connect with life

Ok, let’s bring it all together: when we travel, we have the chance to step out of the routines of daily life that often leave us feeling lonely and disconnected. With a little intentional effort, we can make even a tiny excursion into a chance to refresh and reconnect with people, places, with ourselves, and with the freshness and possibility of life itself. This might seem like a stretch, but that’s what it all comes down to: a new appreciation of what life has to offer, whether it’s an unexpected conversation, a new friendship, or an inspiring stroll through a park or city.

Of course, most of us don’t have the luxury of jetting off to the South of France for a few weeks when existential ennui strikes, but most of us do have somewhere nice within reach for a mini-vacation, even for a couple hours. While work, family responsibilities and finances are a very real barrier, there are almost always ways we can resist the grind of modern life and feel a little more connected. There’s no quick fix to loneliness and disconnection, but there’s always something you can do, whether it’s a trip across the country or around the block.

Unsplash / Larisa Birta

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