The FloQ

Travel Insights Blog

The FloQ

Travel Insights Blog

Feeling Lonely? Travel Can Help

Apr 29, 2023

Katya Lopatko



5 min

During the pandemic, conversations about social isolation and its effect on mental health became a hot topic, and for good reason. But actually, the loneliness many of us felt only heightens a decades-long trend.

Unsplash / David Sager

A “loneliness epidemic” is sweeping across much of the developed world, and the US especially.

Recent surveys record rising rates of loneliness among Americans, now hovering around 60% of all adults. And surprisingly, the loneliest groups are the ones we think of as the most social — around 75% of young adults, Gen Z being the loneliest generation with rates twice as high as older adults.

Loneliness is a serious problem, affecting all parts of our lives, from work to health. While it’s pretty easy to see how feeling chronically alone can bring down your mental health, overtime, it also puts you at higher risk of heart disease, dementia, sleep problems and other serious conditions. According to US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, many of our modern health and social challenges, personal and collective, begin with loneliness. So what’s causing it, and what can we do about it?

It’s easy to blame the pandemic, but the loneliness epidemic has been rising for generations. Some reasons are well known: many argue that, ironically, social media is hurting young people’s social skills, leaving them chronically online, sleep-deprived and disconnected. Less obvious but equally important is the general rhythm of modern life, especially in the US. With cities designed for cars and companies instead of connection and community, a corporate work culture that eats up most of our time, and social norms that prioritize romantic relationships and nuclear families over friendships, the odds are stacked against healthy rates of social connection.

The friendship recession

One type of connection is especially hard to maintain as we grow older: friendship. Although today’s teens and college students face unique social challenges, many young people hit their loneliest times when they leave school or college and enter the adult world. As social norms push us to focus on building a career and finding a partner, it’s easy to lose track of friends, especially as they move away or get busy with their own lives. Lifestyles and priorities also tend to shift in our 20s as we get to know ourselves and what we want. It’s natural for some friendships to fade overtime, but the problems start when we don’t know how to replace these connections.

A quick search on TikTok brings up countless videos tagged with “loneliness in your 20s,” tearful confessions of feeling more alone than ever, many with thousands of comments saying they relate and feel seen. No one teaches us how to make friends as an adult, and it turns out that people who wait for friendships to develop organically end up lonelier than people who put in effort to make and keep friends.

But friendship is one of the most important types of relationships, a key predictor of our levels of loneliness or connection. According to psychologist and author Dr. Marisa G. Franco, friendship offers pleasure and joy without the added weight of obligation that comes with family and romantic relationships. We’re free to choose our friends purely because we like being around them, which makes adult friendships a unique space to channel the playful, fun energy of more carefree times. Of course, friendship can also provide crucial support networks, day to day and especially in times of need.

Luckily, there are simple — but not easy — skills we can learn to stretch our adult friendship muscles. Unfortunately, it means getting comfortable with cringe — just like in dating, you have to put yourself out there and brave rejection to get past the awkwardgetting-to-know-you stage and develop meaningful connections. Fromresearch-backed techniques to TikTok advice, there are countless sources of tips out there for making and keeping friends in adulthood. But there’s also one surprising friendship-building tool that you won’t find in the listicles — travel.

Travel and friendship

Whether you go alone, with family or friends, or even with a group of strangers, traveling can help heal loneliness by cultivating the three different types of connection we all need: relational, intimate, and collective (learn more about them here).

Relational connection, or #squad #goals

First up, relational connection is what we usually associate with friendship — having people to hang out with regularly, feeling comfortable and authentic, and sharing interests and experiences. Group travel can help in this department. First, for existing friends, carving out a weekend for a group trip can be a great way to inject new life into the relationships. Leaving behind our day-to-dayresponsibilities, we create a space where our first priority is connection, and sharing new experiences gives us fresh memories to look back on in a way that acatch-up phone call just can’t do.

For similar reasons, taking the plunge and traveling with a group of strangers can fast-track new connections. If you’ve ever been to summer camp or a group retreat, or even remember your freshman orientation or first week of college, you know how easy it is to get to know new people when you’re thrown into new activities together, 24/7. Plus, when you sign up for the same itinerary, it’s safe to say that you already have things in common with your travel group that you’ll be able to bond over on the trip.

Intimate connection, or bestie territory

Intimate connection goes a step further — it’s the difference between a friend and a best friend, the feeling of deep familiarity and trust. It takes time to develop, so you probably can’t form this kind of connection on a single trip, but that doesn’t mean that travel can’t boost our intimate connection. For existing friends or partners, traveling together can reinvigorate and deepen the bond. A change of scene dedicated to spending time together invites us to remember all the things we already love about the other person, and can bring out new ways to connect. One powerful way to get closer to another person is to share vulnerabilities, and travel has a unique way of throwing us unexpected situations that challenge us and push us to work through struggles together.

Even traveling with a new friend can have this effect — and if nothing else, taking a trip with someone will quickly tell you if the connection has potential to grow. A few weeks into my college study abroad, I planned a multi-city spring break trip with two new friends — with one, we still send each other Christmas cards halfway across the world years later, and with the other, we never spoke again.

Collective connection, or finding your people

Finally, there’s collective connection, our sense of community, belonging or shared identity with a group of people. Traditionally, religion and other group identities have been the major source of collective connection, but in today’s diverse and often fragmented, divisive world, these can be hard to come by. Luckily, there are many ways to build collective connection around any common interest, from sports fandoms to book clubs.

At first, it might not seem obvious how travel can boost our sense of group belonging, but travel has a way of strengthening our identities, which can help find us more authentic communities both during and after. When we come in contact with new cultures, it pushes us to take stock of our own values and beliefs, rethinking ideas we might have taken for granted or strengthening existing parts of our identity. These can be silly or profound: for example, my time in Europe helped me discover a new pace of life and way of prioritizing leisure that felt much more true to my personality; at the same time, I craved iced coffee with a vengeance (Tip: don’t order an iced latte at a French Starbucks unless you’re in the mood for a frappuccino). After coming home, I began to reflect about the ways I could incorporate more of what I loved about the European lifestyle in my life here, seeking out a career and friend group that valued flexibility, creativity, independence and intellectual exchange. I also got a Nespresso machine so I’d never be caught iced latte-less again.

The longer you stay away from home, the more you discover, but even a short trip can shake you up enough to come back to your daily routine with fresh eyes. Of course, the community you meet traveling can also encourage collective belonging. Group trips or retreats can build a sense of community when you connect around similar interests. And the connection doesn’t have to end when the trip does; you can bring it into your daily life by seeking out similar activities at home, like joining a hiking group or cooking club, or keep in touch with your travel group, maybe even making the trip a regular event.

In this way, a single trip can havelong-lasting effects in your life, boosting collective, intimate and relational intimacy and staving off the loneliness that’s all too common in our lives — but doesn’t have to be.

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