Loneliness was often my companion on my trip to England in April 2014. I had not expected that.
Once there, I realized the obvious: the system in which I was enmeshed from October 1982 through July 1983 no longer existed. I was not an exchange student, so there were no fellow students to greet, and, in fact, it’s a little weird to be on campus if you’re not a student, a parent, staff, or faculty. The English friends and faculty I knew in the 1980s had left the University of Sussex or did not respond to my emails. I was pretty much on my own. The only friend I saw in England was one I knew from Colorado.
What’s a traveler to do to stave off loneliness? Schedule time with other people.
Besides dinner with my Colorado friend, I toured Brighton with a greeter and went on a literary tour of Hampstead Village and Heath that was most amusing, mentioning both Keats and Goldfinger, as well as scads of other writers and artists. The guide was well informed and charming, though how anyone talks that fast for two hours I’ll never know. It’s perfect for introverts like me: you can chat with the guide a bit and with other people on the tour if you feel energetic. And it was nice to stroll through a green space after navigating the crowds in Brighton and London.
This picture shows a watering hole near Hampstead Heath, originally spring-fed and designed so that carriages could be driven through it, giving the horses a drink and washing the wheels at the same time.
Volunteering is another good way to avoid loneliness. When I was researching my trip last spring, I looked at websites for the Land Trust, the National Trust, and the Conservation Volunteers (TCV). I decided against it, and certainly in Brighton I had no time for volunteering. But I do wish I’d set up something in London, perhaps helping with an urban gardening project or meeting some members of Transition, the re-skilling movement that began in the UK.
Another way to meet people while traveling is to arrange lodging through AirBnB. My host in London was very nice, though she was hardly ever at home, but the first woman I queried about a room made time to sit down with her guests over a glass of wine. Or, you can sign up for Couchsurfers and find options for a place to stay or just some conversation over coffee or lunch.