Loneliness and adventure are two sides of the same coin: here’s why

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Loneliness is one of those universal human experiences, like death or a messy break-up, that we’d rather not examine too closely. A staggering 33% of people worldwide experience lonely feelings, in a condition made worse by Covid. And yet, this condition we’re all on speaking terms with is surprisingly hard to talk about – let alone define. 

What we do know is that loneliness can strike at any age, and it affects people from all walks of life. It’s not always about being physically alone, either. You can be lonely and surrounded by dozens of people; and conversely, you can be alone and perfectly content. 

 

When you’re lonely, you feel anxious and cut off from other people

Perhaps, above all, loneliness is about disconnection – a sense that you’re not really being seen or understood in a way that brings meaning to your life. And from that logic, adventure is the answering antidote to all those who feel alone. 

When you’re lonely, you feel anxious and cut off from other people. When you’re on an adventure, you lean into a community of people by necessity, as much as anything else. Communicating with strangers you travel with, or locals you meet along the way, is all part of the adventure playbook.

You connect with others not because you’re some confident genius who shares none of the insecurities the rest of the world has; but because you’ve felt that shadow of loneliness or self-doubt, and continued anyway – trusting that adventure will see you through. And likely it will do – here’s why. 

Loneliness is a transient state

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In the largest study of its kind, the BBC surveyed 55,000 people from around the world on feelings of loneliness. Results revealed that not only is being lonely a temporary state, 41% of people the researchers spoke to believed it could actually be a positive experience

In fact, the authors speculated that the reason why young people aged 16 to 24 were likely to experience greater loneliness than other age groups is that they hadn’t discovered this upside yet. The youthful demographic, the survey said, had not had the chance “to experience loneliness as something temporary, useful even, prompting us to find new friends or rekindle old friendships”. 

Loneliness prompts us to find new friends or rekindle old friendships

Adventure shines a light on the fleeting nature of loneliness; so much so, that your feelings can change on a dime. If you’re solo travelling, for example, you might be sitting alone in a bar in Bali one moment  – feeling about as lonely as you’ve ever known. And the next moment, you find someone to play pool with, you two hit it off and you have a locked-in travel buddy. Then you meet more people, and before you know it, there’s a whole impromptu group of you on the road. 

That’s the beauty of solo adventure. Granted, it may bring you face-to-face with uncomfortable levels of loneliness; but in the same breath, it shows you how quickly that feeling vanishes, too. 

Adventure sparks connections

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The same study from the BBC found that people who say they often feel lonely had lower levels of trust in others and higher levels of anxiety; both of which can make it harder to make friends. And it’s not just chance encounters that can relieve this catch-22. In order to feel less lonely, we need deep-rooted ties with others. 

“The thing that people probably need is more meaningful connections,” Bethan Harris, the founder of the Loneliness Lab, tells the Guardian. “Meaningful interaction is what we’re aiming for, not just chance interaction, not one-off collisions. The opportunity to build relationships.”

Unsurprisingly, the churn of daily life makes it hard to carve out these kinds of connections. We’re all so busy glued to our phones, or rushing from A to B, we don’t have the opportunity for a long conversation with someone we happen to click with. In fact, in settings like the Tube, we actively go out of our way to avoid any chat. 

The thing that people probably need is more meaningful connections

An adventure, on the other hand – well, that carves out a natural invitation to connect on a deeper level. Whether you’re playing cards at a bus station in Morocco, or sharing hike recommendations in a Patagonian lodge, adventure allows the time and space for new relationships, away from everyday distractions. 

If you travel with a group of strangers (Flash Pack klaxon), this outlet only increases; as you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people at a similar age and life stage to you. The foundations for friendship are already in place.

Together in the world

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A study published in the journal Nature last year found that increased overcrowding and population density (i.e. city living) were associated with higher levels of loneliness. But on the flip side, researchers concluded that social inclusivity and contact with nature could offset this effect. 

In other words, we feel less isolated when we connect with others, and when we’re in the Great Outdoors; both ingredients that adventure offers in spades. Imagine the following scenarios. You might be canyoning through the Wadi Mujib, deep in the ancient Jordanian outback. You could be on safari in the Sri Lankan bush, hoping to spot the elusive leopard. You could even be quad biking in the Chocolate Hills of the Philippines, revving up and down a wild, tropical terrain.

Strangers from all walks of life bond quickly

All these examples involve profound immersion in the present. You get out of your head and into the activity at hand. And you also need to rely on the people around you; either to support you, or to share in the thrill of the adventure together. 

Needless to say, Flash Pack’s experience shows that strangers from all walks of life bond quickly in these kinds of moments. Sharing something amazing or challenging together, without too much attention or pressure on conversation, is ironically the best recipe there is for connection. It’s yours to enjoy as we speak. 

Find out more about Flash Pack adventures right here

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: Flash Pack

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