Being Alone Doesn't Prepare You For Loneliness

When I was 18, I moved to Italy by myself. I lived in a studio apartment and it was my first experience of being 'alone'. 

In those seven months, I learnt more about myself than I ever had - particularly given that I was very young and had never moved away from home, let alone to live by myself.

This experience defined learning about myself in a way that many people never do. Since the age of 18, I've been comfortable going out for dinner alone, going to the cinema alone, and I've moved to 5 countries alone too. 

Last year, I lived by myself on a campsite on the west coast of France for over two weeks. I talked to a handful of the other workers who were preparing for the start of the summer season, but in general, I just enjoyed my own company.

However, there's always been a recurring factor about being alone in these circumstances. The reality is, that I just don't know anyone. But as a result, I put myself out there more. I make friends far more quickly, I put in the effort to talk to pretty much everyone, and I see the time by myself as valuable. 

Whilst I can be quite introverted, I love people. I love talking to people and meeting new people and experiencing other cultures, but in these circumstances, I've never been lonely. I've just been alone.

Yet in August, five months after arriving home due to the pandemic, I walked downstairs to the living room, and I burst into tears in front of my parents. 

In a way that I haven't for a long time. I sat, and I cried to them about how I felt the loneliest I've ever felt. I was back in my home town with approximately 3 friends locally, and for the third weekend in a row, I was sat at home with my parents doing nothing. 

Ironically, in a town I was familiar with, in a house with three other people, I felt more lonely than those two weeks spent in a remote French campsite. 

Because it wasn't that I was alone, it was that I was lonely.

Loneliness is often misinterpreted as individualism, but the reality is, you can be in a room full of people, and still feel lonely. Meanwhile, you could spend a week by yourself, and not once feel it. 

Loneliness doesn't depend on how many people are around you, it depends on your sense of belonging. It depends on your identity around other people, and it depends on the lens you are viewing yourself with. 

Being sat in my bedroom in Dorset is the most lonely I've ever felt. I don't, despite what many people may think, have a problem with living at 'home' in the sense of living with my parents. 

It's a reality many people in the mid-twenties have to do to survive the current economy or to save money in any way. I have a problem with being in the town I grew up in, and not feeling any sense of belonging.

Before this evening when I came down and cried to my parents, I'd been talking about moving to Germany for the last couple of months.

"If you feel lonely here Alice," my dad asked. "Why would you assume it will be any different in Germany?"

But I had my answer ready. Because I knew that in Germany I wouldn't be lonely, the same way I wasn't lonely in France or Italy, or Australia or New Zealand, or even in the USA - where I lived in the most remote location possible. 

Because when you're in a new place, you create your own belonging. You know, going there, that you won't have friends so you put in the effort. You meet more people. You post on Facebook Groups and ask if anyone wants to hang out, something you would never want or feel the need to do in the town where you grew up. 

There is no past association with a new country or city, in the way that there is in your hometown. You have no memories of your weekends being full, or of your best friends living around the corner. But when you're at home, you feel the loss of all of those things when they're not there anymore.

And so, I moved to Germany.

Last week, in fact. 

I'd been planning it for months but I wanted to go when my job was 100% secured and it was safe (and responsible) to do so. 

I've caught up with old friends and met new ones. I've been to a standup night with strangers and ended up extremely drunk in a Mexican bar. 

I now come home to the apartment that I share with another person, and I know that if I don't have plans the next day or the next evening then that's okay, because, why would I? I'm new to this country and I know almost nobody. And I'm more than happy knowing that.

So whilst I am still alone, I'm no longer lonely. 

Love, Alice x 


  1. This post resonated strongly with me - I lived in Ireland for several months and spent another month and a half traveling before coming back home to the United States. I've never felt better than when I was alone over there - because I wasn't lonely. But I came back here and didn't hang out with friends I had (and it was hard making new ones like you said), so it was so much worse in a familiar place. I hope you are enjoying Germany!!

  2. I'm sure a lot of people can relate right now to this - thank you for sharing how you're feeling with the travel community!