Lonely Travel Is Good For You

Looking up lonely in the dictionary presents several less than flattering definitions. Some will be blunt and define the term as “sad because one has no friends or company”. Others will be gentler and define lonely as merely “unfrequented, remote or solitary”. The adjective is not one we couple with travel often.

Travel is filled with company, new friends, new places and new ideas on the world. Generally looked at negatively, I don’t think I am alone, ironically, in saying lonely travel is not what we strive for on our travels. I want to feel apart of a place and people, not outside of it. The reality for travelers is that we are never insiders. You can try and try, but no matter where you go, there will still be those lingering indicators you aren’t from around here.

Not being one to seek out loneliness, I strangely took a road defined as “The Loneliest Road in America”. Back in 1986, Life Magazine gave US Highway 50 in Nevada this title. The loneliest highway runs for 287 miles with only a handful of major towns in between next to nothing. You can go for miles and miles without seeing a car, building or any trace of life besides a lone coyote crossing this stretch of road. Back when Nevada’s Highway 50 received this title, AAA cautioned drivers to avoid this road, saying they would need “survival skills” to make the trip. I packed up my survival skills, mostly consisting of a cooler full of snacks and headed out to find lonely travel is its best form.

Isolated Stretches Cleanse The Mind

On this lonely road, I would come to the tops of hills and see for miles. No cars. No people. No signs of life. Me, myself and I traveled through this isolation. In a world where there is so much chaos, so much clutter and every inch of space filled, the mind can become clouded. Lonely travel or in essence, finding these stretches of isolation can allow the mind to wander, to clean up and focus without all of the clutter.

Nothing Towns Are Never Nothing Towns

Along Highway 50 in Nevada, there are only a handful of towns, Fallon, Austin, Eureka and Ely to be exact. Driving through each of these towns after miles of nothing, they seemed all the more memorable, all the more meaningful. In Austin, named for the city in Texas apparently, an old hand painted sign welcomes you to the town. I popped in a café where two “cowboys” chatted over a Monday morning cup of coffee. It didn’t seem real, a place with just saloons and a slew of historic old buildings. If you blink, you might even miss the town. Lonely travel can only help the traveler see that in nothing, there is in fact something. Traveling just for the extraordinary tends to cloud our appreciation for the simple.

Chills of Loneliness Provide Connection

The Loneliest Road in America has a few quirky roadside attractions. From a mountain made of sand to a hidden cave of petroglyphs, in the lonely, there is much to see. I had heard about the Old Shoe Tree along this stretch, a lone cottonwood covered in shoes from travelers passing along just like myself. As this stretch of road has very few trees, I was curious to see this roadside attraction. Upon reaching it, I found it wasn’t as it had seemed. Six months ago, vandals apparently butchered the quirky roadside attraction.

It appeared locals and other travelers were trying to start the tradition again of throwing one’s shoes on to the branches of a cottonwood tree. In a ditch right near these two remaining trees, all you could see were fallen shoes. Being the only one around for miles, chills came over me, chills that I wasn’t alone. Like so many others before me, this lonely road was not so lonely. When you can find connections in lonely travel, it is all the more powerful, all the more meaningful. You might be traveling America’s loneliest road or some other lonely stretch, but the connections are still ever-present.

Have you ever tried lonely travel? What are your benefits behind finding the remote and isolated?


  1. says

    Great story. I love to be social, but I kind of love traveling alone in lonely places. I took a road trip through Eastern Sierras last summer, beyond Yosemite. Visited a ghost town and saw some incredibly beautiful and strange scenery. The people I met were equally strange and wonderful and as hippie-ish as this sounds, I’ve never felt so connected to nature. Thanks for sharing this story.

  2. says

    Loneliness is almost taboo in the ever exciting world of travel isn’t it? It is a real possibility though even in the liveliest of cities. I think it all just depends on your frame of mind at the time and your recent experiences. I definitely believe that alone time is important while travelling though. Your photos are very soulful here Suzy.

  3. says

    Excellent post — loved the photos on this one. Also, thanks for writing about the States–so many of us American travel bloggers neglect to pay much attention to our own country other than the inevitable contrasts between it and the places abroad we do write about. There’s so much to see here, I’m glad someone’s talking about it!

    In regards to your final question: part of the reason I love isolation (solo backpacking — real backpacking, in the wilderness — for instance) is that it makes it impossible to drown yourself out. You can try to “find yourself” all you want in some tourist ashram or on some Thai beach, but there’s nothing like real isolation and silence to make you come to terms with who and what you are right now.

  4. says

    I don’t think I’ve ever travelled on my own so this post is very enlightening. The nearest I’ve got to such isolation is on a driving holiday round Iceland where we would drive for many miles without seeing another vehicle, just the odd sheep. But I wasn’t alone, the experience was shared so the impact wasn’t quite the same.

  5. says

    I feel like I grew up in one of those lonely places. Not literally alone, but it was very rural and there were plenty of places to go off by oneself that it felt like a lonely landscape sometimes. Those places are so great for self-reflection and thinking things through. Not to mention communing with nature. It’s nice to be able to hear yourself think without the ever-present distractions that come with being around other people.

  6. says

    These pics are great and have me craving another American road trip! I’ve never driven that far alone, but I’ve been on lonely roads with a friend when we went cross-country, and there were similar benefits once the car got quiet and we simply looked out at the nothingness with our thoughts.

  7. says

    Evocative photos and a good life lesson about the value of being alone. To piggyback on what Tim Raveling said above, we should be comfortable with being totally alone because when we take away all the stuff (including relationships) that we think our life consists of, we realize that on a fundamental level, we really only have ourselves.
    I have driven that stretch of highway in Nevada. It really is lonely!

  8. says

    I missed this post originally, and now come across it as part of your year-end musings. To those of us in over-crowded Europe a highway like this is a pure fantasy. It was 50s cowboy movies, full of seemingly empty vistas, and subsequently films like “Easy Rider” which made me dream of an American Road Trip (note the caps because it is one of THE great journeys!) It is the scope and the vastness of America which inspire our longings. As you know, we can drive from Spain to France to Germany to Austria, and that’s quite cool, but to drive without seeing people nor habitations for miles and miles, no, and there is a great appeal in that for me, to leave behind the clatter and the pressures even for a few hours – magic!

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