- Jamie Bradley, a 25-year-old advertising manager, quit her job to travel the world for a year.
- After just six weeks, she returned home having realised how lonely it gets while travelling without a companion.
- Bradley also learned how hard it is to connect with others while travelling and the annoyance of having to constantly plan your day.
When Jamie Bradley quit her full-time job to travel the world alone, she expected a life-changing experience, similar to “Eat Pray Love.” She expected, at least, to have exciting adventures in beautiful places like the ones she’s seen in the pictures that crowd her Instagram feed from fellow world travellers.
Instead, she experienced what very little people talk about when they travel alone: The constant loneliness that can often ruin the entire trip.
Bradley, a 25-year-old advertising manager in New York, was confronted with this reality after she quit her job and decided to travel around the world for a year back in 2017. But after just six weeks, she returned home.
It started when Bradley began to feel unfulfilled at her ad sales job and decided to consider other options.
“The thought of searching for another job, one where I would have no friends, no established leadership, and a lower salary, it all sounded too daunting to know where to begin,” Bradley said. “That fear, coupled with being very fortunate to have saved a lot of money while working, helped me make the decision to travel the world instead of jumping right back into the job market.”
This wouldn’t be Bradley’s first time travelling alone, though. Bradley did it briefly after college and fell in love with South East Asia. This time, however, she planned to travel for much longer – at least a year – and decided to start in Africa on a wildlife reservation.
This time she also planned to move out of her apartment in New York and get rid of almost everything she owned. In a few short weeks, she condensed her entire life into a backpack.
“I was euphoric the entire time. I relished in the opportunity to tell people what I was doing – the look on their faces, the sheer jealousy and wonderment they had was reason enough to go,” she said. “I felt brave and strong and indestructible.”
But Bradley said she could remember her attitude shift during her 20-hour flight to Africa.
“I remember being on the plane halfway to Africa and a huge wave of loneliness washed over me,” she said. “It seemingly came out of nowhere but it sat in my chest like a weight and wouldn’t let up.”
When she landed in Cape Town, the time difference only added to her unusual feeling, leaving her “lethargic and a little depressed.”
“I was so shocked by these feelings, and I remember shaming myself for feeling so negatively,” Bradley said. “Where was that euphoria I had been feeling for weeks?”
Almost instantly Bradley said she knew this trip wasn’t going to be picturesque Instagram posts or anything she thought it would be.
“I would say that even before I got off the plane, I realised it was a much more complicated decision than I had initially realised,” she said. “I saw how immediately lonely it could get. While I was meeting new people and experiencing a new culture every second, there was also nothing and no one familiar around me.”
Aware that these feelings might be culture shock and lack of adjustment, Bradley said she journaled a lot to make sense of her feelings and even turned to books “to satisfy my churning mind and fill my time.
At one point, she even flew from Africa to Europe in a last minute decision to meet up with friends and avoid the loneliness. Though that did help, the feelings crept back in when her friends left and she arrived in Budapest, alone.
“There were times that I wouldn’t speak to a person for multiple days at a time,” Bradley said. “It was partly my fault since I was isolating from the Hostel culture, but I was tired of having the same conversations over and over about where I was from, what places we travel to, and us all secretly competing with one another about who is the more worldly and adventurous.”
Bradley mentioned it was difficult to connect with people who were only passing through countries, allowing her to only form temporary connections. This left her, she said, feeling even more isolated.
Bradley also struggled with the daunting task of having to plan something new and exciting every day.
“I was very upset, extremely lonely, and I felt a wave of depression take hold on me so deeply that I spent five days in Budapest and spent four of them inside my Airbnb, knitting,” Bradley said. “I found it exhausting having to figure out something to do every second and find a new place to see – figure out where it is, how to get there and then once you’re there, look at it and leave, all without sharing the experience with anyone.”
It was then that Bradley made the decision to return home for her mental health – just six weeks into her trip.
“One of the worst parts of the decision was the shame I felt,” Bradley said. “I felt ashamed of myself for not being able to last. For not doing what I initially set out to do. I was embarrassed by all of the fuss I had made over me leaving. I felt pathetic, like a failure.”
When she finally returned to New York and slowly acclimated herself back into work life, Bradley felt like herself again. Even though she didn’t achieve what she initially set out to do, Bradley said she wouldn’t call her trip a mistake.
“It gave me the strength to leave my job and jolted me into a new stage of my life where I’m unafraid of excessive responsibility and long term commitment.”
But she learned that happiness comes from challenging yourself and stepping outside your comfort zone.
“All of my life I have been so concerned with living an extraordinary life, and I thought I had to do that by myself,” Bradley said. “This trip taught me that it’s OK to need other people. It’s brave and powerful to hold yourself accountable to other people and allow yourself to be vulnerable with them.”
Although her solo journey through Africa and Europe wasn’t exactly how she planned, she said it was all worth it in the end.
“I would never change going on this trip for the world,” she said.
- Read more:
- 40 of the most underrated travel destinations around the world
- The cheapest places to travel every month of 2019
- The 32 best places to travel alone
- The 10 best destinations for solo travellers
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.