The United Kingdom has a Minister of Loneliness. Her role is to address health issues caused by social isolation. The US Surgeon General announced loneliness as an epidemic. With nomadic travel on the rise, are nomads destined to be lonely?
Loneliness Health Crisis
According to Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General of the USA, we are in a loneliness epidemic. As a culture, we are busy and constantly on the move. Many don’t have time to host friends in their homes for an entire evening. This could be one of the many factors leading to heightened loneliness. We have become a culture of busy, so busy that we don’t have time to just be with others.
“Even when they couldn’t put their finger on the word “lonely,” time and time again, people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, from every corner of the country, would tell me, ‘I have to shoulder all of life’s burdens by myself,’ or ‘if I disappear tomorrow, no one will even notice.’”Dr. Vivek H. Murthy 19th and 21st Surgeon General of the United States
-2023 Dr. Vivek H Murthy Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation
Our health depends on connections
“Disconnection fundamentally affects our mental, physical, and societal health. In fact, loneliness and isolation increase the risk for individuals to develop mental health challenges in their lives, and lacking connection can increase the risk of premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily. ” –U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ASH Media, May 3, 2023
The Restaurant Norm
Restaurants and/or bars seem to be the norm in Western cultures to meet up with friends. It is quick and easy, at least easier than hosting someone in your home. When meeting someone for the first time, restaurants and cafes serve as a nice neutral meeting ground. It can also be a fun activity to try new cuisine together with friends.
Ordering tapas in Spain is a great experience with friends, and trying out a new cuisine is fun. But except for these infrequent occasions, Trin and I, nomads for seven years now, don’t enjoy eating out. It’s the noise, the cost, the limited ability to talk, and the fact that we always enjoy a home-cooked meal so much more.
Deep connections rarely ever happen in a restaurant, at least for us. They take place in living rooms, on hikes, or in parks.
The restaurant norm might just be feeding into the current loneliness epidemic. We seem to have forgotten the power of the living room, a place to meet and get real about life. Inviting others into one’s living room opens a glimpse into your life. It can be intimidating, but also fulfilling.
Is a nomad destined to be lonely?
How does a nomad, a full-time traveler, maintain connection and community? How do we find the living room experience when we don’t have a living room? Is a nomad, someone with no home address, destined to be lonely?
Do Nomads have to be lonely?
The Vulnerability of Home
I was startled awake by a scream. My mind took a minute to process where we were. As full-time travelers, we move often. As a result, I sometimes have no idea where we are when I first awake. So far this year we have stayed in 81 different places. I’ve come to love this little adventure each morning, figuring out where we are and what is coming next.
On this particular morning, I knew where we were. We were in the guest bedroom of dear friends we met on our travels through another continent. The scream was their young son going through a difficult morning stage. All parents have trying times, and every child has screamed a time or two. It can be a very vulnerable position to let friends see more than just the good times. Without seeing this, however, I would never have witnessed the extreme patience of our friends with their children. It was quite impressive and increased my respect for their character.
Strange as it may seem mornings like these, wakened by a scream, are part of our best memories. Staying with friends takes us beyond doing a fun activity together and experiencing life together.
Quality Time with Friends
Trin and I became nomads in 2016. We sold our home in June and left on a one-way flight in October to begin a life of full-time travel. We were surprised to discover that time with friends changed from the occasional meal or evening together to concentrated high-quality time.
When we visit the States we often spend a few days with each friend rather than just a few hours. This means we play, laugh, and just do life together for a few days.
On the road, we have met so many new friends. Often these friends are forged by traveling together. Once it was four of us riding in the back of a truck with chickens to a remote town in Colombia then hiking together for a few days. Another time it was meeting in the Amazon jungle and living together in huts that barely had four walls. Another time we met in a remote village in Bolivia hiking together and spending meals together for a couple of days. Often we meet them again even if a few years later for a hike or a few days in their homes.
Traveling with Friends
Most recently we spent a full 67 days with our friends Jessica and her wife Amber. We traveled, ate, and explored together. The quality time was amazing. We even spent five full hours one day in the living room discussing the taboo subject of religion. Trust in our friendship allowed us to talk about many of the subjects, like politics and religion. We could discuss the state of the world, current events, and our beliefs surrounding poverty, forgiveness, and generosity.
No, we are not lonely. We truly feel blessed to have so many wonderful friends around the world. We may not see them often, but when we do it is concentrated quality time often in their living rooms.
The power of the living room
Making friends on the road isn’t done by just having a restaurant meal together. It is experiencing life together. But that is not much different from making friends for non-nomads.
It’s about living life together. There is something very special about preparing a meal for a friend. Even if it is something as simple as spaghetti and canned sauce. It is the time together in one’s home, where vulnerability exists and life happens, that loneliness recedes.
For us, the Blue Door represents decisions made. Maybe your blue door is your front door and I hope you have friends walking over your threshold to spend an evening with you.