Trin sits on a bench on the Cliffs of Dover looking across the English Channel towards France. The stormy sky is clearing with a bit of sun just appearing.

Loneliness & The Power of the Living Room

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

Colin and Sandy posing with their beer at a restaurant. A plate of meat and potatoes sits in the center of the table.
At a restaurant with Colin and Sandy with whom we spent a few days while house-sitting in Colombia. Later we met up again on our next visit to the United States.

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.

Roughly 49% of the money spent on food by Americans goes towards eating out.
“Roughly 49% of the money spent on food by Americans goes towards eating out.” Data From: Gitnux

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.

Amber, Sarah, Bonnie, Trin and Kirsten taking a selfie in a field in the Cotswalds.
Amber, Sarah, Jessica, Bonnie, Trin, and Kirsten. Met in Antarctica, five years later, hiking together in the Cotswolds, England.

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?

Five photos with Alia and Dominic, swimming in Bolivia, viewing the mountains, and hiking.
Maria and Dominic in Torotoro, Bolivia where we met. We had the privilege of staying in their home in Coin, Spain five years later.

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.

Jeremy holding a piranha before it bit him, Alia pretending she is afraid of a tarantula, and the four of us having breakfast at their home in DC.
Met in the Amazon jungle years later we had meals with them in their DC home. First photo: Jeremy with his piranha, just before it bit him. Second photo: Alia is acting scared of the tarantula on her shoulder. Third photo: The four of us having breakfast in their Washington DC home.

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.

Jessica, Amber, Bonnie, and Trin on top of the Cliffs of Dover.
Jessica, Amber, Bonnie, and Trin on top of the Cliffs of Dover after traveling together for 67 days.

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.

Gene, Damian, Andrea and Trin in 3D glasses / Tommy and Alison giving us welcome home cupcakes / Mike, Kristina, and Anu holding their children in our living room.
In living rooms with friends.

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.

Alia by a blue door in Brazil

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.

12 thoughts on “Loneliness & The Power of the Living Room”

  1. Hey Bonnie. I absolutely agree about the power of home entertaining and quality time together. We enjoyed walking with you around Glasgow that night.

    We’ve completed our 9 month stay back in Australia and recently arrived in the US. We’re here until the end of Jan and then off to Europe for a few months.

    Some of our highlights have been catching up with friends and walking and talking. Some deep and meaningful a have been had on the move. We’ll be in Europe from 25 Jan.

    1. We enjoyed the dinner and walk with you in Glasgow as well. It has been fun watching your Australian adventure and I look forward to seeing your pictures from my home country.

      Do you know what country in Europe you will start out in? We will be in Italy at the end of January.

  2. Loved every word. I harbor in my heart a deep yearning for travel. And I keep an overnight-plus bag ready at hand all the time. Unfortunately, it is used far too infrequently. and unfortunately I think there are a lot of other people like me who live vicariously through you.

    1. Thank you, Carol! I really wish I could have made it to Templetoughy to take pictures for you. I pinned it and did a bit of research, but unfortunately we didn’t make it out that way.

  3. It’s true. I stayed in the IK and Ireland for 5 weeks in Sept/Octiber and stayed with Corinna (we met in Antarctica in 2022), James (we met in North Korea in 2018) and Deans (we met in England in 2015.) All 3 of them opened their homes and lives to me – even though I’m 30 years older than Corinna and 20 years older than James.
    Travelling friends know exactly how to pick up a friendship exactly where it left off.

    1. Yes, I love the friendships that travel has forged.There were a couple friends we met in Antarctica as well that opened their homes in Australia for us. There are so many kind generous people that we meet along the way. Age doesn’t make a difference and it’s wonderful to have friends in all age groups. I think it rounds out life, the younger ones keep us active and the older ones can make us wiser (sometimes, lol).

  4. Great article, and I couldn’t agree more. The closest friends we have are people we have met while traveling. Over time, we’ve developed these friendships and go out of our way to see these people again. On one trip, we had friends from previous trips to New Zealand, Peru, Chile and Nepal all together – it was wonderful. When you travel, especially into remote areas that are “rustic”, it creates a bond that others can’t quite understand.
    We leave this Sunday to the west coast of the US, to meet our friends from Alaska who we met in Peru. We wanted one more trip with them this year.
    Happy trails!

    1. It’s great to hear that you have experienced the same thing. Great observation about the “rustic” that does ring true for us as well. There must be something about leaving behind all the “luxuries” and experiencing life in the raw. We learn what we truly need, and there is camaraderie in that realization. Travel opens so many doors with things to learn and friendships to gain. Happy trails to you as well!

  5. nice story travel even if you don’ have a lot of income can be achieved so long if your not engaged in alcohol. or drugs keeping control of your thoughts spiritually and being kind to others eventually you become part of your own self then you start rolling with others that share the same interest this is how i imagine the ingredients you need to let go of the everyday hassles of life and its every day wondering what bills get paid first
    one of these days

    1. I had years like that, wondering what bills to pay off first, but hard work and focus on spending only on what is necessary got me past them, thankfully. Now, spending is directed towards that which we feel is most valuable. Life is about giving, sometimes to our employers, if we have one, and always to others – that is what makes life roll.

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