You know you’ve got it bad when all you want to do is run up to the nearest stranger and ask her for a hug. While I never actually did that, back in 2004, after six weeks traveling in New Zealand alone and about to start another five weeks solo in Australia, I was desperate for some human contact.
I’d never given it much thought before, but humans are by nature social creatures. We crave not just human interaction, but physical touch as well. And I’m not talking in-the-bedroom touch; I’m simply referring to the everyday casual brush of the arm, hand touches, half hugs and such, which we typically get from close friends and family. Take this away from us, and we start to feel lonely and cut off.
This leaves solo travelers in a bit of a bind. Try touching a stranger on the shoulder, and I bet you that person startles. Brush past a person and you’re bound to get a dirty look. So how do you get even a tiny bit of much-needed physical contact?
Shake Hands: Handshakes are the easiest way to ensure yourself physical contact because they are socially acceptable in most countries and you can offer your hand to most people you meet. There’s rarely much warmth in a handshake — but if you’ve gone two or three weeks without touching anyone, you’ll be surprised at how good it feels.
Ask Someone to Dance: While this may not be possible everywhere you go, there are certain countries where dancing is an important part of their evenings. In Ireland and Scotland, for example, ceilidhs are a popular forum for Celtic music and dancing, and the locals are always up for dancing with someone new.
The Arm Touch: This one’s probably easier for men, who are generally comfortable clapping another guy on the arm when saying hello, even if it’s just the hotel doorman. My tricky tactic: gently bump someone “by accident” in a store or a line, then place my hand on their arm to steady them, while I apologize. It may sound silly, but it works.
Risk a Hug: Slightly less problematic for women, hugs are the ultimate casual physical touch, but usually require at least a little familiarity with the person you’re hugging. Not so easy when you’re traveling, but it can be done. If you’re staying in a bed and breakfast, give your host a quick hug in the evening to say thank you for all she (or he) has done for you. On a tour or cruise, make friends and offer half-hugs in the evening. If you’re a really comfortable hugger, wear a “Free Hugs” T-shirt out and about. Someone will take you up on the offer!
Have you ever noticed you’re missing physical touch when traveling alone? How have you handled it?
— written by Dori Saltzman