In an ideal world, you always have someone with whom to spend holidays, break bread or travel.  But that’s in an ideal world.  There’s a tide of hidden people, however, who live alone and find it hard to connect.  They have no family or close friendships.  They spend their holidays alone.  There is no one they can call and say, “Let’s go see a movie.  Let’s grab a bite to eat.”

Does this sound like you?

Society may shrug these people off, call them “loners” as though that’s what they planned or were born that way.  They want to shove them in a closet so they don’t have to deal with them.  But people often end up where they never intended to be, and they weren’t born that way.  Humans are inherently social creatures.  We need to connect to be healthy and happy.

These so called loners feel powerless and don’t know how to change things.  They struggle to feel relevant, to feel like they matter.  They sit on their sofas, watch TV and dream about the day that they can break free, see the world and be loved by all.  They hope that, one day, Prince or Princess Charming will come along and rescue them.

I know; I’ve been there.  But that’s not reality.  It’s too easy to sit home, feel sorry for yourself and make excuses.  “I can’t afford to travel.  I don’t have a companion.  It’s too hard or scary.”

I’ve gone through the whole waiting thing, too.  Waiting for Prince Charming and waiting for friends to commit to a trip.  They always say “yes, I want to go,” but they never put their money down, and they can’t say no.  I’ve stopped waiting for them.  When I made that decision, I suddenly felt free and joyous.  There’s nothing stopping me or you from discovering innumerable treasures around the world (and in your own backyard).

You’re right, it’s not so easy to change your world, but it’s important to try.  You have to create your own reality, your own wonderful life.  Isn’t it worth it?  Aren’t you worth it?  Time won’t wait for you.  You must start now.

To get started, there are small things you can do to bring joyful rewards that cost little to no money, and they’re easy to do.  One of the best ways for you to begin your new journey is to get outside your comfort zone and do volunteer work.  Volunteer to do something you love and give back at the same time.  It’s a chance to connect, to feel good about yourself, to get your mind off your own struggles and to empower others while you empower yourself.  The only cost will be the gas to drive there.

If you’re not so good with people, why not help out an organization focused on animals or the environment?  Give of yourself.  There’s a whole lot more in you to give than you realize.  In return, volunteer work will help you feel like you matter, and you’ll meet like-minded people who may even become friends.

You may surprise yourself.  I did.  I never thought I was very good with kids till I started volunteering with the non-profits Dusty’s Riders and the Los Angeles Maritime Institute TopSail Youth Program.  I get to horseback ride and sail tall ships (two things I love to do), and at the same time, I nurture kids who don’t have much, not even hope.  I help them see that they have value and a future outside of their narrow, sometimes dangerous worlds.

And guess what?  They teach me lessons, too.  We were on a voyage to Catalina when we sailed among a pod of Blue whales who swam right up under the ship.  After we passed the whales, a pod of dolphins approached us.  Two of them swam in our bow wake and looked right up at us.  The kids made eye contact with them and were so excited to connect with these intelligent sea creatures.  One little girl turned to me with wide eyes and said, “My friends tried to talk me into staying home today, and I almost did.  I’m so glad I came.”

What a profound lesson to learn.  You never know what you’ll miss if you stay home.

The next step for you is a scary one — traveling alone.  The world seems to be designed for couples and families.  Be that as it may, you must move forward and create your own wonderful life.  Stop waiting for a companion.  Don’t listen to naysayers.  Ignore them.  You’re wasting valuable time.  You deserve a great life, so go out and take it by the reins.  No one’s going to hand it to you.  Enjoy it.  Help others see it’s possible for them, too, because you did it.

Start with baby steps.  Venture into your community; dare to visit a museum alone.  Go to the theater or a concert.  Treat yourself to a day at the spa.  Some spas, such as Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, have special packages just for solos.  Take yourself to dinner in a high-end restaurant.  There’s no shame in dining alone.  Ignore the sometimes careless waiters who think you won’t tip them well because you’re by yourself.  Prove them wrong.  Give them a good tip with a smile.

You don’t have to cheat yourself from enjoying the amazing things that are out there just because no one will go with you.  Take a road trip and stay the weekend.  Explore, build your confidence.  Talk to the folks you meet on your journeys.  Take a train to a destination you’ve always wanted to see.  Fly somewhere.  Dare to go to another country.

Many single people don’t care to travel with couples and families, so find a travel tour for singles and solos.  There are lots of them out there.  Don’t worry about the “singles tours.”  Most are not “dating” tours.  They’re focused on the travel, not on finding a mate.  There are lots of tour groups, such as Women Traveling Together, The Women’s Travel Group, Singles by the Bay Travel Club and G Adventures, that cater to solo travelers.  Many of these companies don’t charge a single supplement and will automatically arrange a room share for you.

You’ll meet people in those groups, share meals, share experiences.  It’ll be a makeshift community for you.   Do it over a holiday.  You’ll have an international family with whom to celebrate the holiday.  You can stay in touch on Facebook or via email.  Meet people of like mind.  Share human experiences.  Explore your differences.  Rejoice in the tapestry of cultures and all the delicious and delightful things to discover.  Suddenly, you have a worldwide community, an enormous family.

“It’s easy for her to say!  She must be rich.”

Yes, it is easy for me to say… now.  And no, I’m not rich.  Not even close.  It does take some money to do these things, and I sacrifice and save to be able to take two or three international trips a year.  I don’t go on luxury cruises or stay in high end hotels.  There are a number of travel companies that offer less expensive, more rustic experiences that still provide plenty of bang for your buck.

The highest cost of travel these days is the airfare.  There’s not a lot you can do about that, except use travel miles or get group rates.  Unfortunately, most travel companies don’t include the cost of airfare in their tour pricing.  The one exception I’ve found (there may be more) is Gate 1 Travel.  Their tours are very affordable and most of them provide the option of including airfare in the cost of the tour.  I went to Peru recently with Gate 1 and loved them.  Several of the people in my group had been on multiple Gate 1 tours and spoke very highly of their experiences.  Another thing I like about Gate 1 is that you can pay for your trip a little at a time through your online account.  It makes it much easier to manage the cost.

If you’d like to combine volunteer work with travel, why not volunteer abroad?  There are many non-profit organizations, such as Cross-Cultural Solutions and Jubilee Sailing Trust, which provide volunteer opportunities around the world.  You’ll have to pay a fee to do this, but since the money goes to a non-profit, you can raise funds for your trip through crowdsourcing.

VaughanTown is a volunteer program, though not a non-profit, through which you can spend time in Spain for free, except the cost of your airfare and any expenses outside of the program.  Throughout the year, Anglos from around the world travel to Spain to participate in this 6-day English immersion program for Spanish business people.  The Anglos volunteer their time to hold conversations in English with the Spanish participants.  In exchange, Vaughan Systems, the parent company, gives them free lodging in the beautiful Spanish countryside location and feeds them three glorious meals a day, including local wine with lunch and dinner.

I participated in VaughanTown two years ago at their Valdelavilla location (SEE English Only, Please) and have maintained friendships with both Spaniards and Anglos I met in the program.  I’ll return to VaughanTown in July this year to participate in the program in Pedraza, a medieval walled-in city.  Stay tuned for my blogs on that adventure.

If you’re paying medical bills or are going through unemployment or bankruptcy, you’re in hell, and you may think this is the end of your life.  Travel is probably the last thing on your mind.  But life doesn’t stop because of these difficulties.  I’ve been through it.  I know how painful it is.  But you have to find a way to move your life forward.  Life should not be about the struggle, but about finding joy and sharing that joy with others.

Traveling has brought me more lasting joy than I ever could have imagined.  The thought of another trip, the people I’ll meet, the food and wine I discover, the history I learn – all of this and more keep me going.  Travel makes me feel like my life matters.  Your life matters, too.

Time keeps ticking away.  There’s no time to waste.  Get out there on your own.  Have the time of your life.  See new places.  Meet fascinating people.  Savor delicious food and wine.  Live the stories that you will remember the rest of your life and that you’ll recount to your friends and co-workers.  Inspire others to leave their sofas and become part of the world.  If you stay home, you’ll never know what might have been.  What amazing things did you miss out on?

Do you think I’m preaching?  I guess maybe I am.  But I hope you’ll see this as more of a pep talk.  It’s okay to dream.  That’s a good place to start.  Just be sure to make your dreams your reality.  You can do it.  Volunteer.  Travel.  Live your life.