Zumba Knows No Boundaries

Traveling solo and working abroad can sometimes be lonely. But, with the right mindset, it’s easy to overcome loneliness fast.

Solo travel isn’t for the faint of heart. I never felt the lonely pang of traveling alone until the moment I saw the most extraordinary seaside sunset. As the clear blue sky transformed into a fiery red and faded into lightest shades of coral pink and burnt orange as the sun dipped into sea, I looked around and I had nobody to share it with. Sure, I could Instagram every stunning church I visited or Snapchatted the crap out of every deliciously warm French baguette I noshed, but I know #travelpics get overwhelming to stateside friends. Virtual likes just don’t hold the same heft as having someone there with you.

But, once those painful moments pass, I actually prefer to travel by myself because I’ve always been a firm believer in the “some experiences aren’t better when shared” state of mind. I’m not living the hostel life with 15 strangers. I don’t own a selfie stick, and I’m not a 21-year-old exploring the world for the first, second, or even third time. I’m working. I’m living. I’m understanding the lavish lifestyle of the French Riviera—a life that’s rare to experience as an American—and I want to fully embrace this culture on my own.

Besides, I fiercely enjoy my alone time. As a self-prescribed introvert, I need it. I love not having to include other people on my journey unless I choose to invite them. But, most importantly, I hate having having others dictate group travel decisions, especially with companions who have the opposite travel m.o.s.

But man, sometimes all I want is my best friend here to share a bottle of wine over laughs instead of awkwardly FaceTiming at 5 am since it’s the only time we’re both (mostly) awake and free to catch up.

Katie Askew (right) found her tribe with Zumba. Photo courtesy of Katie Askew

Katie Askew (right) found her tribe with Zumba. Photo courtesy of Katie Askew

Extroverts beware! Unless you love striking up conversations with strangers (who am I kidding, of course you love conversations with strangers—you’re an extrovert!), then you may not need any help making friends or feeling at home when traveling solo. But, because I’m 48 percent introverted according to Myers Briggs (ESFJ if you’re wondering), here’s some secret top-shelf advice for my fellow extroverted-introverted expats: Find your place, find your tribe.

It's easy. What do you love doing in America? Do that. Just find it in your new country.

Do you love reading at coffee shops and people watching? Scour various cafes until you find one that matches your vibe and just chill. You’ll feel more at home and, if you return enough, the baristas will get to know you. Double win.

Missing the sense of community you felt at home in your practiced faith? Well, start Googling to find an English-speaking mosque/temple/church/gurudwara/synagogue/hof/cultural center in your new city and start attending services and events. Your community will begin to grow and the familiarity of home will ebb any sting of loneliness.

Do you run all the time back home? Lace up your shoes, find the prettiest trail, and start exploring! Looking for a more solid group to run with? Running clubs are all over the world and meetup.com is great place to start looking for local running groups in your new city. Maybe you’ll even make a new friend out of it or get to practice conversation in the local language.

Zumba in the basement of a local Monaco church. Photo by Katie Askew

Zumba in the basement of a local Monaco church. Photo by Katie Askew

For me, my “tribe” is Zumba, which is easy to find anywhere in the world because it’s an international phenomenon. I absolutely became obsessed with hip-hop and Zumba dance classes when I lived in NYC. Since then, I haven’t stopped the twerking, squatting, and cha-chas. Although it took a week to find a Zumba instructor in Monaco that fit my schedule, spoke some English, and choreographed hip-hop songs, I look forward to my daily workout routine. I’m thankful to have found Natasha, my dance teacher, as she is fluent in five languages: Russian, English, French, Italian, and Spanish. Luckily for me, she understood my lack of knowledge of the French language and would switch between French and English during class so I could keep up. Some classes are in the basement of a local church and some classes are held on the pier overlooking the entire harbor of Monaco.

It’s an amazing view to work out in front of: the endless sea on one side and million-dollar yachts (and their rich owners watching) behind us. Depending on where class is, we either jump into the sea for an easy cool-down afterward or head to lunch together in town.

Not only did finding Natasha’s workout class help me find my place in Monaco. It also enabled me to make some immediate friendships—regardless of our French/English language barriers. There’s nothing more bonding than sweating outside for hours or stumbling over new Beyoncé choreography together. The best part? I made friends from all over the world: Russia, Philippines, U.K., and, France, of course. Thankfully Zumba, music, and dancing knows no language boundaries.

If you’re curious about other ways to cope as an introvert while traveling, check out our tips on navigating through hostel life.