A cure for loneliness when travelling solo: Breakfast with a stranger

Travelling is full of moments we want to capture in a jar and put on the mantle. Travelling alone means you don’t get to bank “remember whens” that you can share with another. But solo trips allow you to fill up as many jars as you want with memories that are perfectly, selfishly yours. This is one of those jars:

The first few days of my trip to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, the first solo trip I’d ever booked — a somewhat impulsive decision given it was days before Christmas — I was too taken by the beautiful surroundings to feel lonely. I was busy: reading, surfing, exploring the market and familiarizing myself with Nicaragua’s excellent rum. But one day, I woke up sucker-punched by loneliness.

I tried to kill some time by wandering to the beach, hoping the funk would pass. Instead, the 10-minute walk down a steeply pitched gravel hill, during which I passed two buildings and not a single other person, only left me feeling bored and sour.

My pity party for one was interrupted when I heard someone call my name. At the base of the hill sat a little beach house. I knew who lived there, but didn’t know that they knew me. The call came from inside that house, from Dunia Burgos. “Hey, Karen, que tal?”

Dunia stood on her porch. “Have you eaten? Come in for breakfast.” Everyone in Maderas knows Dunia. She’s one of the top ranked women surfers in the country and she lives a stone’s throw from her home break. Dunia’s waves are the sort that would send me out of the water and to a beach chair, glass of rum in hand. Her invitation for breakfast was like manna from heaven.

In what can only be described as an adult’s version of a tree house — perched on a little slope, one room with a loft bed, kitchen table, and portable propane burner, a quiver of surfboards tucked up into the rafters to give the ceiling shots of colour — Dunia and I got to work. She set aside an avocado, some eggs and showed me how to make corn tortillas (even now, I cringe at how much of her corn flour I must have wasted that day).

As we cooked and ate, we talked —  a mix of English and Spanish with colourful charades to fill in what words couldn’t — about my life in Toronto and her commute to school, about the beautiful jewellery she makes to help her family and how neither of us see our siblings as often as we’d like.

It was real conversation, not idle small talk. Someone who an hour ago was effectively a stranger now felt like a friend. And it sucker-punched the loneliness out of me as quick as it had arrived. I no longer felt anxious about travelling alone. I could make new friends. I was calm, competent and totally ok in my own company, and in my own skin.


  1. This article is just lovely! I spent about 5 months with Dunia back in 2009 and I can just see her calling you in from her little purple house! I watched her build the house too. Got some good photos of the wood joints and all. That in itself is a good story. Thanks for writing, brings me right back!

    • Oh Jessie, thanks for taking the time to read and comment! I hope Dunia’s ears are burning.
      Thanks for reading!

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