Sheltering in Place Alone? 6 Tips From a Solo Expert

Ironically, the act of traveling around the world can provide plenty of experience for staying put at home. (iStock)

With the current shelter-in-place order, many of us have drawn on past experience to pass the time: revisiting old hobbies and reconnecting with memories that bring us comfort. But nostalgia can only provide so much consolation, and if you live alone, there's no denying that the enforced solitude will feel increasingly difficult to bear. Which means it's time to create some next steps in your self-isolation plan.

While most of my friends were finishing their degrees and starting their careers, I spent the majority of my twenties on the road, working, living, and traveling in over 30 countries on five continents. And now, somewhat ironically, I find that the experience of roaming from place to place has prepared me best for sheltering-in-place.

For many accustomed to the compressed experience of a one- or two-week vacation, traveling can feel like a constant bustle. But a vagabond with an open-ended itinerary might spend years traveling in places where they have no roots, no friends, and rudimentary-to-no language skills. And since every penny must be conscientiously budgeted—limiting the number of extracurricular activities and entertainments available—even a gregarious individual will wind up spending a lot of time alone.

But "alone" need not mean "desperately lonely." As the Bay Area enters its fourth week of sheltering in place, I’ve found the following techniques from my drifting days to be helpful for both keeping my distance and keeping up morale. Adapting some of them may help you stay the course.

Physical Tips

Stay Active: I love loafing, but barring underlying medical conditions, you’ll generally feel better if you keep moving. As walking and cycling are still permitted activities (as long as you keep the proscribed distance from others, and consider the CDC's recommendation to wear a mask), you may decide to brave the great outdoors for a daily constitutional. For individuals resolutely remaining inside, even a basic exercise routine will get your blood circulating and your muscles engaged.

I’m a personal fan of this seven-minute workout, which I’ve adapted to many a small room while touring the Fringe Festival circuit. Currently the internet is awash with zoom fitness classes and quarantine routines, including one from none other than ex-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger. Whatever works for you, try to spend at least an hour a day in active motion.

Experiment With Food: One of the great joys of traveling is discovering the foods of different regions, and I’ve made it a point to learn to cook many of them, from aioli to yassa. But even a non-cook can take this opportunity to try something new. My Twitter feed is bursting with people trying sourdough bread for the first time. If you have access to extra veggies, make a quick vinegar pickle or try fermentation to preserve them. Grab a cocktail shaker and try to recreate your favorite pre-quarantine drink. Now is the time to play with your food.

Alternatively, since many restaurants are struggling to stay afloat, and if you have the money, consider ordering a meal—not just from your favorite restaurant, but from one you’ve never tried. Where do you want to travel to next when travel is allowed again? Find a restaurant that makes that food, and savor those flavors when you're there next.

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Make it Fashion: One thing you learn when you’re living out of a backpack is how to maximize what little you have. But eventually, apartment dwellers avoiding the laundromat might contemplate the feasibility of hand washing their clothes. My main recommendation is not to wait until you're out of clean clothes, because if you don’t have an outdoor line, you’ll need up to 48 hours to dry them.

In under 10 minutes a day you can wash one shirt, one pair of underwear, and one pair of socks in your bathroom sink or shower, ensuring you never run out completely. Use liquid laundry detergent, or pretend you’re camping and use an all-in-one soap like Dr. Bronner’s. Fill the sink with warm water and suds, slosh the clothing around with your hands like an agitation cycle, and then spot scrub by gripping the fabric between your hands and rubbing together briskly. Pull your socks over your hands like puppets and sing your favorite 20-second hand-washing song while you scrub. Rinse thoroughly under the tap until the water runs clear, and wring the garment by twisting it until it stops dripping.

If you can't hang a drying line outside, then you can dry clothes over a handrail, a doorframe, hangers, or the backs of chairs—whatever you’ve got.

Psychological Tips

Stay in Touch: It really wasn’t that long ago that the internet didn’t even exist. And there’s something about the tangibility of an actual letter that makes their exchange feel more meaningful. Send your loved ones some postcards, recollections, or mementoes. Start a round-robin poetry or recipe exchange. Dabble in mail art. Write to your elected officials. For now, the USPS is considered an essential service—and you can help keep them essential by making use of them.

If you’ve got the bandwidth, hosting or joining a video-chat activity is a great way to keep in touch with your larger communities. Almost overnight, online karaoke parties, game nights, play readings, improv classes, and other group-oriented video chats have proliferated, and streaming options have made world-class performances and indie outliers alike available to anyone with internet access. Set a date night with yourself and expand your cultural horizons from home.

Lastly, don’t forget to keep some kind of journal or other record. You might think you won’t want to remember this time in your life, but if we want to be included in the historical record, we have to keep track of it ourselves.

Set Goals: I love a to-do list, and I’m completely unashamed to put things like “shower,” and “pay bills” on it just for the pure satisfaction of crossing them off. But while you might have already noticed that all of that “extra” time you supposedly have is not stretching as far as you envisioned, setting some modest goals for yourself will keep you from feeling too unrooted.

Have a bad habit you’d like to kick? With no one around to drive crazy as you wean yourself from coffee, chewing your nails, tobacco, or extra sugar, you might take this as an opportunity to get clean. (It took traveling to Timbuktu to get me to finally quit smoking.) Or forget Dry July, and get into Abstaining April. If quitting is not for you right now, try taking up a new pastime, plant a few seeds, or volunteer for a political cause from home. A small amount of personal reinvention might be just the ticket to keeping your distracted brain occupied.

Surrender Control: You know what? It’s really, really hard to be on your own 24/7. So don’t beat yourself up for feeling at a loss. That feeling is totally normal, especially in this unprecedented and frankly terrifying moment. When navigating new terrain—whether it’s in the mountains, the jungle, or the furthest recesses of your own mind—it’s important to know that you can’t know what will happen next. We can only be in control of our own actions, so striving to make the best individual choices is how we contribute to the collective good.

And above all, remembering that we’re all in this together is a good way to keep from feeling like you’re all alone.

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