There are a million reasons why solo travel is good for you. The chance to escape the everyday, eat good food and walk for miles, to name but a few.
But solo travel has the added bonus of allowing you to focus on you, and only you. It is a powerful way of feeding your mind and body, with a wonderful ability to heighten your state of mindfulness.
Not only is it an excellent way to reduce stress, but it allows you to fuel your thoughts and emotions with renewed positivity and paves the way for lasting personal development.
And when was the last time you managed to do that?
Here are five reasons why solo travel may be the most empowering thing you’ve never done.
Solo travel gives you complete independence
Back in 2006, I took a career break to travel to China for five weeks.
I stayed with a friend in Beijing for part of the trip, but she worked full-time. So each morning I could wake up and do whatever I felt like doing.
This was exceptionally liberating, once I’d got used to it. I’d never been away on my own before and it felt a bit strange to me at first.
Should I spend a day in the Forbidden City? I enjoyed that so much I ended up going twice – once with a tour and again a couple of weeks later just to admire it.
Or should I ride a bike through the hutongs? Somehow that plan ended up with a trip to the now-closed Underground City, a bizarre Cold War-era network of tunnels that would have been highly unlikely to survive the nuclear attack that it was designed to protect against.
Conversely, if I didn’t want to do something, I simply didn’t do it. Solo travel put me back in the driving seat, allowing me to focus on myself alone, and no one else. Bliss.
Solo travel allows you to break out of your comfort zone
Choosing to take a solo travel adventure was enough in itself to break out of my comfort zone.
I’m very sociable and am forever chatting to my friends and family, be it in person or via a messaging app. The prospect of being on my own for long periods of time somewhat scared me.
China was also the first place I ever went to where I had no common form of communication – even counting on your fingers was different.
Early on, I remember crying with frustration in the back of a taxi, desperately trying to explain to the driver that I wasn’t where I wanted to be.
By the end of the five weeks, my reaction to anything that hadn’t gone quite according to plan was merely a shrug. In that time, I had grown and developed in ways that are only possible when you venture outside your bubble.
My proudest moment was buying myself an overnight sleeper ticket to Shanghai at a Beijing railway station.
It took more than two hours, involved feeling very stereotypically British about people not queuing properly, and a lot of hand gestures, but I managed it.
China was very good for me in many ways, not to mention a lot of fun.
But more than anything, it made me confident that I can do anything I put my mind to, and reminded me that it’s OK when things don’t quite go according to plan.
The experience of solo adventure and adopting a spontaneous, open-minded approach to my travels showed me that the challenges of everyday life are surmountable.
Travelling alone gave me the strength to overcome my anxieties and made room in my life for meaningful personal development to take place.
Solo travel means you’re more likely to meet people
There’s nothing like a solo adventure to open up a whole new world of connections. Going it alone is actually one of the best ways to make new friends.
There’s something about being on your own that makes you more approachable. You’re far more likely to strike up random conversations with locals, and what better way to learn about a place than through its people?
In just one afternoon on my own in Tel Aviv, I spoke to more people than I had the previous three days when there with a friend, which included a surprisingly in-depth discussion about Mr Bean and receiving an invite to go out on a boat off Jaffa.
You’re also far more likely to team up with fellow travellers.
In Paris, I spent an entire day with a fellow traveller called Catherine. We strolled around the cobbled streets of Montmartre, warmed up in a cafe by drinking hot chocolate, and ended up somewhere near the Louvre.
It was a bit like Before Sunrise, without the romance. We’re still in touch.
Travelling solo has the added advantage of being able to leave any social expectations, like those of friends and family, at home. You can focus on who you want to be, not what others expect you to be.
Being present is the key to mindfulness
The basic principles of mindfulness are paying more attention to the present moment and reconnecting your mind and body with the sensations it experiences.
As someone who has suffered from severe anxiety, I see it as way of slowing my brain down when my thoughts are racing uncontrollably ahead of me.
I am the kind of person who is always doing two things at once – who watches TV while tapping away on my laptop and sends work emails from the bus.
So, while I am hardly someone who enjoys a week lounging by a hotel pool, travelling does give me the chance to put down the laptop and step back from the daily grind for a bit.
Admittedly, it is remarkably difficult to worry about impending deadlines when watching orangutans in the Borneo jungle, flying down a zipline in Haiti, or snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef.
But the added bonus of experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of any new destination is that it leaves very little space in my head to sweat about the small stuff.
The joy of solo travel is that it grounds you in the present moment, refreshing your thoughts and emotions with positive energy.
Needless to say, the experience of adventure is hugely beneficial for both mind and body. It is a powerful way to reduce stress, nourishing your mental health and making space for greater mindfulness.
Seeing the bigger picture always puts things into perspective
Solo travel is always a good time to step back and reassess; it lets you focus on yourself and no-one else.
Seeing other places also makes you evaluate what you have and don’t have.
Travelling to places such as China and Cuba made me appreciate that I live in a society that values democracy and free speech.
At the same time, I admire those particular societies’ emphasis on the importance of family and community.
Visiting Australia made me realise I feel lucky to live in Europe, where you can hop between countries in a matter of hours.
But being able to spend much of your life outdoors is something I crave and now I try and spend more time away from my desk.
Solo travel is an excellent way of putting life in perspective. It gives you space to consider what’s important in life, what makes you grow as a person and the things that feed your soul on a deeper level.
The effect of mindfulness is the feeling that you’re in control of your own story, giving you the mental strength to face up to any challenges standing in your way.
We could all do with putting ourselves first and practicing a little mindfulness.
Try it, you may just like it.
Fuel your mind and body with these 3 epic solo adventures:
Experience first-hand the majestic beauty of the Big 5, dive into clear tropical waters and crash out on the white sands of paradise.
I want this
Morocco is the perfect mindfulness escape. You’ll ride waves and practice yoga on the beach, before exploring the Atlas Mountains and camping beneath wide star-strewn skies.
Step into a winter wonderland in Canada
Traverse the edges of glaciers and journey into deep white forests by moonlight, before cosying up around a campfire with hot apple cider and s’mores.