Solo travel cures a very modern insecurity

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On-demand is hot capital in today’s frazzled world. We want designer attire delivered to us within 24 hours of hitting the catwalk. We use apps to consult with a doctor in less than six minutes. Clean laundrymassages and professional make-up artistry are just a few of the services that we expect at the swipe of a thumb.

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We’re equally hasty when it comes to forming personal relationships. It takes us two-tenths of a second to form an impression of something or someone online. No time for conversations: we like, hate or laugh at other people’s ideas at a furious pace, swiping right to signify romantic interest.

Technology has never looked quite so smart.

The instant dilemma


While instant gratification might be a modernist’s dream, there are a few key problems with it. When we make a play for instant pleasure, we’re rewarded with a shot of feel-good dopamine in the brain. This Pavlovian response can provoke poor decisions, where we prioritise short-term gain over longer-term value (anyone who’s ever binged on a box of doughnuts will understand this).

The joy of instant gratification is also temporary, and quickly loses its impact. The more we impulsively seek it out, the less it delivers, and so the more we need of it. Hello, addiction.

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Instant gratification triggers low self-esteem, too. Consider how we use it on social media. “If we are not instantly overcome with pleasure then we will simply move on to something that is more gratifying,” reads this article from Psychology Today. “Hence why we swipe left, unfollow, or unfriend. This can lead users to constantly compare themselves to others and think less of their own lives, potentially leading to negative feelings such as jealousy or low self-esteem.”

Delayed gratification

A landmark study from the 1960s and 70s shows just how important delayed gratification is. Stanford University professors followed the lives of infants through to adulthood, after they were initially tested by being given marshmallows as a treat. The youngsters were given a choice; they could either eat them straight away, or have double the amount if they waited a while.

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The scientists found that the children who were able to use delayed gratification exhibited a raft of other significant advantages later in life, compared to those who gave into instant gratification. These included lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress and better social skills.

Clearly, delayed gratification is a tool for happiness. And solo travel is a great way to reap the rewards of this facet, even when it flies in the face of modern living.

Slowing things down

instant gratification

When you travel solo, you automatically resist the pervasive culture of gimme, gimme, gimme. Delayed gratification begins right from the moment when you book the trip. Just this act alone brings a happiness from anticipation that is far more enduring than that delivered by instant gratification.

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Travel creates a separate space in which to reflect upon life. And this effect is more potent when you’re on your own. Flying solo, you’re more likely to soak up the benefits of slow living, with greater time for reflection and growth. You can access a particular kind of solitude, which – thanks to travel – is entirely separate from the hustle of everyday life.

This solitude is a powerful antidote to the insecurity of instant gratification. Instead of wanting more right now, you slow things down. You appreciate the present, without craving anything else.

Greater meaning

Our lifestyle might be more convenient than ever before, but we also feel emptier for it. As we retreat behind our screens, and revel in the familiar comfort of taps and swipes, we also yearn for greater meaning.

We know that, however slick a service or dating app may be, it’s no rival to the long-lasting relationships and experiences that people have valued for centuries before us.

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“These days, more often we’re seeking an underlying truth about someone’s life, or about how events unfolded,” write reinvention gurus Russell Smith and Michael Foster.

“The story around events and experiences is what draws us in. People want to dig deeper and understand the story behind the bullet points. […] We’re complicated beings who were hardwired to be social and interact in tribal settings long before the age of social media. Google might deliver an answer that’ll satisfy you in seconds, but connecting meaningfully to people takes much longer.”

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When you go travelling – alone, or with a group of strangers – you take the time to invest in meaningful experiences and relationships once again. You bolster yourself from the inside out. No app in the world could promise to deliver such a powerful move.

Images: Shutterstock and Flash Pack

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