The bravery workout: how to build up the courage to travel solo

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Junko Tabei didn’t arrive in life determined to climb Everest. Barack Obama wasn’t born a great leader. Amelia Earhart didn’t eat bravery muesli for breakfast (well, as far as we know). 

The fact is, courage is like a muscle: we all have access to it and we can all build on it over time – with help from a little grit. You don’t need to be a world-famous leader or a record-breaker to showcase epic levels of bravery, either. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Is fear holding you back from solo travel? Here’s how to push through the discomfort to a place of strength, joy and freedom. Cue the 80s power tunes…

Start small and build in buffers

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If you’re daunted by the idea of exploring the world solo, it’s wise not to dive in with a month-long trip to outer Mongolia or Mozambique. Instead, start small, as you would do any habit, and build your tolerance over time. 

“Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach,” writes Charles Duhigg in his best-selling book, The Power of Habit.

Take the example of exercise. “Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change,” Duhigg notes.

Small wins fuel transformative changes

In solo travel terms, this might mean slowing scaling your appetite for adventure – or dipping your toe in the waters. You could start by dining out alone once a week. Then you could make a solo trip to the cinema. Followed by your first weekend away for one. 

You might also build buffers into the experience: for example, by planning a solo trip away that is broken up by friends at either end. Or by planning experiences – such as group cycling or a community cooking class – where you connect with strangers throughout. 

Allow yourself to make mistakes

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Even the most seasoned solo escape artists have had moments of doubt when they felt awkward, uncertain or afraid. The difference between them and someone who can’t – or won’t – travel alone is simply that they powered through the fear.

So, part of being willing to exercise your courage muscle, as you might do your abs in the gym, is the ability to learn from inevitable mistakes along the way. “The truth is that we live in such manicured and organized lives, that real problems that need practical solutions don’t present themselves as often as they might,” adventurer Ed Stafford tells Flash Pack. “Even if problems in everyday life do occur they can usually be fixed by Googling a person who can fix it and paying them some money. That’s not living – that’s outsourcing your very validity as a human being.”

We don’t learn much if we repeat the same things day in, day out

Solo travel may feel uncomfortable at first because you are putting yourself in the driving seat. You are forced to make decisions, and take risks, all by trusting your gut. Doing so is exposing: it’s almost guaranteed to involve some missteps. But therein lies a fast-track to growth.

We don’t learn much if we repeat the same things day in, day out. We don’t learn much if we know we are safe and the consequences are trivial,” says Stafford. “So, drag your grey life into glorious technicolor and go on an adventure. One that you know will be tough, that scares you a little, that potentially you may fail at. It will be an unparalleled fast-track in your personal development and set you on course to become the very best version of you.”

Don’t wait to be ready

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Waiting until you’re “ready” to travel solo is a classic catch 22. You’ll only develop the requisite confidence within the act itself.

“The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it,” writes Susan Jeffers, in her best-selling guide, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. “Every time you encounter something that forces you to ‘handle it’, your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens.”

In many ways, solo travel is the ultimate conduit to self-esteem. You’re not waiting for confidence to materialize before you set out in the world alone. Instead, that ability to go for it – even when you do feel unsure or fearful – will propel you to greater heights. Every time you have a conversation with a stranger, or navigate a difficult train journey by yourself, you’re proving to yourself you can do it. It reinforces the strength behind that behaviour.

The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it

“What if, self-doubt was just part and parcel of doing ‘stuff’? What if feeling like an imposter was a normal side effect of moving out of your comfort zone?” coach and hypnotherapist, Chloe Brotheridge, tells Flash Pack. “When you walk towards your fear, you learn that you can do hard things – and survive. You discover you can trust yourself to handle what comes up. Your nervous system learns that it’s not actually a life or death situation, and it calls off the alarm. And your confidence grows.”

So, start small by all means; but do get started. You’ll be riding the solo travel highway in no time.

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