Ever since she could remember, the demons followed her, wherever she want. Cloying panic attacks that engulfed her hungrily, that left her breathless. Depressive episodes that robbed her of all energy. PTSD that embalmed her in fear. There was something else too, undiagnosed. The key to her mental health and trauma, that was stopping her from healing. But she was a warrior. Who fought to get out of bed in the morning. Even when she wanted to block the world out, she put one foot in front of the other. Despite the over-crowded thoughts battled in her mind, she remained strong. The overthinking and the overwhelm, the panicked thoughts, and paralyzing horror. She never let it win. Because if there was something that you should know about A, it was that she never gave up. Even when her breathing was shallow, and her heart raced. Where she struggled to ride the tempest of waves that crashed endlessly through her mind. So when she discovered solo travel, it was like a lightbulb went off. She embarked on a journey of healing, self-discovery and joy. Immersing herself in new worlds and cultures, so far removed from her own. Though she still had chronic mental health issues to this day, travel awakened something within her.
A new thirst for life. Where cries turned into laughter. Resilience against the bad days, anguish overruled. Travelling was healing. But she never knew how restorative travelling on her own could be. After all, for many years she was terrified of being alone. Engulfed in a prison of isolation, loneliness and despair. On the outside, a smiley, happy go-lucky person whose laughter was infectious. Yet her insides hid something darker. Tulmotous sobs that racked her body, her stomach tied in knots. A back that tensed with anxiety. Unable to lie down without a panic attack. Endless nights caught in a rut of insomnia. Was it little wonder that she worked so much? That she was constantly doing something to take her mind off the pain? But when she fell back in love with travel, things felt different. She learned how to slow down, and take care of herself. Not to plaster a band-aid over her problems, but truly feel and be in the moment.
Growing up, A was told that she was too emotional. A drama queen who was ‘clearly looking for attention’, because she was vocal about her mental health issues. At times she had to repress who she was, and hide the gravity of how she felt. But not any more. For several years, she had been on a new path. One where she was kinder to herself. Where she listened to what her body and mind needed. Trying to stay present in those moments of despair, loneliness and sadness. Frustration, anger, and resentment. After all, for so long she saw the world through ‘false positivity’, and ultimately it was damaging. Now, she let herself embrace the good, bad and the ugly, no matter what it cost her. Her travels alone helped her find herself. Showed her the clarity that she had needed for so long. For travel wasn’t judgemental. It was a friend, who was there for her no matter what.
What Motivated Me To Travel Solo
Travelling with others was one thing. But many people found travelling alone daunting. Not Ana though. For someone who had spent years trapped in fear of being alone, she thrived in solo travel. She met interesting people along the way. Even when she was alone, she never felt isolated. Unlike in childhood where being alone meant she wasn’t liked, here it was different. She was a passer-by, a visitor. Noone was paying attention to her, a chameleon in the shadows. That was just the way she liked it. She never wanted to be the centre of attention, despite what people growing up thought. After all, she was an extroverted introvert. When she travelled alone, it helped her travel on her own terms. It allowed her to discover who she wanted to be. Most of all, it taught her to be brave. Despite the naysayers, she was constantly proving people (including herself) wrong.
Admittedly, she found the concept of solo travel scary to begin with. But when she travelled on her own to Madeira aged 17, she realized it was empowering. Sure, she had aunties, cousins, and uncles out there. So she was never truly alone. But that was her first solo flight, and she was proud of herself. It would mark a pattern for how she would like to travel in the future. Small-scale, less people. Things done on her terms rather than other people’s. Of course, she made friends along the way. To this day, she had friends all around the world, from travels in Europe and beyond. But the best thing about solo travel? Going at her own pace without pressure. Knowing that it was OK to get knocked down, and try again another time.
Solo travel taught her to be kinder to herself, more compassionate. Most of all, it helped her discover the kind of traveller she wanted to be. Someone who went off the beaten track. Who didn’t just go on tourist trails. But looked at the real cultural landscape. Eating dinner with locals, exploring unappreciated gems. Trying something new, even if it was out of her comfort zone. Yes, she was that person. An iniquisitive traveller, whose travels boosted her mental health. Pre-2019, she went on holidays for singles. It felt right. Despite what the name suggested, you didn’t need to be single. It was a solo holiday, where you had the chance to make friends. Yet equally, you had much needed alone time too. It felt rejuvanating. Despite being in a serious relationship for almost 5 years, the idea of connecting with others spoke to her heart.
Over her years of travel, she realized something. Travelling was more than just a pastime. It was a way of life. Though part of her was a homebody, the other was an explorer. The kind of person who tried things that scared her all the time. Like that time she climbed Sigirya rock in Sri Lanka, terrified of heights. When she went to a remote part of Tuscany, even when she was suffering with chronic anxiety and depression. Even when she was terrified, she jumped into things head first. She wasn’t a ‘I can’t’ person, but an ‘I will person’, no matter how long it took. Because time was a healer. It was never too late to travel. And even when you were on a budget like A, staycations, and travels abroad weren’t out of reach. She couldn’t put it into words how much travel changed her life. It shaped her into being the woman she had always wanted to be. Someone who was constantly challenging her personal boundaries. Who saw fear as barrier to overcome. Who found solace travelling around the world alone. That’s when she realized. She wanted to help others discover the joy of travelling too.
The Psychological Benefits Of Travelling Alone
You Learn To Love Yourself For Who You Are
When she learned to love herself, everything changed. Before, she would put herself down constantly. Her work was never good enough. She didn’t look like she should. She hated everything about herself, and was jealous of others. Yet, with time she realized that being different wasn’t a bad thing. The traits that people had bullied her for before, were a superpower. So what if she didn’t look like everyone else. She was proud of who she was, and her heritage. Her features were perfectly imperfect, and that was OK. It wasn’t just looks either. People mocked her personality, made her think that ‘being weird’ was a bad thing. But now? She revelled in her weirdness. It was OK to be quirky. That was something that solo travel taught her. In a melting pot of cultures where no two people were the same, she realized it was a good thing. She didn’t want to blend into a crowd. She wanted to stand out.
Travelling alone showed her how to be comfortable in her own skin. To focus not on how other people saw her, but on her relationship with herself. In Madeira she embraced her colourful character, and loving nature. In Barcelona she stood up for herself, and learned to fight for what she wanted. But in Sri Lanka? She learned the most about herself. While she loved the country, she realized that she had been letting people take advantage of her for too long. She recognized that she needed to set better personal boundaries, and be more clear about she wanted. Because, despite what some might have said, she was good enough. Even after the trauma of being abused, bullied and neglected, she had plenty of people in her life who loved her just the way she was. In travel, she learned to trust herself. She had already achieved more than 90% of people had said she could. After all, noone thought she would go to university. She graduated with a first. Critics said she should give up writing. She was a successful blogger and creator. It went without saying that she got a kick out of proving people wrong.
Travel was no exception. But how did it help her develop self-compassion? Travelling alone showed her that she was more capable than she realized. Growing up with trauma from abuse, bullying, and neglect, made her feel broken. But in travel, she became whole again. She was scared of so much, that was true. But she was bloody proud of herself for having the guts to say yes, even when her mind and body was telling her no. Sri Lanka was perhaps the most revealing trip of all. It wasn’t all good, there was a lot of bad. Yet, in the bad, she learned so much. She learned to trust herself through new challenges. To conquer fears like heights, boats, and overwhelming social scenarios head on. To be honest with herself (and others), to not pretend that things were OK. As someone who was a people pleaser, being able to tune into the things that she needed, was vital.
You Learn To Be Kinder To Others
Those who knew A, would describe her as kind, funny, and thoughtful. Someone who often put others above her own needs. Who cared too much about what people thought. While she was more of a people pleaser when she was younger, there were times where that insecure kid would filter through. Yet weirdly travel showed her how to be more assertive. She learned to be honest about who she was and why she was here. Most of all, it taught her to be open-minded. She was always someone who was tolerant, inclusive and supportive. A person her friends would describe as a ‘hype woman’, who saw no shame in championing others. Yet sometimes she struggled to create ‘long-term relationships’.
She had that incessant need for ‘instant connection’, yet found too many relationships overwhelming. Struggling to reply to the barrage of messages. Drowning in other people, unable to focus on what was important. She would feel guilty that sometimes she wasn’t present, and available. But she knew no other way. To let things build up, and hide behind a wall. In travel, she found what she needed to change. She needed to be more vocal and communicative. To be clearer about she wanted. When people were making nasty comments about her on her travels, she would often freeze up, and get upset. But those experiences taught her how to champion herself. Still, what on earth did this have to do with being kinder to others? She stopped telling people ‘half-truths’. Being sensitive, she was worried about hurting other people’s feelings. But she realized that telling people what they wanted to hear wasn’t helpful. She was still kind. But honest.
As she travelled around the world, her interactions with strangers taught her that. These were people who were short-term friends. People who she experienced a whirlwind of emotions from, but wouldn’t be in her life back home. It wasn’t a bad thing. These strangers, come travel buddies, were people she held dearly in her heart. Who she opened up with fully in a way she hadn’t done in a long time. After all, they were strangers. They had no expectations, they didn’t judge. She had always thought about relationships as long-term. Yet short-term relationships were just as important. They were just as real and profound. No matter how long they lasted, they taught A to value her ‘true friendships’ more, and priortize the people that mattered the most. Above all? Solo travel showed her to escape the confines of her comfort zone. To say yes to things that scared her,. Part of that? Stepping outside of her circle, and finding new people in a world remove from her own. Connecting with a broader range of people, and learning to be more empathetic. Granted, she was always someone who cared deeply. But when she travelled alone, her understanding widened.
You Develop Self-Soothing Skills And Become Resilient
Ripping the band-aid off seemed harsh. After all, we all had our ways of self-medicating. To A, her ‘coping mechanism’ was to never stop. To keep going, even when she couldn’t breathe and her body was breaking down. But that wasn’t healthy. Though it was something that she still struggled with to this day, she tried to focus on self-care. But travel felt different. Travelling on her own, felt like a spiritual awakening. Blurred from the secure social structures of everyday life. Gone was routine, and in its place was spontaneity. Breaking away from over-working. Letting herself get lost in the moment. After all, there was a difference between self-soothing, and self-medicating.
Travelling showed her grit and resilence. Gone were the familuar comforts of her home. She had to rely on herself to feel better. When she was scared and anxious, she had to look after herself. When she had a bad day, she had to tune into what she needed and wanted. She knew that she was tenacious. Life had taught her that. But solo travel showed her that she was so much more. When she was unwell and had flare ups, she would manage them, and carry on. When she had breakdowns, she took time out and carried on. But the difference was unlike at home, she faced them head on. She didn’t just ignore it and hope it went away. Instead, she acknowledged the way she was feeling, and lived in the present. After all, facing difficulties in an unfamiluar environment, among new people was important. It showed her how to be more flexible, patient and emotionally strong. She had to accept that some things were out of her control. And that was OK.
As someone who was a naturally anxious and impatient person, being able to let go of control was hard. Travelling was no different. When travel plans fell through or were different to what she expected, she panicked. She worried about what people thought, and whether they blamed her for things going wrong. After all, she wasn’t perfect. At times she was a mess, who spiralled, and found it hard to stay grounded. Sometimes she was all over the place. People would notice, but it didn’t matter. Travelling taught her to keep stock of her mental health, and to realize it was OK to feel this way. By recognizing emotional patterns, she would develop better soothing skills and become more resilient. Solo travel showed her how to slow down, and live in the present. It wasn’t something she was used to. She lived life in the fast lane, juggling multiple things at a time. But here things were different. She couldn’t explain it. Somehow in an environment removed from her own, she became more patient. Moving past stress without fixating on the events.
You Become A More Motivated Person
Granted, travelling alone helped her grow as a person. But weirdly, it made her productive too. She became more organized in the chaotic mess of mental health. She was focused and present. Most of all, travelling motivated her to be the person she had always wanted to be. The kind of person that didn’t let fear get in the way. She took time out from the pressing deadlines, and the never-ending workload. She didn’t want to keeping banging on about it. But what mattered was the here and now. It gave her a balance between work, and play. In her real life, she worked often. It was her therapy, her way of life. But in travel, even when she was doing it for work, it felt different. A change of environment, a new way of life. When she came back home, she felt more fufilled. Invigorated, bursting with new ideas.
Most importantly of all? It was a time for self-reflection. A couple of years ago on a Barcelona work trip, she realized she needed to leave. She was in a toxic work environment, where she was being treated horrifically. Worse of all, he was doing things that were illegal. She eventually got fired for trying to make a change. But that work trip, made her more motivated to have the self-belief to leave the job herself. Sure, it didn’t plan out the way she wanted. But it showed her that she didn’t suit working for other people. That actually she was better working for herself. Though she was surrounded by other people, Barcelona felt like she was on her own. It was meditative. Not only a chance to collect new experiences and friendships. But a realization that she needed to try something new. That her calling in life wasn’t dictated by other people.
She found that travelling (no matter where she went), was cathartic. She was so used to working long hours and burning out, that having fun came with stress. Even now at times, she found it hard to relax. Somehow her body didn’t feel like she deserved to have fun. It was a trauma response, that much was clear. And yet travelling was like therapy. Despite the screaming that reverberated in her mind, anxiety wasn’t something to be feared. Travel showed her to change her thinking patterns, and realize that some things were out of her control. It was OK if things went wrong (which was often), She needed to treat it like a learning curve. Something that empowered her to embrace her mistakes, and see them as a positive. It motivated her to change her mindset, and way of life. To focus on self-care and what made her happy. To set breaks, and carve time out to heal, glow and prosper.
You Teach Yourself To Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone
For so long A was someone who stayed in the safe zone. Sticking to what she knew. Scared of making mistakes and what people would say. Unable to pick up the pieces. And yet, this wasn’t real life. The truth was, perfection was not real. Beyond the filtered lenses of the carefully set up Instagram shots, there were ups and downs. Travel seen through rose-tinted glasses, a projection of what she wanted life to look like. Travel helped her step outside her comfort zone. She wasn’t always comfortable. At times, she questioned why she travelled. Yet the truth was travel helped her break out of a rut. Instead of staying in the same emotional patterns, she branched out. She did what she was scared of, she embraced what she was not good at.
She learned from other people, who were incredibly resilient. People who had grown up with nothing, but constantly challenged themselves. Grateful for what they had, but at the same time, always trying to find more. It was how she was too. Someone who grew up with little. Yet at the same time, she tested her personal boundaries. Trying new things all the time. Not entirely comfortable with failure granted. But letting mistakes guide her into the person she wanted to become. Solo travel showed her what her emotional strengths were. Even when she struggled to find the emotional capacity, she pushed herself to do more. After all, travel was a learning experience. Travel where you experienced new cultures, friends, foods and languages. At time there was fear. But when it worked out, it was rewarding.
When she was younger, being alone was terrifying. She thought that people were looking at her, judging her, paranoid as to what they may think. But the older she got, the more she realized it didn’t matter. Life was too short to not love who she was. Life was too short to not embrace every part of herself. Mostly life was too short not to explore, discover and embrace the beauty of the world beyond her familuarity. Taking breaks from her comfort zone, was empowering. She realized that she was so much more than what she thought. Even when she was terrified, or thought something was beyond her ability, she realized that she was more than capable. She became less complacent, constantly challenging herself to try new things. To embrace the flaws, and stop limiting her oppotunities. When she said yes (on her terms), she found that travel was so much more enjoyable.
You Become Less Scared Of The Unknown
For years A was scared of change. Her head filled with so many questions. What if everything went wrong? What if she failed? But living in fear stopped her from truly living. Though she was still scared of the unknown, she was working on living in the moment. That was the beauty of solo travel. Being pushed to come out of your comfort zone, and get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. As someone who had anxiety and depression, travelling alone had its challenges. The fear of having a panic attack in front of people. Of not being able to enjoy the trip because of mental health. Of forgetting things at home. As someone who was an overthinker, A planned for every outcome. She always wanted to be prepared. Yet sometimes in the chaos of mental health, it was easy to feel lost. Trapped in the never-ending ups and downs.
Travelling, no matter where you went was an unpredictable journey. A realized with time that planning things out so rigidly left more room for panic attacks, disappointment, low moods and despair. When things didn’t go to plan A often took it personally. But she was trying something new. In Sri Lanka, she had constant low depressive moods, paranoia, chronic anxiety as well as being physically sick too. All the things that she was worried about happening, actually happened. She realized something important though. Everything was out of her control. When she realized this, her mindset and attitude changed. She realized that she needed to learn to let go of expectations. That sometimes going with the flow and trying something new would help her grow as a person. And travelling alone came with a lot of certaintity. For someone who was a perfectionist, she would spiral in the unknown.
She would fixate on how things weren’t how she imagined them to be. In the case of Sri Lanka, she was poorly (mentally and physically), and had very little sleep over the course of the 10 days she was there. This wasn’t the best environment for her to heal granted. There was also scenarios where her worst fears came true. She stopped being her authentic self, and tried to change herself to ‘become more palatable for others’. Don’t get her wrong. Sri Lanka was incredible in so many ways. The beautiful wild animals. The incredible food. The stunning lush scenery. But on the press trip, there was scenarios where she was made to feel like she wasn’t good enough. She was triggered, felt desperately alone. Couldn’t wait to come home. But here’s the thing. Despite what her mind and body were telling her, she stuck it out. Even when everything went wrong, she learned to embrace the unknown. She channelled her energy not into disappointment, hurt, and what she was missing out on. Instead, she focused on what the experience had taught her. How even the negatives were shaping her into the person she wanted to be. When she came back, she realized that the unknown wasn’t as scary as she once thought. It felt freeing.
How Does Solo Travel Boost Your Mental Health?
Please note this is a collaborative post, but all thoughts are my own and are not affected by monetary compensation.