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Going Solo: How travelling alone can benefit your mental health

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Nowadays, our minds are often clouded by a ‘brain fog’ that can be hard to shake. We could attribute this to a tendency to overthink things in life, leading to a cascade of unwanted emotions. We’ve asked young travellers to come forward and express their experiences with solo travel and how it influenced their mental and emotional health. Could travel be the cure that helps us switch off and return to basics?   

Travelling alone tackles a lack of outward focus by presenting simple daily tasks. This focuses the mind on the present and stops us from having ‘too much’ thinking time. Crucial decisions like where to eat, sleep, and how to get from A to B, appeal to human instinct - unlike the clutter of decisions that are presented to us in day-to-day life.

The National Student's Assistant Travel Editor Caitlin told us her solo trip to Lisbon during a stressful time at University helped her feel “mentally and emotionally free." On her return, she felt “clearer and more positive" about the direction of her studies. "Travelling solo gives you the time you need to be outside of your own head. It offers real clarity," she said. 

Riding solo also improves your sense of self. Making such simple decisions proves that you can solve problems, however small they may be, and reduces your reliance on others for strength and happiness.

Matthew Bowker, a psychoanalytic theorist says humans use groups as identity markers to define ourselves, which means “using others to fill out our identities, rather than relying on something internal, something that comes from within”.

Travelling enhances “the ability to know that you’re going to survive, that you’re going to be okay if you’re not supported by this group”. This proves our independence and capability to take life head on and create our own happiness. How liberating!

Recent graduate Poppy agreed that “Being alone while you travel means you have to make your own fun and not rely on others which helps you to be happier and less socially anxious in your everyday life”, following her trip abroad.

This view was shared by The National Student's Advice Editor Becca, who moved to the Czech Republic on her own for a year abroad. She said, “Traveling solo helped increase my confidence and build my self-esteem. I stopped doubting myself as much and started to trust my ability to handle situations. Even when things went wrong and unexpected situations arose I learned that I was able to cope and adapt to the changes.”

Becca’s travel aided her ability to tackle her own issues with mental health, and promote her own self-growth, “I stopped feeling so lonely and depressed and was able to handle my depression better. The more I challenged myself and succeeded, the better my mental health became. I started to feel more confident and capable." 

Solo travelers often comment on the sense of reality they gained from their trips. Intrepid explorer Bella said, “It’s great to make friends along the way, but at the end of the day you are at your own mercy, and you can take whichever path you desire, whenever you like. It’s REAL life. And we should all do it more - we would live longer,".

Life is simplified to the present moment when travelling alone and presents a fresh start to meet new people in new places. Making these connections is intrinsic to happiness by triggering oxytocin and serotonin release – also known as the ‘happy hormones’.

Solitary travel makes you more likely to reach out to new people that you meet, hence why single people have stronger social networks than those who are married. Our minor interactions that frequently go unnoticed, whether a greeting or small talk, make all the difference in promoting a sense of belonging to a larger community.

So don’t be discouraged, travelling alone is an enriching and rewarding, albeit challenging, experience which should not be missed! Get to know yourself and the world around you.

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