When I was 18, I flew to California alone. The thought of jetting off to a city I had never been to by myself initially felt daunting, but I realized it was one of the best things I could have done by the end of the trip. At the time, I was coping with a traumatic breakup and trying to figure out if I actually wanted to keep attending college. During my weekend in Los Angeles, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone by attending events in the city and spent time reflecting in my hotel room in an effort to gain clarity. Ultimately, my trip gifted me the much-needed solitude and time to clear my head and sort through the thoughts that flurried through my mind over the last few months. I returned home feeling more at peace and sure of what I wanted moving forward.
My solo travel story is far from a singular experience, and over the past few years, my social media feeds have been filled with people sharing similar musings on their solo vacations. According to data collected by travel retail platform TravelPort, the number of people taking trips alone is steadily on the rise, accounting for around 18% of global bookings in 2019. And research by travel company Cox & Kings notes solo travel has become the second most popular travel category over the last year.
What can this uptick be attributed to? "This [past year] has caused many of us to re-evaluate our lives and ask ourselves many questions about mortality and the desire to live our best lives possible," says Dr. Elaine Chin, author of Welcome Back! How to Reboot Your Physical & Mental Well-Being for a Post-Pandemic World. "It has accelerated our need to explore and experience life again."
The Benefits of Solo Traveling
The emotional and mental wellness aspects of solo traveling have been studied increasingly over the last few years and support Chin's line of thought. A 2015 report by the International Journal of Tourism Research found that "push factors related to internal feelings of freedom, escape, and bravery are found to be the strongest motivators for solo travelers, particularly female travelers."
While everyone's motives for vacationing alone vary, individuals often reap similar emotional advantages. Specifically, findings have discovered solo traveling can offer travelers an opportunity to reconnect with themselves on an intimate level. After surveying 24 individuals, researcher Constanza Bianchi noted, "Traveling alone provided some participants with the feeling that they had more control over their lives and actions. Similarly, solo traveling also offered some participants the possibility of reﬂection and self-discovery."
Medical experts agree that touring the world on your own can be a meditative experience. "When we travel with someone else, we have so many logistics to juggle, and we're often focused more on the conversation than the travel experience itself," LA-based positive psychology expert and therapist Dr. Lauren Cook says. "When we travel solo, it allows us to be fully immersed in the experience. We taste that pizza a little extra, we take in that street music a little more, and in the quiet, we can truly feel present in the place we're visiting."
To this point, licensed mental health counselor and clinical supervisor at Humantold, Christina Jeffrey, says being unbeholden to others while traveling is a perfect scenario for mental health restoration as it allows you to focus on yourself and meet new people. "Personal agency and community are two factors contributing to overall mental wellness, so in this regard, solo traveling can help improve overall mental health," she says. "Intuitively, it makes sense that spending time alone, in a new place, would foster a sense of grounding and reconnection with oneself."
For content creator, Jayde I. Powell, all of these philosophies proved true. Over the last year, she has taken trips to destinations like Denver and Mexico. "Solo travel allows me to move at my own pace and releases me from any potential pressure or negative vibes I could experience while traveling with others," Powell shares. "It has also made me realize I can push myself outside of my comfort zone and get over my fears. After I took my first solo international trip, I felt like I could do anything."
What to Keep In Mind Before Traveling Solo
There's a collective consensus that solo traveling can be an empowering and emotionally transformative experience. However, it is important to properly plan for solo excursions to ensure you have the best experience. Solo Traveler World founder and publisher Janice Waugh says there are a few must-know tips to keep in mind before and during your trip.
For starters, she recommends taking baby steps. "If it's your first trip and you're going independently, start small," Waugh suggests. "Perhaps start with a long weekend and choose a destination where the culture is not that different from your own."
It is also important to thoroughly research your potential travel destination to assess the location and its safety. "Plan to arrive at your destination during the day so that you have daylight on your side," Waugh says. "Everything looks better and friendlier, in the light. Stay well-rested and clear-headed. Practice the same safety measures you use at home."
Waugh also suggests maximizing your solo trip by booking a tour, which includes sightseeing and food experiences. "We have a list of tours with no or low single supplements," she says. "The single supplement is a surcharge many tour cruise companies charge when booking one person rather than two sharing a room. The supplement can be up to 100%. The tours on our list have no more than 20%. A tour can be your entire trip, or it can be an introduction to your destination."
The Final Takeaway
The beauty of traveling solo is two-fold. As Dr. Cook puts it: "People see time spent alone as an opportunity for reflection and a chance to do exactly what they want to do." Setting out to see the world alone provides a prime chance to reset, recharge, and rejuvenate your entire being. Being able to solely focus on nurturing your needs in a new environment can help you ground yourself in the present moment and unlock new perspectives. If you've felt called to switch up your surroundings, take heed of your intuition and book the trip. The opportunity to deeply reconnect with yourself makes solo excursions more than worth it.
Bianchi C. Solo holiday travellers: motivators and drivers of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. International Journal of Tourism Research. 2016;18(2):197-208.