Solo travel is good for your health - Travelling Homebody

4 reasons why travelling solo is good for your health

Everyone knows that travel is good for your health — mental, spiritual, emotional. You name it. Your brain is at its most creative when you are processing new environments and situations, having to problem solve. In a country where you don’t speak or read the language? Awesome! Trying to navigate the transport systems? Fabulous! In a supermarket and you don’t know where anything is? Excellent! Trying not to get scammed? Fantastic! While you are figuring out your new environment, your brain is developing new neural networks that have been proven to fight Alzheimer’s and other diseases of the brain.

Science says that travelling with friends is good for your health too. But what about travelling solo? Is travelling solo good for your health? What are the benefits of travelling with just me, myself and I? Is travelling alone as good for you as travelling with friends? If you have never travelled solo, it’s difficult to explain why it’s such a magic experience (even the hard bits), so let’s explore the reasons why I love to travel alone…

You learn more about yourself

“I learned my strengths and my weaknesses. I experienced the exhilaration of the ups and the despairs of the lows and most of the feelings in between… I learned courage and I learned it myself” – Ann Stirk

When I first started travelling internationally at the ripe old age of 47 (and I did it alone), I was kind of like Jon Snow. I knew a lot about myself and considered myself worldly — or so I thought — but I knew nothing about travel. Airports (particularly immigration) scared the bejeezus out of me!  Since that time, I have discovered stuff about myself that has been enlightening:

  • I don’t function well in a foreign environment without sleep
  • I’m a day person (see point above)
  • I prefer to take flights early in the afternoon, and prefer to land when there’s daylight
  • If I’m doing a short trip, three nights in one place is enough
  • I like being on my own, but I like having people to chat to (see next point)
  • I like the idea of Airbnb (particularly a kitchen), but I prefer a small, quiet hotel with a pool (always someone to chat with)
  • I can deal with quite a bit of uncertainty before I tip over the edge
  • I make good decisions under pressure
  • I love wandering around unfamiliar cities, streets and neighbourhoods taking photos
  • I don’t like winging things, but I’m not a huge planner either
  • I like the idea of group tours and cruising, but the reality is a different story (because people)
  • My social skills are good, and I can generally also spot dysfunctional, toxic people at 50 paces
  • I pick up the basics of languages relatively easily
  • My instincts are generally spot-on when it comes to trusting people (as long as I don’t ignore my gut)
  • I love getting around a country on the back of a motorcycle
  • My brain loves subways because subway systems are so organised (Japan was my first subway experience)
  • Airports and security, which I initially found intimidating, make sense if you trust the process (and your visa is all sorted)
  • I don’t like anyone sitting in a seat behind me
  • I like at least two hours between connecting flights
  • I am more courageous than even I knew
  • Saying yes, in the absence of fear, leads to amazing experiences with lovely people
  • When I travel, I miss my cat more than my family and friends.

Overcoming challenges is empowering

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller

One of the most difficult challenges thrown at me when I first started travelling was my trip to China in 2011: my second ever international trip out of Australia. I was drawn to China because of Vietnam: the further north I went, the more Chinese it became, and I was fascinated by the ancient, exotic nature of it. So I returned home to Australia and promptly started planning my trip to China. I went with the same company as my Vietnam trip (and I was still doing group tours back then) because I’d generally has such a good experience.

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in China:

  • My ridiculously early flight was delayed in Adelaide, so I missed my connecting flight in Sydney
  • The company’s travel agent booked the connecting flight in Sydney with only one hour to spare (no problems, they’d said, you’ll be fine, they’d said)
  • I was rerouted onto another flight and was assured my luggage would be waiting for me in Shanghai (no problems, they’d said, it’ll be fine, they’d said)
  • I missed my connecting flight in Shanghai to get to Beijing (and there was no luggage waiting for me on the carousel, but I had the wherewithal to fill out a claim form, which helped me immensely later on)
  • Both airlines (Qantas and China Air) refused to take responsibility for me (and didn’t speak English), so because it was late I booked myself into an airport hotel (and was worried that I would be sold into white slavery) that was out in the sticks (Australian slang for miles away from anywhere i.e. civilisation)
  • I got a flight to Beijing the next day (after a sleepless night in a room that reeked of stale smoke, and no clean clothes to change into)
  • My luggage was nowhere to be seen and I had to find my way to the hotel (the transfer I booked the day before was not there, of course)
  • The taxi driver yelled at me (in Chinese) because he didn’t know where the hotel was (intuitively anticipating issues, I printed the hotel’s location out in Chinese, along with a map before departing Australia)
  • My luggage took three days to show up (and the airline refused to deliver it, so I had to go back to the airport to retrieve it — but luckily I had the claim form)
  • Buying western size clothes in China (because you don’t have your luggage) was almost impossible
  • The travel insurance company (CoverMore, which is ironic because they actually covered less) refused to pay my insurance claim when I returned to Australia, and were absolutely NO HELP while I was stuck in Shanghai.

At the time, my brain was exploding and I was running on pure, unadulterated adrenaline. I was actually grateful that I was on my own (as difficult as it was) because another person would have interrupted my ability to think. I’m much better at problem-solving when I don’t have someone in my ear saying: What are we going to do now?

Since that time, other challenges I’ve dealt with while travelling (not necessarily in chronological order) are:

All good fun — but not at the time!

You get comfortable with you

“Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.” – Hannah Arendt

Being totally on your own, with no one around means you have nowhere to hide. You are with you 24/7, in a foreign country, with (probably) a different time zone, culture and language. You cannot escape from you. There is no one to chat with about your day, no one to do touristy things with and no one to go out to dinner with (the bane of solo travellers). You are forced to rely on you, and be a totally self-sufficient unit — and that can be confronting. Alone with your thoughts, missing home (maybe), adjusting to a new country and culture and language…. argh!

The most important relationship you have is with you. People, places, pets and things all come and go, but you will be with you until the nano-second you depart this earth. So you’d better get comfortable with you. You’ll live a richer, fuller, deeper life if you do — and travel can certainly help you do that — especially if all your support networks are out of reach. If you’re not comfortable spending weeks, months or years with you, start small with an overnight trip to somewhere you’ve never been before.

Relish the fact that you no one knows you — you can do what you what, when you want, with whom you want (but please keep yourself safe!) and indulge yourself. Read that book you’ve been itching to get to. Sleep in. Go for a massage (super cheap if you’re in Asia!). Wander around a market or a mall. Take yourself off to a movie. Grab a coffee in a cute cafe and people watch. Take pictures. Book yourself on a day tour. Write. Visit art galleries and museums. Order room service. Laze by the pool.

The list is endless

It’s a chance to reboot

“Women need real moments of solitude and self-reflection to balance out how much of ourselves we give away.” – Barbara De Angelis

Once you get used to being on your own, you crave alone time as a chance to refresh. Recently, after dealing with some major shit, I desperately needed a change of scenery, so I took myself off to Chiang Mai* for a few days (it’s an hour and a half flight from Hanoi). I just wanted to be on my own, in my own company. I needed time to breathe. And that’s exactly what I did. I slowed myself down, and took it easy. I stayed in a beautiful, quiet Thai guesthouse* just outside the North Gate. I wandered into the Old Town, ate nourishing food, did some shopping, some reading, took a cooking class*, swam. It was exactly what I needed and I was ready to come back to Hanoi and embrace life again after just four nights away.

When you are on your own, there are no dramas or pressure. You don’t have to deal with other people’s shit — just your own. You can take time to unpack and dissect and deconstruct whatever is bothering you, because the distance helps to create clarity. It’s the ultimate in self-care. You can spend the time indulging in whatever takes your fancy — or not! — much needed when we all lead such busy lives, being all things to all people, always “on”. Travelling alone is the perfect time to switch off, to reclaim ourselves, our spirit, our essence.

So where are you travelling alone to…? Where’s your favourite solo getaway?

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay 

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