I had just finished loading my car with the day’s necessities as the sun was rising on a crisp, Irish morning. With my GPS set north and hours of promise ahead of me, I decided to make the trip to County Sligo to spend the day crossing off places on my ever-growing bucket list, completely on my own.
Moving to Ireland was, in fact, my first big leap into solo travel. Travelling alone to a place I had never been and calling it my “home” for the next year was nothing short of terrifying. The day I arrived, I was overwhelmed by the weight of my decision, second-guessing all the reasons that had gotten me this far.
How could I possibly live so far away from everything I had known with no familiar faces to comfort me?
Eventually, I made many new friends and had grown to to think of my host family as my own; there was always someone to share my experiences with. Travelling solo in this way, I was able to instill a new sense of community and foster new relationships with people I wouldn’t have otherwise known. But there was still an important piece of the solo travel experience that was lost on me.
That is, until I made the trip to Sligo.
During this day-long adventure, another side of my traveller’s persona had awoken. Once terrified at the prospect of being alone, I now revelled in it. I was able to dine alone in a small, country bistro with confidence, left simply with the company of my own thoughts. I was able to marvel at Ireland’s winding roads, moving around the mountainside without hesitation as I was no longer governed by the wants and needs of someone else. Being out there, taking in new sights and wonders from my own unmuddled perspective, was truly one of the happiest experiences I had ever had. And while the day’s events may seem mundane and trivial on the outside, inside, there was an entire world changing for me.
Solo travel opens us up to places and experiences in an entirely different way than when we travel with others. It allows us to explore the ways we think, feel and experience life. Studies have shown that this type of travel can alleviate mild depression, cultivate mindfulness (which lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol), and even create a stronger sense of self, contributing to a calmer, more centered, state.
“Introverts know the necessity of stepping away from activity for a five-minute bathroom break, for an evening of unwinding, for a day of blissful solitude. It’s necessary mental hygiene for us. Multiply that by days, and with interesting new environments in which to replenish the brain, and the experience is deeply soul quenching,” says Sophia Dembling in an article for Psychology Today.
“In solo travel, we are free to take everything in without ever being required – beyond basic good manners and kindness – to put anything out. The solo traveler is self-contained, untethered from obligations and expectations … It’s a journey of both body and spirit. It’s a journey without and within. It’s both a deep dive and a shallow indulgence … And I return home refreshed, rejuvenated, and often with the new perspective on life that distance and a block of uncluttered thinking time can provide.”
You are never more yourself than when you have to navigate the world on your own, feeling pride in accomplishing even the smallest of tasks and achieving them in your own way. And while I have, at times, felt nervous or frightened at the vulnerability of being alone when travelling, such feelings were often unfounded and, instead, I was left feeling competent, peaceful, creative, powerful and utterly liberated; nothing can compare to knowing what you can accomplish when you push beyond your limits.
Solo travel serves many purposes, from helping you connect with the world to connecting with yourself. No matter how anxious I’ve felt at the beginning of my solo adventures, just as I feel now in the face of new beginnings, I am often reminded that kindness and respect reach all corners of the world and it’s these seemingly terrifying moments, those big leaps of faith, that end up being the most rewarding experiences of all.
So whether it’s travelling to a new country, or even a new county, this type of travel can truly benefit all, as it’s exactly this self-love and freedom that we all need in order to feel complete. And it’s a feeling you truly cannot imagine until you experience it yourself.
Travel blogger for thehereandwow.com and member of the Travel Media Association of Canada. Follow her adventures on twitter (@ginaalward), Facebook (The Here and Wow) and Instagram (@thehereandwow).
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