I lean back against the rough panel, cautious that I’m perched on a makeshift wooden hut some 700-metres above the ground. I’d just completed my hike to the peak of Nang None Mountain in Nong Khiaw, as part of a solo trip to Northern Laos. Around me, there was nothing but thick foliage and a sweeping view of the charming riverside village down below. It was perfectly still, serene. It was another two hours before I started making my way back down again, buoyant and recharged from my little escapade in solitude.
Solo travel and its benefits
A recent survey by leading travel experience platform, Klook, found that up to 76% of people have travelled alone or are interested to do so. Another survey conducted by Agoda, a leading online travel agent, supports this, with relaxation cited as the top reason more travellers have been choosing to explore solo.
From personal experience, it is true that solo travel provides a welcome respite from the stressors of modern living. By having the full freedom of deciding what you want to do, when you want it, you afford yourself the gift of time for necessary reflection and introspection, without having to adhere to anyone’s timeline. Indulge in a leisurely hike in nature’s embrace or read at the beach for the whole day — the choice to unwind and destress is yours.
More than that, solo travel is a lesson in mindfulness and living in the moment, as staying present is one of the best ways to heighten your awareness of all that’s going on around you. Not only is this important when travelling alone, the cultivation of purposeful solitude can be helpful in lowering levels of cortisol, the stress hormone produced by your body.
Learning to relax
That said, if you come from a busy lifestyle, taking a day off for yourself might not come naturally, let alone for several weeks. To this point, it’s important to give yourself time to acclimatize to travelling solo; the satisfaction will follow.
Foster new social connections
The first lesson? Paradoxically, it is to connect with the people around you. Socialising with others as a solo traveller brings with it its own stress-relieving benefits, including lots of laughter and spontaneous adventures you might never have had before. When you’re on your own, it becomes easier to meet locals and connect with other travellers, and research has long shown a positive correlation between social interaction and cognitive function.
Exploring a foreign destination with new friends is often also the confidence booster you need, if you’ve been stuck in a rut or going through a major transition in your life. There’s just something about interacting with the world at large that gets you out of your head and rediscover your passion for life.
Get out of your comfort zone
On a related note, because solo travel forces one to face difficulties with new people in an unfamiliar environment, you learn to become mentally resilient. This is key to emotional relaxation — the ability to surrender to the uncontrollable and accept whatever comes your way.
Having to singlehandedly deal with anything that goes wrong teaches you the depths of your own grace and patience. As your mindset shifts to one of self-postivity and empowerment, you’ll find yourself more adept at overcoming obstacles and problem solving, allowing you to refocus only on what matters.
Become good at doing nothing
Above all, travelling solo teaches you the art of doing nothing with intention and purpose. I’ve found visiting the same spot that’s comfortable to me in the city — this can be a park bench or the beach — to be reassuring and calming. Writing in a journal has been a reiterative process I like to engage in, to refuel my mind, body, and spirit with some much needed rest and inspiration.
In a world that’s constantly on the go and always striving, this opportunity to ‘just be’ is usually hard to come by. The nature of solo travel gives you plenty of space to learn to relish being alone with your thoughts, a skill that if nurtured becomes a powerful asset and state of being. Downtime becomes less of a foreign concept as you practice relaxation, and learn to be content with nothing more than the current moment. It is a necessary pause for your body to regenerate and recover.