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How solo travel peels back layers of stress

Written by Anna Brech

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Most of us are quite unaware of the stress we carry around with us. It’s etched into our shoulder blades, and lies heavy in our jaws. It’s insidious; a slow-growing force that is far more powerful than we might imagine.

Stress is a hard emotion to manage, largely because it remains hidden. We don’t understand the damage it’s doing until it bubbles up to the surface, causing all kinds of mischief. If only we could catch it beforehand, we’d be a helluva lot better off.

Solo travel is one way of loosening the stronghold of stress before it really hits home. It’s no coincidence that we feel lighter when we head abroad, even from the moment the plane leaves the runway. Just as tension sets in slowly, so it gradually relaxes its grip. And the effect is accelerated when we travel alone. Here’s how solo travel works to peel back stubborn layers of angst:

A healing distance

They say you can’t run away from your problems. We say: maybe not, but it sure does help. Unlike massages or a yoga class, solo travel is one stress relief tactic that gives you real perspective. It takes you right away from worry triggers – the people, the meetings, the day-to-day debris – and into a different space. This physical distance works wonders on your psyche.

Read more: Being single makes you a brilliant solo traveller

No longer are you the man with 382 unread emails in his inbox, you’re simply the guy nursing a cuba libre in a corner bar in Havana. You’re not the woman whose relationship is falling apart under the weight of petty rows, you’re the free spirit cycling a bike through the streets of Luang Prabang. Cue: sweet, sweet relief.

Less choice, easier decisions

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A huge element of stress in a modern age comes down to too much choice. We’re bamboozled with a labyrinth of options on a daily basis, while also being expected to make fast and effective decisions. Whether they’re big fat decisions or incidental ones, the sheer pace of them is overwhelming. Will I have soy or double shot with that skinny latte? Is it time to hire a new ad manager? Shall I bail on that date tonight? Oh, what happened to that Asos delivery… and on.

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When you up sticks to another country, you call an abrupt stop to this internal babble. Your pace slows, and your attention turns to the basic acts of eating, sleeping and getting from A to B. This alternate framework of fewer and simpler choices is immensely soothing. Armed with just a few pragmatic decisions, that lingering brain fog – a glaring sign of stress – fades, and you find that you’re able to think clearly once more. Phew.

Listening to your instincts

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The truth is, it’s easy to lose touch with what you love when you’re immersed in day-to-day life. You might *think* you’re making choices that make you happy (buying Jaffa Cakes, hitting the bar, ordering SpaceNK goodies online). But these may well just be little compensations that reward you, as you fight to juggle a host of daily pressures. You don’t really know what you as a person love, because you never come up for air.

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Responding to your gut is easy – it’s just reading it that’s the issue. Stress blurs this ability. But when you travel alone, you can tap into it once again. You have the room to ask yourself: what do I want to do today? For perhaps the first time in years, you are free to follow your instincts and do as you please. No interruptions, no distractions.

As a result, you’ll do more of what you truly love. This will kick feel-good chemicals into play, and they, in turn, will act as an antidote to future stress. It’s a win-win.

Building self-knowledge

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You know how you never really realise how exhausted you are until you’ve had a few nights’ good sleep? The same goes for solo travel and stress. It’s only when you take time out and start to unwind that you grasp quite how tightly coiled you were before. In everyday life, tension can elevate quickly. And because you’re so busy trying to stay on top of things, you simply adapt – shouldering more and more stress, without pausing to question the impact.

Read more: Three life-altering benefits of solo travel

Travelling alone is a major wake-up call. Away from routines that encumber you, you suddenly see how stress operates. At the same time, you have the emotional distance to recognise how harmful it can be. Instead of simply shouldering the burden, you turn inwards on it and start to reflect on ways in which your life as a whole can become less stressful. You begin to treat the cause, rather than merely digest the symptoms.

And that, my friends, is the true magic of solo travel. Who’s in?

Photos: Shutterstock


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