Yes, solo travel is the key to finding yourself

12th March 2018

It is strange having so much time alone.

I’m not really sure where to start with this post. The words below started life as Stabilo ink, scribbled on the inside pages of a flamingo-printed notebook that came with me to India (they’re the ones in the quotations; the rest I’ve written afterwards).

I came to India on a soul-searching mission. I know that sounds absolutely ridiculous; I mean, people don’t actually go to foreign countries to “find themselves”, do they? What does “finding yourself” even mean? Getting drunk under the stars? Getting a tattoo and practicing meditation?

Most travellers will probably argue that “finding yourself” comes hand-in-hand with travelling. It’s just something that happens along the way, while you’re traipsing around temples, hiking in the mountains, or getting drunk under the aforementioned stars with people you hardly know but who are definitely friends for life.

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People feel the need to find themselves for different reasons; perhaps because they are unhappy in their job, their relationship or they just feel they need to get away from everything for a bit (and more so than just a quick holiday). For me, I was still in the midst of my Quarter Life Crisis and needed to figure out the direction I wanted my life to go in.

This is the first time I have travelled specifically to “find myself”; before I booked my flights, I Googled “best places to find yourself” and opted for Goa over Bali, and before I knew it I was at London Heathrow ready to start my soul-searching adventure.

I spent a week lying on the beach in Agonda, before travelling through the state of Kerala. That first week I did absolutely nothing, save for read, sunbathe and eat delicious vegan food. But despite such little activity, that week was so important to me; I had so much time think about everything I was unhappy with and what I wanted my life to look like.

The following fortnight, as I travelled through one of India’s most beautiful states, I learnt an incredible amount about myself. I had new experiences, pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and I met new people with whom I had conversations that changed my outlook on travel, on life, on what I want for my future.

Here’s what I learnt from travelling solo, and why I believe it is the best option for finding yourself.

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I needed to get away from reality

Being 7000+km away from home meant I wasn’t surrounded by the everyday norms. The culture was different, the people were different, the food were different, the weather was different… I did not realise it when I was at home, but being away from normality truly gives you the space you need to be able to properly think, disconnect and see things from an outside point of view.

It is difficult when you are immersed in a situation to actually realise what it is about it you are unhappy with. Sure, you can sit at your desk and think about how much you hate your job, or you can spend your daily commute cursing the weather or the early hour or how busy the tube is, but often we are so caught up with simply doing everything – going to work, going to the gym, doing the food shop, watching TV – that we struggle to take the time out to actually pinpoint what we want to change.

Being here is completely different to being at home where I feel I always need to be doing something, be it working or blogging or generally keeping myself occupied… I realise I don’t often take a break from everything to simply relax (though that said, I am not so good at relaxing as I end up thinking about things too much)… Here I think about everything and nothing at all, and feel absolutely no pressure to do anything at all besides lay on the beach, read my book or play with the lovely dogs who live at Madhu’s restaurant…

I learnt that I am okay by myself

Having spent the past three and a half years connected at the hip to another human being, I wasn’t sure how I would cope being by myself for a month. I’m not going to fluff it up and say I was 100% fine, because in truth I missed being able to share my experiences with someone else, but I did learn that I can survive by myself and even enjoy my own company.

Small tasks like catching a bus or going out for dinner by myself felt like huge obstacles to begin with, but I quickly decided to approach these obstacles as tiny speed bumps, which helped me feel less overwhelmed – particularly when in Kerala, I had two buses to catch, a tuk tuk fare to negotiate, and a hostel to find – all in the same day.

When you travel alone you are left alone with your thoughts on a constant basis, and I was worried that I would have too much time on my hands. In fact, I learnt a lot about myself, my personality, the fact I have a bitchy resting face (I was told as such on more than one occasion…) but I am comfortable in my own skin.

At times I find my mind wondering, thinking of just about anything under the sun. At other times, I realise I have thought of nothing at all for longer stretches of time than I thought possible. Perhaps my brain just switched off due to there being so much to think about… being in a new place, taking in my surroundings, thinking about my current life situation what I want to do where I want to go, etc… maybe my brain decided simply not thinking would be the better option…

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I learnt I have closure on my last relationship

Going through a break up is never easy, let alone when it’s with someone who was your best friend. In the months after the breakup, I struggled. I got stupid-drunk, I had flings, I got myself into sticky situations. And then I decided, that’s enough.

Despite the sadness, the grief, the anger, the hatred, the jealousy, the regrets, the resentment, the money owed, the feelings hurt, the things said, the rebounds had… none of it matters anymore. He has moved abroad with someone new, someone I can only assume he cares very deeply for.

I realised that until I went to India, I was secretly hoping we would somehow find our way back to one another. But we are not the same people now as we were when we began our journey together. We’ve grown up together, yes, but also grown apart. We broke up for a reason; if we had wanted to make it work, we would have done. I have come to accept that the wonderful relationship we had is over, and, although he will of course always hold a piece of my heart, I have let go. I am ready to find happiness again.

I thought that being back in Goa, I would have lots of flashbacks to the last time I was here, and that I would miss that time. I thought reminders of our travels together would make me miss him more. Instead, I find I am remembering little things, like the purple house which is next to the orange house, and the little house where we stopped to get petrol in Agonda… I find myself smiling. I’m remembering those memories, but not wishing I was back there. I am reminiscing on happy times.

I learnt that I have been using travel not only as a means to explore, but also as a means to escape

When I graduated from University in 2014, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Fellow languages graduates trained as teachers, moved to London, embarked on graduate schemes, studied for a Masters in Translation or Interpretation. I had no clue what to do.

Going off travelling seemed the best option; it would be exciting, I would learn so much about new places and cultures, and at some point the penny would drop and I would realise it’s time to come home…

But the longer I waited for the penny to drop, the further it seemed it ever would. I realised I had been travelling not only because I am curious about other cultures and have a desire to see the world, but also because I didn’t feel ready to face reality. I didn’t know what reality was; I was convinced it was a life of grey-dull routine with twenty-something days of annual leave in which people flee overseas simply for a break from work.

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I learnt that the way I travel needs to change

Travelling as I have done previously has suited me and my lifestyle, but it is not sustainable for my future. I have worked, saved, travelled, and repeated this over and over. And although it’s been fun – hell, it’s been f*!king amazing – I realised I can’t do it forever.

I would love to be a huge, high-earning travel blogger, but in reality that’s not going to happen. A lifestyle of constant movement, uncertainty on how much or when I will be paid, and having to make (and lose) new friends on a cycle is not what I want in the long run.

I learnt that I am craving stability in my life

Uprooting yourself every few months is fun, but it’s also mentally and physically draining. I realised I was constantly worrying about what came next and always felt I needed another plan of action. Worrying about finding another (temp) job, finding somewhere to live and how I would make my money last while unemployed were all big factors.

When I’m thirty, I don’t want to be scraping every last penny to afford flights; I don’t want to be returning from a trip and moving back home with my parents, sharing a car with my sister, and (still) have no pension. I want to have something to show for myself; something I’ve worked hard for and am proud to have achieved.

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I learnt that my priorities are changing

I knew a few years ago when I began choosing guesthouses and hotels over the cheapest dormitory hostels that my priorities were beginning to change. They changed further when I began buying organic, ethically sourced products over cheap, mass-produced ones.

Now those priorities are changing again.

I realised want a base; a proper place I can call my home. Moving back home with my parents is beginning to take its toll, because even though they are the most wonderful, supportive people in the world, I need my own space. My own little two bedroomed flat would be perfect; and I want to fill it full of souvenirs and memories I have collected from around the world. I want plants. I want rugs. I want warm duvets and a nice kitchen where I can grow herbs and cook delicious vegan food.

I learnt that travel will always be a priority in my life

Despite this, I know I will always be curious to see the world – there is so much more still to see, so many places to go, and I know I will never tire of the excitement you get when you land on foreign soil. I don’t know where my future travels will take me, and I can’t say I won’t live abroad again at some point because who knows what might happen.

The waves are peaceful; the sunsets beautiful. Evenings on the beach are my favourite, with families walking along the sand, the last of the sunbathers soaking up the rays, and the waiters playing volleyball with the tourists.

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Are you travelling to India to find yourself?

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Thanks for reading and happy travels!

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2 responses to “Yes, solo travel is the key to finding yourself”

  1. Teja says:

    There comes a time (hopefully) when you want to create stability for yourself, and take responsibility for how you live. That’s leaving adolescence behind. Thereafter, (hopefully) you are able to extend that stability to support others. That’s maturity. 🙂 Reality is then something you can make, rather than simply receive.

  2. Laura says:

    I’m going through a breakup at the moment and this post made me cry!! It is exactly how I am feeling! I just booked a flight to Bali to escape. I have never been by myself and I am going with a friend from Instagram. You are SO BRAVE and I hop you are feeling much better now! My breakup is only 2 weeks old and it hurts so much. I hope that time has healed you and you have gone in a new and better direction 🙂

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I’m a travel-loving sustainability advocate, on a journey to live a low-impact lifestyle alongside seeing the world. I’m obsessed with my two dogs, secondhand shopping, and growing vegetables.