Solo Travel: Get Away to Get Back to Yourself
Sometimes, Ladies and Gentlemen, life really can be too much…
We can get so busy juggling all of our different responsibilities, our work, family and friends, that we end up in crisis mode. Just trying to survive one crisis then moving on to the next. We become so consumed with fire-fighting we forget to look after ourselves; we ignore the importance of our mental health and overlook our own needs.
Sometimes to balance out your self-neglect you have to make a big commitment, a statement of intent, to specifically spend some time looking after yourself.
With a burn-out on the horizon and an endless To-Do list, I did just that and went on a Solo Self-Care Holiday. It was a revelation.
Through this experience I learnt:
Just deciding to look after yourself can make you feel better
You don’t have to spend all your money to have a worthwhile trip
The basics of self-indulgence
The mindfulness of eating alone
And I had some great souvenirs to take home with me.
Below is the story of how I ended up on a Solo Self-Care Holiday and how it dramatically improved my mental health.
Why Did I Need to Get Away?
In 2017, I worked as a mid-level manager for a high-growth fast-paced international retailer. It was as intense as it sounds.
I had also lost 5 loved ones in 4 years.
Two friends. Two grandparents, who raised me, and to add insult to injury, my lovely 8-year-old cat. I was an absolute mess.
I have always struggled with my mental health, battling low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Yet I was proud of how I refused to let it get in the way of my career, how I didn't let it interfere with my work, and how I managed, or more accurately, mismanaged my mental health in my spare time.
However, when the overwhelming power of grief and loss flooded in I was completely at sea.
I was doing everything possible to keep the ship afloat, but I was constantly taking on water. Always trying to chuck yet another bucket off the deck and off my back whilst more rushed in.
Finally, after a few months of counselling, there was an amazing breakthrough.
A Revolutionary Idea
In one particular session, my exceptional counsellor suggested I have a “me holiday.”
He had just come back from his own annual solo vacation. Every year he takes a few days to go on a break alone, to look after himself. He felt it made him a better husband, a better friend and a better counsellor.
I had never ever considered going on a solo vacation.
Even if I had, in the past I never really had the funds. But I also hated doing things that made me feel selfish, how could I flounce off for a holiday and leave my partner at home? How could I spend so much money on something only I could enjoy?
Obviously, this was my low self-worth talking, “You don’t deserve to spoil yourself like that”.
On the other hand, I had worked since I was 14 years old and had been pretty much self-sufficient from the age of 17. I had never done something just for me except survive.
Still on the fence, and already busying myself with some pre-emptive guilt, I couldn't make the decision. Even when my partner was 100% supportive.
Then I had one of the most god-awful weeks at work. Ten months later, writing this, I can’t remember exactly what happened, but every night I came home upset about something: sackings, disciplinaries, projects going awry, systems failures, you name it, you can bet it happened that week.
That was enough. I had reached my limit. It was time for a “me holiday” as soon as possible.
Deciding to Look After Yourself Can Immediately Make You Feel Better
I had made a definitive decision to take a solo self-care holiday for the first time in my life.
Somehow, just making that decision, deciding that I deserved something for a change, accepting that I need to look after myself properly, and giving myself something to look forward to, immediately released some of the tension I had bottled up.
It may sound absurd to people who regularly indulge themselves, who can spoil themselves without hearing a snide voice in their head reminding them of all their failings. However, just giving myself this concession, shutting up the negative thoughts and just saying to hell with it lifted my spirits and my shoulders.
You Don’t Have to Spend All Your Money to Have a Worthwhile trip
A self-care holiday can be affordable, and the benefits can drastically outweigh the cost. So don’t use money as another excuse to not treat yourself!
An easy way to save is to review what you are buying or spending money on to help relieve the stresses you are feeling. Sacrificing the little crutches that only give you a momentary high could help you achieve the greater goal. Like the bottles of wine you drink on the weekend to unwind. The takeaways you buy because you had another awful day and don’t have the energy to cook. The films you watch or games you play to escape from reality for a few hours.
All these small expenditures can become your holiday fund. Turning all those little boosts into a whole new adventure that will give you a lot more pleasure overall.
For my solo travel adventure, I only had two days of annual leave left to play with and very little cash.
With some grit and determination I ended up spending £350 on my solo holiday, and it was the best long weekend of my life.
For the first time in a long while, I was free to decide what I wanted. I didn’t have to consider anyone else.
To figure out what I should do and where I should go, I wrote a list of what I knew made me happy:
Looking out over open water
My list was very specific and strangely water-based, what would be on your list?
Because of this list, I ended up booking a Spa Hotel in Dundee. It was surprisingly perfect.
Then I spent every day of my trip asking myself what I wanted.
I took full advantage of the complimentary spa access. Every morning and evening I swam a couple of lengths, soaked in the hot tub and unwound in the sauna. Each time I felt calm and warm. Which sent my cold anxiety-wracked nerves packing!
I ate what I wanted when I wanted.
I bought a fabulous amount of junk food to snaffle in my room with a film on the TV, sprawled out on the king-size bed.
I took long walks exploring the city and always ended up at the water's edge looking out over the dark blue Firth of Tay, breathing in and out slowly, drinking it all in.
I learnt that sometimes I need to do just what I want. It’s not shameful, and won’t hurt other people, it’s OK to look after number one occasionally.
The Mindfulness of Eating Alone
Another thing I hadn’t considered about solo travel was having to eat alone.
I reached out for a book and my phone, some distraction aids, so I didn’t have to look at other diners or sit alone with my thoughts.
Then that same part of me that gave me permission to do the trip told me to leave those items in the hotel room. Enjoy a meal, and just think about that meal, embrace the atmosphere of the restaurant and people watch if you need to.
So I did. I had a glass of wine, and a fancy eight-course dinner, surrounded by groups of diners.
I didn’t feel alone; savouring every mouthful of the wonderful food.
Reflecting, in between courses, on what had got me to this point and what I should do next while wondering how tasty the next course would be.
I was there for two hours.
I didn’t once get bored or anxious, or doubtful. Leaving the restaurant I was awash with that same calm warmth I felt in the spa. Focussing on a few things at a time liberated my cyclical thought patterns, allowing me to work through each thought, in turn, whether it was about my life or the food, I digested each moment as it came.
Have you ever eaten out alone?
The great thing about going away is that you escape from the bubble and routines you’ve built around yourself.
I assumed I was just a troubled sleeper until I slept for 12 hours straight during my holiday.
I thought I wasn’t really a breakfast person until I woke up each morning ravenous and realised the 11 AM snacks at my desk were a late breakfast because I was too anxious about the day ahead to eat until then.
I responded to each of the problems happening at work as if they were catastrophes, and a lot of them were, but only in that little microcosm, my little corner of the world.
Looking out onto the great flowing expanse of the Firth of Tay, I remembered there were whole other worlds out there. Different continents with different people. Different struggles and different successes. Billions of people with their own little worlds, just trying to get by.
By the end of my trip, I had felt calmer than I thought possible. I knew problems at work will keep happening; they call it work for a reason, how I respond to them was my choice. How I let them affect my psyche was up to me. If they continued to degrade my sanity after that, then I had to find a new solution to the problem. Either way, it was not the end of the world.
Prior to the trip, there was no way I could have acknowledged or accepted this.
Ultimately, my short trip did wonders for me, and through that experience, I brought back the following gifts;
- Permission to spoil myself
- Knowing more about what I enjoy and what I need
- Mindfulness, to focus on one thing at a time, especially delicious restaurant food
- Remembering that there is a lot more world out there beyond the office walls
There are no magical cures for mental health problems, but I have learnt over 12 years, that it is about collecting tools that help you manage the bad times, a range of skills to help pull yourself out of the rubble.
I am very pleased to add solo self-care holidays to my toolkit.
If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, stress or any mental health issues, you should do whatever you can to make yourself feel better. Mental illness is a constant, and often hidden, struggle and you deserve anything that helps ease the distress it can cause. Whether it is for a moment, a long weekend or a few weeks...