You’ve been sold the idea that you can “find yourself” through solo travel – the happiest and most successful version of you. This is particularly appealing to those with mental health disorders. But solo travel can also be dangerous (and potentially deadly) if you are depressed.
Solo travel can help you to temporarily escape depression. And if you use your time wisely whilst travelling alone, you may even develop the emotional and psychological tools necessary to overcome depression.
But solo travel in and of itself is not a magical cure for depression. Rather, some things that you experience whilst travelling alone may make you feel even more depressed. As such, solo travel is not a good idea for everyone.
In this article, I will share my own experiences with solo travel depression. In doing so, I will answer two key questions: is travelling alone good for your mental health? Or is travelling alone sad?
I will also share my 28 tips for maintaining your mental health throughout solo travel – including practical advice on making friends, technology, social media, journaling and other healthy habits.
Is it your first time travelling alone? Find more solo travel tips on Nomadic Yak!
Disclaimer: Please note that this article does not constitute medical advice. Be aware that there are safety risks involved with solo travel depression. Please reach out to medical professionals for assistance and speak to your doctor about whether you should travel alone whilst depressed.
Solo Travel Depression
Is travelling alone good for mental health?
People suffering from depression often see solo travel as a potential cure for their mental health problems.
There are many advantages to travelling alone. If you are depressed, solo travel may enable you to:
- Free yourself from the monotonous routine of your home life and career.
- Free yourself from obligations to others and experience independence.
- Escape the social isolation that comes with depression.
- Identify the patterns that cause depression and anxiety.
- Experience unfamiliar cultures and put your problems into perspective.
- Befriend people from around the world and become more socially confident.
- Share and work through your issues with like-minded people.
- Reinvent yourself in a place where no one has preconceptions of you.
- Step out of your comfort zone and develop coping skills.
- Learn about the world and find your place in it (e.g. your career, relationships and purpose).
- Be happy and confident when doing things alone.
During solo travel, you will inevitably spend some time alone. This is an excellent opportunity to reflect and explore where your depression stems from. Ask yourself difficult questions that might help you identify and address the root of your depression:
- Do I lack purpose in life?
- Am I holding onto a grudge?
- Am I holding onto a painful event in my life?
- Was I abused or neglected as a child?
- Am I depressed about my physical health?
- Am I making bad lifestyle choices (drugs, alcohol, lack of sleep/exercise, etc.)?
- Is my depression biological? Have I sought help from medical professionals?
Be aware, however, that whilst solo travel can provide a temporary escape from depression and an opportunity to work through your mental health, it is not a permanent cure in and of itself. In some cases, solo travel may even make your depression worse (see below).
Is solo travel depressing?
Solo travel can be depressing and sad at times. In particular, solo travel can be depressing when you:
- Return home from your trip.
- Feel homesick whilst away.
- Isolate yourself from meeting new people.
- Say goodbye to your new travel buddies.
- Have to organise logistics (accommodation, transport, etc.)
- Have things go wrong (lost luggage, mugging, etc.)
- Witness the plight of others (the local people and animals)
Solo travel is also more stressful than group travel (particularly for people suffering from depression and mental health problems). Far from your family and your support network, you are thrown into an unfamiliar environment, where the people around you speak different languages and have different cultural practices.
If it is your first time travelling alone with depression, take a short trip (a few days to a week) rather than a long journey. It can be comforting knowing that you will be returning home soon.
However, before you solo travel with depression, seriously consider the health and safety risks involved. You may be better off travelling with a trusted friend or family member who can help you. See my articles: is it safe to travel alone and should I travel alone?
Alternatively, you may want to hold off on solo travel and seek professional help until you are in a better mental space.
Mental Health Tips for Solo Travel Depression
1. Don’t worry about being lonely when travelling alone
Before I set off on my first trip, I worried that solo travel would be lonely and that that would make me depressed. Naturally, it’s sad when you feel like you have no friends or family nearby.
However, you will find that you are rarely lonely when travelling alone. In fact, you will make new friends nearly every day that you travel because you are constantly surrounded by like-minded people with similar interests.
The hardest part is often saying goodbye to your new travel buddies when you do eventually go your separate ways. But you can stay in touch via social media and arrange for future travels together.
For more advice on socialising during solo travel, see my 9-Step Guide to Making 100s of Friends When Travelling Alone.
2. Journal through your feelings
When travelling alone, you have a lot of time for self-reflection, which may help you in uncovering and overcoming the cause of your unhappiness.
During solo travel, make a habit of journaling every day. I like to find a quiet scenic spot or wait til I’m in bed at night.
Note your emotions throughout the day and what caused those emotions to arise. After a while, you may notice patterns and uncover the things that trigger your depression.
3. Split your time between shared and private accommodation
If you are suffering from solo travel depression, I suggest splitting your time between shared accommodation (hostels) and private accommodation (motels, hotels and Airbnb).
Shared accommodation is great if you are feeling lively and want to make friends. You can interact with many other solo travellers in hostel common areas and go on organised events (e.g. group tours).
But private accommodation can be a better choice if you are feeling down and need some time alone. You can relax in the comfort of your own room, let your emotions out and contact your loved ones at home.
4. Contact your family and friends every day
Solo travel can be depressing when you’re homesick and missing your loved ones.
Try to speak to your parents, siblings or friends every few days. Maintaining a connection with home may help you to feel less lonely and depressed.
It is also important that your family and friends know your whereabouts and the state of your mental health (in case they need to locate you in an emergency). One of my favourite solo travel safety tips is to share your GPS location with loved ones.
If you already have a therapist at home, you should let them know of your plans to travel overseas. Ask if you can schedule regular calls with your therapist whilst travelling.
Extra tip: Use Whatsapp for audio and video calls. Out of all the messaging apps, it uses the least data and maintains the best connection.
5. Pump out your favourite tunes
Studies suggest that music helps to reduce anxiety and depression. However, different types of music have different psychological effects.
Classical and meditative music is best for boosting your mood. When solo travelling with depression, you might want to listen to this kind of music when you feel low or simply start each day with a coffee and some Beethoven.
If depression means that you lack energy or motivation whilst travelling alone, you may want to sing along to your favourite pop or rock songs whilst showering or sightseeing.
6. Let out your creativity
One of the things I do to fight solo travel depression? I carry a travel guitar and play my favourite songs whenever I feel down or lonely.
Not only does this boost my mood, but it invites other travellers to join in and helps me form new friendships in hostels.
What is your hobby? Music? Art? Photography? Dancing? Writing?
Whatever your creative interest is, practise it whilst travelling alone. You will find it beneficial in fighting depression and anxiety.
7. Build good habits whilst travelling alone
When travelling alone, most people allow their healthy habits to slip. They become lazy and uncaring, which can damage their physical and mental health.
Create a list of daily habits that you can perform during your solo travel. Some simple habits that I try to maintain when travelling alone include:
- Having a coffee in a quiet spot each morning.
- Listening to gentle music and journaling each night.
- Finding a quiet spot to meditate each day.
- Getting 10-30 minutes of sunlight each day.
- Eating 3 meals and drinking 2L of water per day.
- Messaging home each day.
- Reading a chapter of a book each day.
Performing these basic habits will help you to feel more centred and in control of your emotions when travelling alone.
8. Exercise each day (even if it’s just walking)
It’s easy to neglect exercise during solo travel. But ignoring your physical health can be detrimental to your mental health.
When travelling alone, you’ll get exercise most days by merely walking around your destination and visiting the sights.
However, some people want more exercise than this. In this case, you might want to practise yoga, do bodyweight exercises or ask to join a pickup game in the local park (e.g. basketball or soccer).
9. Keep a busy itinerary
I sometimes feel depressed when I am bored and begin to overthink. So, to distract myself and ward off solo travel depression, I try to keep a busy itinerary.
Try to do at least one thing for each day of your trip. These activities can be planned or impromptu.
However, I appreciate that it can be hard to remain energetic when depressed.
To motivate yourself, remind yourself that you will feel more accomplished if you do a lot during your trip rather than a little. You will see more sights, meet more people and become more worldly.
10. Take a rest and relaxation day
Whilst keeping a busy itinerary can keep you distracted, it can also sometimes feel a little stressful and anxiety-inducing. And physical exhaustion can heighten depression.
Now and then, take a self-care day when suffering from solo travel depression. Instead of sightseeing or hanging with your backpacking buddies, treat yourself to a day of rest and relaxation.
Ways that you can practise self-care when travelling alone include:
- Booking a private room.
- Wearing comfortable clothes.
- Napping throughout the day.
- Eating good food and snacks.
- Taking a long shower.
- Watching your favourite TV shows or movies.
- Reading or listening to an audiobook.
- Visiting a spa and getting a massage.
11. Get some help from technology
There are numerous apps, Youtube channels and Spotify playlists that can help you to meditate or fall asleep when suffering from solo travel depression.
Personally, I prefer to explore the “Sleep” and “Wellness” sections of Spotify. I’ll often meditate or fall asleep listening to nature sounds, Tibetan bowls or peaceful music.
12. Use online therapy services
When travelling alone, you are far from your family, friends and support network at home. At times, it can feel like you have no one to talk to.
This is why it can be extremely useful to use online therapy services if you’re suffering from solo travel depression. Most of these online services are available 24/7 and will quickly put you in touch with a professional therapist.
However, do your research as costs can vary dramatically between providers. You may also be able to claim some of the expense on insurance or an employee assistance program.
If you already have a therapist that you visit regularly, ask if they offer online sessions. Calculate the time difference from your destination and find a time that is suitable for you both to speak, so that you can continue therapy throughout your solo travel.
13. Practice gratitude journaling
Journaling can be a great way to work through your emotions. But gratitude journaling, in particular, can help you focus on the positives in life.
Gratitude journaling is a daily practice, whereby you write down 3-5 things that you are grateful for. I find this helps me to put my blessing and problems into perspective.
Again, if you don’t want to carry around a bulky notebook whilst travelling alone, you can use your smart devices. One of the most popular gratitude journaling apps is Gratitude.
14. Read books about mental health
Many people find self-help books to be helpful resources for overcoming depression. And what better time to read than during a solo trip?
Some of the books that I have found most helpful for my mental health include:
- The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
- How to Stop Worrying and Start Living – Dale Carnegie
- Atomic Habits – James Clear
- The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday
It’s best to download your books to a Kindle or a smart device rather than carrying paper books. Better still, download the audiobook on services like Audible or Bookbeat.
15. Listen to podcasts
Podcasts are another free resource that you can use to help with solo travel depression.
Most people already have a few favourite podcasts that they listen to regularly. Keep listening to these podcasts whilst you travel, as this will help you feel more connected to home and centred.
But there is also a range of podcasts out there that are specifically aimed at improving people’s mental health. Whilst travelling alone, you might want to try some of these popular mental health podcasts:
- Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris
- The Happiness Lab with Dr Laurie Santos
- The Hilarious World of Depression
- Happier with Gretchen Rubin
16. Ask like-minded solo travellers on social media
Do you want some good news? You’re not the first person to suffer from solo travel depression and you certainly won’t be the last.
Thousands of other travellers struggle with depression and mental health problems. This is made evident by the hundreds of posts about the issue on social media.
If you want to read about other people’s experiences and how they dealt with depression whilst travelling alone, you should search Google for a term like “solo travel depression Reddit”.
Reddit is a great platform for discussing your mental health and solo travel experiences with a degree of anonymity. You can find hundreds of posts on the subject of solo travel depression and reach out to other Redditors via chat or comments.
Subreddits that you might find helpful include:
17. Take a break from the online world
If social media and the internet are not helping your depression, they may be making things worse.
We often spend time online comparing ourselves to other people, mistakenly believing that their social media reflects reality.
This is particularly true of travel – everyone looks like they’re perfect and trouble-free in their travel posts on Instagram. In reality, this is rarely the case.
Instead of using your solo holiday to collect and post content on social media, try deleting all social media. This way, you are more likely to enjoy the present and enjoy each moment more (instead of worrying about looking good in your photos).
18. Soak up the sun
Studies suggest that not having enough vitamin D can cause depression-like symptoms. You must try to get plenty of sunlight during your solo travels.
Generally, it is recommended that people try to get between 10-15 minutes of sun exposure each day. It is also recommended that people wear 30 SPF sunscreen when outdoors.
During my solo travels, I will usually get enough sunlight each day by simply doing some sightseeing. However, if I don’t have any plans, I will sit somewhere outside with a book or podcast for an hour.
If you are travelling in a cold and dark destination (e.g. Scandinavia in winter), ask your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement. You can also get vitamin D from eating foods such as oily fish, red meat and egg yolks.
19. Get good sleep
The Sleep Foundation states that about 75% of depressed people show symptoms of insomnia.
During your solo trip, make sure that you are getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. If you still feel tired, you may need a few extra hours.
Try to go to bed at a regular time when suffering from solo travel depression. I understand that you’re going to have a late night now and then. But consistently going to bed past midnight will throw off your circadian rhythm and make you feel lousy.
Getting enough vitamin D each day (see above), will also help your circadian rhythm. You will feel sleepy at night and more energetic during the day.
20. Eat a Mediterranean diet
Research indicates that when we eat healthily, we feel better about ourselves.
But eating healthily can be tricky during solo travel – your diet depends on your budget, accommodation facilities, energy expenditure, destination and much more.
Most studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet benefits psychological health. So, you should try to eat these foods daily when battling solo travel depression:
- 5 portions of fruit and vegetables
- 6-8 glasses of water
- Wholegrains (e.g. wholewheat pasta or brown rice)
- Pulses (beans, peas and lentils)
- Small amounts of red meat.
If you know that your diet is lacking in one particular nutrient whilst travelling, you may also want to speak to your doctor about taking a supplement or multivitamin.
21. Take it easy on the partying
Solo travel naturally involves some partying (particularly amongst younger travellers). You will often be invited to partake in bar crawls, drinking games or just a few quiet beers.
Whilst partying is a natural part of solo travel, you need to control yourself rather than letting drugs and alcohol control you. Too much partying and drinking will leave you feeling exhausted and even more depressed the next day.
At most, I try to limit my partying to 2 or 3 nights a week when travelling alone. Most nights, I eat dinner with a group of friends from the hostel, chat and then head to bed to read a book or watch a film.
22. Carry a little piece of home with you
Solo travel depression is often worse when you feel homesick and lonely. All you want to do is be at home, comforted by your friends and family.
One trick I use to combat homesickness is to carry a little memento with me whilst travelling alone.
You might choose to put a picture in your wallet, spray some perfume, eat some sweets or take a little object that reminds you of home.
You could even memorise one of your favourite quotes about traveling alone and repeat it like a mantra when you’re feeling down.
23. Do something nice for the local people or animals
When we travel, we realise that other people live much harder lives and face much greater hardships than we do. We put our problems into perspective and feel better about our situation.
But what can make us feel even better about ourselves is helping those around us. During solo travel, you may want to help the local people by:
- Joining a volunteer project (see websites like Volunteer HQ)
- Hiring local guides
- Donating to local charities
- Learning the local language and interacting with the people
- Teaching (e.g. providing language lessons).
You may also want to help the local animals. In many third-world countries, stray animals are often neglected. You may want to provide them with food and water. However, I warn against getting too close or patting animals as you may be bitten or injured.
24. Set up your support network before leaving
It is easier to hide your depression than it is to share your feelings with people. This is why many depressed people feel so isolated and lack the support network they need.
However, travelling alone whilst depressed is dangerous. You must establish a support network before you leave for your trip.
Tell a trusted family member or friend that you have been suffering from depression and ask them to support you through your travels. When you feel low whilst travelling, you can reach out to this person and discuss your feelings over the phone.
25. Pack enough medication (if necessary)
If you have been prescribed medication for your depression, it is important that you take enough dosages to last the entirety of your trip.
Include prescription medication on your solo travel packing list. Consider also taking the prescription, should you need to explain the medication to customs upon arrival.
26. Remind yourself why you chose to travel alone
Some people want to travel solo because they think it will cure their depression.
As previously mentioned, solo travel won’t magically cure your depression. However, it will provide you with perspective, help you grow as an individual and free you from the monotony of home life.
When you are feeling sad or low, focus on the benefits and the rewarding moments that you have experienced during solo travel.
Also remember, that by pushing through discomfort, you grow stronger and prove to yourself that you are capable of overcoming adversity.
If you are young and suffering from depression, there are a heap of reasons why you should travel alone in your 20s – focus on the positives!
27. Forgive yourself
When we suffer from solo travel depression, we tend to beat ourselves up unnecessarily. We tell ourselves that we should be having a great time, otherwise we will have wasted our time and money.
Realise this – it is ok to feel depressed. Everybody feels depressed from time to time, as it is a natural part of life.
So, forgive yourself. It is not your fault that you feel this way. You are suffering from a natural illness.
If you do not forgive yourself, you will only feel worse. Self-forgiveness is key.
28. Don’t be afraid to go home early
Sometimes, solo travel depression can become so overwhelming that the only safe and viable option is to end your trip and return home.
There is no shame in returning home early from your trip and in many cases, it may be the best solution.
Contact your support network at home and let them know that you are suffering from depression during your travels. They may be able to assist you in organising your return trip home.
Remember, there will always be more opportunities for you to travel alone in the future when you are feeling better.
Summary: Solo Travel Depression
Solo travel depression is a feeling of persistent sadness or lack of interest/pleasure whilst travelling alone. It may stem from existing mental health problems or it may arise unexpectedly during your solo travel.
Travelling alone can be good for your mental health, as it removes you from your natural environment and allows you to break negative patterns (both emotional and psychological). During solo travel, you may be able to overcome depression by socialising, self-reflecting, self-educating, challenging yourself and experiencing new things.
However, solo travel depression can also be dangerous. You should speak to a medical professional or therapist if you experience depression whilst travelling alone. You may want to reconsider and ask yourself, is it better to travel alone or with someone?
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