The recognition of, and demand for wellbeing to be integrated into more individualistic and personal tourism experiences has been driven by the rise in cases of stress, anxiety and depression associated with the increased demands in the workplace and materialistic lifestyle. This paper takes a psychological stance in exploring the interrelationship between positive psychology and solo travel, and how participation in the latter may enhance wellbeing. Moreover, the concepts of solo travel and wellbeing will be discussed in terms of their meaning and contribution to the wider tourism landscape, and how concerns surrounding wellbeing have begun to spearhead the popularity of new, authentic encounters with tourism on an individual level (Noy, 2004).
Key words: solo travel, wellbeing, positive psychology, self-development, authenticity.
Solo travel has been cited as independent forms of tourism, such as backpacking, hiking and inter-railing (Lawson and Hyde, 2003). The current literature has indicated that this form of ‘new tourism’ is a catalyst of wellbeing in the form of self-discovery, self-development and spiritual enlightenment, with the former being conceptualised as the activities that constitute individual happiness (Hartwell et al., 2018).
Recent studies in tourism psychology have revealed that the rise in global capitalism in western societies is giving way to a movement of ‘escapism’ in leisure and tourism, whereby travellers of younger generations increasingly seek to engage in tourism activity in order to disconnect from the stresses associated with everyday life responsibilities. This trend is substantiated by the literature on solo travel, wherein, the former is beginning to emerge as a therapeutic activity, enabling one to embark upon a journey of self-discovery, self-development and spiritual reflection (Noy, 2004). Such psychological merits of solo travel are also highlighted by Lawson and Hyde (2003), where individualised tourism encounters allow one to derive a sense of spiritual happiness through exposure to authenticity, such as through host-guest interaction and cultural learning. As such, experiencing the world in its purity enhances wellbeing through experiential authenticity, in the form of social interaction and cultural exposure.
The rise in cases of stress has also led to the increased pursuit of freedom and independence through solo travel. Discourse on the former has revealed that solo travel provides “spaces” in which one is able to exercise personal freedom, empowerment and independence (Noy, 2004). These benefits are especially apparent in studies on the experiences of female solo travellers. For example, Lawson and Hyde (2003) assert that many female solo travellers are often positively affected through solo travel, with many acknowledging that the former allows them to derive personal meaning through search of the ‘self’. Consequently, this highlights the psychological significance of solo travel in the context of reducing stress and anxiety through freedom and spiritual reflection.
According to Noy (2004), the benefits of solo travel in relation to wellbeing can also be traced through the concept of self-identity, with the former being understood as the knowledge and understanding a person has about themselves. By illustration, current research indicates a positive correlation between solo travel participation, self-confidence and long term happiness. This is supported by Noy’s (2004) study, in which 20 solo backpackers in Asia acknowledged that their experience had left them feeling spiritually contempt, as a result of increased self-esteem. Support for personal growth through solo travel was reflected by one participant in the study, stating that “all in all, the journey changed me quite a bit. Not that I went searching for myself and returned a different person- it’s really not like that. I simply travelled in order to enjoy myself and to have fun, and I was surprised, it was much more fun than I initially thought I could ever experience” (Noy, 2004, 87).
Consequently, the rise in cases of stress and the growing popularity of solo travel poses some key implications to tourism practitioners. The shift from commoditised forms of ‘mass’ tourism towards individualised experiences highlights the need to provide experiences which foster opportunities for personal development and rejuvenation (Hartwell et al., 2018).
In closure, recent discourse in the travel motivations of tourists highlights the shift towards more unique, personal and serendipitous tourism experiences, itself substantiated by the increased popularity of solo travel. It is clear that tourism practitioners now face increased expectation to deliver experiences which encompass the psychological benefits of improved mental health, spiritual reflection and happiness (Hartwell et al., 2018). Moreover, this paper has demonstrated the symbiotic link between improved wellbeing through personal encounters with authenticity, and calls upon tourism practitioners to conduct additional research into this paradox. Given that understanding of the relationship between solo travel and wellbeing is still in its infancy, additional research would allow for a deeper appreciation of the psychological benefits of solo travel (Hartwell et al., 2018).
Hartwell, H., Fyall, A., Willis, C., Page, S., Ladkin, A. and Hemingway, A. (2018) Progress in Tourism and Destination Wellbeing Research. Current Issues in Tourism, 21(16), 1-28.
Lawson, R. and Hyde, F.K. (2003) The Nature of Independent Travel. Journal of Travel Research, 42(1), 13-23.
Noy, C. (2004) This trip really changed me: Backpackers’ Narratives of Self-change. Annals of Tourism Research, 31(1), 78-102.