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Tourism and wellbeing: An exploration into the role of solo travel in enhancing wellbeing and mental health

Tourism and wellbeing: An exploration into the role of solo travel in enhancing wellbeing and mental health
Author: Josh Warren
2 Commentries

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.
A commentary on tourism and wellbeing: An exploration into the role of solo travel in enhancing wellbeing and mental health
Author: Melanie Towning
This paper was selected for my commentary due to a similar study researched by myself, which focused on solo travel among females. Instead, this paper outlines how such solo travel benefits individual wellbeing and mental health. This paper has overall been a pleasure to read and has outlined key arguments as to how individuals, including those of younger generations, solo female travellers and solo backpackers, benefit from solo travel.

The paper stresses how tourists, interestingly those of younger generations, enjoy ‘escapism’ within leisure and tourism to seek disconnection from their everyday lives. Solo travellers moreover wish to experience authenticity at the destinations they travel to further escape from their hometowns and delve into a new ‘way of life’. This illustrates the points made by Harris and Wilson (2006), who expressed that individuals seek new ways of physical, emotional or spiritual fulfilment that allows tourists to learn and widen their perspectives.

Much like females wanting to travel solo to feel empowered and to improve their self-awareness (McNamara and Prideaux, 2010), this paper moreover argues that solo travel improves individual freedom and independence. Bringing in the example of solo female travellers within this paper, it explains how solo travel reduces stress and anxiety. Later discussing how solo travel promotes long-term happiness, the example of solo backpackers is used to explain how individuals immerse themselves within their travel experiences. Therefore, engaging in authentic experiences allows solo travellers to escape from everyday life – reducing stress and anxiety in the process – and improve their confidence and self-awareness.

On the other hand, this paper illustrates how ‘mass’ tourism has affected the production of tourism experiences that offer opportunities to improve individual growth and mindset. This is a particularly interesting opposition. However, it would have been nice to see this expanded upon, possibly by stating how this could be resolved. For example, what causes the stress and problems that individuals face?

This paper caught my attention due to the interesting topic chosen. Always writing in an appealing and ‘easy to read’ way, the paper was consistent with its arguments and was referenced well. The exploration of solo travel enhancing wellbeing and mental health was clearly well understood by the author. Demonstrating strong discussions of the impact solo travel can have on the individual psyche, it could benefit from extending its emphasis on the disadvantages.

Overall, this paper relates to my own research of solo female travellers and has helped me have a further understanding of solo travel and its outcomes for social groups, especially females.

List of References

Harris, C. and Wilson, E. (2006) Meaningful Travel: Women, Independent Travel and the Search for Self and Meaning. Tourism, 54(2) 161-172.

McNamara, K. E. and Prideaux, B. (2010) A Typology of Solo Independent Women Travellers. International Journal of Tourism Research, 12 253-264.
A commentary on how solo travel effects those with mental health problems.
Author: Tasmin Reynolds
I have chosen to comment on this paper due to having personal experience with solo travel, it is an area that interests me and I am very passionate about the subject. My own research explored how travel can help people who are suffering from eating disorders and so it is interesting to read how travel can help from a different perspective.

The author has demonstrated in-depth knowledge of the subject and has written an engaging paper that keeps the reader interested in the subject. The subject was introduced well, the body gave great detail and explored different views and the conclusion finished off the paper nicely by showing where the research can lead. As mentioned solo travel is a growing trend that leads to the traveller discovering new things about themselves and learning what they are capable of when they have no one to rely on apart from themselves.

In 2015-2016, more than 15,000 UK students admitted to having a mental health disorder and nearly 90,000 students seeked counselling services (Government, 2019). This shows that young people in the UK are struggling with their well-being and so this could in turn explain the rise in young people solo travelling through backpacking. This would support the authors theory of escapism as the young people effected may see travel as an escape from their mental health problems.

Miller (2019) stated that travel gives you freedom and I think that this paper really opens up the audience to this idea and how solo travel can change a person’s way of thinking and way of life. The author has demonstrated the benefits of solo travel and given researched explanations for the growth in solo travel.

This paper has the potential to open up the readers to the idea of solo travel and potentially decrease their fears surrounding the type of travel. This could be very important for research and for traveller knowledge. There is still a stigma regarding the safety and enjoyability of solo travel and papers like these are a step in the right direction to breaking down the stigmas.
Statistics could have been used to support this paper and give a more informed view, but it is also understood that this could be an area of research that does not currently have many statistics. Overall this is a very well written discussion paper and is significantly eye-opening for the reader.

Government, O. (2019). Mental Health among millennials at all time high. [online] Open Access Government. Available at: https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/mental-health-among-millennials/53137/ [Accessed 4 May 2019].

Miller, C. (2019). Six Things Solo Travel Teaches You. [online] National Geographic. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/travel-interests/tips-and-advice/six-things-solo-alone-travel-teaches-you/ [Accessed 22 May 2019].