How To Plan Self-Discovery Solo Travels

Part of the allure of solo travel is the idea of self-discovery. We head out into the unknown looking to discover new things about ourselves or hoping to reawaken parts of us that we thought died a long time ago. But is it possible to plan a trip that will give us the answers that we’ve been searching for? Is it rational to think anyone can plan a vision quest to successfully uncover this undefined holy grail of self awareness?

Of course not. We rarely find what we’re looking for, especially when we make premeditated plans with grand ambitions. That’s not how life works. The truth that we seek comes to us in small pieces. It’s up to us to be smart enough to recognize and collect them along the way. Eventually, at the end of the road, the cumulative lessons we learn forms our sense of self discovery. It may happen over one or many years. Buddhist monks dedicate their lives to meditation and self awareness. By that same token, we need to understand that our search doesn’t start nor end with one incredible journey. It’s a life long quest we all share.

In my opinion the solo travels that help uncover our small truths usually involve one of three things: challenging ourselves, nurturing our spirituality and finding inspiration.

Challenge Yourself

Pushing yourself to the limits of your endurance (physically or emotionally) is a great way to remind yourself that you’re a powerful being. Standing at the foot of a daunting challenge always feels scary, but the confidence you’ll gain from accomplishing what felt impossible at the start is immeasurable. The limits you live with are the limits you put on yourself. Pushing yourself physically or emotionally, will help you find and pull out your inner warrior. Success breeds success and you’ll build the strength to tear down the imaginary walls that have been holding you back in life.

Below are two examples of trips I’ve taken to challenge myself with and the lessons I’ve learned from them:

  • Emotional Challenge: All my life I’ve had a fear of heights. I don’t know why and I hate it. So every once in a while I’ll visit this fear and challenge it. In 2009 I tried skydiving and then in 2015 I did paragliding. Even though I still have a fear of heights, I know it doesn’t control me. Every time I challenge myself, I feel fear grip my heart and yet I push past it. Having this experience helps me face my other irrational fears.
  •  Physical Challenge: This may have been a byproduct of my mid life crisis, but in my late thirties I decided to get into shape and run a 10K. I’m not an athletic person so this was a major challenge for me. It required I commit to a consistent running and training schedule. I had to push through the physical pain of a body unused to moving. I’ve successfully run the 10K in Dubai and I’ve set the goal of running the marathon in New York. Pushing myself physically I’ve learned that our bodies are a reflection of our standards. If we have low standards we accept less of ourselves. If we have high standards then hard work won’t deter us from going after our goals.

This world is filled with challenging opportunities, find one that means something to you. It can be as big or as small as you like, but it needs to challenge you in some meaningful way. Try and it’s OK if you fail, as long as you keep trying. Eventually you’ll accomplish it and walk away a stronger person for it.

Mentally and physically.

Nurture Your Spirituality

The world we live in is a cold and hard place. It’s easy to feel disconnected and isolated from the people around  us. When we lack an understanding of our world and where we fit in it, it creates turmoil and pain. As a result we crave a connection to something bigger than ourselves and we seek meaning for our existence.  Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) it’s important you take the time to take care of your Spiritual being.

Before you get too excited. I’m not pushing for any religious agenda and in fact I identify as agnostic. Even so, I believe it’s important that we take care of our spiritual being so that we can be grounded in our world. One way to achieve this is to find a retreat that offers you the opportunity to:

  1. Disconnect from the world. We live in a chaotic society. We’re overworked, stressed out and bombarded with mixed messaging on how we should look, think and feel. This constant external noise makes it impossible for us to hear our true inner voice.
  2. Meditate. Meditation is a great way to bring inner peace to your mind. Quieting the mind is very hard and takes lots of practice. But being able to silence the thoughts that run wild in our heads, even for couple of minutes, will bring serenity and clarity to the way you think.
  3. Self reflect. This comes progressively after meditation, when you’re in a serene state of mind. Working on self reflection will help uncover answers to questions you’ve been asking yourself. This takes time and effort. You won’t have your Eureka moment easily, but if you continue your practice of meditation and self reflection you’ll get some of the answers you’ve been looking for.
  4. Selfless service. Volunteering is good for the soul. Helping a fellow human being cultivates gratitude for the bounties in your life (most of which we take for granted).

What kind of retreat should you choose? That’s entirely up to you and what you’re comfortable with.  It could be a Christian retreat. A Hindu ashram. Study in silence at a Buddhist Monastery. Heck, you can even volunteer with an organization that does work in developing countries; you’ll disconnect from your world and it’ll force you to reflect on life.

Find Inspiration

At some point in life we learn to put our dreams aside and focus on surviving day-to-day. We focus on career, family and other adult responsibilities. We lose the ability to dream. We no longer have inspiration, and that’s the greatest crime of growing up. Travel has always been a source of inspiration for me and a form of rebirth. Experiencing life outside my safe bubble brings joy and possibility back to the way I think, feel and see my world.

Below are three places I’ve visited that have moved, inspired and invigorated me to dream about what’s possible.

  1. Siem Reap, (Cambodia). The temples of Angkor are the greatest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Seeing pictures or documentaries did nothing to prepare me for when I stood in front of them. I was in awe. Spending fours days in Siem Reap exploring the temples and the city moved me. It was a humbling and powerful experience.  It reminded me of what the human spirit and imagination can accomplish.
  2. Hiking in the JungFrau Region (Switzerland). I love nature. I love being in nature. Hiking in the Jungfrau region was a beautiful experience. There were hikes to challenge the body and trails to inspire the soul. The snow capped mountains, green meadows and beautiful rivers imbued me with new vigor and energy.
  3. Scuba Diving in Sharam El Sheik  (Egypt). Scuba diving is an incredible experience. No other activity will immediately quiet the voices in your head like scuba diving. The Red Sea is an underwater jungle of corals, colorful fish, turtles, sharks and other amazing creatures. The water is so clean and clear,  I felt like I was suspended in mid air. Diving and seeing the hidden world under the sea, is like stepping into a portal to another world.

So go on a trip to someplace new. Find your inspiration. Learn to dream again and see the world in a new, bright and beautiful light.