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Azure beaches, a serene mountain top or a heritage destination—most people embark on their annual vacation with family and friends. Some have a favourite place they like to visit every year; others travel to a new place, to soak in a new culture, food and people. While any vacation or holiday is a great way to unwind and de-stress, going solo may be just the way to take a vacation to a whole new level. According to a study published in the International Journal Of Tourism Research in May, travelling solo has many wellness benefits: It leads to greater feelings of freedom, relaxation and self-discovery, and enhances the practice of mindfulness.

Bengaluru-based consultant psychiatrist Ashlesha Bagadia says: “While travelling with family or in a group, there’s often a sense of complacency. But travelling solo means you have to do everything yourself: Focus on the happenings around you, be aware of your senses and surroundings, and pay close attention to the details of your travel. This is mindfulness in its simplest form, doing something with your full attention. You’re more likely to choose things that you enjoy the most and less likely to ‘go along’ just because others wanted to."

Sangita Joshi, a 45-year-old psychiatrist based in Haldwani, Uttarakhand, is married and has a daughter. She has been taking travel breaks on her own for 22 years. “We all have a secret wish to be just ourselves and spend a few days without anyone to judge us, which is exactly why I do it," she says. An aunt who travelled solo had suggested Joshi do the same. “The first time I travelled alone, I was super excited and very frightened. But it was an eye-opener...I could do exactly what I wanted. Over the years, I have realized that solo trips are good confidence boosters," says Joshi.

Another benefit of a solo holiday is that you can get in touch with your inner self. Mahesh Natarajan, counsellor at InnerSight Counselling & Training Centre LLP in Bengaluru, says: “We are so used to being around family, friends or others. Travelling alone gives us time to spend with ourselves, and surprise ourselves with new experiences."

Prathap Nair, a Bengaluru-based travel blogger and writer in his mid-20s, has been travelling solo for more than a year now, exploring the streets of Yangon, Myanmar, and Buddhist trails in Bihar, taking a train trip along Sri Lanka’s Tea Country and visiting Japan’s sake breweries. He finds this exercise meditative. “Solitude offers a certain restorative quality. During my travels I find myself spending hours watching people going about their lives, unbidden. To be part of the canvas of a stranger’s life, silently in the backdrop, is to me therapeutic as well as educative," he says.

But it is not easy for everyone to pack and head out alone. Rohini Murthy, a 45-year-old Mumbai-based housewife, travelled alone for the first time in 2005, partly to holiday and partly to attend a friend’s wedding. “I had mixed feelings," she says. On the one hand, there was freedom from routines and schedules; on the other hand, she was not sure if her husband could handle the couple’s daughter and other routine household work. The day she was to head out, her husband couldn’t return early from work and Murthy had to leave her then five-year-old daughter with a neighbour. “I now try to travel alone during a long weekend so my husband can be home to take care of our daughter. I ensure that basic food and medicines are at hand before leaving," says Murthy. She adds that it helps that her husband is a good cook and her daughter, too, is supportive and encourages her to travel.

“Women/mothers should in fact travel solo without the family once in a while. It gives the family members back home a chance to take over some of the responsibilities always managed by the woman. They appreciate her role more and develop skills that they otherwise would not have learnt," says Bagadia.

Setting out to travel on your own can also be daunting when you worry about safety and about being lonely. But “if we can overcome our fears, it can be quite rewarding and stress-reducing. Facing our boredom, loneliness and other fears at our own pace and space can make it a truly unique personal experience," says Natarajan.

Like any other task, such as learning to drive a car, travelling alone can seem challenging at first, but once the first trip is done, it becomes easier and you can return to it as often as you like. “I recommend travelling solo at least twice a year. The destination does not matter, there is no need to spend extravagantly, go for at least three-four days," advises Joshi.

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