Solo travel can be a powerful tool for personal growth, particularly in overcoming fears and relinquishing the need for control.

For many, fear and the need for control are barriers in daily life, often stemming from deep-seated childhood traumas. These aren’t weaknesses or faults. They’re natural responses to early painful experiences that shaped our understanding of the world.

This post explores how the act of traveling alone can help dismantle these barriers. Solo travel challenges you to face fears head-on, and relinquish the reins of control. It offers a path to freedom through open roads of self-discovery. It’s about transforming the narrative from surviving to thriving.

I’ve used traditional therapy, in-person and Virtual EMDR, recovery phone lines, journaling, and other therapy techniques that I created myself to aid in my trauma healing. However, once the bulk of the pain passed, I began using solo travel to refine and celebrate my growth and new life. It works, because I discovered it organically, and have benefitted from it for years now. It’s my honor to share with you what I’ve learned.

Where does the need to control come from?

Growing up surrounded by violence, abuse and neglect creates a foundation built upon fear. That fear and emotional trauma becomes locked inside a child’s small body, because there was no way to process and release it back then. Nobody to help understand it wasn’t your fault. No comfort or compassion to cry it out and let it go. It stayed stuck, and now as adults it’s called anxiety, depression, OCD, and PTSD. Those labels are evidence that the locked trauma is still there and needs to be released. Even if your childhood trauma hasn’t required a mental health diagnosis, a persistent feeling of fear robs you of fulling living.

Many trauma survivors spent years in fear mode. It’s only natural that it carries into adulthood.

trauma and the body. author in black and white photo

However, facing fears is essential to healing trauma because, what could be more frightening than confronting the thing that traumatized you in the first place?! Therefore, it starts with confronting the trauma head-on.

The way you heal is through your own efforts, not by someone else rescuing you. However, you need to be willing to face fear of change. 

Change can only come when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the fear of change itself.  

Then you learn that you have a choice, and the fear releases its hold. You are freed. That’s where solo travel comes in.

Finally, if you’re a regular reader of my blog (if so thank you!) then you know my lists never countdown to a #1 best. Everyone is different and varied, so I leave it to you to decide which is best. Besides, deciding what YOU like is the best part of self-healing! So here we go:

Seven ways solo traveling facilitates the transformative process and heals fear and control:

1. Reinforce the Joy of Discovery

The thrill of discovering new places and experiences firsthand can overshadow fears and reduce the urge to control. Each discovery while traveling alone can reinforce the rewards of stepping into the unknown, encouraging a more open and less fearful approach to life.

Example:

My son and I were planning a trip to Oregon, his pick. The night before, his anxiety spiked, which caused physical symptoms. Next morning leaving for the airport, he told me he couldn’t go.

Backstory: I had no desire to go to Oregon. I searched some things for us to do when we got there, but it was really his trip. Now it’s my solo trip.

So I rented a car at the airport and figured this is what was supposed to happen. Was I disappointed? Of course. But fighting against reality wasn’t going to change it. 

Turns out, Oregon was a life-altering trip for me.

Nothing that I did on that trip would have happened if I was with my son. Everything I experienced…physically, emotionally, mentally….was transformative. I changed the course of my path in several areas of my life while I was in Oregon. I felt liberated. I saw jaw dropping nature. My faith in God and the Universe expanded tenfold. 

Clearly, if I tried to control any part of the original plan for that trip, I would’ve missed a million blessings that were meant just for me.   

2. Embrace Uncertainty

Solo travel often involves unpredictable situations and changes in plans. Facing these uncertainties can help you learn to adapt and respond rather than react, gradually easing the anxiety associated with the unknown and reducing the need to control every outcome.

I’ve learned the hard way that by-product of trauma is impulsive reactions. This is based on the equation that

FEAR = CONTROL = SAFETY

Unfortunately, it’s a flawed system. Safety can never be found in fear and control. In fact, the paradox is true: safety comes from letting go. Sometimes that seems really stupid and I hate it. But that’s how it works and it does get easier with practice.

So how to face the uncertainties when you’re just starting out and you are legit scared?!

Try a mantra. Here’s one from Louise Hay that has never failed me:

“Out of this situation only good will come. This is easily resolved for the highest good of all concerned. All is well and I am safe.”

Louise Hay

Sometimes I’ve recited it 40 or 50 times. It’s always kept me calm and helped me move past my fear and need to control. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself.

3. Encounter Diverse Perspectives

Being exposed to different cultures and viewpoints can challenge preconceived notions and broaden your understanding of the world. This exposure helps dissolve fears rooted in unfamiliarity and reduces the desire to control or judge what is different.

Example:

So I got the bright idea that I wanted to experience staying in a hostel. I found and booked one for my stay in Sao Miguel, Portugal. It was very nice, and very horrible. I learned some painful lessons the hard way.

The first problem which became my teacher was about room temperature. A woman (who lived on the island and was accustomed to its climate) wanted the window open. She pleaded her case, noting it was “some Celsius degrees!” and plenty cool enough. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit to even weigh in. Myself and a woman from Norway wanted the room cooler and it’s why we chose a hostel with air conditioning. Let’s just say there was some menopausal drama.

Sao Miguel had temperature lows of 65 in July. But with eight women in a hostel room, it’s much hotter than that

The second thing involved personal space and it got very uncomfortable for everyone. For my part, I learned a lesson in responsibility I didn’t expect. It hurt, and I cried.

Was I scared? No. Did I try to control the outcome? Nope. But I did cry, and that felt good. Because I am human, and there was nothing else to do but feel feelings and accept the situation exactly how it was. 

Despite momentary difficulties, the Azores are a lovely solo travel destination.

The things I learned as a result of that experience:

I deserve to feel safe, and I’m the only one that can make that happen.

My comfort is important, because I’m important and I matter.

I’m done with hostels.

4. Build Self-Reliance

When traveling alone, you are solely responsible for your decisions and well-being. This independence can build confidence in your abilities and decision-making. This ultimately lessens the fear associated with relying on others and the impulse to control them.

The truly healing part of solo travel is how it’s all about you. Fear and control tend to crop up more when your wants and needs aren’t met. However, when you solo travel, you’re activating your self-care superpowers.

Be a Self-Care Superhero

From the first stages of planning a trip til you arrive back at your home airport, everything is about giving yourself love, joy, fun, laughter, healing, fulfillment, and more. As you engage in these extreme acts of self-love, the old impulse to control is far from you. Fear and control happen when you’re reenacting patterns of abuse and neglect of yourself. Solo travel is a powerful antidote to that painful pattern. 

5. Develop Problem-Solving Skills

Solo travelers frequently need to solve problems on their own, whether navigating a new city or dealing with logistical challenges. Each successful resolution boosts confidence, lessens fear of failure, and reduces the need for rigid control over situations.

Example:

Right after COVID, there was a shortage of rental cars. I flew into Phoenix and needed to drive 2 hours to Sedona. There were about 100 people in front of me in line me at the rental agency. Oh, and there were no cars available. Needless to say, people were upset. 

I remained calm and eavesdropped I mean overheard information. Turns out, the people in front of me were told by the staff member that, “They could get a full refund if they called customer service and cancelled. Also, ________ rental car company had cars available now.”

Hmmm…I thought. If they told those people that, they could have just as easily said the same thing to me. So I decided it was a solid plan and executed it. Worked great!!

Thanks to quick problem-solving skills on my part, COVID didn’t ruin my car rental in Sedona.

Was it because I am entitled and didn’t want to wait? No. After flying and changing climates, my body could not be trusted to wait 2-3 hours for a car and then drive 2-3 hours to Sedona. It was getting late and driving at night with autoimmune flares is not safe. Also, the other car company was happy to provide awesome service, and my original rental car people were happy to know I was a very satisfied customer. Everybody won.

This situation could have easily been a significant trigger and ruined the start of my trip. But I used problem solving skills and had faith that I could handle it. Instead of reacting in fear and control, I proved I could respond intelligently. This grew my self-esteem by leaps and bounds. 

6. Increase Tolerance for Discomfort

Traveling alone often puts you outside your comfort zone. Learning to tolerate and even embrace discomfort can significantly decrease fear and anxiety, helping you let go of the need to control your environment to feel safe.

The irony is, many trauma survivors have a high tolerance for pain and discomfort, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional. So how can solo travel expand what’s already developed?

The answer lies in the type of discomfort. For instance, knowing how to put up with inappropriate situations is not the same discomfort as letting go of control. Whether it be controlling another person, or a relationship, anything really. Tolerating insanity is not an act of stretching your comfort zone. Letting go is. Furthermore, the biggest mountain to climb is letting go of controlling your own feelings.  

When you live in a world of control, life is very black and white.

Solo traveling means spending all your time with you…inside your head and your emotions. This time is meant to be a blessing. But without practice to tolerate the thoughts and feelings that come up, it can be excruciating for a trauma survivor. Nevertheless, if you want to get over your fear and control, you must overcome it first with your own thoughts and feelings.

Start slow and go gently, feeling your way through. You’re teaching yourself that it’s safe to feel now, because you will be there for yourself. This heals the locked trauma of your inner child. By giving yourself love and safety now, you’re showing your inner child you won’t abandon her. Gradually, your comfort zone for being alone expands, and fear and control decreases.

7. Practice Mindfulness and Presence

Solo travel encourages you to be present and mindful, fully engaging with your surroundings and experiences. This mindfulness can lessen fears by focusing on the current moment rather than worrying about what might go wrong. The grip of needing to control future outcomes melts away.

Solo travel is the best place to hone your mindfulness skills! This is because as you navigate new and exciting places, your inner child will really hop on board to participate. Whether it’s your first solo travel trip or tenth, the thrill of exploration comes alive with all the new surroundings and experiences. 

Example:

The first time I went to Europe, my inner child was fascinated with the bathroom. The showers and toilets were so different! And then there were crazy light switches….when you’d walk in the room, to save energy, you had to put your room ket in the wall! It was completely new and intriguing…and this was just the hotel room! 

Even the different signs were a delight for my inner child

By embracing the moment with joy, it didn’t even occur to me that I couldn’t figure it out. I was sooo present, the reaction of fear and control were far from me.

So Where Are You With Solo Travel To Heal Fear and Control?

For a trauma survivor, control is a survival tactic. Because most households were unpredictable and unsafe, the unhealed trauma causes automatic reactions to triggers. These are usually unproductive. However, with therapy, recovery, and acts of self care like solo travel, you cannot only release fear and control, but also live a free and joyful life.

Still not sure? Check out these resources:

Does solo travel actually help reduce fear?

Yes! Solo travel exposes you to new situations and unknown environments where you must make decisions independently. This constant exposure to small doses of fear builds confidence and teaches you can handle uncertainty and ultimately reduces fear.

Can traveling alone really help me let go of my need for control?

Yes! When traveling solo, you have to deal with many unexpected situations. These experiences teach you to adapt and be flexible, which eases the compulsion to control every detail of your environment.

What if I feel anxious about traveling alone?

It’s normal to feel anxious about solo travel. Start with short trips close to home to build your confidence. Planning well can also ease anxiety. Over time, as you grow accustomed to managing on your own, anxiety diminishes.

How do I handle loneliness and isolation when traveling alone?

While solo travel does mean you’ll be alone at times, it also offers many opportunities to meet new people. Embracing the solitude can also be therapeutic, and provides deep self-reflection for personal growth.

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