How solo travel can help mend your broken heart

Editor’s Note: This article is one in an occasional series about “living solo,” by choice or by circumstance.

Story highlights

Solo traveler visits Hawaii after a break up

Traveling alone can be risky but worth it, one traveler says

CNN  — 

After breaking up with my Australian boyfriend, I was left with nothing but heartache and a plane ticket Down Under.

The ticket was purchased a month prior, intended for a reunion with my lover over the holidays. Instead, the last leg of the flight was canceled and my stopover, Hawaii, became my new destination

The consolation trip was not properly planned. I hadn’t sorted out accommodations or an itinerary, and none of my friends had time or money to accompany me. Despite everything, off I went. I simply got on the plane in Atlanta and made up the rest along the way.

I soon found that I was not the only one who was on a “breakup trip.” There were men and women scattered across the islands of Hawaii mending their broken hearts in the same fashion.

‘Catering to someone else’s needs’

Elizabeth Mecklenburg solo in Hawaii

Elizabeth Mecklenburg, 25, was one of the travelers I met. Mecklenburg was involved in what she describes as an unhealthy relationship for four years before ending it.

“I felt like I was living the life of a dog where I was always catering to someone else’s needs,” Mecklenburg said.

The Hawaii trip allowed her to focus on herself until she understood what she wanted in life.

“Traveling reminded me that it is OK do what I want,” Mecklenburg said. “It reminded me that it’s OK to break away from the norm of what society expects of us. It reminded me that it’s OK to do what my heart wants.”

This enlightenment, Mecklenburg said, would have never come if she remained in Colorado. She admits that with past breakups, she simply changed the color of her hair color to cope. In this case, however, she knew she had to go to Hawaii.

“I wouldn’t have learned to love myself completely if I had stayed,” Mecklenburg said. “I wouldn’t be proud of myself either. I would be stuck in a routine.”

“I was in Colorado, and I was moving on with my life in the sense that I wasn’t having to see him, but by traveling, I was able to move forward with my life,” Mecklenburg said.

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As for me, it was a mixture of both moving on and moving forward. The men I met along the way made me realize that my ex-boyfriend is not the only amazing guy in the world, but I also realized that I do not actually need these men, let alone anyone.

Solo travel was empowering, a breakthrough I needed after a breakup that left me feeling as though I was nothing without my former significant other.

World traveler Luke Lockwood, a 24-year-old from Australia, knows this feeling quite well. It is one of the main reasons he continues to solo travel.

“It gives you a good feeling just knowing that you are independent,” Lockwood said. “It’s a mental thing. It’s just knowing you don’t need to depend on anyone.”

Although solo traveling can shape and transform people, it is not without its downsides. Lockwood reveals that although he prefers to travel alone, it is nice to have a friend in some circumstances. For instance, a travel buddy may make you less of a target in potentially dangerous locales.

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Making new friends while traveling

Luke Lockwood in Vietnam

Lockwood said that by staying in hostels, he is usually able to meet other travelers. However, there are rare instances in which he finds himself alone and longing for familiar company.

Hostels differ from hotels in that they provide the opportunity for socializing through community-style accommodations such as communal kitchens, common rooms and dorm-style rooms equipped with bunk beds.

Ria Minos, the assistant manager at USA Hostels Ocean Beach, said most of the guests that come through the hostel are solo travelers who cultivate friendships by attending events hosted by the hostel such as biking tours, pub crawls and barbecue nights.

“Many guests make lifelong friends from hostel travel,” Minos said. “We’ve had a few marriages, mine included, though I was staff and not a traveler.”

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The reality of loneliness

Though staying at hostels may be one of the most effective ways of meeting people, loneliness can still be a reality.

During my travels, I bunked at a hostel that had no age limit, an unusual occurrence. Most of the guests were old enough to have grandchildren and did not hesitate to tell me about said grandchildren.

I found myself alone in my hostel watching the cliche movie “Eat Pray Love” in hopes of maintaining my optimism.

In an emotionally unstable state, ending up alone for a day or two can easily transform a feeling of empowerment into a feeling of failure. I began to ponder if I was putting myself out there enough or if I lacked the social skills to make new friends. This doubt, however, was quickly put to rest as I found other ways of meeting people. I reached out to people through the Couch Surfing app and met a host who wanted to show travelers around the island.

I also got lost. At times, I would not even bother checking Google maps out of a simple desire to interact with locals.

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People reacted to my solo traveling in ways I did not expect. They either thought I was courageous and daring and wanted to hang out with me, or they felt the need to help me travel by offering their company and guidance.

Both reactions made solo traveling easy and built my confidence up to a point where walking up to a stranger and introducing myself was second nature. For those hesitant about solo traveling, Lockwood suggests conducting lots of research beforehand, interacting with the locals and, most importantly, taking risks.

“Just take the risk. Traveling was never going to be easy,” Lockwood said, “But every time I’ve done it, it’s been worth it.”

As for using solo traveling to help you through a breakup, Mecklenburg definitely recommends it.

“It showed me how brave I was being,” Mecklenburg said. “It wasn’t that I was learning to be brave, I was brave by putting myself out there.”

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