Some people get a new hairstyle following a romantic breakup, but others – including myself – have successfully used solo travel to heal, reset, and recharge after the end of a relationship.
In this article, I’ll discuss a few of the ways that solo travel can legitimately help the healing process following a difficult breakup- Plus, I’ll explore a few of my best suggestions for places to go on a solo vacation after a relationship breakup.
Using my own graduate school training in mental health, my personal opinions on this topic are interspersed with peer-reviewed, evidence-based research, which you can find cited in the texts or in the reference section.
How Solo Travel Can Help Heal us After a Breakup
It’s not just a Hollywood trope- travel can be a relatively effective way to cope with a painful breakup or even a broken heart.
While there’s no quick fix for the emotional pain of the end of a relationship, solo travel is a big exciting new adventure- and through that, it can be a route that leads our brains and hearts towards healing, growth, and readiness for future relationships.
Like a rebound relationship (but without the emotional entanglement and dissociative factor), travel after a breakup is a way to rediscover hope and excitement about the future.
1. Solo Travel Helps us (re)Discover Who we Are
When we are in a serious romantic relationship, part of the way that we develop intimacy with our boyfriend or girlfriend is by developing a “we” identity that we share with our partner. Breaking up, then, involves moving on from a “we” that no longer is, and back to “I”.
This sounds simpler than it is, however, because as relationships prompt us to grow and change as individuals, the “self” we must return to won’t be exactly the same as the “self” we were before the relationship- so it takes a bit of looking.
Ways we Define Ourselves & Why Solo Travel Invites Authenticity
The default, after a romantic breakup or divorce (or even job loss or bereavement), is to turn to family, friends, work, or accomplishments to remind us who we are- but sometimes this backfires. When we are part of systems (life families, workplaces, or friend groups) that benefit from us being a certain way (generous, “selfless”, entertaining, etc), then relying too much on our support systems when recovering from a romantic relationship’s breakup might actually prevent us from growing in the way that we might want, and keep us from taking to heart the lessons we learned from the relationship with our ex-partner.
Solo travel, though at times scary, is a way to get the time and space to discover our post-relationship selves, reflect on the ending, and experiment with being ourselves in a context where there are no external expectations of who we are (source).
2. Solo Travel Tells our Brains “Change is Good”
Change is terrifying, and anyone who says differently is lying. See, humans are creatures of habit, and changes are incredibly distressing to the parts of our brain that connect predictability with survival. So when humans (who often can’t stand to even switch brands of coffee!) end a relationship, it’s not only an emotional loss but a staggering change to reconcile.
Solo travel gives us an opportunity to redefine and remaster the season of change we find ourselves in. As planning, leaving, and exploring a destination prompt releases of dopamine, the season of change becomes not just about loss, but of adventure.
Rather than the end of the road, taking a solo trip after a breakup is, instead, like taking an unexpected turn and finding yourself on a delightful roadtrip. In short, solo travel after a breakup can prompt the release of dopamine and serotonin in our brains- these neurotransmitters cue our brains that something good is happening, and could even help train our brain to understand that change isn’t all bad. After all, changes open opportunities for more good things to happen in the future- whether that’s more solo travel, future relationships, or other adventures.
3. Be Intentional in Choosing Change
Although everyone has a different travel style (and that’s ok!), in the case of solo travel after a breakup, there is a wrong way to do it: Immediately after a breakup or divorce, never solo travel to a destination that you’d talked about going with your ex, and while traveling, try to avoid activities that you know they would have enjoyed.
Doing either is the easiest way to sabotage your solo travel. Traveling to a place that reminds you of your ex, or doing activities you associate with them is a way to hold onto them, rather than take the difficult path towards moving forward alone.
For example, if you and your partner often talked about scuba diving in Aruba, do not go scuba diving in Aruba as your post-breakup solo travel destination. There may be a time and a place for you to have that experience, but it’s not immediately after the relationship ends. Instead, do something exciting in a place that you really want to visit, preferably a place that your partner didn’t show much interest in seeing.
4. Use a Travel Journal to Process Post Breakup Travel
Listen, you are going to have so, so, so many thoughts and feelings while taking a solo trip after a romantic breakup. When the ambient noise of everyday life falls silent, being alone with our thoughts can be overwhelming (though for most people, really helpful). I always advocate for travel journals as a way to increase personal growth from travel, but never more so than for trips taken to heal from the end of a relationship.
There are two especially good ways to use a travel journal for this type of trip:
A. cultivate gratitude.
Research is abundantly clear on this, mindfulness + gratitude = positive personal growth and even improved mental health. At the end of each travel day, perhaps while dining alone in a restaurant, list a few things that you’re grateful for. To boost the mindfulness in travel aspect, pause throughout the day to notice and remember the sensory experience of being present in your body in that place, and record those sensations in your travel journal.
B. Write a narrative of your relationship and how it ended
When we talk about an experience – and especially when we write about an experience – it gives our brains the opportunity to understand and organize that experience. Researchers have discovered that people who write briefly about distressing experiences experience less stress when later recalling those experiences (source), and psychologists have used writing exercises for more than 100 years to help people process difficult experiences.
You can use your travel journal in this way, reflecting on the many thoughts and feelings you have about your relationship during your post-breakup solo trip. One of the best specific prompts though, in my experience, is to write the story of your relationship: Without a specific expectation of length or depth of detail, write the story of your relationship, as if you were writing it to a version of yourself 10 years older or 10 years younger. This specific journal exercise can help our brains and hearts to organize the complex, nuanced, and layered experience of a romantic relationship into a narrative that makes sense and that can be built on as you move forward.
Best Destinations for Solo Travel after a Breakup
As mentioned above, everybody has a different travel style and preferred destinations, and there’s no wrong way to travel (as long as you aren’t using your solo travel to retrace the steps of “what could have been” with your partner). Avoid traveling to places that you enjoyed together or that you talked about visiting, instead opting for the excitement of exploring new locations or the comfort of enjoying familiar places that you visited before you met your now ex girlfriend, ex-boyfriend, husband, or wife.
Everyone probably has a different opinion on the best places to travel alone after a breakup, but I have two clear front-runners for the title. Both destinations that have held me through difficult seasons of change:
Florence is a city of beauty. Traveling in Florence makes me feel vibrantly alive, sparks my creativity, and inspires me to think of my own stories as timeless. It’s an easy city to travel solo in, and the best place in the world to sit for hours at a time in front of priceless art, writing, drawing, or simply thinking. In my opinion, Florence is the best solo travel destination to heal from a breakup.
Cavtat is Dubrovnik’s cheaper, quieter, quainter neighbor- an old coastal village about 10 minutes from Dubrovnik by water taxi. Croatia’s coast, and hugging it the Adriatic Sea, is a perfect blend of a traditional European destination with an almost tropical vibe. The miles and miles of turquoise beaches, the gardens of Lokrum Island, and the sea organ of Zadar, Croatia are perfect destinations for travel after a breakup, thanks to the blend of iconic European architecture and pristine beaches.
Final thoughts on solo travel after a breakup
While some may think that taking a solo trip after breakup is a way to avoid dealing with the emotions surrounding the breakup, the reality is that there’s a lot of evidence-based research that supports this sort of retreat to reset following the end of a romantic relationship or any other identity-shifting experience.
Through solo travel, we can help our minds renegotiate what it is to be in the world by ourselves, discover joy in exploration, and process the breakup without unwanted input from well-meaning others.
Philip M. Ullrich, M.A., Susan K. Lutgendorf, Ph.D., Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 24, Issue 3, August 2002, Pages 244–250, https://doi.org/10.1207/S15324796ABM2403_10
Işık, Şerife & Erguner-Tekinalp, Bengu. (2017). The Effects of Gratitude Journaling on Turkish First Year College Students’ College Adjustment, Life Satisfaction and Positive Affect. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling. 39. 10.1007/s10447-017-9289-8.
Berger, M., Gray, J. A., & Roth, B. L. (2009). The expanded biology of serotonin. Annual review of medicine, 60, 355–366. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.med.60.042307.110802
Pereira, A. & Silva, C. (2018). Women Solo Travellers: Motivations and Experiences. Millenium, 2(6), 99-106. DOI: https://doi.org/10.29352/mill0206.09.00165
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a plus size, one-bag traveler, and journaling it all on WanderBig.com