Why Traveling Solo is Something All Women Should Do

This post originally appeared on Inspirer.

There comes a time when you can become so obsessed with an adventure or visiting a place that you’ll do anything to make it happen.  For me, that city was Paris.  When the opportunity arose to make this trip a reality, all my friends and potential travel companions had other plans.  With slight trepidation, I did the unthinkable: I took myself to Paris.

The more people questioned and expressed surprise at my travel plans, the more confident I became that it was an experience I wanted to have.  I would explore the most romantic city on earth, alone.  Who knew that I would fall in love with solo travel in the process?

It can be daunting at first, but traveling by yourself is an incredibly eye-opening opportunity that every woman should experience in her lifetime.  Here’s why:

It’s an opportunity for self-reflection.

Not having anyone traveling with you equals a lot of time to think.  This can be terrifying for some; research has shown that most people prefer to endure electric shocks rather than sit alone with their own thoughts.  Once you get over the initial shock of not being constantly engaged with another person, you have the opportunity to reflect.  You may be surprised by how much you can learn about yourself when you’re not trying to keep up with someone else.

You can do what you want.

When you travel solo, your day belongs to you and you alone.  Want to sleep in?  Awesome, no one’s waiting on you to get going.  I loved the freedom to stop when I felt like it or to enjoy the Eiffel Tower for a second or third time.  When I became tired halfway through the Musee d’Orsay, I stopped to recharge in the cafe for an hour before finishing the rest of the museum.  That kind of freedom and flexibility only comes when you’re by yourself.

You get a huge sense of accomplishment.

Traveling alone means you’re in charge of everything: planning, execution and problem-solving.  It’s true that this can be quite an undertaking, and I definitely felt a bit overwhelmed at times. However, the challenge breeds a massive sense of accomplishment as well as confidence in yourself and your abilities.  I never thought I could navigate a strange city where I didn’t speak the language, but here I am writing about it!

Connect more authentically with others.

When you’re alone, you become more open and aware of the people around you.  You may not understand the barista serving your coffee, but you can give them a big smile and do your best not to butcher “Thank you” in their language.  Chatting with the people at your lodging or going on a walking tour and meeting fellow adventurers from around the world suddenly become a priority because they offer the chance to connect with the humans around you.

It’s a chance to break stereotypes.

Whether it’s other people telling you that you can’t do it or the voice in the back of your head, there’s an idea that women shouldn’t and can’t travel alone.  The fact is that you can and you will!  Don’t miss out on amazing life experiences just because you don’t have someone to go with.  Don’t wait for the perfect time or the right guy to come along to take you to the city you’ve been dreaming of seeing.  Just go, enjoy and prove to yourself and others that you capable and proud to be independent.

For more female solo traveler inspiration, check out boss babes Alyssa Ramos at mylifesamovie.com and Alex Baackes of alexinwanderland.com.

How to Cultivate Happiness in 2017

This post originally appeared on Inspirer.

We all want to be happier, but too often the feelings of bliss and contentment seem to be sensations that come and go as they please.  Thankfully, science has shown that happiness can be increased through a few simple activities and mindset shifts.  To make 2017 your happiest year yet, choose to cultivate joy in your everyday life.

Take Care of Yourself

As women, we often feel the need to put others before our own needs.  It can be difficult to prioritize ourselves, but it’s time to make self-care a non-negotiable.  We deserve it!  Exercising isn’t a chore, it’s a way to release endorphins.  Choose real foods to show yourself that you deserve to be nourished.  Whatever taking care of yourself means to you – a soothing bath, a manicure, or staying in on a Friday night – make time for it.

Be Present

Meditation and mindfulness are all the rage, and for good reason.  You can literally rewire your brain just by sitting comfortably, focusing on your breath, and doing your best to tame the thoughts in your head.  It’s no easy task, but the benefits are well worth the struggle.  This can transfer over to being present in your everyday life and finding joy in something as simple as the smell of your morning coffee.  10% Happier by Dan Harris is a great read about the benefits of mindfulness and the author’s personal journey with meditation.

Invest in Relationships that Matter

Call your mom just to chat. Make the effort to meet up with your friend that makes you laugh until your stomach hurts.  Strong relationships and a commitment to spending time with loved ones have been linked to increased levels of happiness and decreased feelings of depression.  Evaluate who makes you feel good and prioritize them on your social agenda.

Practice Forgiveness

The new year is a wonderful opportunity to have a clean slate by letting go of old frustrations.  Forgiving people is a powerful tool for creating the life you want and choosing your own path to happiness.  Besides, in the words of Jen Sincero, “Holding onto resentment is like taking poison and waiting for your enemies to die.”  It’s futile and hurts no one but yourself.

Donate Your Time

Volunteering and getting involved in your own community offer an opportunity to make a difference.  You can feel good about having a positive impact while putting your own life and problems into perspective.  The act of kindness also results in higher self-esteem and improved health for the person volunteering.  Interested?  Check out volunteermatch.org to connect with nonprofits in your area.

Take a Digital Detox

We live in a world of distractions made up of buzzing smartphones and a thousand emails a day.  Unplug for a few hours or even an entire Saturday to be present in the moment.  We all know comparison is the death of happiness, so appreciate the bliss of not seeing someone else’s perfect life on social media.  Turning off my phone notifications for Instagram and Facebook was one of the most freeing things I’ve done because it allows me to be in control of when I log on.

Practice Gratitude

Grateful people appreciate what they have and experience greater levels of contentment and satisfaction.  Practicing gratitude can be as easy as listing five things you’re grateful for before falling asleep.  Starting a gratitude journal is another simple practice to cultivate appreciation.  According to the Law of Attraction, what you focus on you attract.  Sending out positive vibes of appreciation can only bring more good into your life!

How just 5 minutes of journaling a day helps me make sense of myself

The only time I ever made sense to myself was when I was journaling twice a day.

I’d wake up and immediately seat myself at my desk, bathed in morning light. In the evening, before drifting off to sleep, I’d write at least a few sentences, no matter how heavy my eyelids were.

I’m a person who lives in my own head. Putting a pen to paper gives me an outlet for my thoughts that no amount of discussion or meditation can. It takes time, and my handwriting can be atrocious, but the act itself serves to calm and center me.

These past few years have been hectic and stressful. They’ve been punctuated by anxiety and a lack of self-care.

I’ve felt adrift, as though I’ve lost sight of who I really am and can’t seem to find my way back.

When I think back to a time when I felt truly comfortable in my own skin, the period when I committed to journaling is at the forefront of my mind. Why did I ever stop?

Writing things down doesn’t change the situation or make it go away. However, it does grant an opportunity to see things in a different light. It offers acceptance of what is and the mindfulness that comes from being present.

So here I am, starting to write again. It’s mostly for myself, but the truth is that when I write, I’m more pleasant to be around as well. Being present and content in the moment translates to being a better daughter, sister, friend and human being. No longer at war with myself, I’m happy with who I am. That’s a goal we can all get behind.

For those new to journaling or easing back into it, I recommend writing for five minutes upon waking up—that means before looking at your phone! The moments just after we awake from sleep are when we are most attuned to our higher selves without the influence of worldly distractions. Writing our thoughts during this time can help us connect to who we really are and offer a glimpse at our innermost aspirations.

Journaling immediately before going to sleep can also be helpful to share positive messages with our subconscious.  Processing the events of the day on paper allows us to fall asleep with ease since our mind is no longer cluttered with unfinished business. The most important thing is to pick a time that works for us and consistently write in order to create a habit.

We don’t have to write for an hour—and honestly, depending on the day—we might not feel like it at all. If we commit to jotting down even one sentence, we’ll be surprised by the positive effects. Soon enough, we’ll find ourselves filling pages.

If we aren’t sure what to write, we can start off with “I don’t know what I’m writing, and….” Breathe—it really doesn’t matter what we put down on the page. Besides, who’s going to read it? The act itself is cathartic and is an opportunity to clear the cobwebs of the mind.

Affirmations are another wonderful way to start the day on a positive note and can help at times when we feel at a loss for words. Journaling can serve as a type of visualization by imagining events going our way and people being kind.

For example, when I’m feeling nervous before a presentation, I’ll write down positive thoughts about how I see it going. It may be something like, “My presentation is incredible and every single person in the room is completely engaged with what I’m saying. They laugh at my jokes and ask great questions that I respond to with competence and grace. I am a naturally talented speaker and my confidence radiates through in every word I speak.”

Alternatively, we can focus on self-love and acceptance by writing affirmations such as, “I love and accept myself in this moment,” or “My life is incredible and I am happy to be me.” It may seem cheesy or silly, but it works.

Write what you most desire into existence. Process your day to sleep better. Connect with the person you truly are and who you want to become.  

This post originally appeared on Elephant Journal.

This is what really happens when you share your story

A few months ago, I wrote a piece in which I opened up about my struggles with body image and ultimately how I found peace through my yoga practice.  It’s an issue many seem to grapple with, yet we don’t talk about it.  I definitely felt embarrassed and ashamed about my messed up self image and food issues.

Talking about it was out of the question especially since the women around me seemed normal and sane.  That’s the true result of not talking about our personal struggles: everyone else seems to be fine – at least on the outside.

When I opened up about my own journey toward body peace, I knew that at least a few people would read it.  I just didn’t realize how many!  It ended up garnering quite a bit of attention both on the web and among people in my life.  I’ll admit that I panicked a bit when I realized the sheer volume of readers that were privy to intimate details about my inner struggles.

I questioned whether I should have put my story out into the world at all.  As I thought about it more and had time to process, I started to realize it was the best action I could have taken for myself and other people.

In putting my own narrative into words and including raw honesty about how I’d never felt good enough, I was able to process emotions I had long ignored.  There was a lightness in my chest when I realized that the emotion surrounding my body was no longer negative or a secret.  It just was.  

The most wonderful result of taking my own leap was the outpouring of support from people around me.  Everyone has a story to share.  In publishing mine, others felt compelled to tell me theirs.

A girl from my high school who I hadn’t seen in years texted me out of the blue telling me how much the article had resonated with her.  We were able to reconnect over vegan tomato soup and had the best time chatting and laughing.

My aunt who lives across the country wanted to chat on the phone after reading my piece.  It turned out she has always wanted to write and loved that I had simply made it happen.  I felt humbled indeed to have a relative find me a source of inspiration.

A guy from my university that I didn’t know well at all messaged me on Facebook about his own challenges.  We had a powerful dialogue about cultural expectations surrounding appearances both for men and women.

When we give ourselves permission to open up despite being scared, amazing things happen.

Yes, it can be terrifying to allow yourself to be raw and vulnerable.  It totally was!  It helps to realize that this fear keeps us from sharing our stories and connecting authentically with those around us.  We limit ourselves from finding others like us or being a source of empowerment to someone else because we’re paralyzed by the idea that someone will laugh at us.  Maybe they will, but there will be many more who are inspired and supportive.

My short piece sparked a larger conversation around me and among people who I may never meet.  People want to discuss body image and their struggles but are often too afraid to do so.

When you share your own journey, you empower others to do the same.  They continue talking about it with their own circle of humans and the cycle of authentic conversations and growth continues.  It’s scary to take the leap, but you have the ability to make an impact that resonates far beyond just you.  That’s true strength!

I shared my story and it resulted in a positive chain reaction I never could have imagined.  I challenge you to share yours.  What kind of impact will you have?

This post originally appeared on Thought Catalog.