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 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.

It’s okay to not know what you want

An object in motion stays in motion.  That’s one of the few things I retained from my high school physics class.  I’m fairly certain I was too busy flirting with the guy next to me to learn the rest of Newton’s laws, but at least I learned something.

Newton’s first law can be stated as:

An object in at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Couch potatoes tend to stay couch potatoes unless an unbalanced force comes around and shakes things up.  We’re creatures of habit and we like to coast, but it’s when we stretch ourselves that we start creating a life we enjoy.

You don’t have to know exactly where you’re going or what you want to do with the rest of your life.  With the exception of my cousin who has wanted to be a pediatric doctor since she was at least 9, very few of us have that kind of clarity.  (She recently graduated medical school and is absolutely incredible!)

For the rest of us lay people, it’s totally okay and normal to feel a little unsure about our general life path.  Just start moving in a certain direction, it doesn’t matter which one!  The important thing is to begin something, anything.  Put one metaphorical foot in front of the other and get going.

At the very least you’ll learn what you don’t want – a valuable lesson in itself.  Alternatively, you may stumble upon something wonderful you never knew existed, but only if you get off your couch and put yourself out there.

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about being devoted to inquisitiveness.

“Curiosity is accessible to everyone.  Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times – a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses and to those who are specially touched by God.  But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity.”

So ask yourself: What am I interested in?  It doesn’t have to be profound or the solution to world hunger, it just has to peak your interest.  

Go on a scavenger hunt and follow what makes you curious.  Take that dance class, plant a garden, start learning another language.  You do you.

What makes you curious?

How Yoga Made Me Respect The Hell Out Of My Body

This originally appeared on mindbodygreen.  You can see it here.

Claire Marie Carter in Scorpion Forearm Stand

I can remember my 10-year-old self looking into a full-length mirror and thinking I was “bigger than the other girls.” I wasn’t. Yet an unhealthy relationship with my body persisted from that day on.

Years of volleyball, starting in grade school, made my thighs bulky and muscular. I stuck to dresses and never wore jeans or shorts for fear of looking heavy in my lower half. Black became my default wardrobe when I read in a teen magazine that the color was slimming. Every time I looked in the mirror, I found something that wasn’t good enough, something that I would change.

I wasn’t alone in this either. I heard it in the lamenting “Ugh, I look so fat” from the girl next to me at the sink in the high school bathroom. I’d watch my friends untag themselves from photos because they didn’t like how they looked. Dissatisfaction was the norm and still is today for many women.

The expectations placed on us and how we’re supposed to look are nearly impossible to achieve. It’s no wonder that I struggled for years to make peace with my body! Now when I think about the anxiety and hours I wasted obsessing, all I wish is that I could have that time back.

Yoga changed everything for me.

I’d always been flexible so I tried out a yoga class because I figured I’d be good at it. I was immediately hooked. The quiet space, cool people, and natural high I felt after a class kept me coming back for more.

Even in the yoga studio—the one place that’s supposed to be free of judgment—I often caught myself playing the comparison game. I would try in vain not to stare at the beautiful people in their standing splits. Jealousy would rear its ugly head, and I’d wonder why I didn’t have so-and-so’s body or why I couldn’t yet make a headstand look effortless.

Until one day in class the voices in my head quieted long enough for me to catch a glimpse of my own power.

I looked in the mirror and saw the strong, muscular legs that I had hated for so long. The epiphany hit me that those legs allowed me to hold poses that the twig limbs I once longed for couldn’t handle. I saw my shoulders and arms that were tight and toned from countless chaturangas. My skin glowed with health and newfound calmness as a huge grin broke across my face.

I left that yoga class walking on air. A shift was starting to take place in the way I looked at myself. Rather than criticizing my body based on what it looked like, I began appreciating everything I was capable of doing. I no longer cared as much about looking a certain way. Instead, I started to work toward accomplishing feats of strength and flexibility. Working toward advanced poses (and achieving them!) has made me grateful for a body that can move and bend and hold itself upside down.

It’s still a challenge at times to stay positive and not fall back into old habits of criticism. Maintaining a regular practice helps, as does pausing to take a deep breath and mentally list three things I’m grateful that my body can do.

Nowadays, when I notice myself looking in the mirror and thinking about what I’d change, I redirect my thoughts to be thankful for my health. Yoga gave me the perfect body by helping me to appreciate the one I already had. I don’t have washboard abs, and I’m OK with that. But this beautiful, capable body is the place my soul calls home, and I’m making every effort to respect that.

Good Reads: How to Love Yourself (and Sometimes Other People)

How to Love Yourself (and Sometimes Other People) Pablo Neruda Love Poems Heart buddha

First of all, how great is this title.  The (and Sometimes Other People) makes me laugh every time I think about it.  That’s exactly how the whole book is: funny and relatable .  Lodro Rinzler and Meggan Watterson manage to give wonderful insight into love and life.  They write in a way that seems more like a conversation between friends than a spiritual advice book.  Reading this made me want to have coffee with them – the two of them just seem like a good time!

We’ve all felt not good enough at some point in our lives, maybe even today!  In the world we live in, we’re barraged with messages telling us that to be adequate we need this product or that.  We’ve bought in to the idea that we aren’t good enough as we are.

“Either way we are grappling with something that is prevalent in society: self-doubt.  Instead of embracing who we are, we give in to societal whispers telling us we’re not good enough, lovable enough, or desirable enough.”  – Lodro

It’s time to reject this way of thinking for a more positive approach to life.  Self-love is the key to being joyful and present as we become more compassionate towards others.  Plus, happy people are often viewed as more attractive.  Win-win.

“I can’t overestimate the importance of accepting ourselves exactly as we are right now, not as we wish we were or think we ought to be.” – Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön

How to Love Yourself (and Sometimes Other People) pearls buddha heart key flat elephant champagne

When we accept and love ourselves as we are, we free ourselves from the compulsive need to compensate for our feelings of inadequacy.  We no longer have to “look to alcohol or drugs or romance or online shopping to make us feel good about ourselves.” And we’re able to “realize those aren’t lasting solutions.” – Lodro

Once we learn to love ourselves, we’re infinitely more capable of loving others.  Whether in a romantic or platonic fashion, your heart is able to be more compassionate.  It’s kind of like the golden rule learned as kindergarteners.  Treat others as you want to be treated.

On a certain level there’s actually no difference between self-love and love of another.  To love another is to love ourselves.  And we are to do this not because of some external prompt.  We are to love and be loved simply because this is what we are here to do.  – Meggan

This book is worth the read for single and committed people alike.  I’m already looking forward to reading it again in a year or so!