How My First Time Traveling Alone Made Me A Hero

THE HERO(INE)'S JOURNEY

Have you ever heard of Joseph Campbell? If not, have you ever heard of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, and/or Star Wars (no links necessary, because, of course you have). All of these stories follow the concept Campbell called the “monomyth,” which means one myth, and refers to how our collective idea of a Hero follows the same narrative cycle. The vid below is both adorable & also explains The Hero’s Journey better than I ever could.

I am pretty big into Campbell’s work, and have come to identify how my journey to Solo Traveler was my Hero’s Journey. I know the word hero is quite loaded nowadays, and you’re probably thinking I need an actual cape (🤔maybe I do, actually), but we are all the heroes of our own story! Below is my story of how I left everything familiar behind & embarked on my journey from mortal woman to Captain Solo Traveler…

1. THE ORDINARY WORLD

I had the American Dream! I had “it all”— full time job, cute little sports car, my own condo by the beach filled with stylish-yet-comfortable furniture & cool vintage decor; I even had health insurance & paid days off. I was 36, and I was done. I had done it. There was nothing left for me to do.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~Joseph Campbell

For almost 8 years, I was the editor of a travel magazine for Miami’s visitors. I felt great about helping people have a better time on their vacation. As I get older & wiser, I realize more & more that time is our only irreplaceable commodity. It was a gift I could give to help people maximize their time in Miami.

Then one day, it was all gone. The owners decided it was time to shut the company down after 57 years. No one at the company saw this coming. We arrived to work on Monday, December 17, 2017 — 1 week before Christmas — and there no more work the next day… All of a sudden, I had to uncheck a few boxes off the American Dream.

2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE

After months of job hunting, I realized something… If I got another job that was the same as my last job, it could one day be taken from me in the same unexpected way that one was. I wanted no part of that again, and for whatever reason, decided South Florida was part of the problem. I rationalized that if I moved to a city with more job prospects, this couldn’t possibly happen again (irrational, I know).

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a HEARTY YES to your adventure. ~Joseph Campbell

I closed on the sale of my cute little condo on March 1, 2018. The first time I met the buyer, we were standing in my living room & he told me he really loved the way I had decorated the place, and asked if I would sell him Everything. I. Owned! I honestly didn’t know that was a thing. My realtor told me it’s usually not. Because everything in my life felt bizarre af at that time of my life, & I was probably in whatever comes between a quarter- and mid-life crisis, I said a HEARTY YES to him. 

At this point, there wasn’t much left of my fading-very-fast American Dream… I actually only still had my cute little sports car, which only had a few months left on the lease.

No (wo)man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and (s)he’s not the same (wo)man. ~Heraclitus

3. MEETING THE MENTOR

I moved in with a friend for what was supposed to be 2 months before I was going to move to Denver. I had heard there was a solid job market in Denver, so that was the place; even though I had only been to Denver once, maybe 10 years prior, and I had Altitude Sickness the whole time.

My friend was also between jobs at this time & had some savings, so he suggested maybe we go travel for a few months before I move. Since no South Floridian is dying to move to Denver in the winter, I said another HEARTY YES to this unexpected offer! But then shizz got real. He said he wanted to go to Mexico. Mexico. Scary, dangerous, you’ll-probably-get-killed Mexico.

4. THE REFUSAL OF THE CALL

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. ~Joseph Campbell

I remember this conversation so vividly. We were in his kitchen & he said “Let’s go to Mexico.” I replied, “Why?” And I meant it. I had never considered going to Mexico. After all, the news told me it’s dangerous, and I accepted that as fact. Europe: Beautiful. Mexico: Dangerous.

After some convincing, and because solo travel wasn’t an option for me, which meant compromise was, I agreed to Mexico City as a starting off point for what we both agreed would really be a Central & South American trip.

5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD

We arrived at about 10am in Mexico City on April 4, 2018. This was the beginning of the next phase of my life — except I didn’t know it yet. I was honestly too busy feeling terrified.

The Mexico City airport was intimidating. Not speaking Spanish was intimidating. Calling an Uber, which use to not be intimidating, was suddenly intimidating. I didn’t want to tell my friend how I was feeling, because “intimidating” isn’t very cool, and being a cool traveler was very important (I thought). So I hesitantly put one foot in front of the other, called our Uber, & we headed to the Air B&B. 

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. ~Joseph Campbell

Where we arrived in Roma Norte, it was overtly apparent this was not the Mexico of mainstream news or Narcos on Netflix. This was the most beautiful neighborhood I had ever seen. Honestly, it looked like a painting. It looked like Carrie Bradshaw’s Upper East Side neighborhood on Sex & the City. It was a feast for me eyes & a goddamn revelation. 

6. TESTS, ALIES, ENEMIES

Each day, Mexico got a little less & less scary. But it was really me. I was getting more & more use to re-forming my idea about this country. Mexico was the same; Mexico was never what I was told it was. Then I saw the jacaranda trees. 

On my first cross-neighborhood walk when I ventured from Roma Norte into Condesa (literally the next neighborhood over, but quite the journey for still semi-scared me) I saw these trees. They are big trees with bright purple flowers that only bloom for about 1 month per year in the springtime, and there is a large concentration of them around Parque España (Spain Park).

Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. ~Joseph Campbell

I still don’t know why the trees made me feel at ease, but they were so beautiful against the blue sky, that I had to surrender. I had to admit I was falling in love with this city. The first time I took a photo outside was here at this park, and of these trees. Another uncool confession… I was too scared to even take my phone out to take a photo of anything outdoors for nearly a week. I was convinced I would get mugged. (Spoiler: I didn’t.)

After a week, I was going out by myself. I was speaking very basic Spanish, but more importantly, gaining the confidence to know that even if I don’t speak great Spanish, I would figure it out. I didn’t think it was possible to “figure out” a language you don’t speak, but when you start believing in yourself, everything becomes possible.

Solo travel is the quickest form of therapy!

7. APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE

 We spent 2 months in Mexico City, and then another 2 months in Playa del Carmen & Tulum; and then the moment came…

He said: “I took a job. I’m going back to Miami. I’m leaving in 3 days.” (Me, thinking to myself: What. The. Fuck.)

Here was what I knew: 1) I was staying in Mexico, even if that meant on my own, and 2) I was about to be in Mexico On. My. Own.

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls. ~Joseph Campbell

Solo travel as a woman always seemed elusive. It was something reserved for women who were cooler, stronger, more extroverted, more courageous, more whatever than I was. My breakthrough came with this revelation: Solo travel is for those who travel solo. Cool people do it, so do uncool ones; strong & weak people do it; it’s for extroverts & introverts alike; people with & without fear travel alone…

The only difference between those who do travel solo & those who don’t, is one person does & the other one doesn’t. Every other “reason” was something I made up to hold myself back from solo travel, because in all honesty, I was just scared.

8. THE ORDEAL

My travel buddy officially left on July 25, 2018. Even when you know it’s coming, it doesn’t make that moment easier.

Something that’s true all the time, but that we rarely acknowledge until we’re forced to, is that we always have choice over our thoughts. We seldom have a choice over our circumstances, but we always have the power of our reaction to it. I was terrified in feeling, but determined to be courageous in thought. I had been traveling for 4 months, but my journey was about to begin & I was going to be excited for it. Damn it.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. ~Joseph Campbell

The craziest thing ever happened. After I allowed myself to feel all of the feelings, I started to have the time of my life. I was alive in ways I hadn’t been ever. Seriously, ever. I was 37 by then, and according to movies, I should have already felt that way at some point by now — but I never had. I mean, there were moments of overcoming fears, like going skydiving for my 31st birthday & stuff like that, but I had never felt the sustained feeling of really being alive for months at a time, until now.

Perhaps the best part of solo travel is doing whatever the eff you want. I love my now ex-travel buddy & we’re still friends to this day, but it was difficult to pick an Air B&B we both agreed on. It was difficult to agree on a daily agenda… and there are countless memes on the agony of “Where do you want to eat dinner tonight?” that we all know that pain! All of that stuff was at my whim now. If I was moody and changed my mind 46 times about where I wanted to eat dinner, it was ok!

There were days when I was meeting people at my favorite café, and there were days when I just read and didn’t talk to anyone. There were days when I made a plan, and completely changed it 3 minutes in, and days I had no plan at all. I was completely self-reliant on my own good judgement & completely committed to the belief that I could do anything… because I was doing both of those things. 

9. THE ROAD BACK

I’m not sure, scientifically, where eating out alone falls on the Top Phobias list… but I get asked a lot “What’s it like to eat alone?” Short answer: It’s great & it’s super easy. (Actually, I wrote a blog about it.)

You just do whatever you want: Sometimes I read, sometimes I people-watch, sometimes I edit photos to post on ig, sometimes I call someone, sometimes I chat with my restaurant neighbor, sometimes I order 2 desserts because there’s no one around to judge me! I do whatever I want. It’s actually super simple to eat alone. I do it all the time now.

I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive. ~Joseph Campbell

Two years in on this Travel Mexico Solo journey, and I think that is the actual barrier to solo travel. I don’t think anyone knows how to be alone, & how they will fill their 100% free time & it terrifies them into inaction. My mom asked me once what I do all day; I told her I go on a lot of walks & I read a lot (I also work on my online business!! But she already knew that part). There are people alive right now who would give literal everything to answer that question the way I could.

Solo travel has led me to a new normal. It led me to the confidence I always had within me, that needed a way to prove it was there for me to believe it actually was. It led me to the freedom I was supposed to have from the Millennial American Dream. I have been living out of a medium sized suitcase for 2 years now. When we stop believing what we’re told to be, told to think, told to fear, we free up the space we need to be, think & not fear whatever we want.

10. RESURRECTION

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. ~Joseph Campbell

I will often say that travel is the cheapest form of therapy, whether solo or not. Seeing other cultures, customs, people & ways of life reminds us our way of life isn’t the only way & isn’t necessarily the right way. Solo travel, however, is the quickest form of therapy. When I became a solo traveler I held the whole Universe of infinite possibilities in the palms of my hands.

11. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR

These past 2 years have been the greatest gift I could have given myself. I am one tough MF’er these days. I truly Know (capital Know, as in know in my bones with absolute certainty) there is nothing I can’t handle. I have tools in my mental toolbox I never knew existed. I never pictured any of this for myself, and now I can’t picture myself any other way. 

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. ~Joseph Campbell

After traveling to half of the states in Mexico, I know the country quite well. I live here now. I speak the language and travel to the non-touristy parts of this country. I know of places you want to see… that you don’t even know exists! I also know travel buddies are sometimes hard to come by & now you want to go to all those aforementioned places.

Never say never, but I don’t think I’ll ever return to live in the U.S. Each time I visit, it feels less & less like home. I still love it there, but I also still love Mexico more. I do still maintain relationships with people there & have had many conversations about solo travel. I have helped quite a few people plan trips to Mexico.

I will be your virtual travel buddy. I will be your solo travel mindset guide & your Mexico guide. I will go in depth with you about the limiting beliefs you need to get rid of to turn your dream into your destination & take that solo trip! I will also help you pick the perfect place for you, in what is one of the closest countries to you.

¡Hola Chicas!

👋I’m Shelley, a former Miami travel magazine editor, who ditched the office for the world! I have been a solo female traveler in Mexico for 2 years now, and want to pass my experience + expertise on to you.

Let’s Turn Your Dream Into Your Destination ✈️🌎

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I write about all things Solo travel + Mexico travel. Check out my newest blogs from both of these categories below ❤️⬇️

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