How My First Time Traveling Alone Made Me A Hero


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Contemplating your first time traveling alone? … Or thinking about taking your first solo trip?!

You’ve come to the right place!

Also: Congrats!!

I know first-hand what a big, scary, exciting decision a first solo trip can be.

👋 I’m Shelley, and I have been a solo traveler in Mexico since April 2018! This is my story of how I got started, and how I went from scared af solo traveler to confidant af solo traveler… and it all starts with Joseph Campbell.

Woman sitting on a balcony eating gelato
It me! Eating a gelato while solo traveling in colorful Guanajuato City, Mexico!

HAVE YOU HEARD OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL?

If not, have you ever heard of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings & Star Wars? That was clearly a rhetorical question 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(ine) follows the same narrative cycle. The TedED video below explains the Hero’s Journey very well.

I’m pretty big into Campbell’s work. Throughout the last few years of my life, I have come to identify how my journey to becoming the confidant solo traveler I am today, was my Hero’s Journey.

You are the hero of your own story. ~Joseph Campbell

The word hero has a lot of weight nowadays, especially with the prevalence of superhero movies. Because of those, you might think a hero needs an actual cape (🤔maybe I do), but Joseph Campbell says we’re all the heroes of our own story — with or without a cape.

Below you’ll find my “About Me” story of how I left everything familiar behind & embarked on my journey from mortal woman to Captain Solo Traveler.

PLEASE JOIN ME ON MY SOLO TRAVEL PHOTO JOURNEY…

TABLE OF CONTENTS

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The Ordinary World

STEP 1: THE ORDINARY WORLD

I had the American Dream! By that I mean: 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. Not to rub it in, but I even had health insurance & paid days off.

At age 36, I was done. Yup, I had done “it.” I had nothing left to do, because I collected all of the things & checked all of the boxes. Except, like so many, life didn’t feel complete.

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

Palm trees on a beach in Florida
My first time traveling alone: Just days before I left Florida (unknowingly; for good).

For about 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 we have one irreplaceable commodity: Time. I saw my job as a gift I could give to help people maximize their time in Miami.

…THEN ONE DAY, IT WAS ALL GONE.

The owners decided to shut the company down after 57 years. None of us saw this coming. We arrived to work on Monday, December 17, 2017 — 1 week before Christmas — and had no more work the next day…

All of a sudden, I had to uncheck a few boxes off of my American Dream checklist.

The Call to Adventure

STEP 2: THE CALL TO ADVENTURE

After months of job hunting, & getting not even a call back, I decided South Florida’s lacking job market was part of the problem. I rationalized that if I moved to a city with more job prospects, I’d have another job in no time.

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

Black & purple suitcase on a boat in a lake
My first time traveling alone: En route to Lagunas de Chacahua National Park in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I closed on the sale of my cute little condo on March 1, 2018. The first time I met the buyer, we stood together in the 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!

Honestly, I didn’t know that was a thing. My realtor told me it’s usually not.

However, since everything in my life felt bizarre af at that time — and I seemed to be 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…

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Meeting the Mentor

STEP 3: MEETING THE MENTOR

I moved in with a friend, for what I intended to only be 2 months, before relocating to Denver.

Why Denver? Well, I heard Denver had a solid job market — even though I had only been to Denver once, maybe 10 years prior, and I had altitude sickness the whole time — but I figured I could get a job there. (Rational, I know!)

My friend was also between jobs at this time & had some savings, so he suggested we go travel for a few months before I move. Since no warm-blooded South Floridian is dying to move to Denver in the winter, I said another HEARTY YES to his unexpected offer!

….and then shizz got real.

He said he wanted to go to MexicoMexico. Scary, dangerous, you’ll-probably-get-killed Mexico.

Diego Rivera painting in Mexico City
My first time traveling alone: Diego Rivera’s Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central painting, on display in Mexico City. You’ll see him as a boy, Frida Kahlo behind him, and Day of the Dead icon, La Catrina, in the center.

The Refusal of the Call

STEP 4: THE REFUSAL OF THE CALL

I remember this conversation so vividly. We were in his kitchen & he said “Let’s go to Mexico.”

“Why,” I replied. 🤷‍♀️…and I meant it. I’d never considered going to Mexico.

After all, the news told me it’s dangerous, and I accepted that as fact. Europe: Safe & beautiful; Mexico: Dangerous & has that yellow tinge to it.

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

After some convincing — and because solo travel wasn’t an option for me, which meant compromise was — I compromised on Mexico City. I told him we could start in Mexico City, if he agreed to continue traveling through Central and South America.

Spoiler: I’m writing this 2 years and 3 months after arriving in Mexico… and I’m still in Mexico! This country isn’t anything the mainstream media pedals, and in fact, I have been completely safe here!

Woman looking out at a mountain while in a hot spring in Mexico
My first time traveling alone: Las Grutas de Tolantongo, a popular day trip from Mexico City.

Crossing the Threshold

STEP 5: CROSSING THE THRESHOLD

We arrived at about 10am in Mexico City on April 4, 2018. I had officially begun the next phase of my life — except I didn’t know it yet. To be honest, I was too busy feeling terrified.

The Mexico City airport was huge & intimidating. Not speaking Spanish was intimidating. Calling an Uber, which used to not be intimidating, suddenly became intimidating.

Beautiful homes in Mexico City
My first time traveling alone: One of many gorgeous home facades in Roma Norte, Mexico City.

I didn’t confess to my friend how I felt, because being intimidated isn’t a “cool person” feeling & I really wanted to be a cool person!

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

Seeing Roma Norte, it became overtly apparent this wasn’t 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, only much more colorful. 

Roma Norte was a feast for my eyes and a visual revelation.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

STEP 6: TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES

Each day, Mexico City got a little less scary. Or rather, I got more used to re-forming my ideas about this country. Mexico was the same — it’s just not what the media says it is.

THEN I SAW THE JACARANDA TREES

On my first cross-neighborhood walk, I ventured from Roma Norte into Condesa — literally the next neighborhood over, but quite the journey for still semi-scared me — and I saw these trees.

Jacarandas are big trees with bright purple flowers that only bloom for about 1 month per year in the springtime. I found a large concentration of them around Parque Mexico (Mexico Park).

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

Tall jacaranda tree with purple flowers in Mexico City
My first time traveling alone: The jacaranda trees in full bloom in Parque Mexico in the La Condesa neighborhood.

Thinking back, I still don’t know why the trees made me feel at ease. However, they looked so beautiful against the blue sky, and I surrendered. I had fallen in love with Mexico City 🥰

The first time I took a photo outside was of these trees

Uncool Confession: I felt too scared to photograph anything outdoors for nearly a week. The mainstream U.S. media had convinced me I’d get mugged in Mexico. (Spoiler: I didn’t.)

After a week, I started going out by myself. I’d speak my very basic Spanish, but more importantly, I gained the confidence to know that even if I don’t speak great Spanish, I’d figure it out.

It feels strange to say it’s possible to “figure out” a language you don’t speak — but when you start believing in yourself, everything becomes possible!

🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

IF YOU HAVE NO OTHER TAKEAWAY FROM MY STORY, KNOW THIS: SOLO TRAVEL IS THE QUICKEST FORM OF THERAPY!

Three girls at Day of the Dead Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico
My first time traveling alone: Three La Catrinas at Day of the Dead in Oaxaca City, Mexico.

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Approach to the Inmost Cave

STEP 7: APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE

My (platonic, in case you were wondering) travel buddy & I spent 2 months in Mexico City, 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… and leaving in 3 days.”

Me, thinking to myself: What. The. Fu+k 😳🤬

Man and woman at in front of a pyramid at Coba Mayan archeological cite in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
My first time traveling alone: My travel buddy and I at Coba pyramid site neat Cancun, Tulum and Merida, Mexico.

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 seemed like something reserved for “cooler” women, stronger women, who were more extroverted, more courageous, more whatever than me.

My breakthrough came via this revelation: Solo travel is for those who travel solo.

Cool people do it, so do uncool ones (I’ve met many of them!); 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 this: 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 simply felt too scared.

The Ordeal

STEP 8: THE ORDEAL

My travel buddy officially left on July 25, 2018. Let me tell you this: Knowing it’s coming doesn’t make that moment any easier.

Something that’s always true, even if we only rarely acknowledge it, is that we always have choice over our thoughts & reactions. We seldom have a choice over our circumstances, but we always have the power of our reactions to them.

I felt terrified in feeling, but was determined to be courageous in thought. By this point, I had been traveling for 4 months, but my journey was about to begin — and I was determined to feel excited. 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

Woman climbing a Mayan pyramid at the Coba archeological site in Mexico
My first time traveling alone: Climbing Ixmoja pyramid at the Coba archeological site.

The Reward

STEP 9: THE REWARD

Following “The Ordeal” of becoming a solo traveler, the craziest thing happened!

After I allowed myself to feel all the feelings of that transition: fear, uncertainty, anxiety, I started to have the time of my life. I was alive in ways I hadn’t ever been. Seriously: ever.

I was 37 by then, and according to conventional “wisdom,” I should have felt that alive by now; but I hadn’t.

Now, I’d had moments of transcending my fears, like going skydiving for my 31st birthday & stuff like that. However, I never felt the sustained feeling of really feeling alive for months at a time — until now.

WHAT EXACTLY WAS MY REWARD?

If “The Ordeal” meant learning to trust my intuition enough to know I’m capable of making every decision for myself… “The Reward” was knowing I am!

I love my now ex-travel buddy, and we’re still friends to this day, but I’m a solo travel convert!

With a travel buddy, it was often difficult to agree on an Airbnb. It was difficult to agree on a daily agenda… and there are countless memes on the agony of the “Where do you want to eat dinner tonight?” conundrum!

All that stuff was at my whim now. If I felt moody & changed my mind 46 times about where I wanted to eat dinner — NBD!

I had days when I met & chatted with people at my favorite cafe, and others when I happily just read and didn’t talk to anyone. Some days I made a plan, and completely changed it 3 minutes in, and some days I had no plan at all. 

🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

THIS JOURNEY OFFICIALLY BECAME THE SHELLEY SHOW!

Woman climbing a Mayan pyramid at the Coba archeological site in Mexico
My first time traveling alone: Climbing Ixmoja pyramid at the Coba archeological site near Merida, Mexico.

The Road Back

STEP 10: 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 relaxing & I love it.

While dining solo, sometimes I’d read, or people-watch, edit photos to post on Instagram, or call someone, sometimes I’d chat with my restaurant neighbor — and sometimes I’d even order 2 desserts because there wasn’t anyone around to judge me!

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Simply put: I did whatever the eff I wanted to do. It’s actually super empowering & pretty great to go dine solo. I do all the time now!

In fact, I get a little sad when women tell me they’re too scared to eat out alone! I get even more sad when I hear about being afraid to travel solo…

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

Woman smiling and wearing a helmet on a scooter
My first time traveling alone: It me!! Riding my rental scooter on Cozumel Island, Mexico.

Solo travel is the single most empowering thing I’ve ever done. It led me to the confidence I always had within me, that needed a way to show itself so I’d trust it was actually there.

Solo travel gave me to the freedom I should have felt after achieving the American Dream.

I’ve been living out of a medium-sized suitcase for 2+ years… & I’m happier now than ever! Experiences hold more value for me than things these days.

When we stop believing what we’re told to be, to think, to fear… we free up the space we need to be, think & not fear whatever we want.

Resurrection

STEP 11: RESURRECTION

I often say travel is the cheapest form of therapy, whether solo or not. Seeing other cultures, customs, people & ways of life reminds us our way isn’t the only way, or even the “right” way.

If travel is the cheapest form of therapy, solo travel is the quickest form of therapy.

When I became a solo traveler it felt like I now held the whole Universe of infinite possibilities in my hands. It felt like I could mold myself into the person I was always meant to be.

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

Woman wearing sunglasses and black maxi dress sitting on a rock with graffiti
My first time traveling alone: It me!! Chillin on a rock-throne in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City — and clearly feelin’ myself!

As a solo traveler, I started listening to my intuition in ways I never had.

In everyday life, we often bounce our ideas & thoughts off of others to solicit feedback & see if what we’re thinking is cool or cray cray. When you’re a solo traveler, that other person to bounce ideas off, is YOU.

Though that might sound scary at first, it is also the single most empowering thing you’ll ever do!

Without the constraints of societal norms, we’d listen to our intuition & let our inner voice guide us all the time. Since we often have to quiet that voice to socially fit in, we’re less accustomed to trusting our intuition.

Beyond that, I used to be a total planner. Although I no longer identify that way, I do believe planning has its value.

I will say though, that I think the ultimate goal of every planner (& over-planner!) is actually to be able to go with the flow! If you ever want to transcend your anxious, over-planning ways, I can’t recommend solo travel enough.

Return with the Elixir

STEP 12: RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR

These past 2.5 years of solo travel have been the greatest gift I could have given myself. I am one tough MF’er these days.

Through solo travel, I now truly Know (capital K in 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. Though I never pictured any of this for myself, 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

Woman under a large rock on a beach at sunset in Chacahua, Oaxaca, Mexico
My first time traveling alone: One of my favorite places in all of Mexico, Lagunas de Chacahua National Park in Oaxaca, Mexico.

After traveling to half of the states in Mexico, I know the country quite well.

In fact, I live in Mexico full time now! I speak the language & I travel to the non-touristy parts of this country. Speaking of the non-touristy parts, I’ve been to places you want to go to… that you don’t even know exist.

Beyond that, I also know travel buddies are sometimes hard to come by & now you’re curious about all of said off-the-beaten-path places!

✈️🌎 CURIOUS ABOUT THESE MEXICO DESTINATIONS? Download my free guide now…

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WHAT IS THE ELIXIR?

For me, Returning With the Elixir, this final stage of the Hero’s Journey, means taking what I have learned & experienced to those who need to hear it.

That means both Solo travel & Mexico travel. It means I hope you’ll let me be your virtual travel buddy.

I would love nothing more, at this state of my journey, than to be your solo travel mindset guide & your Mexico guide!

My goal in starting this blog & podcast, is to 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 in Mexico for you to visit.

If you think about it, this really is the easiest country for a first time international solo travel destination: 1) It is one of the closest countries to you in the U.S., 2) The exchange rate is completely in your favor, 3) You don’t need a visa… and many more reasons


CONSIDERING SOLO TRAVEL & MEXICO TRAVEL?!

Let’s chat in the comments! Ask me anything that wasn’t covered in the blog so I can help you turn your dream into your destination!


Enjoy these related blogs!

PLEASE JOIN ME ON MY SOLO TRAVEL JOURNEY…

¡Hola Chicas!

👋 I’m Shelley, a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world! I started this blog & podcast to help women like you cross Solo travel & Mexico travel off your bucket list…

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Hey girl, hey! This page may contain affiliate links. Please know I wouldn’t recommend anything I haven’t used, loved, and/or thoroughly researched. Affiliate links cost you nothing, and help keep my content free! It’s a win-win for us both 👯‍♀️

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I’d L❤️VE to hear your thoughts…

2 Comments

  1. Samantha

    Ok but this sounds amazing, definitely inspired to travel solo now. Maybe not in Mexico, but I definitely plan on taking a train somewhere in the US for a solo adventure next year 😍

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Samantha: HOW COOL!! I did a train trip in the Pacific Northwest once, and it was so amazing. I highly recommend the west coast of the U.S. for a train trip. Enjoy!!

      Reply

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