How I Knew I Was Mentally Ready For Long-Term Solo Travel

Taking in sights from the Great Ocean Road, Australia

Solo travel is a transformative experience that can change the course of your life forever — but only if you’re really, truly ready to take the leap. Here’s how I knew I was mentally prepared to head out into the world on my own.

I felt displaced in the life I had chosen.

This was probably the biggest reason why I ultimately decided to leave Denver, where I’d lived since graduating college. After spending three and a half years in an amazing city surrounded by friends, mountains, parties, craft beer and festivals galore, I reached a point where I felt that I no longer belonged.

It wasn’t that anyone or anything around me had changed.

I was the one who’d changed.

The truth is that I simply wasn’t being challenged enough to lead a fulfilling life. Things were just too easy, and I’ve never been one to settle for complacency.

I struggled with this fact for many months, thinking that there must be something wrong with me for wanting to leave a city that everyone else loved so much.

Why couldn’t I just be happy with my apartment, my routine, my daily life?

I now know that there’s nothing wrong with wanting something different from life, even when everything is going just fine. My sense of displacement was born from a desire to see what else the world had to offer — it didn’t mean that Denver didn’t matter to me, because it was a huge and influential stage of my life.

But I also knew that if I didn’t leave, I’d always be left wondering what could have been.

A ship docked at port in Calais, France. Photo by Michelle Polizzi.

I committed my life to personal growth.

My journey towards personal development began when I decided to change my relationship with alcohol. I had wasted so much time trying to fit in with people who drank, vying for male attention at bars, and spending beautiful, sunny days hungover in bed.

One day I woke up and decided that I was officially over it. This was the catalyst for a mental makeover in which I committed myself to radical self-care. Spending weekend nights in, reading books, amping up my fitness routine, nourishing my body with healthy foods (and saying yes! to dessert whenever I wanted) allowed my best self to emerge.

I also started seeing a therapist who provided me with the tools and mindset shifts I needed to move through the world as a more whole and confident person.

All of these things helped my travel plans come into focus even more clearly. The mental blocks that had previously existed were no longer preventing me from doing whatever I wanted in life. I still struggle with fears and self-doubt just like everyone else, but I now have the mental strength to overcome these moments swiftly and with grace.

A butterfly takes off outside Florence, Italy. Photo by Michelle Polizzi.

I stopped waiting for the “right time” to follow my heart.

A job, a significant other, lack of funds — there are so many reasons why we don’t pursue our travel dreams. But we live long and complex lives, and there’s never a perfect time to go see the world.

In fact, embarking on a solo trip almost always means neglecting another part of your life — but that’s simply the price you pay for a life-changing opportunity.

Instead of waiting for the perfect time to travel, focus on creating the version of yourself that will benefit from it most.

Think about it this way: if you have a million dollars to spend on travel but you’re facing self-doubt, anxiety and worry, you likely won’t enjoy the experience as much as you could. Alternatively, a person who has a clear, open mind will likely reap many more benefits from that same trip––regardless of how much money she has to spend.

I realized the value of my own independence.

Traveling solo as a woman is all about testing yourself — your confidence, your nerve, your ability to adapt when immersed in new environments.

If you’ve already been exploring the idea of independence where you currently live, it might be a sign that you’re ready for something bigger.

Maybe it’s a small test, like going out to eat by yourself (something I was afraid to do for a very long time, but now enjoy). Or, it could be taking a weekend trip to a new destination all alone.

I tested the solo travel waters by booking two nights in a rustic cabin in the woods on Washington’s Whidbey Island. Although this trip started and ended surrounded by amazing friends in both Oregon and Seattle, the two days I had to myself provided ample reflection time.

This trip gave me the confidence I needed to realize that I could, indeed, travel the world alone.

View of Scicli city and the Ionian Sea, Sicily, Italy. Photo by Michelle Polizzi.

I had a voice inside my head telling me to go.

For decades, there has been a set of defined milestones that women have been asked to live by. From getting married and having children, to buying a house and pursuing a career, we all face pressure to live our life by certain ideals.

Travel is just another one of those life events, and it doesn’t make you any more or less worthy than people choosing other paths.

There are always going to be people who don’t understand your decisions, and some may be offended or confused by the fact that you’re focusing so much time on yourself. The good news is that you don’t need anyone’s approval to pursue your dreams.

The world is vast and life passes by in a blink. So if you can’t help but feel like the world is calling and there’s something else out there for you, that longing in itself is the only reason you need to pack your bags and go.

Like Cheryl Strayed puts it in her book Tiny, Beautiful Things, “go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.”

Stay updated with Michelle’s travels and writing by following her on Instagram @michellekpolizzi.

Small-town girl turned world explorer. I’m a freelance writer passionate about wellness, wilderness, and the intersections between. @shellykait

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