The human mind can be the magic carpet that flies us to exotic lands. It can be the MacGyver that helps us find creative ways to solve our problems. It can change our world. But it can also sabotage us quicker than you can say “boo.”
If you still haven’t made your travel dreams come true, there may be a bigger problem than lack of money, lack of time, or fear of traveling alone. There are legitimate obstacles to travel, but any reasons you can come up with for why you can’t travel solo can usually be overcome with time and planning. The real problem may be a negative attitude that convinces you that “you can’t do it”.
Much has been written and said about why we need to avoid negative people if we want to be happy. Not only are they a downer to be around, but their moods can be contagious. If you spend too much time with a negative person, you find your own thoughts start to skew negative as well. But what if you are that negative person?
I’m usually a pretty positive person, but there have been times in my life when I found myself in a deep depression, unable to see past the dark cloud over my head. When everything seemed all “doom and gloom,” I was often told by optimists to “cheer up” or “stop being so negative.” I always found that very frustrating.
Changing your mood isn’t as easy as flipping a light switch to go from darkness to light in an instant. And the “fake it ’til you make it” approach just feels, well, fake. That can be even more depressing, because you’re lying to yourself and everyone around you by pretending to be positive.
Enter the Gratitude Project
Years ago, when I rode the bus to work every day, there was a guy in a wheelchair on my route. He had no legs from the thigh down and no arms from the elbow down, just prosthetics. Every time I started to feel sorry for myself for any reason, I would see him and think about how difficult it must be for him to do things the rest of us take for granted, like take a shower or get dressed or feed himself. Yet he didn’t let it stop him from going to college. He inspired me. In recent years, I’d lost that daily reminder of all I had to be grateful for.
One day on Facebook, a friend mentioned the idea of keeping a Gratitude Journal. I loved the idea. Could such a journal help me consistently focus on the positives in my life and not get caught up in the negatives?
Starting January 1, every single day for nearly a year, I wrote down at least one good thing that happened to me that day or that I was thankful for. Some trends I noticed: I had a lot to be thankful for while traveling, spending time with friends, or enjoying a great book or movie. I talked about good cups of coffee and sunny, warm days a lot in my gratitude journal. I also used a lot of exclamation points. Somehow, that made me feel really enthusiastic about what I was writing.
Some days were harder than others. If something overwhelmingly negative happens, like a friend hurts your feelings or some jerk nearly runs you off the road, it’s hard not to want to write about that. But I didn’t. Instead, I forced myself to focus on something positive that happened that day. This was, after all, a Gratitude Journal, not a Rage Journal or an “Oh Woe Is Me” Journal.
The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that everyone has at least one thing every day they can be grateful for, even if it’s something small and simple: A good cup of coffee. A few hours of sunshine. It was payday. Your health. You found a penny in the parking lot. Whatever.
By writing down one positive thing that happens in your life each day, you force yourself to always be on the lookout for the good things that comes your way, instead of focusing on the bad things. It becomes a habit. You are basically retraining your mind to see the glass half full instead of half empty.
Why is this important?
When you are always focused on the negatives, you cannot make your dreams come true. You will always see obstacles instead of opportunities. You will sabotage yourself with all the ways you cannot do something instead of finding the ways you can make it work.
By December 1 of the year I started my journal, I realized I no longer needed to write down one positive thing each day. The Gratitude Project had served its purpose. I had internalized the habit of looking on the bright side of things. I can read depressing news articles now or acknowledge that something bad has happened–and then let it go. That doesn’t mean I never utter a negative remark. It just means that I don’t dwell on the negatives for very long—and that I’m pretty happy with my life.
What does any of this have to do with solo travel?
People who are hesitant to travel solo usually imagine worst-case scenarios that prevent them from taking the leap. That’s just your mind trying to keep you in your comfort zone and sabotage your dreams of travel. Don’t let it.
The more positive your attitude in the first place, the less likely you are to have a mind that will sabotage your dreams and happiness. Obviously, there is more work involved in achieving your solo travel goals (saving money, planning and executing a trip, etc.), but having a positive, can-do attitude is the first step to making it happen.
- Instead of thinking “I can’t afford to travel,” a positive person will come up with a list of ways they can earn the money, save the money, or travel more cheaply.
- Instead of freaking out about whether or not they’ll be safe traveling alone, a positive person will research the dos and don’ts of the region they’re traveling to and seek safety tips from other solo travelers.
- The negative person might doubt their ability to travel solo. The positive person will not. (If this is something you struggle with, jot down a list of all the ways you are self-reliant in your everyday life. What are all the things you’re good at? Focus on the strong you, the competent you, the capable you.)
No, attitude is not a switch that can be flipped for instant change; but it is a habit. Given time, practice, and focus, almost anyone can learn to “look on the bright side” to be happier with life and to achieve their goals–including the goal of solo travel.
Have you tried keeping a Gratitude Journal? Has it helped you in your life? If so, I’d love to hear about it–please share in the comments below!