How Solo Travel Taught Me to Love Myself

by Gigi Griffis

For a long time, I didn’t know how to love myself.

I wasn’t necessarily mean the way some people are; I didn’t call myself stupid or ugly. I didn’t say I hated myself.

But I didn’t understand self-love either.

Growing up, I believed that if you wanted to be a good person, if you wanted to be loved, you had to deny yourself completely and become a martyr. Anything less than perfect selflessness wasn’t good enough. The ideal life was one where you spent all of your time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears on anyone but yourself, where you made yourself as agreeable and unobtrusive as possible.

This is how I was raised, purposefully or not. Rewarded for forgetting myself, for being agreeable, for serving. And shamed with words like “disappointment” and “selfish” when I focused on me.

Selfish in our household was kind of like the b-word. It was the worst thing you could be.

So, for me, when my therapist asked me to work on self-love, it wasn’t just completely out of my repertoire…it was the antithesis of everything I’d been trained to believe in.

And, yet, I liked the idea that a person could love themselves and still love others. I’ve always been drawn to balance, and this seemed like a much more balanced way to live. And in my gut, I felt that I should love myself. That perhaps I should stop pouring all my energy into others and maybe save just a little bit for me. Perhaps that would help with my ongoing battles with depression and anxiety.

I had no idea where to start.

How do you change your internal makeup? How do you understand something so far outside your experience?

I asked my therapist what she meant about self-love…how would one go about loving themselves?

She told me that if was too weird to look in the mirror and say I love you to myself, I could start by loving my younger self. She encouraged me to write a letter to Younger Me.

If you’ve been reading along for a few years, you already know that when I was in Denver I changed my name. The nickname Gigi started after college and stuck. I loved it for a lot of reasons. And one of them was that it felt like a new beginning. Like I could re-invent myself.

Now that I was on this quest for self-love, it came in handy. Instead of writing to Gigi, I wrote to that other girl, younger me—to the girl I was before.

At first it felt awkward, but by the time I finished the letter, I was in tears.

I told younger me that I loved her and that she was going to be totally fine and that she didn’t have to struggle so hard or do so much. That I loved her even if she failed by everyone else’s standards. That I loved her simply because she was lovable. And that she never needed to prove to me that she was worth loving. Because I already knew.

I wrote a few of these letters to young me. I talked about specific things that had happened in my life, that had been hard for me. One by one, I offered up understanding and forgiveness to both myself and those who had hurt me.

Then, very slowly, young me started to become just…me.

Me from yesterday. Me from today.

The more comfortable I got with forgiving my younger self, the more natural it felt to forgive myself on a daily basis. And as I forgave myself for my blunders and for not being as perfect as I always thought I was supposed to be, I started to feel a little more at ease, a little more comfortable in my own skin.

Some of this happened in Denver, but as I sold my things, packed my bags, and took off for Scotland with Luna in tow, something really clicked. I think this happened for two reasons: the first, that by leaving for a life of indefinite travel and possibilities, I gave myself permission to do what I wanted, to do something just for me. Indefinitely.

The second: that traveling alone meant I spent a lot of time alone, especially my first month on the road, and I learned that I really liked being alone with myself.

I think one of the reasons people are afraid to travel solo is this: we aren’t sure we’ll like ourselves. We’re always moving, going, busy. We’re always thinking about the next thing we have to do. And, so, how many of us truly take the time to slow down and just be with ourselves? With our thoughts and hopes and dreams and disappointments and flaws and deep sadnesses?

I think we’re a little afraid that if we’re left alone with ourselves, we’ll be lonely or depressed or discover that we aren’t very likable.

But instead of finding myself in any of those states, I felt suddenly free. I was suddenly allowed to stop worrying about everything going on around me. I was allowed to drop a few of the balls I’d been juggling my whole life. I was allowed to sit in my sunny attic room in Scotland, eat a bowl of cereal, and just exist.

I barely did anything in Scotland. Just walked and thought and ate and read. I did exactly what I wanted to do each day. I still had my clients and I never missed a deadline, but I spent extravagant amounts of time on myself, too.

This was one of the most healing moments of my life.

I found that I was not only a capable problem solver when it came to my career and helping those around me, but that I was also very capable of taking care of myself, solving my problems, and making real, difficult changes in my life and my perspective.

I started to trust myself a little more.

Then, I came back from Europe and spent three months in the states…and my anxiety started rising again. By the time I returned to Italy around New Year’s Eve, I felt that I had lost something. (Which just goes to show how much this self-love thing is an ongoing process with all the ups and downs that come with that.)

My therapist pointed out that most of that anxiety was coming from one particular belief I’d held since I was a child: that life is all or nothing. I must get the A+ or fail completely. I must be perfect or be bad. There was no sliding scale.

She asked me what I could say to myself to break that mindset when it reared its ugly head…and my mantra became life isn’t pass-fail. It reminded me that I was smart and capable, that I always had a plan B, and that life was a big, open book, not a test.

I started to allow myself to take the pressure off. I started to let go of the things I was trying to control: If that client got upset because my internet connection went berzerk, so be it. If that handsome, adventurous man doesn’t want to be with me when I put myself on the line, so be it. None of this makes me any less worthwhile as a human being. None of this is failure.

The more I said it to myself, the more I believed it. The more I believed it, the more I said it. And the less tolerance I had for my negative self-talk. When it came up, I found myself saying, sometimes out loud, “well, that’s not true.”

And while all this was going on and I was exploring the cobbled backstreets of Perugia, Italy, I also quietly gave myself a love song. Because here’s the truth about self-love:

To practice it, you have to treat yourself exactly like you would treat someone you loved. Your sister. Your daughter. Your best friend.

In other words, self-love is, in part, being your own mother, father, sister, friend, lover, and advocate. It’s about not waiting for someone else to stand up for you, to comfort you, to love you unconditionally…but, instead, doing those things for yourself first.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need other people, but it does mean having different expectations from those other people–and from yourself.

And, so, I thought: when I love someone (be it a man, a friend, or even my dog), I often give them a song. Something that reminds me of them. Something that I could (and sometimes do) sing to them and mean every word.

This is what I did for myself in Italy.

I’d walk down the streets with my love song on repeat, speaking the words to myself silently. Reminding myself that I am loved and lovable.

I didn’t tell anyone about it for months. Because I was a little embarrassed. I mean, who gives themselves a love song?

Me. That’s who.

And, dear god, it worked.

I started to feel this ever-present, beautiful gratitude. This slowly growing store of joy.

I was loved.

I am loved.

And I have everything I need.

I’m waiting for nothing.

A few months passed, still full of my love song, sometimes letters to myself, and more and more grace and forgiveness for my imperfections. Until one day, when I was in Sayulita, Mexico, I walked into my bathroom.

Up ’til then, it was just like any other day. I probably took a walk, went to the beach, worked, and ate some sushi.

But then I walked into that bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. And seeing myself staring back, I felt a rush of affection. The kind of affection I feel for my little sister or my best friend. The kind of affection that makes you want to run over and embrace someone.

It took my breath away.

Suddenly, my self-worth had nothing to do with how much I could forget and deny and lose my self.

Suddenly and beautifully, my self-worth existed because I existed. I was worth something because I am me. I was my own best friend, a person I cared deeply for, a person I protected and stood up for, a person I cheered on and rooted for, a person who was beautiful and lovable and worth feeling affectionate toward.

And so I finally understood what my therapist said to me so many years ago. And I discovered that self-love doesn’t make us selfish. It makes us joyful, grateful, energized, and humbled. It makes us infinitely more understanding and loving, infinitely less judgmental and disapproving to everyone else.

And the journey to get here?

It’s just like C.S. Lewis says when he’s talking about learning to love our enemies: when you behave as though you love someone, you will eventually come to love them. Our actions lead our hearts. Our choices, our words, the stories we tell about and to ourselves…they all dictate how we feel about ourselves.

And so this is one of the greatest stories of my first year of travel: the story of a girl who used to be depressed and anxious, but now feels overwhelmingly grateful and joyful. The story of a girl who struggled to feel beautiful for the longest time, but now feels happy to see herself in the mirror. The story of a girl who still struggles with anxiety sometimes, but who can forgive herself for it.

And, most importantly, the story of a girl who trusted herself when it was really hard, who stopped the negative self-talk in its tracks, and who stood in front of a bathroom mirror on an ordinary day and realized that she loved herself. Flaws, successes, sorrows, wrinkles, and all.

Share this post!

You may also like

Leave a comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.


Fred August 19, 2013 - 6:38 am

“But then I walked into that bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. And seeing myself staring back, I felt a rush of affection. The kind of affection I feel for my little sister or my best friend. The kind of affection that makes you want to run over and embrace someone.”

in fact, a lot of people feel “a rush of affection” when they see you, I think. No, I’ sure!

gigigriffis August 19, 2013 - 12:45 pm

Thanks, Fred!

Ali August 19, 2013 - 6:42 am

Beautiful. You had me in tears the whole time. I so needed to read this today. Of course you’re loved. Of course I am too. Why don’t I love myself so much? Not sure. But I need to work on changing that. I like the letters to your younger self, might have to try that myself. Seriously wonderful post, and thanks for sharing this with us.

gigigriffis August 19, 2013 - 12:57 pm

Thanks, lady. It was a tough one to write, but I felt really strongly that it was a story that needed telling – because I’m not alone (and you’re not alone). There are so many of us struggling with this very thing.

And you’re right: you are most definitely loved (and lovable). I haven’t known you that long, but I totally love you. And am really looking forward to hanging out in person later this month.

Beverly Elaine August 19, 2013 - 6:56 am

I want to say something amazingly profound, but I have no words other than spectacular. Just spectacular. I love this. Thank you for sharing it.

gigigriffis August 19, 2013 - 12:58 pm

Thank you.

rob August 19, 2013 - 8:47 am

There’s something fascinating that you posted this on the same weekend that Tynan ( did posting asking if life is futile.

Your letter/song is interesting to me. Years ago I noticed a television commercial (for drugs, of course) that made me realize i was depressed. I had just read a book on brain plasticity and realized that what you *do* influences who you are. So I tried an experiment – every morning after awakening and before heading to work I’d look outside and observe out loud what a beautiful day it was and how great it was to be alive. Felt stupid at first, and there were days when it was not so beautiful outside and I was a little down. But I persisted and after 6-8 weeks I realized that I actually felt exactly what I was saying. The world *is* beautiful and it is good to be alive. I still do it, mostly, but I always feel that way.

There is a bit of freedom, also, in deciding to be “selfish” and live your life for yourself. I decided long ago that it would be an extraordinary situation indeed where I’d ever have kids. That situation never arose and I continue to find it freeing.

Breaking loose from society’s expectations is very freeing!

gigigriffis August 19, 2013 - 1:00 pm

I love that. A bit of a positive morning mantra, if you will, without any religious context that the word mantra may evoke.

Kaylee August 19, 2013 - 10:10 am

Lovely. So glad to have stumbled across this post via Pinterest today.

gigigriffis August 19, 2013 - 1:01 pm

Thanks, Kaylee.

stacy August 20, 2013 - 1:30 pm

Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. It reminds me a little bit of what they say on the airplane about putting on your oxygen mask before helping others. I really do feel that in order to help others you must first help yourself. I also agree that it is an ongoing thing and that you have to be mindful of what you need first or everything falls apart. I personally need to be well rested and need a little bit more solitude than other people. It’s not bad or good, it just is.

I have been called selfish before by a parent….. it made me a little hurt. I personally do not think I am selfish because I take care of myself. For me that means managing my free time and saying no sometimes.

Fight the good fight because you’re worth it.

gigigriffis August 21, 2013 - 7:00 am

Absolutely. It’s amazing how much more energy and love you have to offer to others when you are fully cared for.

You Are Not a Burden | the ramble September 12, 2013 - 3:24 am

[…] people away. My sadness was a sickness, something to be avoided. I still wasn’t allowed to be imperfect or broken. My needs didn’t deserve to be […]

9 Beautiful Lessons From Around the World | the ramble September 23, 2013 - 2:41 am

[…] I’ve cried tears of gratitude while staring at imposing limestone cliffs. I’ve put my newfound self-love to the test, forgiving myself even when I make mistakes. And I’ve reflected on just how far […]

On Bravery, Travel Writing, & Taking My Own Advice | the ramble October 7, 2013 - 3:54 am

[…] last week where someone I’ve never met wrote to tell me thank you – because by sharing my history with depression and my struggles (and triumphs) with self-love, I’d made her feel understood, hopeful, and not […]

On Emotional Support Animals & My Interview With the New York Times | the ramble November 18, 2013 - 12:18 am

[…] It’s why I share my deeply personal struggles and triumphs. […]

Real Change Takes Time | the ramble November 25, 2013 - 12:06 am

[…] And, of course, the greatest and most beautiful change of all was learning to love myself. […]

Meet the Nomads - Gigi Griffis of December 15, 2013 - 9:39 am

[…] down. Love yourself. Love others. Practice gratitude. And take joy in the simple […]

Hey Solo Traveler Girl, Don’t You Ever Get Lonely? | the ramble January 9, 2014 - 12:31 am

[…] I’ve always been the kind of person who spends too much energy taking care of everyone and everything around her, and so traveling – doing something that was just for me – felt like a revolutionary move toward self-love. And, in fact, it was one of the first and biggest steps in learning to love myself, flaws, successes, wrinkles, failures, quirks, and all. […]

Notes From a Beautiful, Difficult Life | The Ramble February 9, 2014 - 5:32 am

[…] But despite my free-fall and the need to claw my way back toward the top, I eventually found my joy. On a beautiful day in Mexico when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and felt a rush of affecti…. […]

Love Means Standing Up For Yourself | The Ramble May 26, 2014 - 12:48 am

[…] my therapist told me I needed to love myself all those years ago, I had no idea what she […]

2013: Sexiness, Success, & Self-Love | The Ramble August 22, 2014 - 1:38 am

[…] I told the hard, beautiful, important stories. I talked about my depression and anxiety. I told my story even when I knew it would gain me a few […]

Spas of the Bernese Oberland (+ Some Thoughts on Occasional Luxury) | The Ramble November 6, 2014 - 12:23 am

[…] think it’s that same principle C.S. Lewis talks about when he tells us that learning to love our enemies is simpler than we think. Because the way our […]

Travel + Inspirational Link Round-Up, November | The Ramble November 30, 2014 - 1:34 am

[…] :: How Solo Travel Taught Me to Love Myself […]

One Writer’s Shifting Mindset (Or What If Making a Point Isn’t the Point?) | The Ramble August 17, 2015 - 12:31 am

[…] waste my time on things just because they brought me joy. In fact, bringing myself joy was selfish when I could be making myself into a martyr […]

How to love yourself – On building self-worth September 27, 2017 - 7:11 pm

[…] And so that gross little maggot got on the internet one day and there she came across some words on the blog of a writer named Gigi Griffis. The piece was called: How Solo Travel Taught me to Love Myself. […]

Elizabeth Hillegas December 14, 2018 - 10:13 pm

Thank you for sharing your deeply personal feelings, thoughts, and reality. I’m so happy you are claiming and owning you. Your willingness to share your healing is a treasure, and your ability to express your healing is a treasure, too. There is a lot to digest in your writing. You are encouraging me to reflect . . .


This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Opt-out here if you wish! Accept Read more