Shannon Kaiser thought she was traveling the world to check off items on her bucket list, but what she found was a sense of belonging.
In 2018 I set out to live one of my biggest dreams—to travel the world full time. As a writer and coach, I can work from anywhere, so I did and dedicated an entire year to seeking more joy.
I thought I was traveling to check things off my bucket list and live as widely as possible. But I soon realized it was so much more than seeing the world—it was a quest for belonging. I was looking for a deeper connection and more meaning.
Many of us are on a constant quest for belonging, searching for connection and struggling with feeling like we don’t fit in anywhere.
This is when loneliness occurs.
While I was traveling, my sense of belonging was questioned and I didn’t know where I fit. Since I was traveling solo, I had a lot of time for self-reflection. I discovered that for most of my life, I never felt like I fit in; I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. This traced back to my childhood—not fitting in with the other kids, being ridiculed for doing things I naturally wanted to do—and this pattern persisted even as an adult.
This happens to most of us: We experience a traumatic event as a child and then, consequently, we close off a part of ourselves as we mature. We shy away from being who we really are because we’re scared of experiencing that trauma again. We think, “It didn’t work out for us last time, so why bother?” Even though your true self knows that you are safe, your fears are leading you to believe otherwise.
It's not like we can just decide to be worthy—our beliefs and perceptions can be a contributing factor to our lack of connection to ourselves and others. The good news is that there are practical changes you can make to encourage new beliefs, which is exactly what I did to release the shame of feeling like I didn’t belong and was worthless.
Here are seven ways solo travel can help to give you a sense of belonging.
1. Let Go of Expectations
Our expectations can rob us of joy. When we expect things to be a certain way, we miss the opportunities that could be—and are—happening instead. While I was traveling, I realized I had expectations that were actually blocking me from feeling more joy. I would approach each place with an idea of how I thought it should be, mostly based on other traveler’s recommendations, or bucket-list items that I was hoping to experience.
But when I would arrive to each new place, I would often feel let down; it seemed my high hopes were getting the best of me. It wasn’t until I released my expectations that I finally saw them for what they were: illusions blocking me from seeing the magnificent possibility that is available in each moment. When I allowed myself to be more present in the journey, I found real meaning and joy. What expectation are you ready to release?
2. Go With the Way Things Are Going
When things don’t go our way, we tend to get upset. However, when I was traveling, often things happened that were completely out of my control, such as delayed or canceled flights, wrong addresses for directions, or language barriers. I found it easiest to adapt when stopped trying to control the outcome, and instead surrendered to the way things were. Letting go can help you have an amazing time just enjoying the present and the unfolding of life. When I was on my joy-seeking journey, I discovered the art and true power of letting go. Can you stop trying to control the outcome and release expectations?
3. Plan Less So You Can Live More
While traveling, my itinerary was carefully planned down to the hour. About two weeks into my trip, I recognized the limitations of my schedule. I let go of structure and dove deeper into each moment, which led to amazing experiences that wouldn’t have happened if I was still sticking to a plan. When we let life take us where it wants to go and we trust the journey, we will have so much more fulfillment and joy. Are you overplanning?
4. Choose Passion and Purpose
About six months into my year of solo travel, I discovered the true meaning of living with more meaning and purpose. I volunteered to help rescue dogs from the meat trade in China. By connecting my passion for travel, my love for animals, and desire to help others and be of service, I was able to live in a more meaningful manner.
The power of feeling connected to something larger than yourself is also about a sense of purpose. You have a purpose and it doesn't always look like one thing. So often we think we need to do one job or have one clear mission, but your life is a tapestry of experiences and options. Instead of focusing so much on purpose, live more on purpose and let your passion lead you. What do you love and how can you do more of that every day?
5. Play More
All work and no play will keep us trapped in a bubble, while the rest of the world passes us by. We are layered beings, and we can’t get fulfillment from just one place. Although I had a website called Play with the World for years, I hardly ever played. Since my joy in my work was unbalanced, so I set out to do more playful things and take part in activities that I love; by bringing play into my life I expanded my world.
When I was overseas, I took note from some European cultures that practice siestas or the laid-back café culture you often see in Italy or France. I embraced more rest, relaxation, and play. This newfound mentality of making play a priority changed everything for me. Now I don’t feel guilty for taking time to rest, play, or pause in the simple things because it is an important part of a productive life. When was the last time you did something just for fun? When was the last time you paused in your own pleasure?
6. Come Together
There is a lot of separation and exclusion in the world right now. This pushing apart only makes us feel a deeper longing for connection. When I was on my trip, I saw firsthand the power of coming together. I would meet people from other cultures, with very different backgrounds and perspectives, yet we would feel connected with our hearts.
You can choose to come together by opening yourself up to be more accepting of and kind to others. No matter what their background, beliefs, or point of view, aim to value everyone's perspective.
A sense of belonging to a community improves our motivation, mental state, and health. You will soon see that you are not alone and there is comfort in knowing you are part of something greater than yourself.
7. Practice Self-Love
Taking a trip around the world was the ultimate form of self-love; it represented a dream that I gave myself permission to follow. When we take care of ourselves and love ourselves, we feel more whole and complete and it’s easier to connect with others and accept where we are in life.
The people who end up having the highest quality of life are those who have both self-indulgence and some sort of purpose in their day. To feel more joy in your life, schedule time for one or two activities that feel good and joyful to you.
Self-love is about self-care, but also about becoming your own best friend, going for your dreams, and cheering yourself on. Pure joy must come from deep inside. It comes from knowing who you are, honoring your true self, and not giving away your power.
This requires practice. It needs to be relearned, worked on, and nurtured from the inside out. It is the most extraordinary journey of your life, and the rewards are immense.
Read about what Shannon learned from Shamans and Ayahuasca on her journey.