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Trigger warning: I am an incest survivor. 

I also have many other labels: codependent, adult child, workaholic…the list goes on. However, before each and every label is the word, ‘recovered’.

There’s another label that I am especially fond of….solo traveler.

The most empowering and valuable time I take for me is through solo travel. How are trauma and solo travel connected? Trauma has embedded itself into parts of me that some have labeled my shadow. My shadow is my best friend, although it was not always the case. 

Metaphor for author carrying the heavy burden of her shadow

I a woman who embarks on self-healing journeys near and far, and my #1 companion on the road is my Shadow. She loves the freedom and exhilaration of solo travel, because it’s the one place she can fully embrace her identity.

I’ll explain.

As a survivor of incest, abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc, I developed fragmented parts. The therapy for this is called Internal Family System. Though IFS doesn’t use the word ‘shadow’ for the compartmentalized version of self, I do. Not only does the psychological definition of shadow fit within IFS, it’s a beloved part of my internal family.

Befriending Your Shadow

My shadow clearly communicates she’s still here. Before integration, she was enraged from abuse endured. Today she expresses her voice with courage, creativity, and determination.

Being able to engage and express shadow parts in healthy ways is an invaluable tool and resource for self-care and self-love. If not for diligent self-care and solo trips, I would easily slip back into neglecting and abandoning myself. Today, giving myself these gifts no longer feels like a battle. This is as a result of hard work and maintaining my recovery by taking this time to myself.

Most trauma survivors and probably all incest survivors are going to have enraged parts that act out. These also can lead to significant mental health illnesses. This is not a judgement, it’s a reality. Freedom from that means seeking paths to get this energy out in healthy ways

I’ve used traditional therapy, in-person and Virtual EMDR, recovery phone lines, journaling, and other therapy techniques that I created myself to aid in my trauma healing. However, once the bulk of the pain passed, I began using solo travel to refine and celebrate my growth and new life. It works, because I discovered it organically, and have benefitted from it for years now. It’s my honor to share with you what I’ve learned. Here are eight ways solo traveling can aid this process:

1. Creating Self-Reliance and Empowerment

Solo travel forces you to rely on yourself for navigation, decision-making, and problem-solving. For incest survivors, this can be incredibly empowering, helping to rebuild trust in your own abilities and judgments. Each successful decision, from choosing a hiking path to selecting a place to eat, reinforces your capacity to control your environment and future. Especially effective are trips that require special skills like camper van camping and multi-stop road trips. This gradually replaces feelings of powerlessness with strength and autonomy.

Camper van parked in beautiful desert setting
Freedom of a road trip is empowering

Solo travel also exposes you to new cultures, landscapes, and communities. This challenges your biases, including ones you hold about yourself.  Moreover, learning about different healing practices and philosophies around the world can provide you with a variety of tools for reworking your identity into a self-reliant badass.

2. Providing Space for Shadow Love

Traveling alone provides quality solitude, allowing you the space and time to reflect on your shadow parts. It gives you a deep dive into your feelings and all parts that get lost and disconnected from the daily grind. This is your relationship-reset button.

Anger and bitterness from years of trauma naturally dump into a shadow part. Without intervention, that can tragically hurt you and others. Combine that with a childhood of codependent caretaking, and a shadow can seize control and create a mutiny against the unfair system.

Once the rage of incest and trauma are healed, taking road trips is an excellent complement to therapy and other recovery tools.

road trip blue skies on teh horizon symbol of freedom from trauma pain
Hit the wild, untamed road of the American southwest

Again, not knowing how to integrate angry parts in healthy ways can lead to acting out. As a result of unprocessed trauma, you’re at risk of becaming addicted to shame..abandoning and hurting the ones you love. 

3. Creating Opportunities for Positive Risk-Taking

Solo travel involves a degree of risk, and this is where distorted trauma fear is transmuted into healthy power. Because most acting out originates from stuffed anger, by healing and engaging in positive risks you’re releasing the residual embedded fear. However, rather than going emotionally berserk, you’re funneling the refined rage into empowering energy.

That’s why solo travel feels so amazing for trauma survivors…because you’re intuitively reversing the damage that was unjustly placed upon you. Navigating new places, confronting immigration, getting lost, initiating conversations with strangers, resolving mini crises…all these solo travel risks are real, but they don’t threaten your well being or safety. Instead, they are a critical component in processing and integrating your shadow parts.

While solo traveling, every risk, small and large, reinforces your capability to exist confidently. Specifically, to celebrate your needs, desires, and boundaries without the threat of burning your life down to the ground through self-sabotage.

4. Divine Selfishness

Traveling solo sometimes is a matter of seeing places and doing things. Other times it is simply going somewhere all by yourself because you feel like it. Or maybe you have always dreamed about a destination (most people call this a bucket list) and you’re finally making it happen. It matters less what you do or where you go, but rather matters more that it’s what your heart desires. Don’t forget to bring your travel field guide with you.

Parade in Portugal exemplifies freedom to follow heart and tick off bucket list items
Maybe going to a foreign country to watch a religious parade is on your bucket list

This is what I call ‘Divine Selfishness’. It’s the simple act of making decisions solely for yourself, from choosing a destination to deciding how to spend each day. Maybe you primarily live alone and you are a ninja at self care. Or maybe pampering yourself by giving and receiving love to YOU is a new concept. Regardless, it’s is a practice in divine selfishness and challenges the dynamics of codependency.

It can still sometimes feel quite selfish and a type of entitlement that I want the world to fuck off, including my nearest dearest. It’s still that same shadow needing a break from over responsible tendencies. Solo travel is my divine balance system.  

5. Embracing Independence and Establishing Boundaries

Solo travel is not only the joy of solitude but also the importance of independence. It’s a liberating escape from perceptions imposed by our past selves. Practicing independence as self-care allows you the space to explore outside of these constraints.

Shadow work for healing can take you to long and winding paths
Choose your path and follow it

With solo travel, the real gift you give yourself is time. As a result of the childhood trauma, most women were slaves to their families’ wants and needs. For me, as an incest survivor, it was my father’s sexual and emotional needs. I was also my mother‘s therapist, and even her mother. Without putting an end to the cycle, generational trauma would continue.

As a healed trauma survivor, taking road trips and temporarily checking out of life allows you to focus on just you. Being unconditionally emotionally available to yourself and making You the one and only priority. Sound good? It is!

6. Breaking Free from Codependency

Solo travel transcends mere physical movement; it’s an intentional journey towards personal sovereignty and end to codependency. This path is powerful way to dissolve internal rage—a byproduct of betrayal and boundary violation. By stepping away from familiar environments and relationships that may indirectly reinforce codependency, you give yourself permission to explore your anger and pain in a place not defined by their trauma.

rage can be turned to triumph…author rock climbing and overcoming
Channel your rage into overcoming obstacles

I understand now my shadow sought relief from burdens I shackled to my shoulders as a codependent caretaker. Then I’d rebel. Before I healed my shadow, I was caught in this cycle of anger and fleeing and shame for many years. 

In the solitude of travel, your shadow can teach you how to confront your rage directly, away from the expectations and eyes of your people. This solitude brings freedom to processed anger without codependent contexts.

7. Solo Travel Sacred Pause

This journey is not just about moving away from the physical presence of codependent relationships but about mentally and emotionally carving out a space where you can be wholly yourself, free from the roles and expectations.

author contemplates the view at Grand Canyon West

Ultimately, solo travel offers a sacred pause, a break from the cycle of codependency, allowing you to return to your life with a renewed sense of self. You’ll be equipped with healthier self of self and see yourself as the whole, autonomous individual that you are, rather than through the lens of codependent resentment. In addition, you will also have a stronger bond with your shadow.

8. Navigating Rage Through New Experiences

Besides serenity for meditation and reflection, solo travel also can help soothe and understand the roots of rage. The shadow is usually the seat of unwanted emotions like rage. However, learning to observe and process it without judgment, and taking a compassionate stance will revolutionize your life.

Activities that engage your body and spirit like vigorous hikes, reflective journaling, or even shouting into the abyss can be cathartic. They honor your fury and shift it into strength and self-awareness.

By confronting and engaging with your rage, you can begin to see this emotion not as something to be feared or suppressed but as a powerful energy that, when harnessed creatively, can fuel your journey toward healing and rebirth.

Final Thoughts on Shadow Work For Healing

As a trauma survivor, it’s crucial to take time for myself. Whether I like it or not, if I choose to neglect this time with myself, I inevitably will fall back into my unrecovered labels, thereby abandoning myself. And when I abandon myself, it’s only a matter of time before I abandon everyone else around me.

It would be easy to make the claim that trauma survivors don’t actually need solo travel to avoid extremes of acting out behavior. This is absolutely true. Whatever strategy that works for you to address your wants and needs and express the angry or shadow parts of you and healthy ways I fully support. However, there is no easy button. 

Love that part of you and use it as your passion, drive, and creativity to embrace all that you have overcome. This is the essence of reclaiming what trauma has taken from you. it’s fundamentally the point of empowering yourself to not be negatively defined by the trauma. In fact, it’s understanding that you have, like an alchemist, alchemized what was meant for your harm to be transmuted for your highest and ultimate good.

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