For many, the decision to travel, particularly to unknown destinations, isn’t one that comes easily. Not only does it require courage and vision, but it also requires the ability to set an intention and follow through with concrete action. To find out more about bravery, we spoke to Vanessa McDonald, who created The Brave Journal from her own experiences that she has now commercialized to help women around the world make braver choices about their lives. Recently, I spoke with Vanessa about bravery and how travel can help us lean into discomfort and build up self-trust to make braver choices in our lives.
Carolyn: Why is there a need for bravery?
Vanessa: Many of us stay in places, relationships, and situations that don’t feel right because we fear change and risk. It’s not a recipe for a happy life. Bravery is a path to being true and authentic to ourselves. Sometimes being brave is counter-intuitive to the environment we are living in. It takes bravery to choose a different path especially when there isn’t a model in your immediate life to follow. I reached a point in my life where I needed a new framework to choose a new path, one that was the path less travelled.
Now, more than ever before, we need bravery. Many of us want to do what is right or speak up when we see injustice in society. Each of these acts takes courage. We need to acknowledge that we are part of something bigger than any one of us alone, you only need to look at the global climate strike or women’s march for proof of that. In order to move forward, we have to get over the risk of failure.
Carolyn: How does the idea of Bravery apply to travel?
Vanessa: When I travel, I find it easier to connect with my inner knowing. This is what the Brave Journal has been designed to do. Take five minutes daily to check in with your perspective on an issue and ask yourself whether that is really the reality of the situation. Then invite yourself to pick a new perspective if the one we are holding onto is not serving us. Travel is also about inviting yourself to take a new perspective. For example, embracing the differences in food and culture across borders, or challenging our own perceptions of what we can and can’t do. Bravery isn’t about failure, it’s about the journey. When we travel, we have the power to choose a new perspective and if something isn’t working, we can challenge ourselves to try a new path.
Everything I know about bravery I first experienced while travelling alone. Travelling teaches you what you are capable of, what you can endure, what you will not accept. Most importantly, it changes your perception of yourself and of others by opening you up to a new experience. When I start to feel small in my own life, it isn’t long before I’m hopping on a plane or train to change things up.
Carolyn: As a passionate traveller yourself, which bravery principles do you recommend for women who aspire to self-discovery through travel?
Vanessa: As a long-time solo traveller, I have been both the person who stayed in her hotel in the evening and the one who went out to talk to strangers in a strange city. Both are valid choices provided you have set expectations with yourself.
First, identify what you want to get out of the experience. Is it meeting new friends, time alone absorbing and observing a new culture? Take a moment to decide and get honest with yourself -this is excellent journal work for the gate before you board a plane.
Second, don’t get overwhelmed with all the things you ‘should’ do and see. Just focus on the next simple step. The experience is meant to be enjoyable and I always like to leave something to return to in the future. Third, remember to celebrate the small wins. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I realized that not everyone has the guts to travel alone when I haggle a good deal, or head to a new city and make friends, I always remember to acknowledge myself for doing this.
Carolyn: What compelled you to write this book?
Vanessa: A month after my last birthday, I sat on the couch one Saturday afternoon reflecting on how brave I had been earlier in my life. I had travelled solo and lived all over the world, built an international career full of the kind of experiences I had always imagined as a little girl. As I got older, I became much more responsible. I got a mortgage, then started to make safe and ‘responsible’ choices. Each time, my life felt like it got a little smaller. On that day, I wrote in an empty journal ‘why can’t I be brave’ and almost immediately, the journal flowed out of me.
Carolyn: How has it been received?
Vanessa: I’ve had a lot of positive feedback so far, like the person who told me it helped them to recover from an alcohol relapse after being sober for over 20 years and friends who have bought two copies to use one with their partner. The largest group of advocates seem to be women, I know of two who used the journal over 21 days to gain clarity on their career. One got a pay raise and one left her job to become an entrepreneur!
Carolyn: What’s the bravest thing you’ve done recently?
Vanessa: I recently left a great job which I loved, sold 90% of my belongings, rented out my condo in Toronto and am in the process of launching my business, Courage Creator Inc,. as a global platform for bravery. On the outside, it might look like a strange choice to leave a lovely, well-decorated home and life in one of the world’s most livable cities but, my inner knowing feels strongly that this is the next step for me. It definitely took some bravery to make this step, I’ll let you know how it all works out 😊