We sat down with Yvonne Winkler, Freedom Coach and Founder of the Lotus Emerging Entrepreneur Program (LEEP) and talked breakups, life upheavals, bad jobs, and how a big leap into solo travel helped build the foundation for her transformation.
Yvonne, where did you solo travel?
I went to Europe and travelled through seven countries in ninth months on my own! I spent most of my time in Cadiz, Spain. I was alone for the whole time, except I met my friend in Ireland first, to ease myself into travel mode.
What events in your life led you to make this huge decision?
It was my desire for freedom. I was so tired of other people controlling my life, and pleasing others (especially in my job) by trying to accomplish things I knew weren't important to me. I felt so confined in my socio and economic condition (I never felt like I had enough money, or enough social status, and that I wasn’t on the “right” road).
The straw that broke the camel’s back was a huge break up. Something literally broke in me, and it was horribly painful but also amazing. At the time, this guy represented the path I was supposed to be travelling, and a secure future. To have him disappear meant that all the stability and safe plans disappeared as well. It made me step back and realize I needed to make some major changes. My friend handed me a book called No Opportunity Wasted: 8 Ways to Create a Lists for the Life You Want by Phil Keoghan, and it felt like the universe was tapping me on the shoulder and reminding me I had agency and freedom right now, if I chose to experience it.
What was your biggest fear as you set out?
That in my thirties, I would have to call my mom and dad and beg them to pay for my ride home, should the worst happen. I overcame this by pre-paying for my return ticket, knowing that I would rather cancel it or take credit with the airline than have that fear play out (I was already on a shoestring budget, so prepaying was a big deal for my bottom line).
My second biggest fear was that I would return to my stressful corporate job when I got home. Since freedom was the most important thing to me, it was very important to quit it completely rather than take a sabbatical. Most people I worked with thought I was nuts, because I had worked so hard to get where I was.
What surprised you most about travelling alone?
The number of times I was driven out of my comfort zone, in a good way! When I went to Germany, I had family there, so it wasn't as scary. However, I hadn’t been there since I was a child, and there were a lot of firsts for me! It was the first time I drove on the autobahn, and I realize now that it was a huge leap that required courage. I did a lot of things I would normally avoid. I think this has to do with survival, which sounds extreme, but true! Once you have to depend on yourself and your survival in an unknown place, you are more present and pull your wits together in a new way. You’re more interested in experiencing all aspects of life that we’re usually numb to.
Something else I discovered was empowerment. I’m normally a follower. Before I travelled, I was happy to be in the passenger seat, allowing others to navigate, troubleshoot, and take action. But here I was, figuring out how the system worked, navigating through complex streets, doing what I wanted with my time– and I felt for the first time that I didn’t “need” to rely on anyone else.
One night, I arrived in a bus depot in Spain, and realized I didn’t have the contact information for my hostel, and no idea how to ask anybody about it. This was a time before Uber and translation apps. I remember beginning to panic, but I had to move on. “Well,” I thought, “I guess I have to figure it out.” After all, I had to get there. Something else kicked in. I felt like I relied more on my instincts in that moment, and it was so empowering.
Was it scary to travel alone?
I think the more we live in routine, the more likely we are to panic when we’re out of our comfort zone. It was scary at first, but the longer I travelled alone, the more comfortable I became with the uncomfortable. Having to communicate using gestures and facial expressions became the norm, and adapting to new places became second nature. Travel prevents our world from shrinking. When I came home, I found myself depressed, because I was scared I would lose everything I gained from travelling– all that confidence, empowerment, and growth. I didn’t want to lose that stretching and expansion once I was back. But I was wrong… in fact, travel inspired a bigger form of expansion and growth that I will always benefit from.
Why do you think it’s important for women to travel solo?
It’s so important for women to be able to keep our world big and stay empowered, to have space to explore and follow our interests, and put ourselves in the driver’s seat. We women need to step into our beautiful abundance and experience what we desire– because we radiate our joy, creativity, and confidence back into the world where it touches everyone we meet.
What is your advice for someone who wants to travel solo but feels held back by fear or things like finances and responsibilities?
Do it. Just do it. It’s not about the money! If you look at your whole life and you expect to live until 85, what is one week, one month, six months, one year out of that timeline?
Do you lie awake at night, thinking about the thousands of dollars you spent on experiences and clothes in 2014? Then why do you think money spent on travel will matter in five years? It might feel like a huge amount of time and resources in the moment, but it’s a blip when you zoom out. I can tell you from experience… people didn’t even realize I was gone, that’s how much of a blip it was! Ten years later, the money I spent and the time I was gone doesn’t even show up on my radar.
Yvonne coaches women to find the clarity they want and harness the strength they already have, to live a life they choose. A self-proclaimed empathetic badass and champion of feminine values, Yvonne's background is ripe with a range of experience. She has 15 years of business development, consulting and marketing experience, a fulfilling journey of business ownership, and a deep dedication to professional development. Yvonne will always take reflection over frenzy, collaboration over competition, and contribution over gain--truly the most genuine way to transform an idea into reality. Learn more at www.yvonnewinkler.com.