Despite (or maybe because of) having a career that requires me to be a people person, I am actually kind of a loner. While I spend my working hours charming the pants off clients (figuratively, not literally – I’m not in that line of work), I’m not huge into big social gatherings. If given the choice between a group outing to the bar or some time on the couch, sofa surfing wins about 99% of the time. But even given my preference for my own company, the idea of taking a vacation alone was one that always intimidated me.
Now, I would understand this fear of solo-vacationing if I didn’t actually travel for business by myself all of the time. I mean, I suppose if you aren’t used to the airport, it could be a little intimidating to navigate it on your own. But I spend a significant amount of time on the road alone. I fly alone, stay in hotels alone, and eat in restaurants alone more than I actually do with other people when traveling.
I’ve even been known to hit up a movie solo if I had some free time in my schedule. So why was the idea of traveling for pleasure by myself as opposed to traveling for business solo so scary? Was it the stigma of taking a vacation alone? Did I look like a loser if I went on a trip by self and posted that selfie? Was I afraid that I’d be bored in my own company for days on end? I don’t know exactly what my mental roadblock was, but as much as there were places I wanted to go on my six weeks of annual vacation (yes, I’m a lucky bitch), I wasn’t going unless there was someone to go with me.
But then, a few months ago, I got the opportunity to face my fear. I was asked to speak at a weekend conference in Los Angeles, and given that I would have to fly clear across the country, this wasn’t going to be a fly in-and-out type of gig, plus the conference peeps were paying for the ticket, so I had to make the most of it, right? So the planning begun. If I have to be there Friday to Sunday, maybe I’ll leave on Wednesday. Hmmm, is that really enough time? There’s a lot to do in L.A… Tuesday? Eh, well, if I’m going to go on Tuesday, I might as well take Monday off, right? Eh, fuck it, I’ll just go on Sunday. And soon enough, I found myself with six full days of solo vacation, and no idea what the hell I was going to do with it – alone.
I’ll have to admit, it was a bit weird at first. It felt like one of my business trips, except there was no client to see, no work to be done at night in my hotel room. I was a little bit at loose ends with myself, and I fully admit that I spent the first day laying in my hotel bed watching an SVU marathon. But after about 36 hours of extreme laziness (and a hefty room service bill), I decided it was time to get off my duff and see the city.
As I tooled around the city in my rental car, I became more comfortable. When I saw somewhere I wanted to stop, I did. When I saw a restaurant that looked interesting, I ate. There was no one else to consult – my time was my own. I didn’t have to worry that my friend Jess doesn’t like the beach because she fries in the sun or that there was an exhibit at the museum that Danielle really wanted to see. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, with who I wanted – me. And I soon discovered that that kind of freedom was glorious…as well as that J on vacation by herself likes to take a daily nap, and sit on the beach at night looking at the stars alone.
Now, it seems almost dishonest to not mention that I had two friends in the city, each of whom I met for dinner one night. So, yes, there were two nights out of five that I had “plans,” but as happy as I was to see them, I didn’t find myself wanting more friend time; dinner and a drink and back to my alone time I went. But for my first solo vacay, it was almost good to have the “safety net” of friends (albeit not close ones) around so that if I found myself freaking out at my unaccompanied status, I had people I could call.
But that never happened. Instead, on top of enjoying the freedom that traveling alone gives you, I also found that my best moments, particularly creatively, come when I’m alone, in my own head. Not to be all cheesy, but in the quiet of being alone, I was able to think about a lot of things that needed to be thought about, and I made some decisions about my life that I don’t know that I would have made if I didn’t have that time to myself.
I won’t claim that I had some kind of “Eat, Pray, Love” life-changing experience (particularly not in the spiritual vacuum that is Los Angeles), but I did come back refreshed and recharged in a way I don’t think I would have had I traveled with a companion. I also found that I didn’t need a safety net – I was fine all on my own.
So here’s my advice: if there’s somewhere you want to go (and you have the means to do it) – go. Don’t let the fear of being alone stop you and don’t wait for someone to have the desire, the time, or the money to go with you. Just pack your bag, book your ticket, and go. Your mental health will thank you..