A couple of years ago, I took my first solo traveling trip. And on the first day, I was petrified. I kept thinking that I went crazy and made the wrong decision. I was dealing with the wrong job, a horrible commute, and getting sick often. And with the decision to end the most important relationship in my life with the man I thought was my soulmate—a relationship of more than a decade.
I needed a place where I couldn’t pretend to play superwoman. Therefore, I decided to go on a one-week solo travel vacation to my haven – The Caribbean. The idea was to go to a place without a familiar face, and it sounded all cool until I got there.
When I was picking up my luggage at the airport, I saw people excited and happy traveling together in groups of families, friends, or couples. A big contrast in how I was feeling. At that moment, I was feeling terribly lonely. I mean, if we sit down and make a list of the most accessible places for a quick solo traveling trip, I’m sure that spending time at a beautiful beach in the Caribbean to disconnect from the World sounds like zero effort in a solo trip. Right?
Especially since I was born on that island and spoke the language. Right? It couldn’t get any easier. Correct? But I was definitely out of my comfort zone on my own. I consider myself a strong woman to travel to many different places, so it wasn’t that I was scared.
This time, I felt vulnerable with all the sad emotions and missed the exact person I needed to get rid of my life. And at that precise moment when I was lifting my luggage at the airport, my vulnerability decided to show up. It was a collection between heartbreak, sadness, and fears. The idea that I was traveling by myself for the first time came to me all at once in the form of tears.
Thank God for big dark glasses. Nobody noticed. Except for me, that I couldn’t believe that I was crying just miles away from the most beautiful beaches. And that just made me cry even more. And I cried even more because I was crying for crying. I mean, what woman does that? I lifted my luggage, expertly hiding my tears from the other travelers. And I kept thinking while I was getting into a taxi – that maybe this solo trip was an absurd, impulsive and terrible idea. Only a stubborn person like myself believes it would be okay. What was I thinking?
THE BEST VACATION
Surprisingly, this solo travel trip turned out to be the best vacation I ever had. It became my favorite trip quickly. I wrote this story a week after I came back. Today, this vacation is just another learning lesson, and I see some things differently.
Before traveling, I considered inviting a friend or a family member. But the truth is that I didn’t want company or be honest and talk about fears or heartbreaks. I needed time on my own to figure things out. I’m a very proud woman (maybe a bit less now after time). I would rather drown with my problems than ask others for help, so people like me struggle with their emotions.
But we all know that pride and life’s lessons don’t go well together. They clash badly and make people die of heart attacks or strokes in the middle of the night while they sleep. We all need to release, be open and let it go. At one point, we even need to admit that we failed at building something meaningful. And try to move on and forgive ourselves and others. Otherwise, grieving about the past and our choices could send us straight to a hospital. Or worst, keep us hostage on those feelings forever.
BACK TO THE SOLO TRIP
I will skip the details about the breakup because he is a chapter from the past, and the woman I am today doesn’t have time for the past. It is incredible how life works; one day, a person could mean your whole life, and years later, that same person could mean nothing to you.
Thankfully, a solo trip was the right decision to become friends with ME again. During this trip, I tried to reconcile with many mistakes in life. I’m an impulsive person. Still learning not to be impulsive. I’m too passionate sometimes when making decisions. My feelings used to get in my way. Feelings are “No Bueno” for goals and my future living plan to walk this earth until my 120th birthday at a beach house full of plants and dogs.
On this trip, I envisioned what type of life I want and deserve. And came back with the decision of never seeing that person again. I discovered that loving someone doesn’t make that person right for you. Staying in love for so long with him was the biggest self-destruction that I gave myself voluntarily. I’ll be honest; it wasn’t easy ending love.
Today, that ending has proven to be the best self-love gift from Me-to-Me. It was me saying, “I Love Me. I chose Me. I’m my perfect soulmate.”
Once I got to my hotel room, I went straight to open the balcony doors, and there it was, that beautiful blue-medicine that I was craving and that magically heals all troubles: The beach.
I undressed quickly. Put on a white swimsuit and shorts. Let my hair down. I walked a couple of steps and got my feet in the sand and wet in the water. I stood there for the longest I could remember. Absorbing the colors, sounds, and smells of something so magical as the ocean. I gave the beach all of my sadness and tears. In exchange, the sea gave me peace, tranquility, and calm.
I started feeling that everything was going to be okay. It was just a bad moment, not a bad life. I had so many other things to be thankful for in life. My whole attitude changed, and it is true the saying, “Give your problems to the sea.” I don’t remember how many hours I spent just walking on that beach with my feet tired. I made several promises to myself that afternoon: “No more tears, you sucker!” was one of them. And it happened.
The sadness, fears, heartbreak became a determination and a goal of removing what was hurting me. This trip gave me strength and self-love, and it made me discover things about myself. We all claim to be strong, but how strong are we when we need to stand alone during our saddest moment? Coming back to the States, I had a different approach to my problems after the free time thinking peacefully. I had the energy to close an old chapter and start from zero, and that was the best gift from this trip.
I consider this trip the best vacation of my life. It wasn’t just a vacation; it was a life’s lesson, and it turned out that I was rarely feeling lonely during this trip. I was pleasantly surprised to find happy moments. Shocking, right? I felt peacefully relieved not having any company around me, which was a beautiful surprise.
I wish I could make a solo trip every year until my 120th birthday, regardless of my relationship status. There had been an increase of women traveling the World after retirement. Can I be one of them?
Traveling on my own or with someone I love is one of those things that will make me ridiculously happy. And I should blame it on Manhattan and my long walks in this diverse city. New York City taught me to be in peace with my thoughts while appreciating my surroundings. A rare lesson coming from an extremely loud and noisy city.
THE COMFORT ZONE WHILE TRAVELING
Being alone forced me out of my comfort zone. Everyone was a stranger. Not a single familiar face for days. It forced me to talk with people of all ages, and it was easy. Probably, you know an annoying person who shares her/his whole life five minutes after you meet them? Well, that was ME on this trip, and I’m never like that. I’m private in real life (I pinky swear!).
Initially, I’m distant because I only trust my shadow. People are guilty until proven otherwise, as my dad taught me. But human beings are funny. Sometimes we open up and listen more when we know we’ll never see that stranger again, right?
THE DANGER OF SOLO TRAVELING FOR WOMEN
Not everything was a good experience. The problem with women traveling alone – well, is that we are traveling alone. Any decent man would leave you in peace to enjoy your vacation. But some men see a woman by herself as an easy opportunity. And it is those men who instinctively bring the most defensive and worst sides of us.
I had an uncomfortable encounter with a European tourist while I was peacefully walking the beach one morning. He followed me and told me that he noticed me having dinner alone each night at the restaurants. I’m sharing this story because, initially, I didn’t know how to react. It was too damn early in the morning, and I didn’t plan to feel on guard on this trip while staying at a family resort. I politely told him to stop following me and kept on walking.
A decent man would have stopped, right? Unfortunately, some types of men don’t understand the word NO if you tell them politely. They think they need to be persistent. Dear Men of the World, if a woman walking alone says to leave her alone ONCE, NO means NO. Just leave her alone.
My tactic is usually to ignore men like him, and it works out most of the time. But this guy was determined to be annoying. As women, we always need to listen to our intuition. And everything about this man’s vibes, tone of voice, and eyes made me feel uncomfortable and in defense mode.
Another morning, he followed me again, asking me all sorts of questions. This time, instead of walking away, I confronted him at the beach in an all-loud tone with my crazy Caribbean side for everyone to hear. After that day, he stopped following me. Probably never expected a crazy side. Ha! That will teach him.
FREEDOM TO SOLO TRAVEL
An article recently from The New York Times talked how each year more women feel inclined to travel alone and how dangerous still is for us because of how men still see women in some part of the World. We could travel by being more defensive and careful than men. It is annoying and unfair that we women need to stay within our comfort zone of safety because some men still need to be educated into respecting women.
CARIBBEAN NIGHTS AND MAKING NEW FRIENDS
My nightly routine was fun. I had dinner on my own at the hotel’s main buffet restaurant. Of course, ordering room service was available, but the nights were too beautiful to go to my room early. Also, sitting down alone for dinner at any themed restaurant made me feel shy and out of place. They are usually smaller, private, and full of romantic couples. It was easy to be quietly unnoticed at a big buffet restaurant surrounded by families with loud screaming kids.
After dinner, I would enjoy the nightly entertainment shows, comedies, dancing, and singing displayed every night. My favorite was the bonfire nights at the beach. On one of those bonfires nights, I became friends with three exuberant retired grandmas from Mexico traveling together. They had traveled together to several Latin American countries, and I had such good envy hearing their stories. Their outfits were elegant even at the beach, and they were just beautiful ladies, with well-spoken Spanish, full of life, jokes, and laughter at their age. I had much to learn from their happiness.
I was curious about their lives, and -as I said before, traveling makes people talk to strangers. Mamajuana, too, could help people speak a lot. Ha! I told them that I was traveling alone, and they decided to adopt me into their little group for the remaining vacation nights. I became the fourth lady in retirement. And we laughed the whole night.
It was a big difference from the nights before when I used to end the night by going early into my room. Wearing a facial mask (don’t judge), singing in my shower (I’m the most horrible singer), and sleeping like a baby for eight straight hours.
It was interesting. People showed me that we tend to be more honest than usual while on vacation and keep our guards down.
It was fun and liberating to realize that we are all escaping something. Families are fleeing routines and daily chores. A workaholic guy is leaving behind the overtime hours and desks; for a paradise of laziness and umbrella drinks. Grandmas want to be teenage girls who just want to have fun. And the girl with the broken heart? She is probably not counting calories, eating way too many ice creams, and ignoring the whole male species on that trip. Ha!
A SAFE PARTY FOR ONE
I rarely drink or get drunk. Not because I pretend to be a prude, but because I can’t handle liquor. I’m a light-headed drinker, and it is best to avoid alcohol in those situations. Also, I don’t recommend drinking for safety reasons while traveling alone.
But one night, after spending a night by the bonfire with my favorite retired ladies, I went back to feel all the emotions that brought me to this trip and decided that I would drink alone and safe in my room. I went to the bar, asked the bartender for several Mamajuana shots, and offered a good tip. I still don’t know what got into me, but I happily carried all those Mamajuana shots into my room and started a party for one! Yayyy!
Of course, I was an emotional disaster in that room. Especially with the help of those Mamajuana shots. Between dancing, laughing, and tears. I got drunk, played music, sang, and danced the whole night until I couldn’t remember falling asleep.
STAYS IN THE CARIBBEAN
The balcony light woke me up the next morning. Surprise, surprise! I discovered Mamajuana shots contain a lot of Caribbean rum and are no jokes to the stomach. I woke up looking like a mess and hating the rum in my stomach. But even with a hangover, I was smiling, feeling content, and thanking life.
Later, I spent the afternoon at the beach laughing at my own expense while scrolling through some funny pictures on my camera. I’ll tell you a secret. It turned out that drunk Wendy decided to do a sexy photo-shoot while dancing drunk alone in her room. And it was freaking hilarious! I couldn’t stop laughing. But of course, I deleted every single photo immediately. What happens in the Caribbean stays in the Caribbean. Ha!
KIND HEARTS WILL SAVE THE WORLD
There was a moment on this trip that I will never forget. This moment gave me a lesson on human kindness. Early in the mornings, I used to do long walks at the beach. After I finished walking, I would move a beach chair close to the shore and sit there for a while, listening to the waves with my feet on the water and praying or meditating.
It was a beautiful daily routine, a mix of spirituality and nature. I loved it to be so close to the sea, which made me feel blessed and fortunate.
But I never stopped to ponder about how other people would see it. Other people would see a woman always by herself, isolated from the rest of the swimmers, and might have a different interpretation.
By the third morning of me doing this, I noticed this mom and her three kids playing on my isolated beach spot. I thought it was odd that this mom kept bringing her kids here to play every day instead of where all the other kids were swimming and playing. One of her cute kids offered me a piece of Mango. I took it, and I looked at her to say thank you. At that moment, it came to me, and I realized what was happening.
This mom was bringing her kids to this area of the beach because of ME. A stranger! She didn’t know if it was good or bad, my moments of isolation. So, intuitively she was staying close by and was acting protective. I was feeling incredibly guilty, “My goodness!” I needed to talk to this mom and let her know that I was perfectly okay. Also, I probably needed to comb my hair and stop looking like a beach bum. Ha!
I started a conversation with her. I joked and told her that maybe it was the fact that I was wearing beach bum hair and chancletas. Her accent in Spanish told me that she was from Spain and informed me that she was there on vacation with her husband and three kids. They bought a time-shared vacation and travel every year during the school break. The whole family loves their yearly vacation. I shared that I was isolated because I didn’t want my beach chair to be an inconvenience in the middle of all the swimmers and people walking.
MY NEW COMADRE
I told her a little of my background –meaning I probably shared my complete life in 5 minutes– And about my reasons for a solo trip and why it was an excellent decision for me. Several minutes later, we were two Comadres talking about relationships. Two strangers were having a conversation that was helpful and therapeutic.
In the end, we both earned a friend that morning. We never actually had another whole conversation again, but we used to smile and wave at each other like we were old school friends whenever we bumped into each other at the hotel. I’ll never forget her silent kindness of choosing to stay close to me without knowing me. You see, it is usually people like her who change the World.
WHAT DID I GAIN FROM A SOLO TRIP?
I gained doing what was suitable for me even if others didn’t see it that way. We keep hurting ourselves when we are constantly afraid of our vulnerabilities. How will we overcome anything if we are always scared of what others might say or think?
Do you know that famous quote that asks a dying person about regrets? The person says, “I wish I would have done more, lived more, and worried less.” A couple of years ago, I was at a bed dying at a hospital. Later, it took me one year of painful physical therapy and medications to recover my body completely back to normal. Thank God I was able to recover fully, but that time during therapy made me grow as a person faster than anything else in life.
That time at the hospital showed me how brief life could be when all we aspire is safety inside our comfort zone. There is a lot more in life. Some of us grew up following all the proper protocols from life: good daughter, good sister, good friend, good girlfriend, good student, politically correct employee, and so on. We placed ourselves into a list of limitations in the name of “social safety” and went through life missing the discovery of new places, finding the right love for us, ending a miserable career, and keeping on sabotaging our many wishes because we always wanted to be “safe and proper” for society.
Do you want to know what my number one wish was when I was taking physical therapy? It was the desire to be on an airplane traveling on vacation anywhere. Physical therapy happened less than a year after this vacation, and maybe that’s another reason why it is my favorite trip because I went back many times within my memory while I was on recovery.
The past and the future will always steal our moments of present happiness. And the truth is happiness ONLY lives in the present. If you dream of making a solo trip, then book it right now and pay it later. (I’m horrible at giving advice. Ha!)
Don’t wait for the right person or moment to take your trip. You won’t regret the experience, but you will regret never giving yourself experiences to make you grow and feel happier.
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by Wendy Reyes Vélez
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