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Years ago, I had a friend who went to Mexico. Alone. My thought wasn’t, “That’s so cool! I wish I could do that.” It was more like, “Oh my god! How could she do that?”
But after being a stay at home mom with two young kids, the idea stopped making me cringe. In fact, it began to seem kind of brilliant.
Here’s the truth about traveling solo.
Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote “Eat, Pray, Love” and put solo travel on the map, it’s been about as trendy as kale. But as I sat in between two groups of chatty best friends on the way to the resort, all I heard was a familiar tune of loneliness, loser-itis and not enoughness. I tried arguing with the voice reminding it I was too old to worry what other people thought. After all, I was here for myself. And frankly who wants to make small talk or worry about others on a retreat?
To tell you the truth, this was the first time I had been alone, completely alone, in years. I was afraid of looking like a weirdo, but I was also terrified of being by myself.
Being alone is as necessary as breathing.
As if going to dinner by myself wasn’t difficult enough, the hostess made sure everyone knew I was braving it solo too. “Just for one? Oh it’s just you right?” Hot shame colored my face. Yes just me for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
After I grew tired of pretending to read or stare at my phone, I looked up at the people around me. Most were there in pairs or groups. One woman serenaded her best friend for her birthday. But there were other women pretending to be busy with their phones too. After awhile, I stopped looking outward and turned inward. I was surprised by what I felt. I liked being alone. In fact, I loved it. I missed single tasking like savoring a meal without wiping a kid’s mouth, writing without tending to a tantrum or simply going to the bathroom alone. I loved deciding what to eat. I missed hearing the sound of my own thoughts.
After four days, I wondered how I had survived this long without tuning in to myself.
Being with others is also important.
In a stress mastery class, I listened intently as everyone shared the impact stress had on their physical and emotional health. I nodded, smiled and silently sobbed.
You know what it feels like to be around people struggling with the same thing you’re struggling with? It felt like home.
That’s the secret sauce hidden in the recipe of every solo adventure. It forces you from your well-worn couch into life. You do things you wouldn’t normally do. You interact with people you wouldn’t meet in your own neighborhood. You realize the world is larger than your problems and smaller than your differences. You travel far, and return to yourself.
One woman told me she went on a retreat when her baby was 6 months old. While the old me might have judged, the new me silently cheered.
What kind of world would we live in if we all gave ourselves permission to recognize when we need to be alone, when we need to be with others and to do the thing necessary to take care of ourselves?