They say misery loves company and if you’ve ever had a broken heart you probably agree. Licking my emotional wounds after the demise of longterm together-ness, it was time to face on-my-own-ness again. Fuck! My shredded heart was begging for a haircut, the kind you regret minutes after your last lock hits the ground and a trip somewhere far, far away. And for that I wanted company, but my friends were either breeding, broke or not the globetrotting type. I was presented with the first world problem/dilemma of whether to stay home and bathe in my misery or face my fear of loneliness by hitting the road without company.
Ever noticed that bringing up loneliness is the ultimate conversation killer? It usually ends with uncomfortable side glances and a pitied “awww, well everything happens for a reason” remark. The reason why I had to be that woman in her mid 30s, back at relationship Square 1 was beyond me, though. And the idea of spending the holidays solo while trying to mend my aching heart was daunting. Vivid images of a pathetic Christmas dinner at an empty hotel bar, clutching my pisco sour instead of the bum of my lover on NYE were haunting me. But blimey, it had to be done. —> Ticket from LA to Peru, check!
Let me be honest, the first few days I was soaking in my own pity pool. But eventually, away from the daily distractions it quickly became obvious that hitting the road on my own created mental space, forced self-reflection and presented a unique opportunity for a mental and emotional inventory check. At the same time, the new environment and impressions prevented me from going too deep down the rabbit hole of my overactive mind. After a few days of hedonistic self-loathing I noticed a new emotion bubbling up… a sense of freedom and independence. Granted, this new sense of empowerment flip-flopped with my lingering sense of failure at mind-boggling speed but hey… baby steps.
The real ‘epiphany’ (allow me the melodrama, we are talking about my heart here after all) arrived on Christmas Day. A pair of lounge chairs on the beach were patiently waiting for a happy couple to take a seat. Instead, I plunged into one and glanced at the empty spot next to me. Not a soul in sight. And pang!… there it was. In that moment I understood the difference between being alone and lonely. All by myself on a mile long stretch of white sandy beach in a far away land: I was ready to experience the crushing weight of my loneliness.
But I didn’t. I was shocked to find myself feeling upbeat and whole. For years I had felt the regular pinch of loneliness although I was with someone. I had felt more lonely in a relationship than I did flying solo. Moping, I used to wash down the Piña Coladas while waiting for Him to catch just one more bloody wave. Sulking, I would agree to yet another destination conveniently located next to a first class surf break. You get the picture, right? He - surf, me - pout!
I will never forget this moment that gave me the clarity that no other person can make me whole, no matter how much I moped. The responsibility was solely on me and I felt empowered again, as hammy as it sounds. Eventually, when my self congratulations started to feel a bit redundant I went socializing and met a slew of delightful fellow solo travelers. And Fredo, the hot unicorn from Chile. In all that self-finding, soul-searching and independence-reclaiming there was still room for a little vacation romance after all.
For the hesitant solo travelers out there, I promise you it’s worth giving it a try. The temporary escape from energy leeches and sapping circumstances at home and the ability to unabashedly indulge in your own quirks with no one around to judge is wonderfully uplifting. Solo travel allows for days of grouchy introversion or social butterflying. Some of the most interesting people (take the septilingual homeless philosopher from Cusco, who understands the pitfalls of the European Union better than most political science majors) crossed my path when I was by myself and open to engage. So put the phone away, get out there and strike up a conversation with a stranger. And remember that being alone is a physical experience, while feeling lonely is an emotional one. You have control over both yet they are separate from another.