It was the middle of June and the perfect time to pack a bag and go on vacation. I had to be in Toronto for a couple of weeks of training and decided to follow up my trip by visiting most of Canada’s eastern provinces with a 10-day driving tour. Alone.
Many people can’t imagine going to the movies solo, let alone a vacation. The thought of any time alone gives most people anxiety. I can understand to a point. The first questions that come up are: Do I go to restaurants alone? Don’t I get lonely? What do I do with my day? Yes, I still go out to eat, at a table for one; yes, I do get lonely but that’s what text messages and FaceTime is for; my days are spent doing whatever I like. What I realized is that the questions are actually a mirror looking right back at the person saying: could you live with yourself?
I took my first solo vacation at 25 when I went to Seattle for 5 days. My on-again, off-again boyfriend and I were at another do-we don’t-we crossroads; I needed a vacation and none of my friends had the time. My mom suggested I go alone. “Everyone should go on a solo vacation at some point in their lifetime,” she said to me. That settled it. I jumped on a plane and took off. I had fun. I went shopping, visited a psychic, took photos at the fish market, went to a Seahawks game and met lots of people. Once I came home I thought that was it, I was done, I completed one of the rites of passage that made me a well-rounded individual.
My next solo vacation came unexpectedly when I made the sudden decision to backpack around the world. It was something I had to do in my life, and I always thought it was going to be with my adventurously-spirited future husband. However when life provided me with my small window of opportunity, I took it and seized. Alone.
The first few weeks I wouldn’t count as solo; I was on a 20-somethings tour, me being the oldest at 31. But the moment I stepped off the plane at my second destination, Japan, it hit me. The distracting chatter of familiar conversation stopped, and the distracting chatter from my head could no longer be ignored. It was useful when I was locked on Google Maps, trying to navigate my way to my hotel. But most of the time my inner voice was always there. Thinking. Judging. Filling my day with self-doubt about everything in my life. What if travelling was the biggest mistake of my life? What if I can never find another job? What if this is the beginning of every trip being taken completely alone? I worked hard to calm and silence that voice. I would answer it in the best way I knew how, simple answers that shut the conversation down. Travelling is never a mistake. There is always work to be found. You will meet the love of your life one day. Finally, I would make it stop with: there is nothing you can do about any of it from here, so let it go.
As my head chatter eventually subsided I found myself being engaged more in the present moment. I was challenging myself in ways I would have allowed someone else to take the lead, like working on my second language skills. I did what I wanted when it felt good for me. I went to my choice of restaurant. I could go back to the hotel for a nap. I could wander left instead of right. I would take the time to sit in a park because that’s what I wanted to do in that moment instead of my morning plan of hitting the market. I became a lot friendlier. I relied on the kindness of strangers and returned those same warm gestures. My food became more enjoyable because each bite was my sole focus. I still enjoyed sunrises and sunsets and looking out at the sea, now completely mindful, with no conversation filling the beautiful silence.
After six months of travelling on my own, this time around was a lot different. I no longer doubted my ability to be on my own. I had far less self-doubt. I used my vacation as time to reflect how far I’ve come in the last year, and how much more I plan on achieving. I restored my energy and rejuvenated my excitement for my ambitions. I casually planned my future direction. And mostly I gave gratitude for being courageous, for being self-fulfilled, and found myself lost in “just this moment”.
I’m only halfway through my vacation right now and as it wraps up I feel more appreciation for the relationships I have at home. I will return feeling renewed in spirit and a sense of joy that can only be found when the things I really love are removed temporarily and placed back with deliberate intention. I spent the time primarily reconnecting with my biggest love, myself. I make myself first for an entire week and I focus on the things that are really important to me: my creative outlet, listening to audio books, sitting on park benches, connecting with nature, and having small conversations with locals. This is my happy place and I am a better person for all the special people in my life when I experience more on my own. I’m excited to come back home.
Kim Orlesky is an Executive Life Coach inspiring daily joy. She is a world traveler, author, one-time marathoner, adventurer, poor golfer, inconsistent yogi and puppy parent to her Weimaraner.