On the heels of a break-up, I booked a solo trip to go hiking in New Zealand. I needed a fresh start, a break from my life as a couple – something to lift me out of my depressed state, which felt like a tidal wave engulfing me. My career had stalled, my relationship was over, and half of my thirties had gone by. I was alone and struggling.
I couldn’t order up a new life, a new relationship. All the planning in the world hadn’t served me – I needed to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to live a “conventional” life, with everything mapped out for me – husband, kids, career. Instead, I’d have to get creative and make it up as I went along. It was daunting, but I also breathed a sigh of relief.
I had to let go of expectations of what my life was “supposed” to look like.
I gave myself permission to do what I wanted to do in a way, despite what others would think. Since I’d always loved to travel, had no relationship and a dead-end job, why not go? That morning, without considering my budget or vacation schedule, I booked a ticket to New Zealand. Just one ticket.
I’d be going halfway around the world. Alone.
I’m not gonna lie – I was terrified.
“Nobody’s going with you?” my co-worker asked me one morning, appalled. “Do you not have any friends or some guy you’d want to take?”
I was embarrassed by her response, and started second-guessing my decision. Was it weird I wanted to go on such a big trip all by myself? Was I being anti-social, or was there something wrong with me that I didn’t want to go with a friend, or wait until I had a man in my life?
As I boarded the plane a few weeks later, bound for Christchurch and wondering if I’d made the right decision, my heart filled with that old familiar feeling of fear. This was an expensive trip. Why had I decided to do it now, when I was alone? What would I do with my time? Would it be safe for me to wander around? Would anyone talk to me, or would I be eating lonely meals by myself for two weeks, thinking about my break-up?
When I landed, I checked into my hotel room and locked myself in the bathroom, completely in panic mode. I had no idea what to do. All my exciting plans of hiking and exploring were being overshadowed by my fears. And now, I was hiding in my hotel room. What had I been thinking, coming all the way here?
I knew I couldn’t return home – I had to face my fear.
I put one foot in front of the other and walked out the hotel door, terrified. But soon, I found a local bar and made a couple of new friends. I was forced out of my comfort zone, and the result was amazing.
New Zealand was the opposite of a lonely trip – it was everything I’d dreamed about: hiking, parasailing, kayaking, and walking on glaciers. I made amazing new friends (that I still travel with today). Traveling solo was tremendously healing for me – I proved to myself that I was totally capable of enjoying my life on my own terms, not anyone else’s.
After that experience, I started to crave time alone, reading a good book or cooking a complicated and delicious meal. I thought about my co-worker who judged me for traveling solo. I realized those weren’t my fears, they were hers.
Spending time alone refuels and centers us.
When we’re “on,” our brains don’t have the ability to rest, which means after a while, we feel drained and unable to focus. When there are no distractions, we feel more energetic and our thinking and reasoning becomes clear.
One of the things that’s frightening about solitude is that it gives you a chance to be alone with your thoughts. You aren’t reliant upon others to carve out your day, and what you’re going to do. You aren’t looking for distraction. In fact, choosing solitude gives you some time to reflect about what you truly want, or what isn’t working in your life. While this is liberating, it is also terrifying – it means that we have more control than we think over the trajectory of our lives. We can create our own experiences.
So the next time you feel anxious because you don’t have plans on a Saturday night, or you find yourself with a day off from work with no agenda, embrace your solitude. Get comfy. Take yourself out for a good meal. Relax.
It’s good for your mind, heart and soul.