Today, I am writing to you from the “small but beautiful” Central American country of El Salvador. I use quotes here because that description was provided to me years ago by a maintenance woman at my graduate student dormitory, as she discussed her home country with me.
I am in El Salvador on my own, which has given me time to relax (the intended purpose of the trip) and ponder my life and happiness (the unintended coincidence of inhabiting my brain and being left alone in a foreign country for days).
I am a different person on my own. When I share a hotel room, I naturally contain myself to one corner of the room or one half of the bathroom counter space. When I am on my own, I sprawl out — the entry way, the full counter, the bathroom floor, all is fair game.
When I am with people, I naturally concern myself with their happiness and comfortability. I make suggestions, I compromise, I converse, and I do things that I wouldn’t have done all on my own (like eating breakfast at 10am, for example — that’s way too late in my book!). Sometimes when I am solo, I feel liberated — I wake up at 5am (jet lag!), jog at 6am, and then have breakfast at 7am (breakfast is my favorite) — and then the rest of the day is a choose-your-own-adventure. Other times when I am alone, I don’t experience a strong interest in otherwise fun activities. Attending shows, engaging in water sports, or just going to a bar for drinks — all highlights when I am out with friends, hold no appeal to me when I am a party of one.
I am staying at an all-inclusive resort on the Pacific Coast. The Royal Decameron Salinitas is a beautiful, fun-for-all ages getaway. There are multiple massive pools, hot tubs, beach access, spa, and even a small, not air-conditioned gym. Little kids splash around, and clusters of friends and families hang out by one of the pool-side bars. This is an atmosphere meant for groups. I can (probably) handle more alone time than the average person and all the time to myself felt very liberating for most of the hours of the day. Regardless, at the same time, presenting mi reserva for only una persona at the restaurants and being the sole occupant of a table designed for four people was not the most enjoyable experience of my existence, if I am to be totally honest.
We all need alone time but if someone told me that I would spend the next forty years as a single lady, I would wonder if I had been the victim of one of those fairytale hexes that old hags (presumably also single) cast because they’re bitter.
We are taught to love ourselves — which is awesome. But are we supposed to be happy on our own? And, if so, for how long? A few hours a day or indefinitely? These might sound like weird questions (and maybe they are) but there are so many articles out there with titles such as “Being happy on your own is the only way to thrive” and “X ways that being single can improve your life.” I am probably overthinking these articles but the more time I spend on my own, the more I feel that being happy, single, alone, and thriving is totally overrated. Humans are social creatures (science supports this!). I feel that single-dom is only something to strive for when it personally aligns with your wants, desires, values, and vision of your happiest life. Otherwise — what are you trying to prove? Lol.
Unpopular Opinion: The more that I travel on my own, the more I realize how nice it can be to have others around. For example, upon my arrival to the San Salvador airport, I made a terrible blunder and left my passport on the plane (more here). Could that have been avoided if I had a travel companion to spot my passport under the seat? I also had much difficulty locating the hotel shuttle at the airport exit. Would I have located the sign more quickly with the aid of another person? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe, maybe not.
It can be liberating and empowering to travel and explore by yourself. It’s something that I have done in the past (more here) and (mostly for logistical purposes) it’s very likely I will do so again in the future. However, I do know from all my travels that there is something very special about sharing an adventure with others. Taxi rides mean split checks (I’m frugal-ish). Confusions mean joint problem-solving. Mealtimes mean conversation, and activities mean shared experiences.
I’m very glad that I had the El Salvador experience to reflect. In many ways, I’m grateful that this was a solo experience — not least of which was because it was so hot and so humid that I was sweating constantly. I was sweating so much that I washed my clothing in the sink every day. I was sweating so, so much that even the sweat glands in my forearms were recruited to work overtime. I was so sweaty… that…that… I’m just so incredibly grateful that no one was forced to bear witness to the phenomenon inexplicable by science (okay, I’m hyperbolizing) in real time.
In the end, I can enjoy being on my own, but a solo life is not one that I am interested in leading. I like people and on my return to Boston, I’m going to make people more of priority 🙂 But because I don’t want to make this post 100% about me, here is a short, slapdash list (derived from my own experiences, naturally) about the pros and cons of traveling alone:
- You can do whatever you want! Whenever you want! However, you want! And, if you are doing something you no longer want to, you can stop whenever you want and do the other thing. You are the boss. Yay, you.
- Reservations for dining and tours can be easier. In Ireland (more here), I was able to get on a crowded tour bus when the guide asked for “singles” to occupy the remaining seats. Additionally, if things go south — like missing a flight connection; a single person will more often have an easier time rebooking than a family of five.
- This one is important and I cannot stress this enough but there is no one there to judge you when you decide that cake is a good way to end a meal… three times a day. No one is keeping track — you can just do it! Guilt free!
- You have time to think and reflect 🙂
- Cost. The cost of the hotel room and taxis is 100% on you.
- You must be more vigilant. Leaving your belongings at the table to run to the restroom or on the beach chair to swim in the ocean may not be the safest bet.
- Weird, confusing, and frustrating things happen when you travel (missing flight connections, inclement weather, banks freezing your credit cards even though you submitted a travel notice…, getting lost, etc.). Whatever the experience is, having someone else there to help figure things out with you is priceless. So, when you go on your own, it’s of the utmost that you are well prepared.
- You have too much time to think and reflect 😦
In the end, I hope you do you 🙂
P.S. I will include more actual descriptions/ stories from El Salvador in the next post… stay tuned.
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