As a divorced mom, I used to dream of traveling alone. Here's what happened when I finally did.
Life is too short to not seize the moment.
I wish I had a boyfriend to travel with.
I wish I was brave enough to just travel alone.
These are the thoughts that ran through my head as I read through emails touting the hottest new weekend destinations. Bed and breakfast in Vermont at a discounted price? Lakeside retreat at a luxury hotel? Package deal for two with all meals included? Oh, how I wanted to go.
And, as a divorced mom whose kids are with their dad every-other-weekend, I have the perfect setup for taking getaways like these. So what was the problem?
I didn't have a plus one. The thought of traveling solo seemed absurd to me. Dining alone? Sightseeing for one? Who, me? Oh, no — never. The thoughts alone gave me so much anxiety: I just wasn't the solo-travel type.
But I'd catch myself daydreaming almost daily, as visions of a long weekend just far enough away from work, laundry and, yes, even my kids danced in my head. I couldn't shake it. I wanted to go — my psyche seemed to know I needed to go — and eventually my courage caught up and said, "Heck, yeah, I am doing this all by my independent self."
Was I scared? Yes. I knew it would be uncomfortable and hard, but I did everything I could to embrace it because the world is full of beauty, side roads, amazing views, cute towns and antique stores that make you feel like you've travelled back in time. I wanted in. I was sick of missing out, and I was ready to live.
Who needs a plus one? Not me, I decided, and off I went, driving five hours to the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, in Saranac Lake, N.Y. I knew very little about where I was headed, but I knew there was a beautiful lake, a hot tub and a bathrobe waiting for me.
What happened, you ask? I saw the world. I dined alone. I rented a bike. And, I watched a few episodes (or more) of Seinfeld. OK, so maybe I didn't see the whole world, but I did see a beautiful slice of the Adirondack Mountains that I never would have experienced had I kept waiting for my ideal travel partner. Before I even arrived at the hotel, I was in awe of the beauty surrounding me and I knew I had made the right decision. I soaked it all in with a very grateful, albeit nervous, heart.
I'm not going to say my trip wasn't challenging, but if you're considering it, I highly recommend a solo weekend getaway. If you do decide to book one, here are some tips I discovered for dealing with the anxiety, loneliness and unwanted thoughts that may come along with it.
Call an old friend
At times, loneliness hit hard. It wasn't constant, but when it hit, it was overwhelming. So I called my kids and my sister and my own mother — often — and I told them I was lonely. It helped me feel less scared, alone and uncomfortable. Don't be afraid to reach out to a loved one and voice your anxieties. Hearing yourself say the words out loud is extremely soothing, and hearing someone else say, "Go enjoy this luxury you planned and know we are with you in spirit," is comforting.
The key is to not sit with those feelings of overwhelm in the dangerous place of a lonely mind: Notice the loneliness, discomfort and fear that you're experiencing, acknowledge it and release it. And remember these two things: It is normal and it is temporary.
Focus on your senses
With no one to talk to during meals, I had no problem eating spicy shrimp, flavorful salmon and decadent chocolate cake. I did, however, find myself feeling anxious and concerned with what others thought of me doing so. (At 44 years old, I can't quite make sense of why in the heck I even care.)
I felt like all eyes were on me, wondering why I was alone at dinner at a hotel, so I turned my awareness to the world coming in through my senses rather than to my thoughts. I ate slowly and mindfully and enjoyed the dinner on my plate, I watched the ripples of the water on the lake, I listened to the birds outside and, of course, I did a whole lot of people-watching — all from the comfort of my solo seat at the table.
Thoughts are not facts, so try to redirect them to focusing on one or all of your five senses.
Immerse yourself in the stories
Dining alone didn't get easier. As a matter of fact, with every meal, my fear of others' judgements grew. But I survived. I made friends with my servers and learned about the beautiful town I was visiting from the locals.
I learned the stories of the other guests at the hotel and I wondered how the bride and groom who were getting married on-site met. I even imagined what their future might hold. There are stories all around us all the time and being alone forced me to investigate, enjoy and become a part of the action.
Move a muscle
My sense of security was threatened on this trip. The unknown of it all and the being so far from home left me feeling uneasy. When I noticed my thoughts moving in this direction, I moved my body.
Move a muscle and change a thought. I made delicious s'mores by myself, and while I really didn't want to do it, with that first bite, I was glad I had. I made two more. I rented a bike and took a three-mile ride around town. I hopped in the pool, then the hot tub. And the anxiety dissipated because I did something different and stopped it dead in its tracks.
I consider myself a fearful person. I don't like roller coasters, I often jump to worst-case scenarios and I am not much of a risk taker. But I am trying desperately to change that. I made a conscious decision this year to fear less and live more because one thing fear is really good at is holding us back from life's most enjoyable moments.
My little solo vacay required courage. It required me to feel the fear and do it anyway. This should perhaps be the first tip in the list, because without it, the rest can't happen. Be brave.
I felt courage building in me throughout the trip, and by the drive home, I felt like a total rock star.
I can't believe I did it.
It's like I've opened up a whole new world of opportunity.
I am so proud of myself for taking this risk and owning it.
I can't wait to do it again.
These are the thoughts that ran through my head as I drove home, relaxed, renewed and so excited to see my kids — and even to do the laundry.
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