For the past four and a half years, I’ve been single. Most of the time it has been just fine, as I have more than enough to keep myself busy. Between running a consulting firm, sitting on three nonprofit boards, writing a book, finding time to exercise, visiting with friends, and entertaining my three-year-old rescue pup, Phoebe, I find the feeling of loneliness is kept at bay.
However, every year around late October or early November, as Christmas decorations begin appearing in store windows and holiday songs are played on the radio ad nauseam, I begin to feel a twinge of sadness. By early December, the entire world seems to be counting down the days to the last two weeks of the year. Me, well, I’m counting down the days until the holidays are over.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Scrooge, and I’ve often loved the celebrations that take place leading up to and throughout the holiday season. I’m Jewish, but during my entire childhood I begged for a Christmas tree (with no success, I’m afraid). And I have happy memories of celebrating the season with my significant others during the years when I was married, and later in a long-term relationship.
But these past four years, it has truly been a struggle. No kids, no parents, and no partner meant that most likely I would be solo or a third wheel at a friend’s dinner. It wasn’t until this year that I finally made a decision to shake things up and get the hell out of town. In the past, I had always dragged my feet because the cost of holiday travel is so high that I could practically take two trips for what it would cost me to vacation between December 20 and January 2.
No kids, no parents, and no partner meant that most likely I would be solo or a third wheel at a friend’s dinner. It wasn’t until this year that I finally made a decision to shake things up and get the hell out of town.
But in early December, a dear friend piqued my interest when she told me about a four-night, five-day Lindblad Expeditions/NatGeo/Exhale journey in the Sea of Cortez. The trip sounded amazing: sunrise yoga each morning, daily stops to islands for hiking, kayaking, paddle-boarding, beach yoga, snorkeling, and just relaxing. Initially, I was reluctant to take a cruise — I always assumed it would be something I did when I reached my 80s, when my energy levels and ADHD were finally curtailed.
Nevertheless, this journey sounded like the opposite of a slow-moving, massive cruise and far more enticing. I figured that there would be enough activity to keep me, an energetic, solo traveler, busy and engaged. And the dates were perfect: We’d depart on December 26 and return to port on December 30, which meant I would miss the whole holiday week. I started to book my trip and was immensely relieved to learn that the most cost-effective flights would depart early on Christmas Day and return very late on New Year’s Eve. No need to worry about finding a party or things to do on either holiday. I was over the moon.
As the days grew closer to departure, though, I found myself getting a bit apprehensive. Who would I talk to? What if I got seasick? What if my room was claustrophobic? What if there was no Internet? (Yes, pathetic, I know!) I talked myself off the ledge, however, and reminded myself that it was only five days. Worst-case scenario, I had books to read and plenty of work that I could do.
In the end, I had nothing to worry about. The ship was brand new, and my cabin was larger than my first studio apartment in New York City, with a queen-size bed and extra-fluffy down pillows. I had two giant windows and a large bathroom with a shower that had better water pressure than mine in Brooklyn.
Before we set sail, all 80 passengers gathered in the main cabin for Champagne and cookies. I quickly scanned the room and immediately realized I was the only solo passenger. Families, couples, children, and me. But I wasn’t bothered by that. A few years back, I might have been nervous and maybe even a wee bit despondent, but not this time. In a way, I looked at it as an adventure. I could choose my daily activities without consulting with anyone. Yoga at sunrise? Maybe. Kayaking along the shore? Maybe. Snorkeling with sea lion cub pups? Yes. Aerobic hiking? Yes. Beach yoga? No. And no one would talk me out of any decisions. They were mine to make, and quite frankly, that was empowering.
I found myself getting a bit apprehensive. Who would I talk to? What if I got seasick? What if my room was claustrophobic? What if there was no Internet? (Yes, pathetic, I know!)
Still, I had to laugh when my sister texted me to see if there were any hot, single men on the cruise. When I told her there were not, she texted back immediately and asked about the crew.
I didn’t find my soul mate, but each day was filled with new adventures. Starting the morning with sunrise yoga led by a guru from Exhale Spa was truly magical. I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’m not a yoga fan, but watching the sun first peer above the horizon over the Sea of Cortez made every downward dog beyond worth it. Snorkeling with the baby sea lion cubs was a spectacular experience, and I so adored interacting with the little pups who were enthralled with our bubbles. I spent the afternoons exploring the different islands, taking in the stunning vistas, and relaxing on the sun-kissed beaches. Nothing beat diving into the cool water after returning from a two-hour hike.
But I was most moved on the day I finally spotted dolphins. I’ve visited beaches on six continents, but I’d never seen one in the wild. Well, my day finally came. And I didn’t just see one or two, but hundreds and hundreds racing beside our ship for over an hour one afternoon as we sailed between islands. It was a glorious sight, and one I will never forget. I took it as a good omen for the coming new year and convinced myself it symbolized that some exciting opportunities were coming in my near and far future.
The last morning, as we disembarked at the port in La Paz, I was a bit sad to see the journey come to an end. It had been such a unique and enchanting five days making new friends and learning more about the natural world. I was hesitant to fly back to the craze of New York City, not to mention the cold weather. Nonetheless, I felt recharged, rested, and excited to tackle 2019.
I landed back in New York very late on New Year’s Eve and headed to my sister’s home in Brooklyn. I snuggled with her pup, Loofah, and looked forward to waking up in the new year with my sister and her family. I loved my time away, but I was glad to be home.
Maybe it sounds cliché, but you’re never too old to experience new adventures. Solo travel isn’t reserved for twentysomethings trying to escape the grind, or fortysomethings trying to find themselves. And at the end of the day, self-care is not just about relishing your routine but pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, taking a risk, and enjoying the view.
Susan McPherson, founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, is the cupid of corporate responsibility — inexhaustibly connecting good people with one another so they can do great things. Whether hosting a panel on that status of refugees, writing on the most cutting edge communications strategies for Fast Company, or serving on one of half a dozen boards, she brings infectious enthusiasm and studied strategic thinking.
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