4 Lessons I Learned When Traveling Solo for My 30th Birthday

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Celebrating long weekends with friends becomes tougher and tougher every year. Life’s responsibilities seem to push their way in—like putting in long hours at work and missing milestones and opportunities because “who was going to do the work while I was away?” With my 30th birthday approaching, I knew I wanted to celebrate bigger. Bolder. And with something entirely for me. A solo vacation was just the thing to ring in a new decade and get me out of the rut I was in (and it’d be much more productive than dyeing my hair and cutting my bangs).

I had four requirements for my spontaneous solo vacation destination:

  • It had to be at least one plane ride away.
  • The native language could not be English.
  • I had to use a passport for entry.
  • And it had to be safe for a single gal on the go.

A few weeks later, a few zeros added to my credit card balance, and a few bags packed, I arrived in Montréal. As Kathleen Kelly would say in You’ve Got Mail, “what will this trip bring, I wonder?”

Well, to start: embarrassment. When the customs officer asked where I was staying, I couldn’t even pronounce my hotel name (in my non-French/very Southern accent). Slight hiccup aside, things started to look up, and I learned a few lessons I have carried with me ever since.

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1. No more waiting.

You’ve heard it over and over again, but life is short. The days slip away, and before you know it, you’re burnt out on that job you hate, and your life becomes an endless repetition of motions. Just. Step. Away. Take a moment to meditate on what would make you happy, then go for it. This solo trip was the spark in taking back my life.

2. Splurge (and not necessarily with $$).

If you have the means, go for the nice hotel. Now there is no need to dig yourself so deep you can’t get out, but make sure you will enjoy yourself. I picked a suite in Old Montréal at the Hôtel Place d’Armes. Imagine exposed brick backdropped behind a mountain of pillows, a massive tub, and the fluffiest robe to ever exist.

But splurging doesn’t always mean spending lots of money. It’s about taking pleasure in the small blisses of life, too. Especially when no one is around to tell you not to! No fights with picky eaters over dinner spots, conflicts of where to explore next, or having to defend your ice cream for dinner that was most likely worth your entire recommended caloric intake for the day.

Go to museums, stroll the streets, the parks, the local shops, and—of course—the sweet and savory treats. It is a vacation, after all. But most importantly, take your time. Stop to look up in the sky and admire the clouds in a different city. Enjoy the simplicity of being alone and free of outside influences.


3. Inner strength is empowering.

Now, I haven’t always been independent. I was shy growing up and stuck close to those places, people, and things I knew. I wouldn’t even meet friends at a restaurant without texting them 10 times before I left to ensure they would still be there.

But traveling alone forces you to make all the calls. I realized that I didn’t need anyone to reassure me that my decisions were good, or even okay. I didn’t even need to reassure myself. A strange confidence washed over me. I knew that the decisions I made (like ice cream for dinner and then late-night pizza in bed) were made because it’s what was best for me (and my self-care practice) at that moment.

When faced with nothing but your own thoughts, you find strength within yourself. It’s one of those things where you don’t know how it happened, or when it happened, but you just become you. You realize you are finally comfortable in yourself and then you smile. You start living with a little more conviction. Maybe it was just me, maybe it was the tattoo (my first!) that I decided to take home as a souvenir, or maybe it’s the power of being independent and relying on my instincts. But the force is powerful, and it didn’t let up once I returned home. So I embraced it. I embraced me.

4. Pack a spare bag.

I don’t have much to say except: the space you are leaving in your suitcase for gifts and treats is not enough. Trust me.

Lindsay Williams

Lindsay Williams is a graphic designer and aspiring writer based in NYC. She is a firm believer that products speak for themselves, but good design and marketing make the introduction. Originally from South Carolina, this non-traditional southern gal moved to the city (in the dead of winter, no less) to give her mostly black wardrobe and flea market digging love some action.

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