I have no doubt that when I announced plans to take a holiday by myself for my 40th birthday to my “greater” circle (and by that I mean friends and family), a few eyebrows were raised.
“Why would you want to go alone?”
“Is everything ok?”
“Won’t you be lonely?”
“Oh what a shame no-one will be with you!”
I think a fear of being “alone” is innate within the human condition but many people never question what being alone actually means. I’ve had friends who have been through divorces saying they feel less alone going back to an empty house than they did in a loveless marriage. Just like with anything in life, it’s never black and white.
Needless to say Pete and I are fine. We’d started talking last year about what to do for my 40th and let me tell ya, always celebrating in January is a bit bloody miserable (we actually have a double-whammy since his birthday is in December). I’d said I wanted to throw a party but wait until the summer months for a change. Perhaps even do it at home in the garden when the weather is warm, people aren’t doing dry January and are up for a good bit of summer fun.
At the same time I still wanted to mark it in some way so we chewed the cud over the idea of me going away because I didn’t really want to have a normal day for a milestone birthday and he said he’d love to book me a trip. It’s really not more complicated than that.
Originally I considered a gloriously hot destination but at this time of year you have to go very far, spend a lot of money, not have good weather guaranteed and as much as I didn’t mind the idea of travelling solo, I didn’t want to go anywhere for the first time by myself. Plus, so many of those destinations are proper honeymoon-style affairs, and I had visions of that episode of Friends where Rachel ends up alone on Ross and Emily’s honeymoon with everyone feeling sorry for her. I’m self-confident, but not that much.
Then there was only one real option for my grand 40th birthday – a city I’ve been to a million times, but that I could never grow tired of. A city that the very first time I set foot in it just after my 20th birthday I fell in love with and every visit since I fall more and more. Oh New York. It’s a place I feel totally safe and comfortable in and whilst Pete does love it, he’s been before and we’ll of course be back in the future so I didn’t feel toooo bad (!) about him missing out.
It’s been a really long time since I’ve set off for anywhere by myself but really, there’s nothing brave or strong about going to a place you know where they speak the language. I remember feeling terrified as a 19 year old student on the plane to Minneapolis/St Paul where I’d change for a tiny plane to ferry me over to Nebraska for an entire year, not knowing who I’d be sharing a room with or how on earth I was going to manage. That year changed my life for the better, 100%.
And as for this trip? I had a feeling it would be one of the best things I’ve ever done but I completely underestimated just how amazing it would be. I don’t care what people say, no matter how compatible you are with a partner, friends, family, the joy and strength you take from being on your own, doing EXACTLY what you want, is and should be, unbridled. It’s so so SO important to make sure that you depend on no-one for happiness but yourself.
Waking up each morning knowing that I could go where I wanted, when I wanted, get off the road best trodden and meander my own way through the city was liberating in a way I can’t even begin to explain. Pete and I are so similar in many ways, but also like chalk and cheese in others. When I came back he freely admitted that he’s quite set in his ways compared to me who has by far the greater sense of adventure. We’ve been married nearly 13 years and travelled all over the world together from Sri Lanka to Amsterdam, Bora Bora to Berlin. Sometimes though you just can’t beat a bit of alone time. And as it happens, in a city of nearly 9 million people you’re never alone.
Of course I understand the privilege involved too – not everyone can afford to pull a holiday like this out of thin air about 3 weeks beforehand (we didn’t book until after Christmas) and not everyone’s circumstances allow for one of a partnership to just disappear off for a few days. The flipside is that despite the circumstances life has thrown our way, I choose not to dwell on the past and am determined to make the most of the life I’ve been given. Would I have swanned off to New York for a week alone if I had a 12 and 10 year old at home? Probably not. But I don’t, so I did. As Big says to Carrie in the otherwise quite unremarkable Sex and the City 2 movie:
“We are adults without children. We have the luxury to design our life”
The biggest joy was hearing from people via stories on Instagram who said they’d never thought about travelling alone but felt super inspired by seeing my adventure and would consider it. This is definitely what makes me tick – if I can help just one person to see that we don’t all have to live the same life as everyone else, it’s worth it.
I’d now definitely consider more solo holidays in future – there’s so much I’d love to do that I know wouldn’t be Pete’s interest at all, a cooking holiday in Tuscany for starters. I still don’t think I’m brave enough to go somewhere I’m not familiar with but who knows? I’m now 40 and clearly fabulous so here’s to many more adventures to come.