Embrace “me time” on a grand scale.
After years of happily solo city travel, it wasn’t until I decided to go to Vegas on my own that my friends put their collective foot down. “That’s weird,” one girlfriend gently informed me. “Nobody goes to Vegas all alone. I’m sure someone’s willing to go with you.”
Sure they would. That’s why I kept it quiet until it was too late for anyone to crash my one-woman party.
In my teens I thought I was an introvert, but in retrospect, I’m pretty sure I was just an extrovert with low self-esteem. I’ve embraced my true identity, but while I love other people’s company, I also love my own. Besides, my daily life is filled with the necessity of compromising in order to meet the needs of others: kids, partner, coworkers, friends. Giving myself a space in which I need to negotiate only with myself is incredibly freeing.
In New York, I’ve spontaneously taken myself to a Bollywood movie at midnight and on a personal scavenger hunt that included bath bombs, bubble tea, a Tibetan shrine room, and something called a “Viagra empanada.” I once stopped for half an hour to play chess with a stranger in Washington Square Park. I’ve sat in the Rose Reading Room in the dazzling main branch of the New York Public Library and just read a book for an hour. In Chicago, I went to the Art Institute in the morning and enjoyed it so much that I returned that evening and stayed for three more hours.
With my girlfriends, or my daughter, or my partner, I never would have done these things. I would have been afraid of “imposing.” Of dragging people along. But on my own, I didn’t need to answer to anybody, and I had a blast.
On that Vegas trip that inspired side-eye from my friends, I took myself to the spa in Caesar’s Palace and floated blissfully in the heated infinity pool for as long as I pleased. There was no schedule, no meetup time, no ticking clock in my head at all. I went to Cirque du Soleil — no need to compromise on which show to see — and got fried chicken with bacon waffles at the bar at Hash House A Go-Go. The next day I decided to go to another spa, just because I was in the mood for it.
I’ve been to Vegas with others — my BFF, my teenage son — and also had a great time. Seeing the “Thunder from Down Under” male dance revue is probably not something I would have done without a girlfriend by my side. Getting dim sum or afternoon tea, two of my favorite dining-out treats, are excursions that (to me) require a companion. But hitting three different casino bars in a row to get three ridiculous novelty cocktails I’d seen on Pinterest? Nobody appreciates my bad taste in fancy drinks better than I do.
Everybody has little hang-ups about what they feel awkward doing alone. For some people, it’s going to a movie theater; for others, bars or clubs are out of the question. I’ll happily go to a movie or a bar by myself, but fancier restaurants intimidate me.
Yet I see this as a remnant of a message most of us are fed by the culture from an early age: doing certain things on your own is sad and lonely, even pathetic. It’s a bias that’s unrelated to how the activity actually feels; I’ve sat in plenty of movie theaters alone and felt perfectly happy, regardless of the assumptions others might have been making about me or my feelings. Instagram and Facebook have only strengthened those messages through our constant exposure to photos of people out doing things together — visual evidence that says, look, I have friends.
Let me unburden you from this inhibition. Embrace the knowledge that you’re great company, including to yourself. When it comes to travel, you’re not limited to trips on which you get to make 50% or 33% of the choices. You can opt for a vacation where you make 100% of the choices. It’s “me time” on an extravagant level.
For myself, after being home for over a year due to the pandemic, I’m overjoyed to finally be planning some travel again. On the calendar, I’ve got a romantic getaway with my partner, and I’m looking ahead to a cruise with my youngest son. But also, I’m planning a road trip around New England — with stops at a carousel museum, ice cream shops, quirky roadside attractions, and historic B&Bs. And do I have to include a single baseball stadium or outlet shopping mall?
Nope. And it’s glorious.