Living and Traveling Alone

After 30 years of being “the better half” of a couple, I just marked my newfound single-dom (singlehood?) with a trip to Belize and Guatemala, my first solo international travel. Getting away from New York had become imperative: in the space of three months, in what has been officially dubbed “The Longest Winter of My Life,” I had to learn to live alone for the first time, then had foot surgery and learned to live alone with a cast and crutches. As a final salvo, while still on crutches, I got snowed in with no company whatsoever for 10 consecutive days. Self-pity aside, “alone” went beyond a descriptive and became a territory — and a hard won piece of my emerging new identity. Going to Belize became more than a trip, too — part badly needed R&R, it also became about identity as a touchstone for the “future me,” as well as a reward for getting through it all. I have always loved to travel, traveled extensively while I was married, and was determined to go it alone right away before fear could dissuade me. I was still in a plastic walking boot getting snow on my bare toes when I hobbled into the travel agent’s office to book the trip. The poor woman nearly fainted when she heard what I wanted, then spent half an hour on the phone with a Central American colleague familiar with every aspect of my proposed trip.The three of us turned into medical oracles trying to determine what future unknown level of healing vs infirmity would dictate my excursions. Well, ok then, maybe I can’t do the cave spelunking-repelling-tubing extravaganza, but sign me up for the Mayan ruins and the day trip to Guatemala! Hell yeah! What I found was that the trip, with all of its challenges and rewards, became a microcosm of what I wanted for my new life. With no one to act as a sounding board or as a reminding voice, I learned to make lists, double check what I had packed, or do without. Traveling light meant independence and self-sufficiency — it also meant I had nobody to watch my bags when I went to the bathroom, so I’d better be able to fit everything I own in the stall with me. Double occupancy had its pros and cons: I had to pay the higher rate for my hotels and made a note to myself to start making more friends who like to go places and don’t mind sharing a room. On the other hand, being single, twice I got tapped to sit in the co-pilot’s seat on the prop planes used for internal flights. I mastered exchanging money at the best rate and double checking the math on the hotel bill. I learned that the old stereotype of the single woman reading a book at dinner has become obsolete (not that I ever minded that one as I always read at meals when I’m alone, married or single). Fortunately, in this day of iPads and e-readers, every third person was staring at a screen and nobody could tell that I finished all of the Divergent series while I was eating my meals. Still, as a single woman there were trade offs: a restaurant that I skipped because it meant walking alone after dark down poorly lighted streets; a side trip I cancelled because my foot was sore and swollen and the extra hand that might have helped me wasn’t there. But they were small sacrifices overall, and greatly outweighed by the plusses. I gained enormous confidence in completing the trip successfully, made new friends, and learned to ask for and accept help when I needed it. I learned to treasure my freedom and independence and now, with nothing to tie me down, I look forward to planning many wonderful trips in the future. Best of all, I discovered that “alone” is a marvelous place to be.

by Cheryl Shainmark
Cheryl Shainmark is a writer, editor, and certified hypnotherapist with a private practice in New York. A long time contributor of articles and book reviews, Cheryl is now a senior editor and a regular columnist at Merlian News. When she is not reading, reviewing, or dreaming about books she can be found playing with cats of all stripes at her quiet country retreat.