Flying Solo: I Went on Vacation Alone and Here's What Happened

I’ll be honest with you all, I was terrified at first. As a petite twenty-year-old woman, I believe our world provokes a sense of fear in regard to traveling alone, but it wasn’t until I was walking away from my dad’s car that I felt it all set in. Was I really about to travel to another country completely alone? How would I find my way? What if something happened to me? If you’re reading this, breathe easy—if this is published then I definitely lived to tell the tales. This is just the beginning, and I most certainly don’t want it to ever end. Welcome to the journey of my first solo international trip—destination: Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico.

The Arrival Gate Realization

After arriving to the airport absurdly early, I was told that I had to wait up to seven hours before being checked in, so my solo expedition to Mexico began on a particularly sour note to say the least. Thankfully, the Toronto airport offers free Wi-Fi and I was able to binge-watch movies on Netflix within that time. If you ever get the chance to be at an airport between one and three in the morning, I swear you would never know how busy it gets just hours later.

When I first considered going on this trip, I seriously doubted my capability to be entirely alone without someone to lean on in case of trouble. However, while I sat on my own eating a salad and a large pile of fries at the only open airport eatery (a twenty-four-hour Wendy’s), I realized that this trip was everything I needed and so much more.

For years, I have consistently depended on another person for support in various ways. It started with my parents in my primitive years and quickly turned into my friends and, later, significant others. After a recent break-up with the man I thought I was going to marry, I very abruptly and surprisingly felt the hurt of the man who came before him as well. As I felt the pain in my heart double, I came to the conclusion that I had truly never addressed the void in my heart, but rather continued to fill it with others in an effort to disregard it entirely. This became extremely apparent days before leaving as, in the midst of a drunken night meant to help ease the loneliness I was feeling, I found myself dialing an ex’s number.

When did I become so needy? When did I stop being an independent being who could exist without someone else? What else could fill that obvious void in my life?

It was those exact questions that led me to Toronto’s Pearson Airport almost seven hours too early to a flight I would be taking alone.

It’s strange, isn’t it? How sometimes the things we are most afraid of end up being the things we need most in our lives. It was while I was sitting at that twenty-four-hour Wendy’s when I came to the realization that not only could I exist alone, I needed to.

If you asked me who I am as a person I would be left speechless because the truth is, I have no idea anymore. Like a chameleon, I have continued to change with each new person I depend on as I try to fit myself into their ideals. Just prior to the trip, it had gotten to the point where I looked in the mirror and no longer recognized the reflection staring back. I had to ask myself… was I more afraid of vacationing alone or of losing the parts of myself that I had once cherished? My boarding pass answered that question for me.

YYZ to MEX to PVR

As a solo traveler, I found myself surrounded by couples and large groups heading on vacation while I sat on my own. The boarding officer even asked how many were in my party, and I paused before proceeding to stumble over the word “one.” Thankfully, I managed to get a window seat and after what seemed like forever, we were in the air. Since this trip took place over Reading Week/Spring Break, my plane was unsurprisingly packed with inebriated students who apparently wanted the entire plane to know just how drunk they planned on getting that evening. Being stuck with them for almost an entire day—including our three-hour layover—was definitely worse than sitting around the airport for seven hours the night before (at least during that time I could be alone with my thoughts).

The first leg concluded when we arrived in Mexico City as I was soon thrust into a world that was entirely in Spanish and in a different time zone. This made simple things such as finding my gate, accessing the internet and using an ATM extremely difficult. This stop definitely tested my ability to speak up and approach people to ask questions.

We were then piled onto an even smaller plane for the next two-hour long ride to Puerto Vallarta. Despite the aerial views being stunning, after spending almost twenty-four hours between the airports and planes, I was looking forward to my hotel room and, more importantly, my hotel bed.

Solo Travel Tip: If possible, only pack carry-on. While I do admit finding travel sized toiletries can be a hassle, it makes checking in and leaving the airport so much easier. Plus, I felt less anxious about my luggage knowing all my belongings were with me and not being rerouted elsewhere or lost in transit.

Resort Life

Once we arrived in Puerto Vallarta, we were suddenly hit with a heat wave and the realization that we had just missed the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Mexico City by a mere couple of minutes. I was also suddenly very thankful that I had only packed carry-on luggage as I was able to leave the airport immediately. After getting to the resort and proceeding through the check-in process, I found out that I was one of only a few single room occupants whilst everyone else had roommates.

The anxiety of being a solo guest at the resort really didn’t set in until I got hungry and realized that if I wanted to eat, I was going to have to trek down to the buffet alone. Trust me, when you’ve been flying for almost a full day, no amount of anxiety can keep you away from food. As I approached the restaurant, the male host asked me how many would be eating—again, I tripped over the words “just me.” Despite being concerned about vegetarian options, I found it extremely easy to fill up a plate and, after sitting down at a table, I was soon joined by others as they were intrigued by the petite girl eating alone. After dinner, I found my way back to my hotel room and began watching a movie to prepare for bed.

Solo Travel Tip: Pack snacks from home. They’ll make you feel better after eating foreign foods for a long period of time.

Thankfully, my closest neighbours were two extremely friendly and welcoming guys who dragged my reluctant self out of bed and down to the bar at the hotel lobby for some drinks to celebrate our first night. These two ended up being the best familiar faces I found over the week.

Solo travel tip: Whether it be a staff member, nearby resident or another tourist, develop some kind of relationship with someone close by so that if you were to go missing or not return on time, someone would recognize that. I also depended on these people when I found myself in bad situations such as when an unwanted visitor tried to follow me to my room.

The first morning began with sleeping in followed by having an amazing breakfast alone as I sat by the marina. The tranquility continued into the afternoon as I grabbed a mimosa and laid pool side to tan. While I will admit that it was strange to be alone as the pool was full of groups and couples laughing and talking to one another, I was thoroughly content to sit with a book and people-watch over the pages. Being approached by others also began to get easier as everyone wanted to know about the girl travelling alone. As I explained to someone that I relied on others far too much and that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this, I watched as her eyes glazed over. I started simplifying my answer after this to just “it’s complicated.”

Solo travel tip: People are always going to question your reasons. Don’t waste your breath trying to explain it to them—most of the time they won’t even hear you. As long as you know why you’re doing it, that’s all that matters.

On my second full day, I participated in a horseback riding excursion that I had booked prior to leaving. I did a lot of research before settling on this ranch and was not disappointed. I did, however, have to take an Uber to the local library where the ranch owner picked me up as it was located approximately 30 minutes away from my resort. While I was nervous at first, leaving the resort was the best thing I could’ve done. As we passed the bridge overlooking the marina, we left the shiny gated resort buildings and entered into a more realistic view of Puerto Vallarta. This only continued as the area got more and more rural and street dogs, children and farm animals freely walked across streets. I think this experience allowed me to understand the Mexican culture more in depth than I ever could have imagined. My three-hour horseback excursion took me up and down a mountain, across multiple streams, to a beautiful restaurant and back down the dusty path to the ranch. The view alone was breathtaking as we towered over the city below. My guide didn’t speak much English so it was a quiet but extremely peaceful morning which allowed me to really soak in the scenery around me.

Solo travel trip: Don’t be afraid to go on excursions alone. No one is going to judge you and it’s much better to do the things you love rather than just stick to the status quo.

The following day was even more interesting as I was involved in an unfortunate accident that changed my entire vacation. I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a drunk student accidently pushed me off an eight-foot rock escarpment face first into the hot sand below. Thankfully there were paramedics on site and I was quickly put into a neck brace and had my injuries treated. Another person fell with me; however, we were both extremely lucky as we walked away with just a few cuts and bruises. The worst of my injuries were a deep cut on my knee and my entire bottom lip was split open. This made walking, talking and eating especially hard. Being alone in this situation was not ideal as I was very suddenly in a lot of pain and had no one to help me. I also was extremely limited physically and the cuts on my face made leaving my room an anxiety-raising situation. The accident itself drew a lot of attention and it was days before the rumours that I had died finally settled.

Solo travel tip: Get the travel insurance. You never know what could happen. Expect the worst to happen and appreciate when it doesn’t. Also, packing Advil is never a bad idea.

I decided almost immediately after the fall that I wasn’t going to let my injuries slow me down. So, I walked/hobbled my way down the entire marina and continued with my planned whale watching excursion less than twenty-four hours later. Was I in pain? Oh yeah. Was the trip worth it? Absolutely. Again, leaving the resort allowed me to experience Mexico in new ways. I spent the entire afternoon out on the open ocean watching the most gorgeous creatures in their natural habitat and, to say the least, it was incredible. I also found out that the whale watching tour place uses the ticket money to help rescue whales caught in fishing nets and goes to schools to educate children on whale safety. At the end of the tour I received a sticker that says “I am a Responsible Whale Watcher” which was really important to me as we witnessed multiple boats break the law that states boats have to remain sixty feet away from the whales. They also fed us lunch while on the boat and, for the first time all week, I had what felt like real Mexican food rather than the resort food.

The days that followed were a mix of relaxation coupled with agonizing pain. Despite the remainder of my vacation being primarily based around my immobility, I found I was better able to talk to those around me as everyone was interested in my injury. Throughout the entire trip, I was often approached and, as a result, I got to meet people from around the world. While I did attempt to leave my room as much as possible, it became extremely difficult as my injury caused me some severe anxiety towards going to the beach where I had been pushed. I also found myself avoiding large crowds and not indulging in the all-inclusive bar quite as much. I am thankful, however, as I had an absurdly large amount of people willing to help me at all times. The group that had come with the other guy who was pushed with me held my hand during the accident, walked me to dinner every night, acted as my personal bodyguards, and continuously showered me with compliments about my strength and bravery. Everyone kept telling me that I shouldn’t be walking and that it was a miracle I walked away with minimal injuries. In all honesty, these were the people who kept my spirits up when all I really wanted to do was lie in my bed.

Solo Travel Tip: Even if you’re travelling alone, it is okay to get close to those around you. You don’t have to be completely alone the entire time. (I had to keep reminding myself of this one.)

Heading Home

During the morning of my flight, I woke up early and hobbled my way to the beach alone to say my goodbyes to the ocean. It was at this time I remembered why I had come on the trip. As I unwrapped my bandages and swam in the ocean entirely by myself, I watched small fish swim around my feet and, in that moment, felt complete bliss. After growing up in a city nowhere close to either coast, I constantly find myself drawn to the ocean and, after overcoming my fears, I found myself there once again.

Solo Travel Tip: Fears are there for a reason and are meant to challenge you. Stay focused on your end goal and you can and will overcome anything. Never let your fears hold you back.

Solo Travel Tip: While you can always ask someone to take a photo for you, using a self-timer to take photos is a safe way to ensure your phone or camera don’t get stolen!

Admittedly, leaving was bitter sweet. I looked forward to going home and sleeping in my own bed with my two cats but it felt as though the trip was unfinished. After the accident, I found myself in a cycle of self-pity and had a longing to leave as I was unable to do some of the activities I had planned. Undoubtedly, this made me upset as I had high expectations for my first solo trip. However, as I felt an array of emotions while boarding my first flight, the two most prominent ones were pride and relief. I had done it. I successfully managed to go on an eight-day international vacation entirely alone and have the war wounds to prove it. As I slept on the plane and dreamed of Canadian fast food and my high-speed data plan, the smell of the Mexican coast line still lingered on my skin, reminding me that staying in one place for the rest of my life would be the equivalent of staring at the same page of a book.

After doing what I thought was the impossible, I came home stronger than ever before. On my first day back, I was driving home from work when I passed a restaurant I enjoy. The girl I was before this trip would never even consider going there alone but now, I no longer feel a need to deny myself the things I want for the sole reason of being alone.

If you’re considering traveling anywhere alone but are afraid of what might happen, remind yourself that life is too short to worry about the “what ifs.”

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