My first ever solo trip...

It was 2011, and I had just gone through one hell of a tumultuous year. Rewind to a year prior… I was living in Los Angeles with my boyfriend of a year and a half. Shortly after we moved in together, I realized there was no way I could spend the rest of my life with him. Even though I truly loved him, I knew I had to leave him, and I was completely heartbroken. Obviously, there’s much more to that story, but this isn’t about him. Against my better judgement, I decided it was a perfect time to break up with LA as well. I put in my two weeks at work, and bought a one-way ticket back home to New York. I arrived two weeks and a day later with the remains of my LA life… 2 suitcases and 17 boxes. I don’t know if that was good or bad, but it made me feel very sad. I mean, I was 31 and that was all I had  to show for myself. Truthfully, it was all junk. This wasn’t like just starting a new chapter. It was like closing the book, tossing it in the trash and setting it on fire. I was devastated and completely lost.

The months that followed were extremely difficult. I didn't have a job, and I hardly had any cash to my name. Instead, I had a couple of credit cards that weren’t yet maxed out, and approximately $15K of debt weighing on my shoulders. I was living in my best friend’s basement on a blow-up air mattress. (Still BEYOND grateful for you, Michelle! Love you!) I began interviewing like a crazy woman, and finally landed a job after 3 exhausting months. A month later, I moved to the Upper East Side. I finally had my own place again and it was a large one bedroom apartment on the 5th floor of a walk-up. As the months lingered on, everything seemed to be falling into place. I had a great job with people I truly enjoyed being around. I had paid off almost all of my debt. I could pay my rent without being stressed, and I still had money left over. For the first time in my adult life, I could afford to actually live.  Was I happy? Not at all!

I continued to deal with the roller coaster of emotions generated by the feelings I still had for the x, and I constantly wondered if I had made the right decision. At one point, I was convinced that I had made a mistake, and I would cry myself to sleep every night. (I don’t know if I ever told anyone that, btw.) I felt like a big part of me was missing. Basically, I was just going through the mundane motions of life. I went to work, went to the gym, went home, cooked dinner, woke up and did it all over again. Don’t get me wrong, I went out with my friends, and I even tried to put myself out there. I went on a dates here and there, but I wasn’t really ready to let anyone in. Plus, to be honest, the men I was meeting were subpar. I was in an emotional rut, and I didn’t really know how to get myself out of it, but I knew I needed to try. I have always been a firm believer that only you can make yourself truly happy. You can’t rely on anyone else to make you happy, and anyone who comes into your life can only add to the happiness you create. If you aren’t happy, then no one else can make you happy. It’s as simple as that, and I needed to figure out how to make myself happy again.

I was desperately in need of a vacation. I wanted to go explore another country, but somewhere I had never been before. The options were endless considering at that point, I had only been to Mexico and Fiji. I began researching destinations, and then I had a moment of realization… all my friends are married with kids. They can’t just join me on a vacation for a week or two. For the first time in my life, I felt this whole other level of being alone. I mean, I was finally ok with being the last one standing, but this was making me freak out a little. I thought to myself, what if I end up single for the rest of my life? Does that mean that I can’t travel because I’m alone? Then of course that pesky little question popped into my head once again… “Did I make a mistake leaving him?” In that very moment, I said F this, and booked my first ever solo trip. Costa Rica, here I come!!!

Why Costa Rica? I have absolutely no clue! As I mentioned, I was beginning to research destinations, and Samasati Nature Reserve happened to be on my computer screen. It was a now or never moment, and I without hesitation I just clicked reserve. Complete insanity, I know! Shortly after, I headed over to the good old travel doctor to see if I needed any vaccines. She pointed out that this area of Costa Rica is much more rural, and off the beaten path. Not a tourist spot at all. Fabulous! I had to get vaccines for all the Heps and Typhoid. I was also given Malaria pills, and those bad boys come with the warning that there could be some serious side effects like severe uncontrollable diarrhea and vomiting, or having crazy scary hallucinogenic nightmares. Sweet! That’s exactly the kind of night I was looking forward to having while staying by myself in a cabin in the middle of a rainforest.

As the trip approached, I began to feel afraid. That’s a feeling I don’t get very often, and it’s quite overwhelming. I started questioning myself and wondering if traveling to this faraway land all by myself was a wise decision. I began to feel anxious and nervous, yet I was also very excited. Honestly, if it weren’t for the excitement, I probably would have cancelled. I’m so glad I didn’t, because this was the trip that ultimately changed my life forever.  

Finally, I arrived! I took a deep breath and said to myself, “I’m back!” Just like that, I was happy again. I mean, I still had some serious soul searching to do, but for first time in a long time I felt like me again. I had really missed that girl, and I was truly happy to be reacquainted. It’s amazing what traveling can do for you especially if you’re in need of some healing. Up until that point in my life, I had never felt so free. It was absolutely delightful!

On the first night in the rainforest, I laid in bed in complete darkness listening to the eerie silence, which was enough to freak this city girl. Then out of nowhere, I heard the most unbelievably loud roar, and I instantly catapulted myself through the mosquito net and across the room onto a chair. I’m not really sure why I jumped onto the chair. I mean it’s not like that sound came out of a mouse, but I stood there shaking in the dark. Then I thought, what if this thing has night vision and could see me? So, I immediately froze, and pretended to be a statue. About 10 minutes had passed, and I figured it was gone. I quietly stepped down from the chair and tiptoed over to the light switch. As soon as I turned it on, it roared again. I immediately shut off the light and jumped back up onto the chair, because that is what you do when you hear a beastly animal roar, right? After what felt like an hour had passed, and I didn’t hear the roar again, I figured the coast was clear. So, I tiptoed back to the bed and fought the mosquito net to let me back in. Then I laid there anxiously awaiting my battle with the beast. Eventually, I drifted off into a very deep sleep. As strange as it sounds, it was actually one of the best sleeps of my life. No malaria pill nightmares, and I woke up feeling completely refreshed. As I got out of bed, I noticed a book on the bedside table. I grabbed it and began flipping through and there it was, the beast… The Howler Monkey! I still can’t believe that noise came out of a little monkey! Absolutely bananas!

I spent the rest of the week enjoying the exotic sounds of the rainforest. I watched the most beautiful sun rise every morning from the comfort of my bed. I went on little adventures like waterfall trekking, and I actually swam under the waterfalls. So powerful! I tapped into my inner Tarzan and zip lined through the jungle. I even swung on a rope from one platform to another. That was exhilarating! I did sunrise and sunset yoga each day. Magically, it rained every evening during Shavasana, and that just added to the beauty of the moment. One evening, I was literally moved to tears. The soul searching was working, and I was certainly releasing some seriously built up emotional baggage. I felt like I was back to normal again, and I was genuinely happy. I no longer felt like a piece of me was missing. I was confident that I was exactly where I needed to be at that moment of my life. There was no more fear, no more anxiety, and no more nervousness.  Actually, there was one other moment…

I decided to go horseback riding on the beach. It was just me and the non-English speaking guide. I had never ridden a horse before, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. We began making our way to the beach, and my horse started acting up. I thought it was normal for the horse to jolt about, but the guide was yelling at the horse and trying to tell me to switch horses. It was all very confusing, and a bit nerve racking. Finally, the guide jumped off of his horse, and he stopped my horse. We switched horses, and his horse was much larger and very intimidating. I was absolutely petrified. We continued slowly down the street and then entered a forest. Immediately, I asked myself "Why are we going into a forest?" Moments later, the guide whipped out a machete, and I let out a silent scream. This was it…death by machete! I quickly said my last prayer, which was “Jesus!” Then the guide started swinging the machete at the low hanging branches, so they wouldn’t hit me in the head. Yup, I’m an A-hole! We finally arrived at the black sand beach, and we took a break before the ride. The guide used that same machete to chop a coconut down from a tree, and he sliced it open for me. We sat there for a good 20 minutes enjoying the coconut and some lovely conversation filled with a lot of hand gestures. Then he helped me back onto my enormous horse, and together we galloped down the beach. I actually rode a horse for real, and it was an absolutely amazing experience!

Right after that trip, I made a promise to myself that I would never stop traveling, and I would go on at least one solo trip a year. Happy to say, I have kept that promise!

Kelly Bates