“I think I’ll go by myself…”

Discover what can happen when you travel alone….

I told my family, exasperated that our family travel plans to the mountains had fallen through.  They encouraged me to go, probably wondering whether my anxiety would convince me otherwise.

Three days later, I booked a flight to Denver, Colorado, determined to vacation alone to finish the first draft of a novel that had been a weight on my shoulder for months, to escape my frustrating career for a week, and to find something.

Myself, maybe?

When I booked the flight, I still didn’t know what I was hoping to find, but I just knew I’d find it by carving out seven days traveling alone in the Rocky Mountains.

Hours after I bought a non-refundable plane ticket, the horrific Colorado wildfires moved ever closer to Denver.

Still, I began making plans.  I made reservations at a hotel conveniently located near downtown Denver.  I scheduled visits with a friend in Denver and my Great Aunt in nearby Fort Collins.  What should have been growing excitement, was a growing sense of anxiety.

The night before my flight left, I spent the evening in tears fearing I had made an epic mistake.  Family and friends encouraged me to be excited and enjoy the risk.  I couldn’t quite get there, certain that I would be too afraid to leave the hotel room and would spend my week in Colorado staring at the hotel wall.

The next morning, I awoke to the news of the horrific Aurora, Colorado theater shooting.  News crews from across the country were reporting live from Denver, and my flight was only hours away. In the morning light on the way to the airport, all I had with me in preparation for my first solo vacation was a suitcase, wildfires, and a horrific mass shooting.

I was far more afraid of being alone than I was the wildfires and the shooting.

The flight to Denver was smooth and on-time and by the time the plane touched down at Denver International Airport, something inside me had started to shift.  As my cab rolled ever closer to the downtown hotel I had chosen, my confidence began to overtake my anxiety.  Over the course of the next week, I went out with an old friend, spent quality time with long-distance family, and spent a lot of time alone, wandering in and out of old book stores, tourist shops, and downtown eateries.

I fell into a timeless rhythm of life events, sleeping, eating, exploring, and wandering on my own whim.  The clock became meaningless.  If at noon I was engrossed in editing the three hundred page manuscript I had brought in my suitcase, I didn’t stop for lunch.

If while strolling the Denver downtown streets I came upon a cycling race, I stopped on the street corner and took it in.  My sleep cycle depended solely on whether I was tired, and didn’t rely upon other people or a work schedule or societal norms.

I spent a day in the mountains with my Great Aunt, hiking and reading and staring at the scenery.  My Blackberry received absolutely no service at her mountain cabin and I was, for the first time in years, completely and totally unreachable by clients and colleagues.

That night when the sun descended over the foothills, I fell into the first restful sleep I had in years.

On my drive from my Aunt’s home back to Denver the following morning for my return flight home, I watched the mountains in my rearview mirror with tears running down my face.  These tears were not the same anxiety tears I had shed at the beginning of the trip.

I knew in that forty-five minute drive to the airport that I had found what I couldn’t articulate that I was looking for a week before.

In prior family vacations, spring breaks, and girls’ getaways in my twenties, I had searched for activities, excitement, and compromise with my traveling companions.  I had sacrificed for what the group had wanted at the expense of spending time discovering what I had wanted.

But on a vacation all my own, I had no choice but to determine what I wanted.

During that week, I had wanted great food, beautiful views, and quality time with old friends and family.  I had wanted time to work on an unfinished novel that was my childhood dream.  I needed to reset my own life cycle in an unfamiliar city and to be forced to make decisions only on what I felt was best for me.  Some days that meant a nice lunch and a glass of wine while I watched people walk down 16th Street and incorporating the nameless faces into my novel.  Some days that meant finishing a latte on the corner as cyclists flew by.

In the mountains when the cell phone reception disappeared, my voice was the only one that I could hear.

At the end of the week, my parents picked me up from the airport with smiles and hugs and for the first time said, “I can’t believe you went on vacation alone.”  I’m grateful they didn’t share that surprise with me before I left.  I might not have gone.

I might have missed the sheer beauty in learning to listen to myself, learning to accommodate myself, and finally figuring out what it is I wanted to do.