“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.
~Roman Payne, The Wandress
I would love to say that my first foray into solo international travel was based on some grandiose plan, some well thought out quest to see the world. But really, it was because I was simply tired of waiting.
Sure, in my Goals post that I wrote earlier this year, I laid out the fact that I wanted to take a solo, international, pleasure trip. But when I wrote that, I wasn’t sure I was ready to do it so soon. But I made a goal for myself—along with the goal to see one new state and one new country every year—and I wanted to stick to it. And all of my friends had reasons—some valid, some not so much—about why they couldn’t travel with me internationally this year, even though I had been trying to orchestrate a trip for well over a year. I had finally reached my ‘put-up-or-shut-up’ point with myself. So I pulled the trigger and booked something on my own.
I can’t believe I waited so long.
Initially, I had chosen Turks and Caicos as my destination. But after a series of unfortunate events, I ended up with a solo ticket to Panama.
And. It. Was. Awesome.
Choosing The Destination
When I decided to pull the trigger, I first assessed what I wanted/needed out of my trip. I knew that I was exhausted, and that I had been working way too much. So I knew I wanted some sort of beach or ocean view or scenery. Something peaceful. A sanctuary where I could sit by the pool, at least for a couple of days, and drink. Oh, and a great spa.
I also knew I wanted some culture. I wanted to experience a culture that I wasn’t familiar with and immerse myself if only for a few days.
I also knew that, unfortunately, I couldn’t cross the International Date Line, because I would lose too much time traveling and I didn’t want to be off work for too long (big surprise there).
With all of these factors in mind (along with my innate desire to get a luxury vacation on a budget), I decided on Panama. The flight were shorter 3-4 hour segments. I knew that I loved neighboring Costa Rica and my favorite Central American country, Belize, so I figured that the culture would be cool. (Check out my posts where I found so much more in the way of AfroLatino culture and amazing community in Casco Viejo while I was there, as it exceeded all of my expectations).
Setting Up the Accommodations
Then came choosing a hotel/resort. Because I wanted something luxurious and with an ocean/water view, I opted for the Westin Playa Bonita Panama outside of Panama City. This wasn’t the choice that most would choose because it was outside of the main hustle and bustle of Panama City, but I knew myself. I assessed what I needed. And what I needed more than anything else was a gorgeous infinity pool and a room overlooking the ocean. So that’s what I got.
The Westin Playa Bonita was amazing. The infinity pools were top notch and the grounds were super impressive. I relaxed so hard for a whole day, indulging in the spa and sipping cocktails by the pool. I actually read a book for pleasure poolside, which was a small miracle because I haven’t read a book solely for pleasure in probably two years.
My room was absolutely amazing. Garden tub, spacious room, and that view. My balcony looked out at the Pacific and overlooked the pool. Every morning I woke up, stepped out onto the balcony, took in the ocean and observed the ships waiting to pass through the Canal. It was the epitome of peace and serenity, all from the comfort of my room, and it was perfect.
The room was quite large and luxurious. There was a sitting area with ottoman where I could stretch out, a desk (if I decided to work indoors rather than poolside), and one of the most comfortable beds I have experienced. The bathroom had a huge garden tub, which was perfect for relaxing and soaking.
The staff was super nice and accommodating, especially knowing that I was traveling solo. Everyone went above and beyond to ensure that I enjoyed myself while visiting. And even though my Spanish was rusty (you really do need it in Panama), at least my accent and tone were on point, they told me.
They even threw in a couple of complimentary drinks in the lobby bar, which was perfection. And on Friday evening, the restaurant had a Panamanian cuisine buffet that was everything. I was in a relaxing state of Zen. Which was exactly what the doctor ordered. And the drinks were pretty darn good, too!
I was nervous traveling by myself internationally for the first time. I had done it plenty domestically, but it is totally different on an international level. And especially when there is a language barrier (by the end of the trip my Spanish was definitely coming back, but we started out rough there at the beginning).
This is another area where you have to know yourself. I knew I was nervous, so I made sure to schedule myself a nice balance. I didn’t want to rush around all of the time, so I scheduled a day of complete relaxation, and another day to write poolside. But I knew that I needed to fill my time so I wouldn’t be overly lonely and not totally fly by the seat of my pants, so I researched activities to fill my time. And those things usually, for me at least, revolve around local culture… and food, of course.
Meeting Up and Connecting
This was the best decision I made on this trip. I knew I didn’t want to be totally 100% by myself. But I knew I wanted to embark on this solo trip and have some time to reflect on myself, my growth, and my life.
So I struck a balance. I reached out to some individuals in a couple of travel groups I am in. Turns out, another girl was planning to travel to Panama as well and her dates overlapped with mine. And further, a friend of a friend named Javier lives in Panama and owns a tour company focusing on AfroLatino culture.
I could not have orchestrated it better. My new buddy was planning to be in Panama two of the days I was there, leaving me two days of relaxation. And being Afro-Latina herself, she was super interested in the Javier’s tour, so the three of us spent a whole day exploring Panama. All three of us became fast friends (and we are still in regular communication). And then, on Sunday, what started as just wanting to hit a couple of local, authentic food spots turned into the most amazing, half-day walking tour of Panama City from the eyes of a local.
Isn’t it funny how God works things out?
In the end, this trip was probably one of the best trips I have ever taken. It exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds. While I know not every trip, and especially not every solo trip will go this well, I feel like everything happens for a reason. The way things fell into place, the amazing people I met and shared drinks and laughs with, it was all divine in order. Clearly, I needed this trip to be able to give me the confidence to look into other solo travel experiences. This was a launchpad for me. If I had gone on this trip with friends, there is no way I would have had the same experience; I wouldn’t have branched out the way I did; I wouldn’t have interacted with others the way I did. And now I am the better for it. I feel more comfortable with solo trips, and I have a new travel buddy to traverse the globe with. God really gave me one on this trip.
I will definitely travel solo again. And I highly recommend everyone do it at least once. You learn so much about yourself, your surroundings. You force yourself to explore and interact in a different way. Sure, I had a couple of lonely moments. But I reflected, and I am the better for it. I feel like I know myself better. I am tired of waiting, and for those of you who are out there waiting (and I know there are some), stop waiting and just do it. You will thank yourself for it afterwards.
Below are a couple of tips for solo travel for you planning your first (or subsequent) solo trip. And, because some have asked, come back and check out my full list of tips and tricks for solo travel, as I learned and experienced them myself.
Sound Off: Have you taken your first solo trip? What makes your nervous/fearful about taking that leap? And for those who have, what other tips and recommendations do you have?
Tips for Solo Travelers: A Couple of Insights to Help You Plan Your Solo Trip
- Choose a destination/hotel/activities that fit your needs. Make sure to assess your wants and needs and make sure to research all aspects to help achieve what you are looking for. This will help avoid disappointment and ensure that you have a solo adventure to remember.
- Occupy Yourself. Solo travel will get lonely at times. But know what you like and what occupies your mind. Love to read? Pack lots of book options. Love photography? Go on a walking tour of the city or a bus tour to a scenic, nature setting. Foodie? Check out local food tours and get recommendations on the best local spots to try.
- Connect. If you tend to be extroverted and a social butterfly, connect with travel communities or ask well-traveled friends if they have any connections where you are going. You may be surprised, as I was, that there were a number of connections in Panama at the same time I was, and I was able to have a great mix of alone time and time spent hanging out with others and experiencing local life from a different perspective.
Woman Jumping Photo Credit: BeautyBlowFlow/Shutterstock. Calendar Photo Credit: Pimnana_01/Shutterstock. Currency Photo Credit: LIfeChoices/Shutterstock