This is for anyone who, like myself, is a solo traveler at heart.
Independent, strong-willed and perhaps a little bit of a control freak.
I jumped head first into a traveling life with no one holding my hand, establishing my own sea-legs and defining myself by my independence. This was how I started, but things naturally change, evolve and eventually we make choices, both big and small, that challenge who we thought we were.
Only recently am I beginning to get used to the art of traveling with another person and letting go of making my own plans. It takes more external trust and way more flexibility. In the beginning, these qualities were not my strong suits. What I have always loved about solo travel is that I am 100% in control of the situation at all times. I alone choose the restaurants, cafes, museums, and sights, dictating where I go and how I do it. It is that luxury of free and open choice that we often take for granted until there is someone or something else to be factored in. Of course, any kind of travel always requires some sort of go-with-the-flow attitude, but when you travel solo, it is always your flow and yours alone.
These thoughts started swimming around in my head during our little getaway to Marrakech last weekend. M had been invited to speak and teach workshops at the American Language Center’s annual conference and, being someone who will never pass down an opportunity to get away, I tagged along for the trip.
Upon arrival, however, we discovered that the conference was not in fact held in Marrakech, but at a family "aqua-resort" about a 30-40 minute drive outside of the city, with very limited transportation to-and-fro. While the hotel was pretty comfortable, peaceful, and had great buffet-style Moroccan food for every meal, this was not my kind of scene. Plus, all of the fun aqua park stuff was closed for the winter. Being used to the freedom of roaming and exploring, my first thought was “Oops, I’m stuck.”
My second thought however, was, “Ruby, you are being ridiculous.” Part of being a good traveler is knowing when to let go of the reigns and this trip was absolutely one of those times. One of my favorite quotes by Alain de Botton in his book The Art of Travel is when he writes,
"A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making its first appearance: that I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island."
He means, of course, that when we travel or go on vacation, we do not leave all of our own little faults and issues completely behind. We arrive in all of our humanness, and I had arrived with my lone-traveler tendency towards being a little too controlling. So I reminded myself: it was not my trip that I had planned- I was at the mercy of the conference and its schedule and had made the choice to be there anyway. I had to adjust my expectations from “let’s have an adventure in Marrakech” to “let’s relax and enjoy an escape from daily life.”
What’s funny is that a lot of these self-realizations take me back to things we talked about in yoga teacher training. My first morning at the resort, I thought about the lessons we had learned about cultivating gratefulness; that it takes practice and mindfulness. So, I made myself meditate, breathe, open up some space and step back to see things from a more gracious and external perspective. Here I was with a free weekend, nothing expected of me, nothing to do except relax. How lucky am I? I was forced to have a total mental vacation and realized that allowing myself to be in that mindset is something I need to work on. My style of solo travel involves this constant concept of productivity and taking charge. I am usually armed with a list of places to visit, lists of food to try, sights I don’t want to miss and areas to wander. Without these defenses, I am left to face the fact that I am pretty terrible at truly relaxing, which means that I need it even more.
In the end, we ended up having an amazing time and it was largely due to the fact that I was able to change my mindset about my expectations. I spent a lot of time reading in corners with tea or coffee at my side, meeting and chatting with other members of the conference, having long conversations with M over breakfast or dinner, and we even made it into the city for a short little tour, visiting the beautiful Bahia Palace and wandering around the chaos of Jemaa el-Fna.
We all end up in these situations sometimes- trips or places where we don’t control the agenda. If you are anything like me and like to grasp on to schedules and travel plans, I think it can be so important to put yourself in an experience where you are forced to let go. Allow yourself to relax that constant productive tension that comes from the mentality of “I have to do it all and I have to plan it alone.” Here is what you can do, instead:
1. Meditate, or just sit quietly and listen to your breath. Each morning I was there, I took ten minutes to sit and breathe, focusing some energy on the heart and trying to build gratitude through active presence.
2. Write down what you are grateful for and why you feel lucky to be where you are. Make tangible reminders of the positives of every situation.
3. Let go of any expectations. Don’t make plans. Don’t think “oh but I would rather be doing this right now.” The fact is, you’re not, so how are you going to enjoy and make the most of what you are doing?
4. Focus on the people. Who are you with that you can get to know better, connect with deeper, share the experience with? Concentrate on the beauty of these connections and let that take priority over what you see and where you are.
As a solo traveler at heart, here is what I have learned- we cannot always control the external. The who, what and where. The only thing we can control is how we face it all internally- the how of any adventure. If we come prepared with no expectations, a whole lot of gratitude, and a willingness to let things go, that is when we can truly be ready to enjoy and experience every moment.