First Solo Trip
It wasn’t planned. I had no idea how drastically this trip would change my life. It all started when I was working for a mortgage servicing company in Dallas, Texas. Typical office job where I was stuck in a cubicle for 8 hours a day. Many of my coworkers were great friends. Two of these friends had the bright idea of going on group trip to somewhere exotic, beachy, and well, a party town. I had just broken up with my partner of 5 years so I was ready to get away for a bit. It took no convincing for me to join in on the trip. We decided on Jaco, Costa Rica. It was a bachelors paradise and small but well known surfer town.
We planned on getting away for about a week, as that’s how long our vacation time allowed at work. I had never been outside of the continent, except to the Caribbean. I was beyond excited to visit such a beautiful country. This was going to be a life changing trip, I just knew it.
There’s no direct flight to the coast town of Jaco, so we flew into San Jose. We spent the night there in a hostel and took a bus, the next day, to Jaco. No time was wasted, we partied it up the first night in Jaco. It all went downhill though, when we started with the tequila shots. Not my proudest moment, but I got blackout drunk. The next morning all three of us woke up with major headaches and sunglasses. One of us with bruises, stitches, and black eye. Another with their phone missing. And me with a wad of cash gone from my pocket.
Jaco got us the very first night. With very little recollection, we tried to piece together the events of the night. It was like a scene from "The Hangover". It turned out, we made friends with some sketchy people that night, a fight broke out, a knife was pulled, and eventually we ended up in the local hospital. Thankfully, none of us were seriously injured, but we took it easy on the partying from then on.
Aside from that night, we had a blast in Costa Rica. We went on a boat tour to visit come crocs with the Crocodile Man Tour.
There was one day in particular that made me question all of my life’s decisions. In Manuel Antonio, there is a small secluded beach called Playa Hemelas and I was sitting there looking out into the gorgeous blue ocean, listening to the waves crashing, I had my epiphany. It hit me hard, and I knew it just felt right. I knew at that moment that I just couldn’t go back to my old boring office job and that lifestyle. I had experienced freedom like I had never known and I wanted more.
My life wasn’t horrible back home, but I wasn’t fully satisfied either. So it was then I made my decision to quit my job and stay in Costa Rica for a while longer. It was crazy I know. But it felt so right. I didn’t really care about my boring job, I was single, I had some savings and I was already in Central America. It felt like perfect timing. I had dreamt about just quitting my job and escaping somewhere far but until then I didn’t have the guts to go through with it.
Something struck me that day, something told me that if I was ever really going to change my life and follow my dreams, then now was the time. My travel buddies, having been bitten by the travel bug themselves, were supportive when I told them. So that was it. I quit my job, I said goodbye to them when they left to go back home, and I stayed in Costa Rica.
It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I had never traveled alone to a foreign country. I sat in the hotel room, hands shaking, breathing heavily and trying to muster up the courage to break the news to my family, mostly my mom. I just knew she would be worried. She cried. I cried. Mostly because at the point I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next, where I was going to stay, or how long I would be gone.
I cried after I got off the phone with her too. It was scary, but I think I was also crying because I felt happy. I knew I was doing something life changing. I would never be the same after this experience and I was excited and terrified all at the same time. Was I out of my mind? I just basically quit my whole life as I knew it to start something new, something I had dreamt about my whole life.
After pulling myself together, I left the hotel and decided I would go back to Manuel Antonio for a few days and try to figure out what I would do next. I checked into a hostel and there I met an American from Chicago who was volunteering there for a couple of months. We became friends and she showed me a few places to party.
The next few days I spent just wandering around the town and exploring the beaches. I spent some time in Quepos, a small local town very close to Manuel Antonio. I enjoyed just exploring on my own, no real plan, just getting know the area and the locals. On the rainy days, I would sit in the hostel and do research. I figured I wanted to see beaches, but also see more than just the touristy areas.
It was at the point that I didn’t feel scared anymore. I had put together a rough plan of the sites I wanted to visit and spent a lot of time sitting on the beach, just thinking. Am I crazy? Was I doing the right thing? What am I doing with my life? I came to the conclusion that I was probably crazy, but I did feel like this was the perfect thing to do. I needed a change. I was finally happy! Super 100% without a doubt, genuinely happy!
I spent some time in Quepos, then went back to San Jose and got to know the city a bit more. There were museums, malls and plenty of shopping. I fell in love with the Costa Rican saying, “PURA VIDA”. Meaning, just enjoy life. The vibe of the country was all about taking it easy, enjoying every day to the fullest, and not getting hung up on the small things that don’t matter.
After spending a couple of weeks in Costa Rica, I decided I still wasn’t ready to go back home. This new found freedom was addicting. I met a lot of travelers in the hostel from all over the world, some who had been traveling for months. It hit me, that with the right planning and budgeting, I could do the same. I took advantage of the fact that I was already in Central America, in very close proximity to many other countries, so why not visit those too?
That’s exactly what I did. I traded my rolling suitcase for a hiking backpack to allow for easy mobility and set off on my first big adventure. Next country was Belize. I made my way along the “Gringo Trail” in Central America. No longer afraid to be alone, completely dependent on me, myself and I, and the freedom to come and go on my schedule, I was hungry to visit as many places as I could.
Once in Belize City, I booked a hostel in a tiny coastal town called Hopkins. I had heard that weekend was a huge Dangan National Celebration with lots of festivities. Essentially, it was their sort of “Cinco De Mayo”. The place to be during the celebrations was Hopkins, where there would be boat shows, singing, dancing, food, etc. I knew I had the option of taking a very expensive taxi or the local bus to get to the town.
Unfortunately, the local bus service has no real system. No set time table or routes. They are the old school “chicken buses”. After speaking to a few locals, I found out which bus I had to take to close to get near the town, but once there at the main road bus stop, I would have to switch buses or possibly hitch hike. It was hot, the bus was jam packed, and I felt like I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The bus ride was long and filled with locals, just a handful of tourists like myself. It took me a minute to relax and just enjoy the ride. As I stared out the window, I really took in the beautiful scenery we were passing. The country really is as beautiful as people say it is. There is so much luscious green tree land and fields. We drove for many many miles and the untouched land seemed to go on forever.
I made it to our bus stop off the main road and saw a small rest area with a couple of benches and a wooden roof. Since there was no exact time table for the next bus into Hopkins, there was no way to know for sure if I had missed the last bus for the day or not. I did not have any GPS or Wifi to check anyway. It was very hot and getting dark, the mosquitos were out and attacking me. I didn’t feel like waiting there any longer. So I decided to try and hitch hike into the town.
It was completely dark once I finally made it to the hostel. I was hot, tired, and hungry. The lady who ran the hostel was very inviting and kind. She was cooking dinner for the guests and offered me a beer. I had dinner with the rest of the travelers and we got to know one another and shared our stories.
It was the first time I felt like one of them. A real traveler, not just some tourist. There is a difference. It was great to meet other solo travelers too. Many were around my age or even younger. Again, it was more assurance that I was doing the right thing with my life. I made friends with a lady from France. She was in Hopkins for the celebrations too. After dinner, we set off on foot to explore the town and see if we could find the locals and the parties.
We met a couple of local guys who took us to a spot where they had music and dancing. We had a few drinks and watched them have a good time. The next day, I planned on visiting some of the ancient ruins near by. I had to take a bus and walk to the draw bridge that was the entrance to Xunantunich Ruins. Naturally, I walked the rest of the way, budgeting so that I could travel longer.
The ruins weren’t huge but it was nice since the place was practically empty that day. I loved that I was there alone. I really had a chance to roam around and soak up the energy of the place at my own pace. It was really at that moment I realized how amazing it is to travel solo.
Sure sometimes, you want to share a moment with someone, but it’s also great to just be alone and do some self-reflection. I could just sit and stare at the pyramids and think, with no one bothering me. No one telling me they wanted to leave or see something else, when I wasn’t ready to leave. I was on my time, and I loved it.
I realized I was on a journey of self discovery at that point. I had a lot of contemplating to do and I was glad that I was alone with my own thoughts. That’s when I started journaling, writing down my experiences and thoughts. I learned how independent and tough I really was. There was no stopping me after that. I was hooked and kept going and traveling.
I spent several months backpacking around Central America visiting Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. There is no experience like traveling alone in a foreign country, completely dependent on yourself. I highly recommend it at least once. It changes you. You really learn about yourself. I kind of felt invincible.
Let me know about your solo travel experiences.
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