One of my New Years Resolutions in 2019 was to do a weekend solo trip. For someone who loves to travel, I have never, ever, done a trip by myself. I’ve taken work trips by myself and done a few outings during them by myself. But during the day I was with work colleagues or clients. I have flown by myself and met up with friends in places. I have traveled with just one child, with just my husband, with just my mom and just my dad. But I have never ever traveled by myself, for pleasure.
I thought I missed my chance. At 19, during my study abroad in Barcelona, I made friends with a few of the kids on the trip and stuck with them whenever we traveled around. At the end of the semester, I had a week left and tried to convince my mom to fly out and travel with me, but she did not want to leave my dad. So, I spent the week in Barcelona by myself, just visiting all my favorites before the trip ended. I was too scared to go travel on my own. After college, I had a few months before starting work, and I did a little travel. But there again, I traveled to places I knew people. I did not go anywhere and explore by myself.
I met my husband when I was young and married young. Then grad school, work, and kids. Soon, I found myself almost 40, and never having had the courage to do a trip completely by myself. At 39, it was less about courage and more about guilt. For a long time, going away from my kids was difficult, and involved a lot of work for the other parent. They were young and needed a lot of attention and a lot of help. But something changed in 2018.
In the summer of 2018, my mom talked about going to Barcelona to join her husband on a work trip. I was lamenting how much I missed Spain. My husband responded with “Why don’t you go?” I laughed. “Do you know how much it costs for a family of four to go to Europe? We can’t afford that right now. Plus, the kids have school!” He responded. “No, not us, you.” He proceeded to point out that the kids fed and clothed themselves now. He could take them to school and have the babysitter help with the afternoon care until he came home from work. He knew how much I love travel, and he has always been more of a homebody. It was the first time I realized that traveling away from the kids was not as daunting for the other parent as it used to be.
After not one but two successful trips away from my kiddos, each for a week, I knew that I was really to take on this challenge. I always lamented the fact that as a younger person I was afraid to travel by myself, and I imagine all the experiences I missed. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this. That I liked myself enough to spend time with just me.
Then, In February 2019 my father was diagnosed with cancer. All sense of self went out the window as I moved into caretaker role. I took time off from work and helped my dad with his treatment and recovery. I used all my time off and vacation time to be with him. I saw life and time with family as more precious. And I moved back into being reluctant to be away from my husband and kids after spending so much time away to care for my father.
In January of 2020, I decided to renew my promise to do a solo trip. Well, in March of 2020 we all know what happened. Even though I was away from full-time work, I saw the opportunity to travel slip away as it became clear this pandemic was here to stay. I lamented the loss of any travel, and the feeling that my great passion was slipping away.
In July of 2020, we took our first tentative steps and took a plane trip across the country to New Jersey to see my East Coast Family. We took COVID tests, protected ourselves on the plane, and stayed and quarantined with my family. It was terrifying, and I was so worried the whole time of the exposure. In September, we again ventured out. We took a trip up to Southern Oregon, where we hiked in Crater Lake National Park, checked out the towns of Medford and Ashland, and tested staying in a hotel and safe dining out. It was also a bit scary, but much more relaxed and enjoyable than our initial summer trip. Our family was starting to accept the new normal, and trying to figure out how travel and exploring was fitting back in.
This month we hit the six-month mark of the pandemic. And it’s starting to wear on me. I fell tired, uncreative, and generally worn down. The news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and the lack of justice for Breonna Taylor certainly did not help. But it felt like weights being pressed on an already tired soul.
I talked to my therapist and joked “I need a vacation from my family”. She said, “why not?”. She reminded me of my New Years Resolution. “Why not go spend a weekend at a hotel, away from your family? Relax. Hike. Write. Get a change of scenery. You love to travel, sounds like planning a trip is something you need right now”.
She was right. I had spent most of the last six months generally ignoring my needs to make sure my family was healthy and mentally sane. I took the kids on outings, to the beach, helped with every distance learning issue, oversaw meals (though my husband cooks, god bless his soul), BOUGHT AND LEARNED HOW TO TAKE CARE OF A POOL!!!. The list goes on. After promising with my time off, I would spend some time focusing on me, I had managed to again let my needs slide to the back burner.
I cautiously bought the idea up to my husband. And (again the saint he is) said “Sure, why not”. (I must let you know; we are one of those rare and lucky families where distance learning is going well. My kids are good about doing their work, and but for the occasional need for help on a question or a technology issue, they are generally self-sufficient). So excitedly I went to start search for ideas online.
As I start researching places, I start finding a problem with each and every idea I have. This one is too expensive; I can’t spend that much money on myself. I would love to visit X city but Y is closed and that’s the only reason to go. Z city looks good, but too far from hiking areas. W town looks nice but there is so much there I want the kids to see. I’ll wait until I can go with them. This Bed and Breakfast looks too romantic to go by myself, I’ll wait until I’m on a couple’s trip with my husband.
I had to step away from the computer for a while because I was fed up and sad. Why can’t I find the perfect place? I needed to do some soul searching. And I realized what I was doing. I am mourning. I am mourning the loss of the old world, where I could go anywhere and be sure to find adventure. Where I could go without so many restrictions. When I knew that if I liked a place, I could always come back anytime with the family. That world seems distant now. That world may not come back for a long time. This new world is hard and has a lot of restrictions. And if it was scary to think about doing it solo before, it’s even scarier to think about doing it solo right now.
But again, this is exactly why I NEED to do it. I need to show my 19-year-old self that I can do this. I can like myself enough to spend time with just me. I need to show my kids that my needs are important too. And that even mommy needs a break and that is ok. I need to prioritize myself, and sitting in the house, not getting a minute to myself is not doing that. I need to plan this trip. Even if it won’t be perfect. Even if I can’t do everything I want. I need it for my soul. I need it so my kids can see a happy, healthy, whole mama. I spent a lot of time the last few years being the primary care giver. It is now time to let me take care of myself.
So I booked the hotel. Something not to expensive, but not too cheap, with a bathtub and Wi-Fi. Something not to far from the Bay Area, but new to me. Maybe it will have good hiking, maybe not. Maybe I will go out to eat, maybe I’ll sit in the hotel all day. Maybe I will write more of my book. Maybe I will go out exploring and take photos all day long. I don’t know yet. But I know that I need this for me. For my soul. No matter how hard it is.