What. In the actual. HELL. Was I thinking?
I’m standing in line to board a cruise I booked six months ago – when I was a newly single little lamb, fresh out of a six-year relationship and eager to show the world how Absolutely Okay™ I was. In the abstract, this idea sounded invigorating. Empowering. Positively self-defining.
I imagined myself walking the deck of the ship at sunset in some elegant dress, looking effortlessly classy and holding a martini glass. I imagined practicing my (now flawless) Spanish with my new easily impressed friends as we strolled the colorful side-streets of Mexico. I imagined some kind-eyed boy pulling me, giggling, to third class where we engage in a rowdy Irish jig and I show off my ballet pointe skills to a bunch of roughened steerage passengers.
Okay I didn’t imagine that last one, James Cameron did. But my point is, I had some grand expectations for this trip.
But in the days leading up to it, I was surprised to find that the emotion beginning to pool in the pit of my stomach was not excitement but dread. People would ask me, with increasing urgency, “Aren’t you SO excited for your cruise?” And I would have to respond shakily that I must just still be in preparatory mode – I still have things to wrap up at work, I still have a hundred things to remember to pack, I still have wax appointments to cringe at and prescriptions to refill. “I’ll be excited soon,” I assured them, and their inquiries would be quelled for the time being.
That wasn’t the whole truth, though. The whole truth is that when I imagined this vacation six months ago, it was like I imagined somebody else taking it. Someone I admired. Some hypothetical future version of myself who was skinnier, tanner, more confident, more outgoing, more well-equipped to carry the behemoth social burden that is traveling by yourself. I liked her; I envied her.
And over the last six months, I really did try to become her. I lost ten pounds, I tanned a little bit, I started getting more comfortable doing activities by myself. Just to try it out, I would go to bars, restaurants, movies, even museums all alone. I got pretty good at it.
But now, standing in line awaiting this daunting solo vacation – eight days of pure unadulterated discomfort and social awkwardness, literally hundreds of miles from my comfort zone – that hypothetical confident girl of my imagination feels exceptionally far away.
The occasional glass of wine at a local bar two miles from my house now feels laughable compared to the task ahead of me – and there’s no skinny, tan, gown-wearing, martini-drinking, Spanish-speaking version of myself boarding this boat right now. It’s just me, Regular Old Susie, with all my imperfections and insecurities and fears. And I am forced, again, to face this question that has been gnawing at me for days now:
Seriously though, what was I thinking?
I don’t want to travel by myself. I want to do most things by myself, sure, but usually in the comfort of my home. In my pajamas. Or if I am out, in some secluded corner with a book. Why did I think it was a good idea to plop myself down in the middle of literally thousands of complete strangers, trapped on a floating vessel in the middle of the ocean, headed toward a totally different country? Just WHO do I think I am?
I force myself to breathe as I walk onto the embarkation dock. The guy who checks my passport informs me that I am the third youngest person on the ship. Looking around, this seems to hold true – around me are a lot of wide-brimmed visors and hats, comfortable walking shoes, novelty button-up T-shirts, and a sea of gray hair. I’m not sure what I expected – but I can apparently relieve myself of any delusions of a young Leo DiCaprio luring me below deck with promises of an inter-social-class romance.
But I’m sure I’ll still have a great trip… me and the collective membership of AARP.
Next comes two hours of waiting in an endless boarding line, the hot sun beating down upon me. I consider vaguely how ironic it would be if my first sunburn of the trip came from standing in line at the cruise ship terminal. This is a handy first introduction to being by myself while surrounded by couples and families. “Get used to this, Susie,” I tell myself. “Build yourself a mental pillow fort and get comfortable in this situation – it isn’t going anywhere.”
My mental pillow fort in this case turns out to be several furious games of Words with Friends – I bury my face in my phone to distract my fellow passengers from the fact that I am awkwardly and utterly alone.
I finally make my way through security, where a woman is acting as traffic controller – guiding us from the line to open check-in desks. “Are you with them?” she asks, gesturing to the family in front of me.
“Nope, just me,” I respond with a tone that I hope resembles confidence.
“You’re traveling by yourself?” she confirms, because the world is a very cruel and biting place.
“Yep,” I repeat.
“Oh,” she says with recognition. “Oh!” her customer service voice returns. “Well you are just going to have the most AMAZING time. Check-in is right over here.”
I reach the check-in desk where a different bright, smiley lady takes my boarding pass. She gives me my onboarding documents and room key, and lets me know where I can find my stateroom. She then mentions, almost offhandedly, “Now has anybody told you about the itinerary change?”
I am then informed that due to tropical storms Willo and Vicente, our cruise is being diverted. We are no longer traveling to Mexico. Instead, we’re heading up the California coast – to San Francisco for two days, then San Pedro in LA, then Catalina and Ensenada. Which is great, really, because I definitely planned this trip to see places I’ve been visiting my whole life. I was literally in Los Angeles less than two weeks ago. And if you’re a long-time reader of the Nutshell Version, you might recall that San Francisco is where I spent the most miserable eight months of my life.
My whole trip just went down by 30 degrees. No metaphors here, I mean it will literally be 30 degrees colder up the coast than it would’ve been in Mexico. I didn’t pack for this – I packed for tropical temperatures, with maybe one pair of jeans and a sweater begrudgingly thrown in for good measure.
So, my epic solo vacation isn’t getting off to quite the start I imagined. And who knows if I’ll make new friends, or walk along the deck holding a martini glass.
But the good news is: I found a quiet little wine bar with a view of the ocean. There is a waiter named Harry who was born in the Philippines and has one of those fantastical life stories you hope somebody writes down one day. I am trying to take deep breaths and lots of pictures. I have a support system of people sending me encouraging text messages, which I imagine to be the modern-day equivalent of people waving handkerchiefs at the docks.
I am going on this solo vacation, and I’m going to have a great time, if it’s the last thing I do.
So, I guess I should put this laptop away and hop to it.
Wish me luck!