In January I decided for various reasons to head South, solo. A few weeks later, via the free ticket I had gotten in December by saying Hell yes! to being bumped and an overnight stay in Atlanta in the worst smelling hotel on either side of the Mississippi — I’m convinced it’s one of those combination hotel/nicotine factories you always hear about — I was ORD –> ATL –> CUN.
When I stepped off the plane in Cancun, the first thing that greeted me was a snaking line of white people worse than any Disneyland or Six Flags I’d ever seen. After a groan, roll of eyes, and what is my life, I planted myself in what looked to be the fastest line (I was wrong, of course) and immediately high-class problem’ed myself. What IS your life, you ungrateful…
How many people would kill to be “stuck” in a line to get into a tropical oasis of self-indulgence? Blerg. I exhaled and let go.
An “a ha, I must carry this lesson back to Chicago” moment was had. Instead of anger and helplessness, I felt peace and power. Peace in that I had nowhere to be, no schedule to keep, that I could just be. Power in that I was in complete control of my state and that as soon as I decided to release the woe is me, it went, along with my hunched shoulders. In their place came a remembrance how much fun people watching can be and an appreciation for a blank mind, quiet of to do lists and attempting Inbox Zero and coffee dates.
Thirty-five minutes later, the green light above the customs desk lit up and I walked into the frenetic sunshine of “Hey lady, need a ride?” and timeshare offers.
I had splurged on pre-arranged transportation so I could relax and enjoy window-gazing and not be worried that I was being taken for a ride, figuratively and literally. We passed hotel after condo, condo after hotel, lining the four-lane street, ocean on the right and lake on the left.
Oh, there’s the Paradisus.
That’s the Fiestsa Americana?! Glad I didn’t book there.
Mmmm, Ritz Carlton; one of these days.
Normally on this type of drive, I’d be noting restaurants, supermarkets, and bus stops to return to. But as I had no plans to leave the hotel, I simply inhaled architecture and plants and pedestrians. Thirty-two minutes after we left the airport, we pulled into a raised u-shaped driveway and the driver announced “Krystal Grand, Miss.”
From outside the hotel wasn’t much to look at, only sticking out due to its circular shape in a horizon of rectangles. But inside, its roundness was breathtaking, as doors to all the rooms faced in and went up fourteen stories in a sedative pattern, topped off with a mammoth stain-glass dome.
I checked in, wondered if the concierge lingered on “All inclusive room for one” in a bit of a judgy or inquisitive way, and found my way to one of the scenarios that I enjoy most in life, entering a hotel room for the first time.
And this time, it was mine; all mine.
Two beds, of which I could choose either. Hell, why choose? Bed 1 tonight and Bed 2 tomorrow. I turned off the AC and slid open the balcony door; I was not in Mexico to be chilled. The ocean-view expense had been the right decision. There she rippled, just steps away, the brightest blue stretching forever. As the Krystal Grand was at the end of the beach and jutted out on an inlet, I could see miles of the Hotel Zone going back towards the airport, all the places I had passed.
I flipped on the TV’s pop-music station and fingered the offerings on the sink, making note of which ones I would be sure to slip into my toiletry bag come end of week; sewing kit probably not, conditioner most definitely. I investigated the closet and dresser, sat on the balcony and read the leather hotel binder and sipped from the complimentary water bottle enjoying the delicious illogical taste of “free,” unpacked my tiny “no checked bags!” blue roller of which I was so proud.
I explored the grounds, texted Husband I had arrived, ordered room service for the first time in my life, watched Law & Order from Bed 1 with a plate of guacamole on my stomach, and lulled by the waves, was asleep by nine.
My days were fairly consistent. I awoke when sunlight lifted my eyelids, as it sidestepped the purposefully left open black-out curtains. Bathing suit, cover up, and flip-flops donned, I walked down to one of the hotel restaurants. I placed my wrist nonchalantly on the hostess’ podium so that she could see I was All-Inclusive, in a hopefully helpful not dickish way.
“Room 118? Just one? Follow me.”
As the week went on, the ask became a statement, without me having to open my mouth.
“Room 118. Just one. Follow me.”
Breakfast was bustling. Groups of families and friends got the booths. Hand-holding couples got the windows. I got singles row — eight or so tables for two, with one person at each. With everyone on the same side of the tables, we looked liked we were at a speed-dating event where no one ever chose us.
I sampled the entire buffet. Pink juice, green juice, yellow juice. Coffee, chocolate milk. Mini-pastries. A tiny taco from under a heat lamp. Sausage and white chocolate mousse on the same plate because why not? Every time I lifted the handle of a silver-lidded dish, I held my breath, excited for discovery. Chicken that looked like it belonged on the dinner menu. An unknown white liquid on papaya, melon, and pineapple. It was a shrug and try week, so I shrugged and tried.
The waiters — Ernesto, Isidor, the other white-coated gentlemen — were very attentive, clearing my many juice glasses, refilling coffee, cracking jokes they had told guests for years. In an attempt to not be an I’m the center of the world, stupid American, to show I was trying, I smiled and said, “Merci.” Whoops. I repeated my French salutations multiple times over the week. Foreign language! I speak it!
My first restaurant dinner, I was ready to eat at five. But as I sat writing in the lobby, right outside its glass doors, the restaurant’s emptiness had me second-guessing I had correctly read its hours. The heat-lamps were on, the napkins folded, the hostess perched. I waited until my stomach began nibbling at itself. Six o’clock.
“Room 118? Just one? Follow me.”
As the week went on, the ask became a statement.
“Room 118. Just one. Follow me.”
There was no one else in a room that could’ve fit two hundred. This time I was seated at the windows.
I played the Lift the Lid game and filled my plate with weird combinations, said yes to the offered drink though I hadn’t understood what the waiter said it was, and felt both appreciated and awkward when the hostess placed a white candle on my table.
The chef at the meat station, the young bus boy who over the week took to practicing his English with me, the elderly waiter who walked with a limp, and the hostess all watched me from their respective areas. Save for live music trickles from the lobby and my fork loudly connecting with my plate, complete silence. I instagrammed the empty tables and my feelings.
I forced myself to put away the phone, to eat slowly. I got seconds. I said, “I’m not done with that” when Ernesto tried to take away my rice pudding.
The next night I went down at seven. Then eight. Then nine. Then I gave up attempting to eat dinner in a restaurant that had other patrons in it and ate alone with the chef, bus-boy, waiter, and hostess.
In between breakfast and dinner, I worked on my book, cycling offices from lawn to beach to pool to bar.
For breaks, I’d float in the ocean or go through the hundreds of saved “Read when I have time” articles, each coated with thick digital dust. I’d nod and amen to no one when I’d get to an article about living life to the fullest or not waiting for the perfect time to quit, travel, ask someone out on a date. I adored dawdle-reading instead of my usual skimming, and reading just to read, not to share, comment, or save.
I’d write a bit more.
Lunch at the pool or my balcony or the beach picnic table.
Huff and puff on the treadmill or take a long, people-watching feast walk — two mini Justin Biebers drawing their names, “Kalen” and “Farris”, in the sand; people being ridiculous with selfie sticks; people in tiny bathing suits of all shapes and skin-tightness living loudly and unashamedly.
Over the week, they gave me the courage to remove a piece of clothing a day, until at week end, I looked like a normal person on the beach.
Then I’d shower. Podcast, book, and mojito in the sun. In need of a cool respite, 2pm horrible Sarah Jessica Parker movies from Bed 2 which morphed into naps.
On days I was good, more writing, usually in the lobby bar, sipping Diet Coke served by a perplexed Jasmine, brows raised that I was not using my magic wrist-band on drink-drinks.
On days I was bad, more podcasts, reading, instagramming, with a frozen tropical something or other.
Dinner in an empty restaurant.
Cable-tv indulgence from Bed 1, with curtains and balcony door open and lights out by nine.
It was a glorious week of no guilt.
No guilt for —
- taking private cars instead of trains, buses, or shared vans
- leaving my towels on the floor
- snacking in bed
- sleeping in both beds
- never leaving the hotel
- watching crappy TV
- answering emails I wanted to answer and ignoring the rest
- Facebooking on vacation
- choosing naps over culture, books over dance clubs
- loving the lack of children
- taking elevator selfies
- enjoying daily guacamole o’clock
- having a morning margarita
- eating a pastry or three
- the ocean view, luxury, all-inclusive “I shouldn’t be doing this” splurges
- wearing the same clothes every day
- my tight-lipped “I’m not really interested in chatting” smile instead of my usual “let’s get to know each other” grin
I proudly hashtagged it all — #partyofone.
I didn’t realize I was tired of conversation until I didn’t participate in discourse for eight days. I enjoyed lack of chatter, especially of the small-talk and “sure, I’ll listen to your problem” variety. I enjoyed not being able to understand most of the discussion around me; dialogue became a comforting background track instead of a source of annoyance or judgment.
I didn’t realize I had ill-will towards wallets and clocks until I no use for either. All-inclusive allowed an existence free from calculating tip and fishing for dollars, free from worry about WIFI fees or ATM locations. It was bliss to have nothing planned. When lunch service took longer than reasonable, instead of becoming exasperated, I stared at the ocean and listened to the Italian and Chinese chatter around me. When I saw people at the excursion desks, looking at maps, making reservations, handing over credit cards, and then the following day piling into vans early and piling into vans out of vans late, with cameras around their necks, I felt such the opposite of envy.
All-inclusive allowed me to exist with very little baggage, figuratively and literally. Towels, chairs, snacks, drinks, sports equipment had I wanted it (I didn’t) — all provided. This autonomy was underlined as I watched people lug coolers, umbrellas, and overflowing bags across the sand. The fact that my decisions of the week were pool or beach, gym or swim, daiquiri: virgin or non-virgin, allowed my brain space to meander, do nothing, unbury that which had been buried for far too long.
Did I ever get lonely? No no no no no.
Did I ever wish someone else was with me? Rarely but occasionally.
It would’ve been nice when I had to go to the bathroom to not have to pack up my laptop and phone because my someone would watch my valuables. I would’ve liked to try the other hotel restaurants for dinner but because they were fancy, reservation-required, my confidence put its tail between its legs and retreated.
While I enjoyed tipsy afternoon pool-side giggles by myself, it would’ve been fun to share such giggles with girlfriends. While I enjoyed day-dreaming about how I was going to achieve world domination through keynote speeches, adult recitals and summer camps, and my New York Times Best-Seller, it would’ve been invigorating and delicious to hash domination plans with Husband, especially away from home’s “It’s your turn to clean the bathroom!” environment.
I was pretty certain I’d have a wonderful time and was making a good decision when I first thought of a party of one gift to myself but was surprised at the number of Go Girl! reactions. People who had already had their own solo experiences shared their journeys and reflections, and it was fascinating to hear where people went, for how long, the glorious, the ick, their choices I want to copy, their choices I would never make. I’m sure my week of doing nothing sounds like a waste of time, travel, and money to some, just as a week hiking snow-capped mountains in Russia sounds horrid to me. I loved the “to each their own” aspect of the shares.
If that dialogue, idea-generation, and community wasn’t enough, be still my beating heart, people, people as in multiple persons, went on party of one experiences because of me and my sharing. “You’ve inspired me Saya to take a trip to ____ .” That filled my Life of Yes℠ cup right up.
Am I glad I went? Will I do it again? Would I recommend it? Was it one of the best times of my life? Has it influenced how I live today?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Should you do it?
Do not succumb to the call of the mythical Perfect Time Unicorn —
- You’ll party of one when you have more money
- More time
- Less debt
- A smaller waist
- An organized house
- When the kids are out of the house
- When you retire
- When it’s better for your spouse, your boss, your company…
What other excuse can you provide?
That unicorn is never coming. If you deserve a party of one excursion, and you do, do it.
It doesn’t have to be eight days in Mexico at a luxury hotel. Lord knows I can’t afford that on a regular-basis.
It can be one night at a cabin in Michigan. It can be two hours at Alinea. It can be thirty minutes at a coffeehouse. An improv class, a movie, a lecture.
The importance isn’t the where or for how long — it’s the when (now!) and the why (self-love!).
People keep asking what websites I used to plan the trip, where I stayed and if I’d recommend it —
Yes, I’d recommend it. The hotel wasn’t perfect but it was exactly what I wanted, for what I could afford. I was glad I didn’t let negative reviews steer me away. Take away: there are always going to be complainers and what’s horrible to one may be of no consequence to another. Note: its sister hotel, the Krystal Cancun, is right next door and much more lively, which to me was a bad thing; if you’re looking for boring and dull, choose the Krystal Grand. You have reciprocity rights meaning you can eat and hang at the Krystal Cancun, though leaving whispers for techno doesn’t sound appealing to me.
I booked my trip through American Airlines vacations, finding a better deal there than going through the hotel website and other discount travel sites.
Other sites I referenced:
I arranged my ground transportation via USA Transfers and HIGHLY thumbs-up them, both for price and professionalism. I mean, did you see the cream Escalade that picked me up?!
TripIt kept all my travel details in one place.