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On December 30th I boarded a flight to Aruba for my first solo vacation. For as long as I can remember I’ve suffered from wanderlust. Before I finish one trip I’m already daydreaming about the next one. I’ve traveled most of the US for work so in the past few years I’ve set my sights on traveling the world. In 2012 I was finally making enough money to do more than just pay rent and my friend Charlene and I went on my first trip abroad to the Dominican Republic for Thanksgiving.. The following year we spent Christmas in Paris and New Year’s Eve in London. It was breathtakingly beautiful and beyond fantastic. Although we were having an amazing time deep down I wished that I was experiencing the magic of Paris with a partner.

Less than a month later I met Jeremy. For the next 3 years we spent nearly every day together. From road trips to Northern Michigan and St. Louis to family vacations in Florida and Mexico we too traveled all over. Despite now having exactly what I’d asked for I still wondered what it would be like to not compromise on the vacation location or if I could take naps without making him feel like I was being anti social (as an introvert I love spending time alone which can make it hard to be in relationships).

After Jeremy and I broke up this fall for the first time in nearly 3 years I spent Thanksgiving alone. I decided then that my Christmas gift to myself was going to be a solo vacation for New Years.  I began researching the best beaches in the world and Aruba was at the top of every list. With over 80,000 frequent flyer miles the flight was practically free and I found a room on Airbnb for $55 a night (turns out my host is a black woman who ran for elected office in 2013!). Just booking the trip gave me the most amazing rush. Taking this trip was one of the best decisions of my life. Here are 4 life sessions from my first solo vacation:

4) We’re never really alone: Despite using the site frequently, this was the first time I’ve actually stayed with an Airbnb host. It’s been such an incredible way to travel and meet people. Not only was it significantly cheaper than staying at a resort but I had a local showing me around the island. I also met two other Americans who were there on solo vacations from Atlanta and New Jersey. I thought this trip would be about solitude and naps but it turned out to be so much more.

3) Joy is priceless: Including the flight, lodging and spending money, this trip will have cost me less than $600 but even if it was $2,000 it would still have been worth it. For me, joy is about the little things like leaving my winter coat in my car at the airport because I knew I’d soon be in 80 degree weather. Or watching the sunset and capturing each frame as it goes down. Or taking naps on the beach. I realized that I get to create my own definition of joy no matter what it looks like.

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2) Stop waiting for other people to get their shit/money/time together): There are so many places I’ve wanted to see and things I’ve wanted to do but friends/partners/whoever either weren’t in a position financially or otherwise to go. Now that I’ve conquered my fear of traveling alone I’m looking forward to dreaming up my next adventure even if no one else is in the position to go.

1) Always dance like nobody’s watching: On New Year’s Eve my host was singing in a band at a beautiful resort on the beach. I threw off my heels and danced the night away with a little old lady, got drunk off champagne, and kicked off the New Year watching fireworks. I can’t tell you the last time I felt so free. It didn’t matter if I didn’t know the words or even the moves. I just danced like no one was watching and no one cared – because they didn’t. As someone who has devoted my entire life to politics I’ve always played it safe (especially out in public) because I cared so much about what other people thought. After being inspired by The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck I now embrace living life on my own terms.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever taken a solo vacation? What’s one lesson you learned from your trip?