While I was studying abroad in Costa Rica, I had to leave the country for a few days in order to extend my student visa. To make the process easy, the program I was a part of had a trip planned for all the students. Transportation and lodging were taken care of, so all everyone had to do was pack a bag and meet at the same place to be picked up and carried down across the border to Panama.
I opted out. Blame naiveté, blame the cute Canadian surfer boy I wanted to spend time with instead, or maybe blame it on a Pura Vida-induced heightened sense of adventure, but while all of my friends were on a bus down to Panama, I was meeting up with said surfer boy and heading into the mountains. I had zero regrets about my decision, but as a result, I had to plan my own trip to Panama a week later. Solo.
It ended up being one of the most liberating experiences of my life. I'd always been fairly adventurous, but having to figure out how to travel between two countries that didn't speak my language and had completely different customs and rules than I was used to was a new experience for me, especially because I was doing it on my own. It was nerve-wracking, and my mother was less than pleased with the circumstances, but it all came together, and the trip was amazing. I felt independent and confident, and I learned just how capable I was of making things happen if I really wanted them to. All of my time in Costa Rica was like that, actually. I took chances, met new people, and discovered more about myself than I ever expected.
Where am I going with this? Cut to today: I've been in a long-term relationship for over three years, and I still have plenty of adventures and try new things, but now I operate under the buddy system. It's an easy trap to fall into when you're dating someone you actually enjoy spending time with. Since Toby and I started dating, I simply haven't felt the desire to do many activities alone. I sometimes even struggle with hanging out with other people without him by my side.
I've been aware of all of this for most of our relationship, but it wasn't until a couple of months ago, when Toby got a new job and started traveling, that it became clear to me just how dependent on his company I had become. He went to Park City, Utah for ten days, was home for five days, and then left for another ten days to work in New York City, which gave me some twenty days of alone time during which I had to fend for myself for the first time in years. I did go to Minnesota without Toby for similar spans of time this past summer, but going home to familiar friends and family and pre-planned activities is quite different than having to whittle your two-person daily routine down to a schedule fit for one.
The point of this whole spiel is not to complain. The point is this: I grew. Toby flew off, and I sat around on the futon for a couple of days feeling lonely and bad for myself, and then I had a revelation: I used to be single. I didn't used to have a Toby. My entire life used to be Rachel Time, and I enjoyed it so much that I was hesitant to start dating when the time came, because I didn't want to give it up. And I'm so glad I did...but why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't I have a significant other and be independent at the same time? I had never considered this as an option before.
So while Toby was gone, I decided to embrace the alone; to seek out some solo. I went to an art festival in Santa Monica, and then I drove up into the mountains. Twice. All alone. Refreshed and exhilarated, I decided to make this a regular thing in my life. A mental palette cleanser of sorts. A rediscovery of myself as just Rachel, not Rachel + a million other labels. Will I be documenting these expeditions on this blog? You know it, girlfriend.
I'm in the process of queuing up my first few blog posts for this series, but I'll start you off with some photos from my trip to Panama, which I just realized happened over four years ago (say whaaaat?!). I was there for five glorious days, in an upper bunk in the corner of a dorm room-style hostel named Aqualounge, which was built on a deck over the water and which featured a saltwater swimming pool (a hole cut in the deck to let you jump into the water), a kickass Saturday night dance party, and people from all over the world drinking beers in the middle of the day and telling stories of how they came to be at that particular place at that particular time. It was humid, and my hair was frizzy, and the ocean was bathwater, and the boys were attractive, and the food was cheap and the drinks were free.