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How Spending My Birthdays Alone Made Me Actually Enjoy Solo Travel

Why spending my birthday traveling solo is actually the greatest gift.

Growing up, the idea of celebrating birthdays wasn’t really a part of my family tradition. Outside of the milestone birthdays (which for me were five, ten, and eighteen), I can’t remember ever celebrating my birthdays at all. It’s not something I complained about to my parents, after all, they weren’t obliged to celebrate birthdays. I always assumed that as children who grew up away from their own parents in Ghana, the idea of yearly birthday celebrations wasn’t something my parents grew up with either.

Despite this, I couldn’t help but sometimes feel pangs of envy whenever my classmates would throw elaborate parties, over-the-top birthday lunches, and fun trips out in celebration. As a teenager, I thought that as soon as I hit 18, I would throw the biggest birthday party known to man to make up for previously missed ones. In reality, what ended up happening was a last-minute birthday dinner at TGIFridays with only six of my friends, as over 40 people had canceled on me at the last minute.

As it turns out, this is what kicked off my love affair with solo travel. It was born from a period of low self-esteem brought on by feelings of loneliness and the shame of not feeling “popular” enough to even hold a celebratory event without everyone canceling en masse.

From the ages of 19 to 23, I would plan a small affair for my birthday and invite between 10-20 people, and every year, like clockwork, almost everybody would cancel a day or two before my birthday, leaving me to spend my birthdays alone. Even my family would sometimes forget my birthday, and after a period of feeling like the most unlikable and unpopular person in the world, I decided to take control of the narrative and use my birthday to celebrate myself in a way I knew I would love, and that was through travel.

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Learning to Love Myself Unconditionally

My first birthday travel experience was to see my uncle in Barcelona, and coincidentally, it was my trip to Barcelona that allowed me to learn how to love myself unconditionally. It had been my first time wearing a bikini on the beach, and after years of developing a negative body image and the impact it had taken on my mental health, I remember walking along Barceloneta Beach in my first-ever bikini, feeling nervous and anticipating the stares and comments over my plus size body that ultimately never came.

No one commented on how I looked or cared about how big I was. In fact, I received compliments from strangers on my appearance, and it was from there that I learned that when in another country, I could completely reinvent myself and be whoever I wanted to be. It was such a freeing feeling and, in a way, played into the concept of celebrating not only my birthday but myself.

What New York City Taught Me

After Barcelona, New York was next. For my next birthday, I ended up extending my trip by a couple of months because I wanted to experience the thrills of living in New York as a solo traveler. To this day, I credit the city with teaching me many of the lessons I now use as a solo traveler.

Living in New York taught me about vigilance, patience, financial responsibility, and wise spending. It taught me how to come out of my shell and socialize with others without feeling awkward, and it was also the place where I fell in love with photography. Upon returning to the UK three months later, I decided that—for every birthday moving forward—I would celebrate the event by traveling and seeing more of the world.

For me, it was important to use those moments to learn how to love myself wholly and unapologetically, and I could only do this by spending time on my own instead of around others. And so off I went as the years rolled by, traveling to Greece, the United States, Spain, The Czech Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Ireland, and even a couple of staycations in Brighton and a treehouse in Stoke-on-Trent for good measure.

A Tradition Just for Me

At the time of writing, I have just returned from an incredible solo trip to the Avani+Fares resort in The Maldives for my 35th birthday, proving that one doesn’t need to be partnered up in order to travel to traditionally “honeymoon-inspired” destinations. Travel has not only made me fall in love with myself and learn more about my character, but it has made me fall in love with being alone.

Through traveling to all these destinations as a solo female traveler, I’ve come to appreciate my solitude and company, realizing that, in fact, I love spending time alone.

I am uninhibited by others’ plans, budgets, or reservations; I don’t have to rely on anyone to have an amazing time. I can come and go as I please without having to wait, and I can wake up and go to sleep whenever I want. There’s something so freeing about being able to do those simple things while traveling.

I highly encourage others to embark on at least one solo trip in their lifetime. If it seems like an overwhelming task, start small. You could start by visiting another town for a day, and then, over time, you can spend a day or two in towns further away until you can work up the confidence to travel nationally and internationally.

Traveling solo has given me a new sense of freedom and empowerment that I had not discovered in myself before. These trips are a way for me to express self-love, self-determination, and self-actualization while celebrating turning a year older and learning from the people I meet along the way.

Years have passed, and I now have friends who care about celebrating my birthday with me, but this is one tradition that I don’t mind keeping for myself.

3 Comments
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MicheleHassing June 20, 2024

What a lovely, interesting story. I grew up thinking that part of childhood was always getting presents and having a celebration of some kind. But as an adult... I've largely ignored my birthdays. What a great idea to start really celebrating in style as an adult instead. I do travel excessively and will call whatever big trip happens near my birthday my "gift." I've discovered I don't really love long trips by myself though. Went to Tahiti on my own for a week, meh. I didn't really love Tahiti OR needing to actively seek out companionship for myself for that long! Yep, I was bored in Bora Bora. Kudos to you to do months on your own in NYC (granted it's impossible to be bored there). Did a few days alone in London and then had to start finding ways to get strangers to invite me to their parties. I have a three-day max for complete solitude!

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letterdude39 June 11, 2024

Next February, I'll turn 69. I'll be solo house sitting in a little village in the remote South Pacific nation of Niue. I'm already planning the meal that intend on preparing for myself! Good on you for embracing your solo!