29th birthday – NYC
My birthday is usually a lengthy, multi-day spectacle, full of friends and frolicking and merriment and Mexican food, so I admit I’m starting to get apprehensive about breaking that tradition with my first solo travel birthday. Though celebrating on my own was the plan all along, now I’m wondering if I didn’t underestimate just how much I love my over-the-top, silly shindigs back in NYC. Since I’m 7,800 miles away, there’s not much I can do about it now. And frankly, I’ve been celebrating life, the end of my 20s and beginning of my 30s since I quit my job and embarked on this mad adventure on New Year’s Eve 2010.
I have to keep that in perspective when I start wishing I was singing “I will survive” at Mr. Biggs in Hell’s Kitchen with my best friends like always.
If all goes as planned on Sunday, my 30th birthday will live in infamy and all birthdays past will be overshadowed by its glory and splendor. (No pressure.) At least 95% of the reason I came to South Africa was to spend my birthday doing this one specific activity. (Details on Monday, I hope.)
If my plans don’t work out on Sunday due to weather, I’m going to sit in the rain and cry. Big, heavy, destroyed birthday tears. And then I’m going to get over it, put some concealer under my eyes and probably blow a fortune at the first spa I can find. I may eat a whole chocolate cake and a pizza and McDonald’s French fries if I can find them. (I might do that anyway.) But I know it will be all be ok. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that everything will work out.
For all the planning that goes into a wedding, it’s just one day in the course of a relationship – and certainly not the most important day. Birthdays are the same – they’re just a day in the life. It’s much more valuable to reflect on a cohesive overview of the year: what you’ve done, where you’ve been, who you’ve loved and the lessons you’ve learned. And while this year has been far from perfect and not really what I expected, it has been the most challenging and rewarding of my life.
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned in my 29th year on the road and on my own:
- Planning is overrated. I’ve grown from an itinerary Nazi to a girl who often wakes up and doesn’t know where she’ll sleep that night. It’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating and it keeps things interesting. I never thought I’d be able to relinquish control over every detail… but I have, and it’s nice.
- I suck at currency conversion. I even have an app for that, but still, I’ve messed up… a lot.
- I don’t really like hostels and I’m not much of a backpacker.
- Foreign accents are charming but dangerous. Proceed with caution. Or better, yet, run the other way. Seriously, get on a plane and evacuate.
- Haters gon’ hate. As long as I’m living the life I believe in, they can hate on me all day long.
- Life begins outside of your comfort zone. I have taken “do something that scares you at least once a day” to heart, and it’s made me a better person. At least, it’s given me a lot of stories to tell at cocktail parties.
- The world is not as scary as Geraldo and Nancy Grace would have you believe. Sure, I got pick-pocketed in Athens… so what? Sick in Thailand. So what? In a small plane crash in Nairobi? (Ok, that was really scary.) So bad things happen now and then, but bad things happen at home, too. Better to be experiencing the world than hiding out in a bunker in some boring town.
- I don’t need much “stuff” to be happy. (But fast WiFi helps.) I’ve been living out of a 65L bag with almost no accessories or extraneous cosmetics and only three pairs of shoes for the year. And most of the time, I don’t think of my “stuff” back home.
- There are some wonderfully kind strangers out there in the world.
- Traveling doesn’t mean “vacation.” How many times have people said to me, “Oh, I wish I could just be lazy and live the easy life you have.” This is my life now. Good and bad things happen. Work and play happens. Frankly, this year has been much harder on a day-to-day basis than a routine existence back home. It’s much more of a challenge not knowing where to sleep, what to do, etc. My pictures might show a smiling life of ease, but you’ve missed all the freezing airports I’ve slept in, thousands of miles I’ve flown next to stinky people and snorers I’ve bunked up with in hostel dorms.
- I haven’t found a bad travel day that a few episodes of The Office, Glee or Modern Family couldn’t cure.
- This blog is always going to be my story as I want to tell it. I’m not writing for SEO or to please a focus group or a faction of elitist writers. It is what it is and I’m happy with it.
- I may make about .0008% of my former salary, but somehow I’m still a workaholic. The good news? It’s starting to pay off.
- Traveling is much cheaper than living an established existence back home.
- Life doesn’t always go as planned, but that’s ok. I detoured into Europe for a while this summer for a stupid reason, but it turned out perfectly because I made a new friend who became a business partner.
- Someday, I want to adopt a couple of foreign kiddos. (Preferably with Brad Pitt but I think that ship has sailed. Now taking applications.)
- Quitting my job was the best decision I ever made. I have not regretted this choice for one single moment.
- I’m so blessed. Any time I get worn out and over this whole adventure, I just look around at wherever I am – the Masai Mara in Kenya, Luxor Temple in Egypt, a yoga retreat in Bali… and I thank God I have had the opportunity to be a solo female traveler. There are so many societies where women would never be able to go off on their own like I have, and so many countries where financially, a trip like this is so out of the realm of possibility it may as well be a trip to the moon. I am so blessed and so grateful and so humbled.
- There’s no place like home.
Have you spent a birthday on your own? How did you celebrate? Any suggestions for a Cape Town plan B just in case of bad weather?
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