You probably read the title of this post and thought, What? She celebrated her birthday by herself in Mexico? That sounds so lonely (and dangerous)! This girl needs some friends.
Well, that's an understandable reaction, but before we get into the hows and whys of my solo birthday adventure in Mexico, I should note that this trip was part of a larger vacation a good friend of mine dubbed "My Birthday Ex-travel-ganza" (get it?) — a few days in Trinidad visiting a grad school friend followed by a few days by myself in Mexico and ending with several days in Miami with the most important people in my life, my family.
Why did I decide to celebrate my birthday this way? Oh, and did I mention this was my 30th birthday? Shouldn't I be having a big blowout bash or something? Better yet, shouldn't I be settled down instead of going off to Mexico by myself (that's an article for another time)? To be honest, I didn't want a big party to ring in my 30s; instead I wanted to 1) explore a new place and see the home of one of my good friends, 2) spend a few days doing my own thing in a country that's long been on my travel bucket list, and 3) end my trip with a low-key family celebration. I also had this admittedly cheesy desire to celebrate my 30th birthday in my 30th country outside the U.S. I managed to accomplish all of these things, and for that, I could not have asked for a better way to start a new decade.
So, back to the alone in Mexico part. When I told my family and friends I was going to Mexico by myself, the general reaction was, "What?! Mexico by yourself? Do you want to get kidnapped?" To which my response was, "Yes, Mexico. Yes, by myself. No, I would prefer not to get kidnapped." Mexico is not exactly at the top of the list for solo female travelers, especially taking into account the ways in which the country is often presented in the media, but it's a place I really wanted to go and knew I would regret not seeing. I also knew there was more to Mexico than negative press and that it was possible to travel to this country on my own and still be safe. My family, wary of my latest solo travel idea, suggested I go to the Bahamas instead and lay on a beach for a few days. They also knew this was wishful thinking, since I was looking for more than a beach vacation. I wanted history, culture, food, music and activities beyond laying in a beach chair. I wanted to go to Mexico.
So, off I went. Just as I do with any other solo trip I take, I always try to stay on the beaten path. While I would love to go completely off the grid, I am aware of the potential dangers of traveling alone as a female, just as I am aware of the amazing benefits. Travel expert Wendy Perrin recently said in an article that many people think of the word "safety" when they hear about solo female travel, but the word that comes to mind for her is "freedom." I could not agree more with this sentiment. Though safety is of absolute importance when traveling — either by yourself or with others — there's a freedom to solo traveling that you just can't experience in any other situation. It doesn't mean I'm out partying into the middle of the night by myself because I'm free and can do whatever I want; I still have to think about safety and the country I am visiting. But it does mean I can choose where I want to go, when I want to go, what I would like to do and how I would like to do it, as long as I do so safely.
On the morning of my birthday, I woke up and enjoyed a quiet sunrise on the beach then swam in a nearby, less populated cenote until my fingers wrinkled and my limbs grew tired. With a cocktail on my mind, I relaxed by my hotel pool sipping a mojito while sunshine warmed my eyelids and music played in my ears. I then decided I wanted to try shrimp tacos at a popular place in central Tulum, but when it turned out to be closed (shakes fist at El Camello Jr.), my taxi driver quickly brought me to a place packed with mostly locals. The garlic shrimp tacos I ate at La Barracuda were some of the best I've ever had, not to mention the tortilla chips were so good I am still craving them days later. By early evening I was at the Cancun airport and by the end of my birthday I was with my family in Florida. My day didn't require compromises or waiting or any of the things that usually occur when traveling with others. I woke up, decided what I wanted to do and did it. I had freedom. Simple as that.
I love traveling with others and having experiences with family and friends that we'll look back on and remember forever, but I also really love the freedom of solo travel and learning more about myself along the way. As I grow older, I have learned to accept that liking solitude doesn't make me, or you, strange. Solitude gives us the space to hear our own thoughts, which can feel like a rarity in our busy, appointment-laden lives. For someone like me, solitude is how I recharge. Embrace who you are and you'll be happier for it.
So, would I celebrate my birthday by myself in Mexico again? Absolutely! If only because I still need to visit El Camello Jr. for those shrimp tacos.