Everything was going fine until I woke up Sunday morning and realized I was completely alone. The "independent woman" vibes that had powered me through my first solo night of the long weekend had been replaced by the unnerving reality that I was completely disconnected. A literal mountain range separated me from friends and family, let alone a single person—even my phone had been "searching for service" for the past 16 hours. I was lonely and unhappy, without access to the quick fix of seeing a friend. But that had been the plan all along, ever since I realized I'd never spent 24 hours alone (ever).
For as long as I can remember, my idea of "recharging" has been to spend time with people. I grew up down the street from my two best friends (one of which I'm neighbors with again in L.A.), lived across the hall from girlfriends all four years of college, and moved in with my boyfriend immediately after graduation. I never had to be solo, so I never chose to be, but I was always at odds with this fact. How could I claim to be independent when I could barely spend a night at home alone without phoning a friend? After a particularly miserable solo night at home, I realized that being comfortable with being alone is a learned skill that's just as important as learning how to get along with people. And I didn't have it. The next day, I booked a two-night stay at a cabin-for-one on a goat farm in the Angeles National Forest. Although I was only an hour and a half from home, it sometimes felt like thousands, but by the end of the weekend, my emotions had done a complete 180. Instead of feeling dejected, I felt confident in and empowered by my newfound ability to just be with myself, and that change has stayed with me in the month since. Here are the tips I found most helpful in getting the most out of a solo trip:
1. Pick a date and make it a non-negotiable.
Once I chose Memorial Day Weekend, I almost chickened out a thousand times—including two minutes before leaving. After my boyfriend helped me load up my car, I asked him, "Are you sure you don't want to just hop in?" and then nearly cried as I drove away from him. It wasn't that I was afraid of missing him—we've spent countless weekends apart in the three years we've lived together—but I was terrified of the seemingly never-ending me-time ahead. I had a million questions that bothered me: What am I going to do? What am I going to think about? You may find that being alone drums up completely different fears, but the trick is to plan your time alone and then stick to it. As soon as I booked my trip, I told my friends I wouldn't be in town that weekend so that I wouldn't be tempted by plans with them—no matter when you go, you'll be missing out on something, but there will always been more opportunities to spend time with friends. Finding time to dedicate to yourself can be a little harder!
2. Go somewhere where there aren't a ton of people.
When you're alone, the last thing you want to be around is groups of people having a blast. Choose somewhere relatively remote. In my case, I opted for a woman-run goat farm since I wanted to be able to ask for help if I needed it, but it was made clear in the cabin's description that I would be left unbothered if that's what I was looking for.
3. Make rough plans, but do exactly what you want in the moment.
Writing out a rough schedule on my first evening helped me feel comfortable since it laid out a routine, even if it was just, "Make coffee; Listen to a This American Life episode; Go for a walk." But after waking up Sunday morning, I knew I had to go out and do something to lift my mood, so I drove to a trailhead I'd passed on my way to the farm. Without knowing anything about it, I ended up on an eight-mile round-trip hike that led to a lookout spot called Devil's Punchbowl. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen and I went early enough that I had the entire place to myself. As much as I enjoy hiking with friends, I loved that there was no one I needed to ask, "Is it okay if we stay here for a few hours?" Instead, I did exactly what I wanted to do and pulled out a beer and a sandwich, and read.
4. Do something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Not to sound like an inspirational sign (you know the one: "Here's your comfort zone, and this is where the magic happens"), but there's a reason those hang in so many high school classrooms. In addition to being alone, something that's firmly outside of my comfort zone is being in the dark, so put me in a cabin at night and I'm not a happy camper, so to speak. On my second evening in the cabin, I decided to take matters into my own hands and go for a night hike. I left my phone and flashlight inside, and told myself I could walk wherever I wanted, as long as I stayed outside for fifteen minutes (as someone who's listened to far too many My Favorite Murder episodes, this felt like a huge deal). But guess what? I wasn't discovered by a psycho killer, made it safely back to the cabin, and became much more confident and happy in doing so, since I'd proven to myself that there was nothing to be afraid of. The same could be said for cooking something new, or any new skill. Try it and see what happens!
5. Pack little rewards to "treat yourself."
There were moments when I felt like I totally had a handle on things and loved every second—I was owning the "me" time—but other times, usually during downtime when I didn't have anything specific to do, like cook dinner, I felt lonely and started to wonder what my friends back home were up to and why on earth I was on a goat farm. It helped to have little rewards in place for these moments—I downloaded podcast episodes, drank my favorite coffee and beer (depending on the hour), and packed only my favorite foods, so I had something to look forward to each day.
6. Don't document too much of it on your phone.
On Monday, I woke to the sound of hoof prints, and realized goats had completely surrounding the cabin—it felt like my version of the bison stampede scene in The Revenant. My first instinct was to pull out my phone to record an Instagram Story to post when I had service, but I quickly realized that pulling out my phone would just make me hyper-aware of the fact that I wasn't with friends, not to mention the fact that this trip was for me, not them!
7. Journal and write things down.
One of the things I was most surprised to realize was how creative I felt. In the absence of distractions and to-do lists, more ideas came to me. While I was an avid journal-er up until high school (evidence of which falls into its own category of embarrassing), I haven't written an entry since, but made an effort to journal for thirty minutes every morning—and found myself going far beyond my goal each time.
8. Let yourself get bored.
Phones have made it really easy to never fully feel bored—all you have to do is pull up Instagram or Candy Crush to be fully entertained. I'd almost forgotten what it feels like until I spent an hour sitting outside and drinking coffee on the front porch, without anything to entertain me. I felt present, just listening to birds chirp, until I eventually pulled an old copy of the New York Times Essential Knowledge down from a shelf in the cabin and spent an hour reading about completely random facts from literature genres to rare diseases (I guess that's the old version of surfing the web?).
By the time I headed home on Monday evening, I felt like a completely different person from the one who had almost cried while kissing her boyfriend goodbye. That's not to say I tempered my excitement when I ran from my car to join him and our friends for beer to catch up—or that I'll be solo camping again any time soon—but the lessons I learned along the way were invaluable.