My mom is a travel agent and organized a group package deal-sorta thing. One person backed out last minute.
“You have to go alone. Do you want to go? I can get you the ticket for really cheap.”
I really thought about it. I think most people would jump at the opportunity to go to Cancun, Mexico alone. I was scared like, what would I do? Who would I talk to? I’ve never traveled anywhere by myself.
It even came to the point where I felt like I didn’t deserve to go. I already went on two trips earlier this year, and to be able to go for a third time seemed surreal.
I asked my closest friends for their opinion. There were suggestions like “Be someone completely different. Try a new shtick. Lie.” My other friend was like, “You aren’t making sense right now. Just go.”
After all, my friend Jeff Goin has three reasons why traveling is so important when you’re young.
My favorite text was from my friend Idil:
Never have a limiting mentality about “living” and enjoying yourself. It’s the idea that we have to always “work” to play… but if you’re living you live abundantly ALWAYS! There’s a reason why you got the opportunity. Take it and go!
If you don’t have someone to contact like that, then build that relationship with someone and hold them close. Or just email me. I got you.
Here are my reflections, patterns I’ve noticed, people I’ve met, conversations I’ve had, and why you should travel somewhere alone. As soon as possible.
Like, the next flight leaving sorta deal. (This post is about 3,000 words, so I organized it in a number format. Read whatever point interests you.)
1. Forced to reflect
Most people don’t like being alone, and that’s because we’re social animals. I think we forget that from time to time—that we’re animals.
But when you put yourself in a position where all you have are your thoughts … things get interesting. It’s as if your mind naturally starts operating differently. Your thoughts become louder.
There’s less distractions. You’re out of your routine. The cues that normally jumpstart your habits are missing.
It didn’t take long before I started reflecting on so many things. I started asking: Who am I? Where am I in life? What do I want to accomplish? How are my relationships with friends and family, and what can I do to make them better? How can I help them? What am I afraid of? What are my deepest insecurities?
This is a tough skill to develop, because what you’re doing is seeing through the bullshit and the illusion you’ve created for yourself to ultimately protect yourself from facing the harshness of reality. We’re good at that—creating scapegoats and illusions to further delay our greatness.
The thought kept reoccurring: There’s so many things that I should be doing, but I’m not. Or better: There’s so many things that I could try, things that won’t kill me or put me out on the streets, but I’m not doing it simply because of fear and my own insecurities. As I was thinking this out loud, I was writing them down. Once I saw, right in my face, the things that I’ve been delaying, I almost wanted to fly back home that second to get started.
We don’t like being wrong or rejected. It hurts our little egos. But this inability to explore and learn through mistakes, trial and error, is what obstructs us from being better animals.
I guess the point here is, you don’t need to travel 1,500 miles to reflect. It definitely helps because you’re putting yourself in a specific situation; you are far from home, the safety and comfort zone. The idea is to be alone, with just you and your thoughts. Turn off your phone. Go do something that makes you happy, whatever it may be. No one has to know about it. Get a hotel room nearby and order room service and do whatever pleases you. Go to a nearby state and stay there for a weekend. Try on a whole new outfit. Get away from everyday life and just reflect on who you really are.
This is really about self-discovery, checking in on who you are at this current moment in time and what you could be doing to get to the next level. It’s about slowing down and digesting, reflecting on all that you’ve done or failed to do.
Most people don’t do this in their everyday life, when it’s the one thing that can really compel them to change and start making a difference. Most people, in fact, never do it.
What I walked away with was more self-awareness, humility, clarity, ideas, and motivation to start doing the things that I should have been doing.
2. “Wow, you’re alone?”
I arrived Wednesday and it rained all day.
Thursday was more about adapting to where I was, observing the people around me. I was still insecure and scared to meet people.
Friday I felt different, after much reflecting, after many moments of self-critical analysis. I woke up saying, “Fuck it, let’s do something different. Why not? Will I die? Will people laugh at me? They’ll never see me again.”
The day started with exercise, breakfast, then 6 hours at the beach.
By 6. p.m. I was on my way to a restaurant in the hotel. The two couples next me kept glancing over at me. The workers
treated me really well, offering me random side dishes that I didn’t order. When my drink was near finished, within seconds there was another one right next to it. They didn’t do this for anyone else. I was the only person eating dinner alone.
After dinner I thought, “What’s next? Get myself into a drunken stupor?” Okay, why not. Ominously, the movie Yes Man played by Jim Carey was on.
I went to the bar by the pool, getting my Don Draper on. After the dinner rush was over, the bar was raided, and a live performance danced with the cool Cancun breeze.
There were a handful of couples that I saw throughout the week—at the restaurant, the bar, the beach, the buffet, etc.
Once I made eye contact with a guy and gave him a nod, he asked: “You’re here alone… aren’t you?” His girlfriend looked happy that he asked. It must have been on their minds.
Their eyes lit up and they leaned in a little closer. Why? How? They wanted to know.
After I gave them the rundown, I could see in their eyes the yearning for an adventure similar to mine. Maybe they saw in my eyes that I secretly wanted what they had: to be with someone.
How funny it is to feel something—that maybe people realize you’re alone or that someone is looking at you—and being right about it. Of course they wouldn’t ask. I probably wouldn’t either. But again, that boils down to fear. Does it hurt to ask? Probably not. But when you’re drinking at an alarmingly quick pace, the walls come down, and everyone is vulnerable.
More couples started to show up, and it seemed that they all were acquainted. They introduced me to everyone, and they, too, asked me: “Are you alone?”
When I said yes and gave them the rundown, everyone was intrigued. Eyes widened. They, too, looked like they were in need of reflecting and adventure. Their answers were almost always like, “Oh my god, I need to do that.”
Everyone needs to do it. And not just once.
3. Most people hate what they do
In passing, I often heard: “Ugh, yeah, I’m leaving today so I can get back on Sunday and rest. Then back to life on Monday.”
I understand completely: leaving the beach, having great service, being treated like royalty, etc. But it’s sad that probably more than 60% of the world hates what they do. Imagine a world where everyone did what they loved because they were good at it, because what did they do provides value, because mastery is both alluring and elusive.
The workplace is changing, faster than you can read about it. Read The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin and Choose Yourself by James Altucher. Those books will say it better than I can. And they’ll wake you up.
In short, don’t get comfortable with where you are. You’re probably going to be replaced by a machine.
As I said earlier, my dear mother is a travel agent. Although there are plenty of sites that make it effortless to book a vacation, people still use travel agencies. The people who use them probably don’t know how to use those websites, or just aren’t aware of them. Not everyone vacations the same. But all that will change, for good or ill.
Develop skills that create value for others, like solving problems or connecting the dots. Find joy in pursuing mastery. Let your work be the source of your happiness; if you’re excited to resume a project or finish something undone, you’re doing it right. You’ll never dread Mondays again.
And we won’t have to hear about it on Twitter or Facebook.
4. The Ukrainian oil lady & friends
It turns out, there was another adventurous soul that came to this luxurious couples hotel.
While I was at the bar, meeting people, talking about work and why I was alone, this couple from Chicago introduced me to this lady Oksana from Houston, Texas—originally from Ukraine.
She works in the oil industry and organizes something. I was too chocolate wasted to remember everything; I forgot to write it in my Evernote. At that point, I was like 15 Old Fashioneds deep. I got everyone to drink it. Not only were they curious about why I was there alone, but why I was drinking this cocktail. I didn’t mention Don Draper or the show Mad Men, because it would be fair game to dropkick me into the pool.
Then came the tequila shots. (Never again.)
“I came here alone because my friends are all working, and I just couldn’t wait. I had to get away. This is my first time doing this, and I’m so glad I did,” she told me.
I asked, “Why are people, or we, afraid to travel alone? Or at least be alone.”
“Insecurities,” she said. “It took me 4 days to really open up and introduce myself to people. Four days gone—when I could have been having so much fun. We carry so much fear with us.”
This woman was really pretty, wearing a nice dress, probably made a shit-ton of money. Anything associated with “I work” and “oil” should ring bells.
“Have you been thinking a lot?” I asked. “Reflecting?”
“So much. About everything—life, my job, my friends. Usually vacation is to just unwind and relax—and I am doing that, by the way—but this getaway was different. A lot of thinking, maybe because I was alone.”
Like I said, if you put yourself in a position where you’re alone, left only with your thoughts, your brain goes into some kind of self-reflecting mode. It may seem scary at first, but this shift is wonderful and potentially life changing.
5. “If you could give any piece of advice, what would it be?”
This is something I asked everyone when the topic was about life and work. After all, most of the couples that I met were twice my age.
They all thought I was older because the way I carried myself, but I was humbled by their company, so I had to be curious and ask questions that I don’t ask often. Especially when I could.
- “Don’t put up with the bullshit. Always cut the bullshit. Know who you are and what you’re worth, and stick to that.”
- “Don’t only do what makes you happy. Be sure to make others happy, because it will make you happy.”
- “Have lots of sex.”
- “Even at my age (48) I’m learning to be in the moment.”
- “I love my work because it plays close with my personality and interests. I love solving problems, and wherever I can solve problems is where I am most happy.”
I think whenever we share advice, it relates to our current situation or a situation that we’ve overcome, say, a bad breakup or a transition in a job. To hear something as simple as “learning to be in the moment” and “don’t put up with the bullshit” was interesting, but also reminded me that those are skills, not gifts. It’s practiced, not something you’re born with.
Mindfulness and cutting through the bullshit are important skills, because ultimately what you’re doing is moving past the fear of doing those things—staying in the moment and getting to the point. It’s hard to be present, to stay mindful of your thoughts and to not react instantly when something frustrates you. Equally difficult is to get to the point, to catch someone bullshitting you (or you bullshitting someone), without being rude. Time is valuable, and I’m not trying to waste your time or mine.
People twice my age are still having trouble with these mindsets/skills.
Time to work on them soon.
6. People don’t tip.
I understand that tipping isn’t universal, although it should be.
In the U.S., I tip 20% most of the time, almost every time. Even if the service is mediocre, I still tip fairly well. I have a lot of friends who worked in the restaurant business, so I empathize and know first-hand the frustrations.
I saw couples dressed so nicely, their Rolexes all shiny, their monstrous Gucci bags larger than their torso… but never left a tip.
The average worker in Mexico—also depends on the niceness of the hotel—gets paid roughly 60-80 pesos a day. That’s about $5-8 dollars a day. Kids who work in the mall make that in 1 hour sitting around doing nothing and complaining on their phones.
These waiters/waitresses on the beach, running around, sweating buckets, providing top shelf liquor… and most people don’t even have the decency to give them $1. It sickened me.
My friends Esteban and Maria—the crew rotated positions—knew me well because I tipped well. Because I treated them like human beings. Because I looked them in the eye, said thank you, acknowledged their hard work, and gave them $2 every time they came back.
I started to see a pattern, because that’s what I do. They would take my order and about 5 others, run to the bar, and return with a bunch of drinks over their shoulder. Who did they come to first?
Studies show that more money doesn’t equal more happiness; that if you spend your money on others or for a charity, you become happier. If you’re going on a trip alone, and service is as great as it can be, be nice and tip.
“You good papi?”
I’m great, Esteban.
7. We forget that we’re animals.
I kept thinking about this nonstop—thinking about human nature, patterns, how we relate to nature and other animals, why we do what we do, etc. This is why I love studying Psychology—I get to see the gears turning inside your head.
And yet, we pretend to be something else. It’s only because of our brains that we are able to create illusions about who or what we are, to be able to rationalize the way we do, to a fault.
When I was on the beach, the pattern was blatant. Gorgeous girls were with guys who were equally good looking. An out of shape woman was with an out of shape man. At the airport, a goth looking chic was with a goth looking guy. A surfer dude was with a surfer gal. A runner-type was with another runner-type.
The thought kept reoccurring: if you want to attract a specific kind of person, you have to BE like that person, or have something they lack or make them feel that they are not alone. Like-animals attract each other. Lions don’t mate with panthers for a reason.
Also, there is not one animal on this planet that genuinely enjoys change. Birds sense a change in their environment and adapt without complaining. And no animal likes being rejected, or even come close to the threat of rejection. Loneliness is our kryptonite; that’s why people will do the most outlandish behavior just to gain attention.
We aren’t living in a time where rejection means starvation or dying from the cold.
The fear of rejection may be real, it may hurt, but it won’t kill us. Our brain still perceives rejection as our ancestors did. If a group won’t accept us (think of high school) we can join another group or create one of our own. But how many kids actually do that? It’s far easier to conform, to sacrifice your self-worth so that you’re acknowledged and accepted.
The rapper Nas said it best:
People fear what they don’t understand, hate what they can’t conquer, guess that’s just the theory of man.
It’s not just a theory, it’s reality. We are animals; we made of up habits, fears, patterns, conformity, etc. Anything that is different is threatening. It takes a certain level of intelligence and self-awareness to be conscious of feeling threatened by something because you don’t understand or can’t control it.
Like the previous quote, when most people can’t understand something, they hate it or make up self-serving delusions about it. They express opinions, when in fact, those opinions aren’t even theirs; it was by someone else just as confused and angry as they are.
Hence, why hatred and jealousy are far easier than acceptance and indifference.
I hope this view of breaking things down to its most primal state helps me understand the world and people better. Let’s hope.
8. Airports are a joke
You already know this. Unless you fly business class all the time. But still.
I wonder: will it be like this forever? Till I’m (nature willing) 70? Who will reinvent the processes of the airport and having to wait 3 hours to get into your room?
At the Mexico airport, I waited on line for 2 hours. People started forming their own line. The workers were just standing around. People started cutting. The honkies from Georgia were getting mad. One bald guy called a group of Koreans “gooks.”
I imagined punching him in the back of the head as hard I could, probably ending him right there. Fighters will teach you to never punch a person’s head, because you’ll severely hurt your hand.
So then I stopped and focused my thoughts. I was mad about it because I’m Korean. If I’m offended by it, it must mean it’s true. But it’s far from it, so why be mad? His character is degrading—not mine. And I felt much better after that.
Also, not one worker did anything. They could have grabbed extra divider-thingys and formed another maze. But they stood around, wiping sweat off of their faces. Why would they? They too probably get paid $5-8 a day.
I’m not going to reinvent the airport. That’ll cause too much stress, and I might punch people in the back of the head. I hope someone else does it. I’ll be glad to help and contribute ideas.
9. The next time you can, speak up
At the bar, a guy was telling his friend how another friend cracked his skull open while he was surfing. They were from New Jersey, like me. Their friend cracked his skull open on a refrigerator. (Yes you read that correctly.)
At first, while I was twirling my cigarette and taking a sip out of my drink, I thought, “Only in New Jersey do you crack your skull on a refrigerator out in the ocean.”
At first I didn’t say anything. Again, that fear of rejection was there. So I looked up, smiled and said, “Only in New Jersey.”
They laughed. A whole new conversation started with just 4 words. We talked, got to know one another (Hey Joe and Fernando), talked about work, vacation, Hurricane Sandy, etc.
On the plane, there was a pretty girl who sat next to me. Very pretty. Of course, this fear was even greater because it was a female. And I wasn’t drunk.
But instead of biting my nails as I always do, pretending to think about something interesting while I gaze out the window, I spoke up.
“How was your trip?”
“Oh it was wonderful. I went on a yoga retreat. There was no hot water, no electricity. It was an interesting change. I woke up at 6 a.m. and did yoga for 4 hours,” she said with a smile, her crystal blue eyes piercing my soul.
“I do Bikram yoga.”
The rest is history. We talked here and there, about psychology and the fashion industry and the importance of being alone from time to time. I had to ask a lot of questions. At one point I felt like I was being too annoying. She didn’t seem interested in me. I knew not to talk about myself—that’s not seductive—so I asked a bunch of questions.
Then when we landed, as I glanced over, she was texting her boyfriend. A male name with a big red heart next to it.
It made sense.
10. Be alone
I’m probably missing a few important things, but this is pretty much it. This is what happens when you are alone for a few days: self-reflecting, more self-awareness, being self-critical and seeing through your own bullshit and delusions, and intense motivation to take my fitness, education, and self to the next level. Your milage may vary.
Sure, being in Cancun helped. In fact, it was probably unnecessary. I could have done something close but nearby. That would be 10 times harder. I think the idea of traveling, of being in a completely different area, is what helped me embrace this opportunity for what it offered.
The next time you plan on getting away, try going alone. I think it’ll be a trip that you will never forget.
Cheers to whatever path you’re on. You’re not lost. You’re just on a different path.