It was 2016 and at the end of the year I was going to be turning 30. Months prior I started planning my birthday trip to Thailand, a destination I had always wanted to visit. I booked amazing five star resorts, planned on visiting the most breathtaking islands, and carved out three weeks for this vacation to Asia to celebrate a milestone. 2 months’ prior, my husband and I separated. I embarked on this journey solo and had my own real life Eat, Pray, Love experience.

I started my soul searching adventure in Hong Kong. That is when I had the first of many eye opening moments. I’ll never forget, I was sitting next to a fragile, elderly lady on the tram, and it put in perspective how minute our lives really are. This Asian woman sitting next to me probably had been through many hardships that I knew nothing about. I thought to myself I will never encounter her again, she will one day die, and I will go on unaffected. Likewise, the woman sitting next to me was unbothered by the personal turmoil I was currently facing. We often are so self-absorbed, convinced everything is about us, quickly forgetting how small we are in comparison to light years and all the stars in the galaxy. Before we know it, life is over and we are washed away, replaced by other generations. Amidst the harsh yet honest thoughts, I had a breakthrough on making sure I don’t waste this life, being me, finding happiness, and emitting love and positivity. I ventured on to Thailand and had many similar experiences that truly allowed me to be grateful. On the last day of my trip, I got a tiny “30” tattoo. The significance is so meaningful to me and it’s a beautiful reminder that turning 30 was the start of my new and best life!

Traveling opened up a door of wonderful experiences for me. In 2017, I traveled to 5 different countries. Some times with friends, other times by myself. I’ve had some of my most crucial realizations about life while traveling. While encountering new places with the people closest to us is enjoyable and exciting, there is something so powerful about being in unfamiliar territory and only having yourself.

The irony is when I was married, I told my husband I wanted to go to Europe alone, for a soul searching experience, and his response was “You’re married. Married people don’t travel by themselves”. Well, look at me now that I’m “unmarried”; traveling the globe and having never been so fulfilled. Typically, you can expect many people to discourage this; it still is unsettling for my mother to know I’m thousands of miles away all by myself.

For those that ask if I get lonely? Absolutely not. I am my own best friend and I thoroughly enjoy my solitude. I get to set my own daily itinerary, see what I want to see; I am aware of my surroundings, and do not put myself in compromising situations. Although, I do tend to be a bit more brazen when by myself and in another country. This has lead to meeting some wonderful people abroad and sharing awesome moments with them.

In Hong Kong, I went to the hotel bar at the Intercontinental to grab a night cap before heading back to my room. I planned on getting my rest since I had an early AM wakeup call to catch my flight to Bangkok. As I walked into the lobby to tell the hostess “table for one”, my eyes locked with this beautiful specimen who was having a cocktail with another gentleman. I was ushered over to my table and sat down. Within seconds, I said to myself “Fuck it. I’m going to invite myself to sit with them”. I confidently walked over to their table and said “You’re not going to let me have a drink by myself, are you?”. These two Swedish business men were pleasantly caught off guard and welcomed me to join them. Niklas was from Stockholm, but had lived in China previously for work. Imagine a brawny blonde Viking speaking Cantonese! I stayed up all night with this magical man. He took me to local bars he would frequent when he lived in the area. Opposite of what I intended, I think I got about 2 hours of sleep that night but had such an epic start to my trip.

On the contrary, it’s necessary sometimes to just have a moment to yourself. While in Prague, my experience was a little different. It was a heavy week, my divorce became final and it was also my dad’s birthday, so being alone is exactly what I required. I still ventured out, but the conversations were mostly internal. I had the opportunity to reflect on the past year, celebrate my dad who would have turned 63, and also, say goodbye to my former marital honorific and start a new chapter in my life. Traveling has been the best gift I’ve given to myself. Spending money on memories is far more rewarding than anything materialistic. To define a life well lived would be one filled with travel, never-ending self exploration, and the ability to find happiness through it all. This year, I plan to ride camels in the Dubai desert, enjoy a glass of vino while overlooking Lake Como, and stepping into Souks in Marrakesh, Morocco. I can’t wait to take you along with me on my future endeavors!

Ashton Saldanatravel, solo