There I was, surrounded by people. Lots and lots of people: Twenty-somethings with backpacks eating tuna out of the can and a cucumber like a banana; teenage boys in hoodies with Beiber bowlcuts playing UNO; blonde and blue-eyed Swedish siblings crying for sladoled (Croatian for ice cream).
In a clearly feeble attempt at trying to escape groups, I had placed myself in the deep mucky thick of them. All because I couldn’t “go with the flow” as my DailyOm so appropriately suggested I do that day. (If only I had WiFi to receive that email before I decided to abandon one ship for this much larger mess of one.)
But let me rewind. Like by, say, a month.
I’d been sailing along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, where I ate breakfast with a view of the crystal clear Adriatic, fell asleep to its lapping against the ship’s hull and even got to jump into its cool ‘n’ salty see-through sea. I know. Not a bad way to spend a week. What could I have possibly wanted to escape from?
Well, you see, despite the above photo, I wasn’t the only one on the boat. Not that I needed or even wanted my own private ship and a tiger for company. But I also hadn’t envisioned nightly outings to clubs for sugary concoctions served in beach pails or group karaoke sing-a-longs.
It’s exactly why I hesitated signing up for an all-inclusive trip to begin with. On the one hand, I thought it might offer me both the social interaction I often crave when travelling alone, along with the ability to just sit back and relax as opposed to constantly planning and thinking about The When/Where/How. But on the other, I’d be tied to The When/Where/How of about 30 other people. I’d be bound, more or less, to a group of Aussies, Canadians, Kiwi’s, a Brit or two and a handful of Americans – and the floating vessel delivering us from one port to another, leaving me little time for DI-MY exploration.
You’d think being a solo amongst a lot of duos, trios, quads — and…er…what’s the word for a group of 10? — would be ideal; that all the options for whom to interact with would provide me with brief social enjoyment, followed by a greater appreciation for solitude once I retreated back to my cabin at night. (Despite sharing it with a very energetic 25-year-old.) But really, this weird, Lost-like purgatory of not being in a group nor being alone was, well, awkward. Mostly, I felt like I was back in middle school. And I hated middle school. I graduated with honors from Insecurity 101.
Should I sit at this table with the Aussie couples?
Or this table with the group of hungover Americans?
If I sit down first, will anybody join me?
It had been so long since any of this mattered.
At first, those who came together stayed together. Then, slowly, over the course of a few days, some began to let loose and stray. One sister sat on a lounge reading a book while the other went biking; A teenage daughter left her mom to join the “younger adults” at a club; An Australian couple joined another Australian couple for a beer on the top deck. (There were a lot of Aussies.)
This allowed me to dip in easily, too. I quietly read with one Canadian sister in the morning and biked with the other in the afternoon. But at the beginning and end of each day, there was “me” and “them” and never was this more apparent than on Night 4 and Day 5.
On Night 4, we were docked at Korcula Island, which is known for its nightlife. Even though the people on our boat, the Navigator, consisted of “young professionals and the young at heart” (according Sail Croatia, the cruise company), club outings were pretty much di rigueur, and this night was no different. Since I fell somewhere in the middle of the social partiers and the social security-ers, I was consistently torn between what direction to go in for the evening. And after spending a day lounging in the sun, which had finally graced us with its tanning-rays, I was spent. I had a sunset cocktail in the tower of an old castle where drinks were delivered by a pulley system and could’ve easily retreated to my cabin for a restful kip.
Instead, I followed the groups to the nightclub. On the way, I heard the faint sound of live music nearby, and grew curious. But still, I stayed with the group.
Upon arriving at the club, which featured a stripper pole at the center of the dance floor and a projection screen on the outside wall to allow those getting some air to have a peak at the action, I immediately wanted to leave.
And so within 10 minutes, I made like Paul Simon and went slip sliding away.
I am my own keeper. I decide the When/Where/How.
On the way back to the boat, I heard the live music again, but this time I followed it. A large group of locals were casually gathered around several outdoor tables, listening to a man and a woman sing covers of popular artists – Sting, Bob Marley, etc. I listened, without even ordering a sugary concoction or beer, and just absorbed the creative energy and relished in my own independence for having found it. For the 20 minutes or so that I sat there, I was alone by my own admission and a sense of relief washed over me.
The following day, we arrived on Hvar Island later than expected. The fickle weather and its sunny-and-hot one minute, stormy-and-cloudy the next, forced us to dock in a different port, away from the center of town. I was disappointed because “they” (you know the “theys” – Rick Steeves, a former co-worker, etc.) all declared this island the most beautiful and worth spending time in. We’d have a brief afternoon and one evening. After some “free time” to explore the port at Stari-Grad – a surprisingly charming spot with its twisty stone streets and squares peppered with flowering trees – we were being transported by bus to the other side of the island where we’d be “on our own” for getting back if we didn’t organize a group of at least five people to share a taxi with.
I started to panic.
I am a group of one!
What if I just wanted to wander the ancient stone walls, watch the sun disappear into the sea and find a local spot for octopus or pizza or mussels – depending on my mood – without any restrictions or time limits???
I did not want to meet back up at 9 to go to another nightclub, nor did I want to attach myself to a group or, worse, risk a group not attaching themselves to me, hence my becoming the last girl (not) chosen during dodge ball.
But since when did I get so anxious about having to find my way? I’ve done it before. In fact, I often crave going all Dora the Explorer in a foreign place. What had gotten over me? It seemed I had become so accustomed to Being With Group that I’d forgotten how perfectly fine I am Being With Me.
After some awkward ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I don’t know, what are YOU doing?’ conversations, I did end up with a top-notch Party of Five and had one of the most lovely evenings of the whole 7 days – complete with sunset viewing from a beach bar and a traditional Dalmatian meal of prsut (prosciutto), cheeses, gnocchi, fish and almond-stuffed figs served on a terrace.
Still, I woke up feeling detached the following morning. It was our last day on the boat, but the idea of spending it on someone else’s schedule was not how I wanted to play it. And so rather than leave with the group from Hvar to Split, our final destination, I hopped off the boat with my laptop, Kindle, a swimsuit, an umbrella and a thrill of the unknown that had been festering inside. I’d meet them there later that evening, after I after I did a little When/Where/How on my own. Five people not required.
Soon enough, the clouds rolled in and my excitement for independence turned to anxiety as I sat on the public bus from Stari-Grad back to the town of Hvar where we were the night before:
Was this really necessary? I started to wonder. Would staying here in the rain be any different than being in Split — or on that boat — in the rain?
Well, I’d find out. There was no turning back. I had literally stranded myself on an island.
Upon arriving back at Hvar town, the skies opened up and it poured. My sneakers were soaked and my ego on its way to being drenched as well.
The sun did come out, and I did get to put my bikini on for an hour. I read my book by the rocks, and ate a pizza at a cafe, feeling the freedom I so craved without wondering which of the many groups I might run into along the way, and hence presenting me with the game-time decision to join or to escape.
I tried my very best to relax, but still found myself preoccupied with worry over making the ONLY bus back to the ONLY ferry to Split lest I forgo my last night in Croatia, risk my luggage being tossed overboard and miss my flight to Stockholm and Tel Aviv the following day.
I was still tethered.
Which brings me back to the massive pubic ferry, complete with its lack of seating, intense scent of bleach and deafening loud teenagers.
I guess I needed to go all One-Woman-Show to realize the ensemble cast I had been dealt — along with the semi-private “stage” we were all performing on — was probably the winning production of this Croatia trip. And so it is.
Lesson learned? Sometimes, you just gotta embrace the pre-planned plan, tune out the internal chatter and, as my friend Jen recently said, “find that peaceful place between you and the rest of the world.”
For those of you who got this far, thanks for sticking around. I may have loner tendencies, but it’s reassuring and lovely to know I have a virtual “group” of supporters who enjoy coming along on my adventures.
Here’s what my DailyOm said on Day 5, followed by some more photos of beautiful Croatia:
The expression going with the flow is a metaphor that applies to navigating a river. When we go with the flow, we follow the current of the river rather than push against it. People who go with the flow may be interpreted as lazy or passive, but to truly go with the flow requires awareness, presence, and the ability to blend one’s own energy with the prevailing energy. Going with the flow doesn’t mean we toss our oars into the water and kick back in the boat, hoping for the best. Going with the flow means we let go of our individual agenda and notice the play of energy all around us. We tap into that energy and flow with it, which gets us going where we need to go a whole lot faster than resistance will.
Going with the flow doesn’t mean that we don’t know where we’re going; it means that we are open to multiple ways of getting there. We are also open to changing our destination, clinging more to the essence of our goal than to the particulars. We acknowledge that letting go and modifying our plans is part of the process. Going with the flow means that we are aware of an energy that is larger than our small selves and we are open to working with it, not against it.
Many of us are afraid of going with the flow because we don’t trust that we will get where we want to go if we do. This causes us to cling to plans that aren’t working, stick to routes that are obstructed, and obsess over relationships that aren’t fulfilling. When you find yourself stuck in these kinds of patterns, do yourself a favor and open to the flow of what is rather than resisting it. Trust that the big river of your life has a plan for you and let it carry you onward. Throw overboard those things that are weighing you down. Be open to revising your maps. Take a deep breath and move into the current. — Madisyn Taylor