So my last adventure out of the country was a little dramatic with the whole Breaking up with the Boyfriend Debacle of 2015. I was in desperate need of a vacation re-do. My solution—take a quiet solo vacation outside of the States, otherwise known as The Solocation. Fortunately, with new friends in Brooklyn with Jamaican condos on the beach and enough points for a round-trip flight, I was able to make my Solocation a reality. Here are a few highlights from my trip and my travel tips for making a solo vacation more enjoyable.
Departure Day (Day One): I’m still getting adjusted to JFK being my home airport as opposed to DCA. There were at least 5,000 people at Terminal 5 the morning I left. It was crazy. As usual, I got stopped in the security line for something banal in my toiletry bag. This trip’s offense—an oversized body pouf (TSA, you are the bane of my existence sometimes!).
Once I made it through security, I got myself some Starbucks and sat down at an open table with an older black gentleman named Wesley. He too was on his way to Jamaica and was on a long layover from LA. He was treating himself to a trip for his 60th birthday. We began sharing traveling stories, and we both were reveling in the joy of being able to travel alone at our leisure. We wished each other a great vacation and I went to board my plane.
JetBlue is quickly becoming my favorite airline. Wide seats, in-flight live TV, and really wonderful flight attendants always make air travel more comfortable. I was glad for an uneventful flight where I was able to rest, read, and do a little writing.
Arrival in Jamaica: Ahhh, nothing feels better than being back in Montego Bay, mon! Fortunately, the condo where I was staying was less than 15 minutes from the airport. I quickly unpacked and headed to a great local jerk chicken spot for my fill of island spice. It was raining the evening I arrived, so I enjoyed the night by reveling in the sunset, my succulent jerk chicken, and discovering a new affinity for vanilla cigars and banana rum cream.
Day Two: I decided to dedicate an hour each morning to getting some writing done. I don’t know if it was the ocean breeze or the island sun, but that hour quickly turned into almost three hours. It was great to feel so inspired and creative.
After my fruitful writing session, I spent the rest of the day at the beach. It was simply delicious. As I was leaving the beach, I met a wonderful older interracial couple from Philly. Before I knew it, we had spent nearly two hours talking about everything from the Baltimore uprising to the 2016 presidential race. They were simply wonderful. When we finally peeled ourselves out of the water, I asked them for a restaurant recommendation. They told me about their favorite spot, which was a few blocks from where I was staying. I showered, changed, and arrived at the restaurant about an hour later and…there they were sitting right in front! (Apparently the couple loved this restaurant so much that they had eaten there every night!) They graciously invited me to join them for dinner and we continued our conversation.
After we finished our meal, the couple walked me back to my condo. The husband commended me for traveling alone and being open to experiencing culture outside of the States. I told him that traveling alone always opened me up to meeting great people like him and his wife.
Day Three: More writing and more beaching. THIS. IS. THE. LIFE.
Day Four and Five: My first trip to Negril! Before I left the States, I e-mailed the mother of a new friend, Vangie, who happens to live in Negril. Vangie graciously offered to host me for the day and show me around the area. I took the Knutsford Express (a reasonable and comfortable coach bus) from Montego Bay to Negril in less than 90 minutes. She met me at the bus depot and we had the best Jamaica food for lunch at a great local café.
After we finished lunch, Vangie asked, “Would you be open to meeting my old friend, Jackie?” I said, “Sure!” She says, “Jackie owns a great spa called Jackie’s on the Reef. Have you ever heard of it?” I politely say, “Yes, I’ve heard of it and I’d love to visit,” but inside my head I am screaming, “Oh my God!” Jackie’s on the Reef is a LEGENDARY spa destination among black women. I remembered reading about the spa as a teenager in Essence and adding it to my travel bucket list. I couldn’t believe that this was the day that I would get to see this wonderful place.
When we arrived 30 minutes later, Jackie and her spa more than exceeded my expectations. Jackie warmly greeted me and Vangie at the gate with a brightly colored sarong, a bikini bottom, and a flower in her hair. I thought, “Damn, I want to look this good when I get to my mid-70s!”
I treated myself to a massage and it was HEAVENLY. I am now convinced that all of my massages moving forward MUST now take place on a beach. The beautiful massage therapist, Karen, rubbed every single drop of New York anxiety out of my body. I told her that her massage was now a very close second to being the best massage of my life. (The little Balinese woman who walked on my back and scrubbed me from head to toe for $65 in 2013 is still the reigning champion for now).
After my massage, Jackie graciously invited me and Vangie to stay for dinner. Dinner turned into four hours of sumptuous food and conversation and another gracious invitation from Jackie to spend the night in her heavenly enclave. The rooms at Jackie’s on the Reef are simple, serene, and beautiful. I fell asleep that night in less than 20 minutes (a true feat for this insomniac!) and allowed my soul to be lulled by the crashing of the waves. As I drifted to sleep, I exhaled deeply and thought, “This is a place where God lives.”
I awoke gently that morning and I enjoyed cups of divine Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, fluffy waffles, and fresh fruit. Vangie almost had to tear me away from Jackie’s place as I did not want to leave. But Jackie gave me a hug and told me I was welcome back any time. I told her to not be surprised if I showed up in the middle of winter for another escape from New York.
Vangie made me a beautiful seafood lunch at her home, gave me two of the largest fresh avocadoes (or “pears” as the locals call them), and then drove me back to Montego Bay. Before packing, I put my feet in the sand, purchased a few bottles of Jamaican Rum Crème, and watched the sun set over Jamaica one last time.
Day Six: Heading back home. I wish I could have stayed longer (sigh), but I am glad that I gave myself this much-needed time to rest and revitalize myself before heading into the last quarter of 2015.
- Travel Safely: I emailed two of my trusted girlfriends my flight itineraries and my condo accommodations before I departed. I also emailed them both upon my arrival and departure. I also quickly learned on previous trips not to alert any locals that I was traveling alone. Unfortunately, Jamaican men are incredibly aggressive (Argh!) and I did not want to bring any extra attention to myself, so I kept a very low profile during my trip.
- Find a Reliable Local Cab Driver: Fortunately, when I met the older couple on my first night, they introduced me to a local Jamaican cab driver they used frequently on previous trips to the island. I took his card and used his services for the remainder of my trip. It made me feel much more safe to have a reliable driver that I could depend on.
- Exchange Some of Your Money for Local Currency: I split my cash 60/40 (60% Jamaican currency and 40% American currency) for my trip. It turned out to be the perfect split, as some places I went to only accepted Jamaican dollars and it was also more convenient to tip in the local currency.
- Buy Your Own Alcohol and Liquor: I learned after my first night that individual cocktails add up quickly. I found a nearby supermarket and bought a bottle of my preferred alcohol and made my own nightcaps cheaply.
- Make New Friends: Meeting the delightful couple from Philly turned out to be great and they made wonderful dinner companions. I’m also glad that I met Vangie and Jackie who graciously welcomed me to Negril (and both of who have already invited me to come back!) with open arms. You can NEVER have too many friends who live abroad!
Granted, I know I’m a little more adventurous than most people, but I would highly recommend taking a Solocation whenever you can. It’s a great way to experience the world and it gives you a great opportunity to open yourself up to great new experiences.