Earlier this year, I wrote an article in this very publication talking about the evolution of travel from single person to family and back to single person. Well, guess what? I just returned from my first solo trip since I was in my 20s (that was three decades ago for those keeping track).

“I could wander aimlessly, without a plan, without conferring about destinations, timetables, even what was for dinner.”

I booked this trip two months ago and to be honest, I pondered canceling it multiple times. There was a voice inside my head telling me that it would be lonely to travel by myself. So, when I jumped into my car and set my GPS for the nearly six-hour trip, I was just putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that eventually I’d end up at my destination: Santa Fe. As an aside, if you are going to Santa Fe, I highly recommend driving Hwy 285 the entire way there. It was a perfect fall day: sunny, but not too hot. The quality of the autumn light was entrancing… and the scenery. Hard to believe that the last week of October was still peak fall colors. At one point, south of the New Mexico border, I rounded a bend to see an entire valley of golden cottonwood trees. Magical. I listened to my own music the entire way without having to compromise. Sometimes singing along at the top of my lungs, other times lost in the lyrics or wandering thoughts. It felt like a six-hour meditation.

Once I arrived, I quickly discovered one of the benefits of traveling alone. I could wander aimlessly, without a plan, without conferring about destinations, timetables, even what was for dinner. This came in handy as I was having a hard time deciding where to eat. I finally settled upon a restaurant, but I may have retraced my steps once or twice, changing my mind. My aunt, who is an experienced solo traveler, advised me to sit at the bar for meals and chat with the bartenders about where to go and what to do. I have to admit, eating alone is not my favorite thing to do. But as the weekend wore on, I got better at it. The last night I was in Santa Fe, I sat down next to a woman who was also traveling by herself. We had a fantastic conversation over dinner and discovered that we had much in common. I thanked her for being there just for me and she thanked me for the same. It was a little bit of magic. Kismet.

I spent my longest day in Santa Fe wandering Canyon Road. A half mile of old adobe buildings housing art galleries and unique shops. Shopping is something that I prefer to do alone. I find it to be meditative. So, spending a day wandering through little stores and galleries was heavenly for me. At one point, I walked into a gallery in an old adobe house with shining dark wood floors that creaked under my feet. The doors were open (it was the perfect fall day—about 63 degrees with bright sun) and there were yellow leaves blowing across the floor. There was a faint scent of incense in the air and acoustic guitar music played, which was perfect for the setting. The building had traditional adobe ceilings with wood and vigas and a picture-perfect kiva in the corner. Then there was the art: everything from landscapes to portraits to abstract art. Bright colors to muted soft colors. I find it to be a rare thing to have all of my senses lit up at the same time, but this gallery achieved that and I will never forget that beautiful space.

In the evenings, after dinner, I’d return to my room. The nights felt chilly and I had a fireplace in my room so, naturally, I lit a fire each night. I turned off all of the lights and sat in a cozy chair in front of the fire, watching the flames and relaxing. I have always loved the smell of burning logs. It reminds me of infinite blissful hours of my life sitting in front of campfires and fireplaces. When I’d start to feel tired, I’d crawl into a giant bed with sparkling white sheets and drift off to peaceful slumbers with vivid dreams. And there were no dogs to wake me up at 6 am!

I think it’s a universal experience to fear or at least be cautious about the unknown. Just as it is to feel relief when you find you can navigate the unknown. Now that I know that I can truly enjoy a solo trip, my mind is swirling with destinations and adventures. Where should I go next?