I Spent My 30th Birthday in Mexico — Alone!

Hanging out by myself in front of Chichén Itzá, one of the new seven wonders of the world. (Photo: Tausha Cowan/The Globe Getter)

By Tausha Cowan

I just celebrated my 30th birthday in Mexico. Alone. I know, I know; you’re probably thinking, “What?! She celebrated her birthday by herself in Mexico? That sounds so lonely… and dangerous! This girl needs some friends.”

That’s an understandable reaction. But it isn’t true. 

My solo Mexican birthday adventure was part of a larger vacation a good friend of mine had dubbed my “birthday ex-travel-ganza.” Get it? I first spent a few days in Trinidad visiting a friend of mine from graduate school, followed by my  solo adventure in Mexico. I ended my ex-travel-ganza with a trip to Miami to visit the most important people in my life: my family.

Why did I decide to skip the big “Dirty 30” blowout bash and celebrate my birthday this way? Simply put, I didn’t want to have a big party to ring in my 30s. Instead, I wanted three things: 1) to explore a new place and visit one of my good friends; 2) to spend a few days doing my own thing in a country that’s long been on my travel bucket list, and 3) to end my trip with a low-key family celebration. I also had this admittedly cheesy desire to celebrate my 30th birthday in my 30th country outside the United States.

When I first told my family and friends that I was going to Mexico by myself, the general reaction was, “What?! Mexico by yourself? Do you want to get kidnapped?” My response was, “Yes, Mexico. Yes, by myself. And no, I’d prefer not to get kidnapped.” Still, they suggested I go to the Bahamas instead, and lie out on a beach for a few days. 

To their credit, they were not pulling their concern out of thin air. Mexico is not exactly at the top of the list for solo female travelers, considering its dangerous reputation. That said, I knew there had to be more to Mexico than negative press. And they knew that I wanted to go beyond the beach chair: I wanted history, culture, food, music, and activities. I knew it was possible to travel to this country on my own and still be safe, and I was determined to make it happen.

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So, I booked my ticket to Tulum, and off I went. 

On the morning of my birthday, I woke up and enjoyed a quiet sunrise on the beach. After that, I swam in a nearby, less populated cenote, one of the Yucatán’s limestone pools, until my fingers grew wrinkled and my limbs grew tired. 

Cenote Manati, a limestone sinkhole on the outskirts of Tulum, Mexico, perfect for kayaking, snorkeling, and beginner diving. (Photo: Tausha Cowan/The Globe Getter)

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Soon, I headed back to my hotel with a cocktail on my mind. When I arrived, I sank into a chair by my hotel pool for a bit, sipping a mojito while sunshine warmed my eyelids and music played in my ears. Next up: shrimp tacos. I asked my driver to take me to El Camello, Jr., a popular place in central Tulum. It turned out to be closed (shake fist), so he took me to a different place, La Barracuda, which was packed with locals. It was near perfect. The garlic shrimp tacos were some of the best I’ve ever had, and I’m still craving the tortilla chips days later! By early evening, it was time to go. I got myself to the Cancún airport in time for my flight to Miami — and I spent the night with my family.

My birthday didn’t require any compromises. I woke up, decided what I wanted to do, and did it. On my birthday, I had freedom. It was as simple as that.

Travel expert Wendy Perrin recently wrote that the first thought on many people’s minds when they talk about “solo female travel” is “safety,” but the word that comes to mind for her is “freedom.” I could not agree more with this sentiment. Though safety is of absolute importance when traveling — either by yourself or with others —there’s a freedom to solo traveling that you just can’t experience in any other situation. 

Ringing in a new decade with a quiet sunrise on the beach. (Photo: Tausha Cowan/The Globe Getter)

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Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with others. I love sharing experiences with family and friends that we’ll look back on and remember forever. But I also love solo travel. It’s a wonderful way to learn more about yourself. As I grow older, I’ve learned to accept that liking solitude doesn’t make me — or you — strange. Solitude gives us the space to hear our own thoughts, which can feel like a rarity in our busy, appointment-laden lives. Solitude is how I recharge. It’s how I embrace who I am, and I’m happier when I do. 

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