I can say with enormous amounts of confidence that I know when I need a break. Whether it’s as small as walking away from my desk to grab a bit of fresh air or as big as waking up a few hours early on vacation with friends to have quiet alone time, I’m hyper aware of when I need my personal time to retreat.

As some of you readers know, I work for SXSW, one of the largest creative festivals around the globe. After months of planning and two intense weeks of being always-on and sensory overload, I always crave disconnecting from everything in a big way. However up until this year, I never did more than treat myself to a massage and a few days of disconnecting from emails.

Since 2016 is the year I stop waiting for the “perfect time” to do things I’ve always wanted to do, I pulled the trigger and booked my very first solo vacation. Why a solo vacation and not one with friends? Simple. This trip was meant to be purposely selfish, where everything I’d do or see would be on my own time to give my body and mind exactly what it needed.

I went into booking this with a few rules. First, it had to be a new city to me. Second, no work allowed. And lastly, I only did what I felt like doing. How many times have you really listened to yourself and only did what you felt like doing? I knew that by visiting a new city, I might feel pressure to see and do everything, but I immediately stripped that feeling from my mind. If I wanted to spend time with friends who lived in that city — great. If not — also great.

So, I chose Portland, Oregon. I’ve had it on my to-see list and as luck and timing lined up perfectly, Rapha planned a big ride right after SXSW for the public and us North American Ambassadors to join. I tacked on 5 extra days to the trip, which in hindsight, was also the perfect rest after such an epic and tough ride.

Now, this wasn’t my Eat Pray Love moment. I wasn’t soul searching per se and I also wasn’t in a completely foreign part of the world. As a matter of fact, I had comfort in the city in a few friends, so I didn’t walk into this completely blind. But I did get ample alone time and met wonderfully random people. I dined alone. I treated myself to a massage and nice dinner. I grabbed ice cream and people watched. I visited with new friends. I laid in my hotel bed in a robe and watched TV. I got to see the city through the lens of a great friend who’s also a Portland local. But most of all, I did the things I wanted to do in the very moment.

Here’s what resonated most with me after my 5 day solo vacation:

You’re in control. I know we’re in control of every decision we make, but I certainly have a tendency to alter my decisions if others are around. If I invited friends to join this vacation, I would’ve been thinking about what they wanted to do as well. And that’s a wonderful quality, but that wasn’t what this trip was about. It felt empowering to make decisions for me and only me. I can’t remember the last time I was able to do that without feeling guilty.

I got to know myself better. Turns out even though I needed solo time, I get pretty bored easily. I love meeting people, hearing their stories, telling stories and connecting. Prior to my trip, I had visions of laying in bed and reading and relaxing for hours on end, but the second I’d crack open a book, I’d think to myself, “I can do this at home.” My compromise? Downloading podcasts and walking around the city. I got the exact inspiration I needed from the podcast and exploring.

More opportunities for serendipity. Speaking of exploring, have you ever been on a vacation where you really wanted to see something, but others felt different so you just went with the flow? I have. I thought going with the flow was the cool thing for me to do, but in hindsight I should’ve done my own thing. I know I ended up bringing bad energy to that adventure and I wasn’t fully invested in exploring. Going solo allowed me to explore where I wanted to go and I allowed so much more serendipity in that moment. My mind and soul were wide open to anything vs. being closed off.

I listened. Eliminating the “noise” was paramount to this trip being a success. No roommate. No attitudes or negative energy. No agenda to adhere to. No work emails to respond to (doesn’t mean you can’t still read them, by the way!). No one to check in with. Having zero noise enter my space truly gave me the opportunity to listen to myself and understand exactly what I needed at each and every moment.

In the end, this solo vacation really became more about self-care than it did about exploring another city. The quiet time and act of listening reminded me how much I covet living the most fulfilling and best life that I can and to surround myself with people who value the same. But above all, to give myself a break exactly when I need it.

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Kelly Krause