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Flying Solo

Author: Carolyn Mandache
Year: Hope

December's midlife adventure was my most challenging; at least emotionally. I decided to take a solo trip to Spain whilst my husband visited our kids. We have been separated since the summer, so 2023 was a tough year. Breakups are always challenging, but the end of a 22 year marriage hits like a tonne of bricks.

I have traveled abroad alone before, but always to stay with people. This solo trip would be my first, and one I knew would bring up lots of emotions. Firstly, Spain was where my husband and I first met, and ironically also ended up being the place we discovered our relationship was on its' final legs. In fact in June we spent a few days together in Spain at a beer spa and I never would have believed things would fall apart so soon after. I'm focusing on healing and supporting our kids and I now truly understand how hard it is to go through a separation or divorce. Not only does it feel like grieving someone who is still alive, but the life you had built together and the future you expected to have, is now gone. Figuring out what the hell happens next is a form of mental torture.

I arrived at Alicante airport nervous about my next challenge, collecting my hired car and finding my accommodation. Already familiar with the tiny parking spaces and tight turns in Spanish car parks, I'd wisely opted for a Fiat 500. The drive to Alfaz del Pi is one I've made many times, but normally in the passenger seat. Thankfully I made it, and settled in for the night after catching a couple episodes of Virgin River, my favourite show at the time.

The next day I donned my giant sunglasses and stocked up at Carrefour for my 4 day break and then wandered round the mall.

All of these places have happy family memories, so it was challenging to re-frame them as a place I could visit and enjoy by myself, but it was also therapeutic. I visited Ale Hop, a Spanish chain with a wide variety of novelties and gimmicks. New outfit from Mango. I bought a plum coloured lounge set that normally I would have shied away from because of the colour, but stepping outside my comfort zone is important to me, more so than ever now. Next, some lunch: tostadas con tomates y cafe con leche. Proud of myself for ordering in Spanish and being understood.

I enjoyed a day in Villajoyosa, another popular family haunt, with its colourful buildings, palm trees and most importantly Valor chocolate cafe. A sun filled day walking along the beach, reading, listening to music and treating myself to coffee and chocolate drenched waffles was perfect. Strange to see Christmas trees in warm sunshine so near to palm trees; a sharp contrast to the photos of my kids back home visiting Christmas markets.

Another place nearby I enjoyed visiting was Albir which has a white pebble beach and mosaic promenade featuring Hollywood style stars of famous Spaniards. Disappointed that the frozen yoghurt place I like was closed for the winter, but still plenty of buzz for a seaside place in December. Before heading back I enjoyed a thai curry from a restaurant overlooking the sea, noting that once you pay attention, there are actually a few solo diners.

It wouldn't be a trip to Alicante without a visit to Benidorm. Think sunny Blackpool and you won't be far off. In the summer months it can be crazy with stag and hen parties, but December seemed to be tame. I parked and walked towards the beach, passing by "Benidorm's answer to Greggs" which never fails to put a smile on my face. Found a bar playing some decent music and spent the afternoon people watching and taking notes on interesting characters for future writing inspiration. Later, I walked to the old town and wandered round the shops, finally deciding on pizza for dinner. Brought back bittersweet memories of one of my first dates with my husband-to-be, when he was shocked (and never let me hear the end of it) that I ate a whole pizza to myself. Oh to have the metabolism of a 21 year old again…

A highlight of my day in Benidorm was passing by a lively beach bar with a very familiar song: 500 Miles by The Proclaimers. One major difference, instead of the spectacled Scottish twins famed for that song, a thickly accented Spanish singer was belting out the lyrics. Let's just say it was… memorable.

My last evening I walked to the nearest town and ate al fresco, much to the confusion of the locals who were all staying warm indoors. I ordered enchiladas and a beer, watching in confusion as a waiter came outside to clear a table of empty beers from a customer I'd seen order takeaway. The waiter then disappeared round the corner looking agitated and I soon figured out that dine and dash must also be a thing in Spain.

Heading to the airport whilst enjoying the upbeat dance tracks of Bikini FM, I reflected on my trip. There had been a range of emotions, sadness for sure, but also a sense of achievement that I'd pushed myself to go to a place so full of family memories and enjoy being on my own. I've been working hard on building my confidence, and proving to myself I could cope traveling and driving alone in a foreign country, was a great way to improve that goal. I left behind the cactii and palm trees refreshed, ready to face the festive season and hopeful for a better 2024. Anyone considering solo travel or visiting a place they fear will bring up sadness, I suggest you go for it; re-framing a situation or a place into a positive experience can be extremely helpful.