Croatia is where I learned how to be alone. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful country. If I’d stayed in Split or Dubrovnik, where there are lots of solo travelers, I think I could have connected and made friends with backpackers there — although the Croatians themselves are very self-contained and not inclined to be warm with strangers.
But the Universe had something else in mind for me altogether. Back when I had children at home, and a busy work life, I used to daydream about living in retreat. Meditating in a cave, or living in a cabin in the mountains with a garden, where a supply plane would visit me every 6 months or so and I would live in solitude and silence. In Croatia, I got a taste of that solitude.
Lodging in Croatia is expensive, and the most affordable option that appealed to me was an apartment in the village of Sutivan, on the island of Brac. I didn’t know that this village was a popular vacation spot for Croatian families, or that I wouldn’t lay eyes on another solo traveler, or meet another English speaker, for the entire month of my stay.
I met my landlady the day before I was to go to the island. She was fascinated by my travels, and we talked about sharing dinner or a glass of wine on the island. I’ve made friends with all my other landladies, so this sounded great. But the morning I left for the village, she injured her ankle badly, and couldn’t come to the island. I never saw her again. She healed up right as I was leaving. Clearly, I was not meant to have company on the island.
The wifi at my apartment was limited, and it was immediately clear that I wouldn’t be able to Skype or use my internet-based phone from there. Netflix was out of the question — I couldn’t even watch funny cat clips on Youtube. I was truly isolated.
At first, I was miserable. The empty days seemed endless, and the loneliness was staggering. I started thinking about coming home. I missed my friends, my family, my home. My apartment kitchen was minimally equipped – no oven, no knives bigger than a steak knife. I started daydreaming about my ‘someday home’ and what I would want in my kitchen. I started thinking about having furniture again, and owning more than four shirts. I started wanting to nest. I was rejecting the solitude and aloneness, the ungrounded feeling I had without any connections or belongings, without a home.
But gradually, I learned to enjoy my own company and fill my time with things I loved. I started doing yoga in the mornings. I revived my love of cooking, in spite of the challenges, and tried out some local ingredients and specialties. I found some great books and thoroughly enjoyed them. I found a major new client and put my career in high gear (which is why I haven’t blogged in so long, I’m writing constantly these days and need to rest my carpal tunnel when I’m not working).
In the early evening, when I finished my work, I’d walk down to the stony beach and slip into the turquoise sea. Becoming part of that glorious landscape fed my soul, every single day. Daily yoga, long walks along the shore, and swimming quickly strengthened my body and I liked the way that felt, so I did more of it.
Making new travel plans rekindled my enthusiasm, and by the time I left Sutivan, I was enjoying my life again and facing the future with enthusiasm. I’ve never really lived alone before, but the intensity of that period of solitude helped me get past loneliness and fall in love with the peace and absolute freedom of being alone.
If you’re thinking of traveling to Croatia, and you want a peaceful retreat with gorgeous scenery, I recommend Sutivan highly. If you want a more active vacation, with lots of Roman and historic European sites to visit and equally gorgeous scenery, I highly recommend Split or Dubrovnik. Either way, Croatia is an amazing place, well worth visiting.