“Damn, I think I’m gonna have to go on this trip alone,” I told my coworkers three weeks before boarding that flight headed to Oranjestad, Aruba.
Let’s be real- nothing is funner than traveling with some of your favorite girls and having the time of your lives. Trust me, I did it in Jamaica and I still reminisce on how all eight of us played a drinking game at the pool bar and were asleep by 6PM on that first day.
Months after my last trip to Puerto Rico I started itching for another trip, ideally for my birthday. I began looking at other countries and hotels with a couple of my friends and after eliminating all the other options, we picked Aruba. I’ve always wanted to visit the Happy Island and relax on a beach away from NYC.
Eventually the plans didn’t follow through and I felt the trip wasn’t going to take place due to different factors and I didn’t wanna miss out on the opportunity to travel, again. I did my final research and picked the resort and flight times and I clicked that “book” button on Expedia. I spent weeks looking for the best deals (keep reading) and I think I scored a good one. Once I got that confirmation text I couldn’t believe I was doing this on my own- I was very nervous, yet lowkey excited.
I packed light (1 small luggage and a duffel bag) a week before my trip and arrived to JFK around 4:30AM. It still didn’t hit me that I was alone, even during the check-in process. I finally boarded my flight, gave my loved ones a quick call, and there it was, JetBlue flight 557 took off from NYC to AUA.
Four hours later (the flight arrived half an hour before scheduled), I landed at the Queen Beatrix International Airport. Went straight to the passport check and headed out to the taxi-waiting area. One of the staff members asked where I was going and, my cab was right there in two minutes. He gave me a slip in which he checked off the area I was going to- $31 dollars. I was staying in the High Rise hotel area which is more expensive than the other parts of the island.
I thought it was a bit pricey for a 15 minute ride but hey, vacationing isn’t about complaining. I didn’t trust my driver at first so I called up my friend to accompany me on the phone during the ride. After I cooled down, I hung up and began talking to the cab driver and asked for suggestions. He was super nice, didn’t come off as creepy and got me to my destination quick.
I finally arrived at the Mill Resort & Suites and began the check-in process. While doing so, I noticed there were two guys that looked my age standing near me and I secretly started panicking inside (I’m alone, I don’t trust anyone.) My biggest concern was people knowing that I was alone. I feared someone trace all my steps and pop up at my room at night and try to attack me. Valid fear, right?
I got to my room upstairs (which was quite a walk) after asking an older man for help. He asked what floor I was in and I told him and then he proceeded asked for my room number and I just replied with, “Never mind, I’ll figure it out.” Looking back, I think he just wanted to help but my suspicions were on a 100.
Once I got upstairs I noticed my room was just how the online pictures suggested. Had a jacuzzi, king sized bed, balcony, and enough space. I settled in, laid down for a bit and got dressed to make a store run.
Obviously Aruba isn’t like New York and you’re not going to find a bodega on every corner so I had to use my struggling WiFi to find the nearest convenience store. I couldn’t find anything concrete enough that was close to me so I just went out on a walk and decided to do some exploring. I was hungry as hell so my Yelping ass made a stop at this Italian restaurant, Amore Mio Pizzeria Napoletana. I opted for the shrimp Alfredo and a frozen mojito. Frozen mojitos are REALLY the thing in Aruba!
This was my first time eating alone at such a restaurant but it didn’t feel weird at all. I was on FaceTime with my friend (had my AirPods on so it was very handsfree). The restaurant was almost empty so I sat near the outside corner so I can people-watch and enjoy the view. One tip I would give to first-time solo travelers is to sit either at the bar or on a corner so you don’t feel or appear lonely.
I proceeded with my quest to find a convenience store and it seemed like everything was quite a walk. I ended up at a convenience store and found makeup (I forgot my primer and setting spray) and it was like $20 for a primer- absolutely not! I like makeup but I’m not a guru, either. I stuck to vaseline as my primer and trust me, it did the trick. Shortly after, I was stopped by a guy working at a tourist booth who asked me if I was interested in getting a car rental. Of course it was part of my plan but not really on the first day. After questioning the sh*t out of him (and while he was visibly annoyed) I agreed to get a car rental for two days. My reservation was set to begin at 4PM and there was my driver, an hour later, from Smiles Car Rental with my white Toyota Corolla (looked like it was dated 2015 and up.) The rental cost me $110 for two days with a $250 refundable security deposit.
I was so scared to drive in a different country because I didn’t know people’s driving styles and feared I would get into a car accident. Grateful and thankful to say I did not get into one accident or fender bender during my whole trip and I actually drove through about 1/3 of the country. Used my GPS to get to Oranjestad and memorized my way back. There was also a sign on one of the intersections that said there have been less than 10 fatal car accidents in Aruba in both 2017 and 2018. Not too shabby. There’s also a LOT of roundabouts in the Happy Island which monitor the speed of traffic.
When I got back to my room that evening was the moment I thought- should I go to the resort bar and grab a drink or should I be a loner? Obviously I went with the first option because I felt safe(r) in my resort. Drinks were 2 for 1 (total of $12) and I sat at the bar and chatted with the bartender and another visitor as well. I felt pretty comfortable as it was their dance night and there were a lot of people drinking and having a good time. I headed back to my room about two hours later when I stopped one of the resort staff members named Davia and asked her to take a few pictures of me. Come to find out, she’s Dominican too and was pretty cool, lol. She took over 100 pictures of me and did not complain once. Took down her number on WhatsApp in case I needed anything. She’s actually one of the overnight managers at the resort.
My first night back at the room wasn’t bad- I stood up watching the Kardashians and was on FaceTime until I fell asleep. Boy, I couldn’t wait until the next day so I can keep exploring and get my massage at Nafanny Spa. I read so many great reviews about their services and I knew it was the right thing to do on a solo trip.
I was picked up from my resort by Nafanny (the business owner)’s son and he drove me to the spa. It was a beautiful zen garden located in the Noord area of Aruba. I felt so at ease and Nafanny even offered me a mimosa upon entry. I was taken to the massage room a few minutes after and I went for a Swedish massage. It was the most peaceful, relaxing, yet refreshing massage I’ve ever gotten. I was in there for 90 minutes and didn’t even want to get up afterwards. Her son drove me back to my resort and I went straight to my room.
I started getting ready for the pool and was gathering my typical items- towel, waterproof phone case, head wrap, and sandals. When I checked my fanny pack for my debit card, it was missing. I literally looked everywhere in the room, traced my steps, and couldn’t find it for the life of me.
And then it clicked. I probably left it at the spa when I paid for my massage (yes, it was dumb of me not to have cash but I spent it all on the first night!) Thank God I had Nafanny’s business card and added her number on WhatsApp. I told her I think I might’ve left my card and she called me a few minutes after. She was on lunch break at the time but had her son check for me and he actually found it. They apologized for the inconvenience and brought it back to my hotel 20 minutes later. They didn’t use it (I checked my transactions) and I immediately bought a drink after I got it back- typical Karla. I was obviously panicking a bit when I couldn’t find my card, but to be honest, I wouldn’t change anything about this mini inconvenience. It was part of my experience and I was lucky and smart enough to go to a credible business where I can trust the staff.
I spent most of my trip driving around and exploring the insides of Aruba and trying out new restaurants. When it came to eats, my main goal was to try Dutch pancakes- a signature dish in Aruba. I went to Diana’s Pancake Place on the day I wanted to try Linda’s Dutch Pancakes but it was closed *tear drop*. However it was not a bad substitute at ALL. The pancakes were tasty and super filling. Of course, I coupled them with a few mimosas.
When I finally went to Linda’s on Monday (they’re closed on Sundays) I couldn’t believe I finally made it there after Googling it for a few weeks. I “made my own” pancake and topped it off with everything- bacon (it was actually in the pancake), blueberries, bananas, pineapples, Nutella, Dutch syrup, and yes…Amaretto liquor. I was full up until dinner time.
Although I loved the Dutch pancakes, I found a breakfast spot while I was driving around called Che Bar & Cocina Argentina. They had a huge selection of pancake flavors such as Coconut Crunch, S’mores, Piña Colada, and so many more. The staff here was so nice and attentive I can’t even begin to explain. They honestly made me feel like I was at home and I will never forget them. I actually ended up coming here three times during my trip for their delicious coconut iced coffee and pancakes. The business owners are from Argentina which proved how diverse Aruba really is.
I made my way to the literal Palm Beach at some point during my trip just to relax, listen to music, and think. It was around sunset time but I still caught a little bit of sun and even watched a wedding on the beach. I was right in front of the beautiful RIU Palace- which I will definitely want to stay at the next time I visit Aruba.
To be honest, I didn’t really interact with too many other people during my trip. Aruba is filled with a lot of other tourists in the older age range (50s and up) that were either in couples or with their kids. And I was totally okay with that- I knew that I was coming alone so I didn’t expect too much human interaction with others. I also didn’t feel out of place because everyone was just on a relaxed type of time. It’s not like I went to Miami by myself and missed out on all the parties.
I think my most memorable part of the trip, which I purposely saved for last, was the off-road ATV tour. I love riding ATVs (did so in Jamaica as well) and I was itching to ride one again, especially after reading the description of the length and sights I get to see by doing it in Aruba. I booked the tour for $108, as a single rider from a company called Action Tours. My friends that have been on this tour before told me it’s very rocky and scary. I didn’t think it could’ve possibly been that bad, but trust me- it was that bad. It was totally fine at first as we all drove out of the parking lot, into regular traffic and then into the national park/desert.
The roads in the desert were ridiculously bumpy and if you did one wrong turn, it’s very likely you would’ve fell off the ATV and get severely injured. I had to maneuver the ATV from side to side just to keep a balance. Once the tour guides saw I was struggling, they made me park my ATV at a nearby lot and made me drive with one of them as a passenger. I trusted their expertise and preferred to continue riding with them through the upcoming rocky mountains (super scary.) I was able to ride my ATV back once we passed by the lot again. The reason I loved this tour, was because I got to see so many beautiful attractions.
We made stops at the: Alto Vista Chapel, the first Catholic church built in Aruba in 1750, the Natural Pool, also known as “Conchi”, the Natural Bridge, the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, and a priceless view of the island that you won’t see while just walking. Although the winds were strong and we didn’t really get to swim in the Conchi, we were able to take a dip in the more enclosed part of the pool.
It was certainly a different type of experience that was worth the money and the scare. When I visit another country, I don’t just want to live the resort life- I want to explore and learn more about the culture. Over in Aruba, they speak English, Spanish, and Papiamento- their own language which is a mixture of many others. Although I didn’t get to visit the southern part of the country, I think I left with all I needed to. I’ve never really seen an abundance of cacti like I did when in Aruba. I fell in lovewith them. My only regret was not visiting Renaissance Island and seeing the flamingos.
If there’s a few things that this trip taught me about myself is that I’m braver than I was, I’m smarter than I think, and I’m more confident than I feel. I’ve always talked about taking a solo trip one day but you know, we always say we’re going to do things “one day” and eventually forget about it. But in this case, I knew I didn’t want to miss out on another trip so I said, “F*ck it, I just gotta do it.”
I sent my close friends my day-by-day itinerary and surprisingly enough, I stuck to it! I might’ve made a minor change like which restaurant I was going to, but everything else was accurate. I wanted my loved ones to feel like they were with me and I wanted the same for myself. I think I honestly picked the best place to go to solo because Aruba is small, the crime rate is really low, and it’s not that close to NYC, but it’s not that far, either.
My main concern was safety because we all know the story about how Natalee Holloway disappeared in 2005 and was never found again. I always watched my back, called a loved one when I was on my way back to my room or when I was going out for dinner. On my last night, I decided to finally go out (I used to always be in my room by 8PMish) because I wanted to rock my flowy dress and experience a bit of the nightlife. I went to dinner at Papillon Restaurant and then met another restaurant staff member afterwards and asked him to take dozens of pics of me. He was pretty cool and even offered me a ride to my hotel but I respectfully declined (we all know why.)
I wasn’t really too concerned about my spending over there because I had enough money in my checking account and my credit card. Worst came to worst, I would’ve have a loved one temporarily CashApp me or control my spending a tad bit more.
If you’re wondering how I handled my finances out there, here’s a brief and general outline:
- Resort & flight, booked as a bundle deal on Expedia for 5 days, 4 nights: $840
- Restaurants/drinks: approximately $350 total (Maybe less, but I love to eat & drink, especially on vacay!)
- Car rental (ended up booking it for an extra day): $165 total
- Random items (lotion, soap, etc.): about $45 total
- Souvenirs: about $150 total
- Cab ride to and from resort: $62
If you do the it’s about $780 of spending money, excluding the hotel and flight. Some might think it’s a lot but I was still celebrating my birthday and I wanted to spoil myself.
I’m sure if I would’ve went with someone else I would’ve spent less as we probably would’ve split transactions.
I pushed myself out of my comfort zone by going on this trip alone and by doing so, I feel I can go anywhere by myself now as long as I conduct the proper research. There’s so many countries I want to visit before life gets real so why not make the world my oyster?