Celebrating every birthday in my 20s in a new place certainly did not start out intentionally. I spent my 21st birthday in Las Vegas with a group of girlfriends: short dress, sparkly tiara and more vodka that I knew what to do with. Fast forward 10 months, and I’d broken up with my college boyfriend, quit my on-the-right-track job in high-tech PR, and bought a domain name and a one-way ticket to France.
From there, a tradition was born, in the midst of blogging and traveling and building a life around exploration. I turned 22 while bartending in France, and 23 while working in marketing in Australia. I sailed down the coast of Croatia to celebrate 24, roadtripped around Iceland to ring in 25, and watched the sun rise from a hot-air balloon in Turkey to start 26.
And so, for my 27th birthday, I chose Curacao—between weddings and work and all of the other obligations that seem to weigh heavy in the late 20s, I had less time to get away. Curacao was a four-hour JetBlue direct flight, a little slice of paradise less than a half day away from the urban NYC jungle.
Noted for colorful buildings (my favorite thing to Instagram) and beautiful beaches, it’s 85 degrees and sunny year-round—unlike the rainy season that plagues most Caribbean countries. I honestly hadn’t even heard of Curacao a year ago (and I realized that most of my friends think it’s a liqueur and nothing else), but I Googled it when JetBlue introduced a new flight late in 2014 and was instantly enthralled by the swaying palm trees juxtaposed next to the brightly-hued colonial architecture.
Unlike the rest of my birthday trips, where I made new friends in my new expat life or corralled old friends to join me—I decided to celebrate 27 alone. When I was 21, solo female travel was less of a choice and more a necessity. I wanted to travel and couldn’t convince anyone else to leave behind the status quo, so I went on my own. But now, I have a boyfriend and a best friend and others I know well who are scattered across the world, many of whom I met through travel and are usually willing to meet up anywhere on the globe.
But – and it might be the only child in me speaking – there’s a sense of pleasure that I get through solo travel that I just don’t get with others. I like to wake up early and take a quiet, contemplative walk on the sand. I like to read all day, completely immersed in a story. I like to float in the sea and listen to the sounds of the ocean. I like to wander through a new neighborhood, turning down side alleys and peeking into back courtyards.
Even though my boyfriend knows not to touch his food before I’ve photographed it and is remarkably patient when I stop every few feet to take a photo, it’s freeing to not have to worry about holding someone else up. And I hate feeling guilty when I’m chatting with girlfriends but all I can think about it is what happens next in my beach read. Although I love spending time with my loved ones—sometimes I’m happiest when I don’t have to please anyone but myself.
In Curacao, that’s exactly what I did for four glorious days. I tore through the Neapolitan novels, I got a great tan, I took too many photos of colorful buildings, I went beach hopping around some of the most beautiful natural coves. I treated myself to a massage and then a mojito on the sand, and I took stock of all the adventures I’d had at 26 and what I was looking forward to at 27.
What I like most about my resolution to celebrate every birthday in a new county is that it ensures I’m going to be excited about it. It means that every year passing is tied to another accomplishment and another adventure, and it means that I’m going to wake up and do what I love the most. And that in itself is the perfect birthday gift to myself.