It was meant to be a romantic holiday of fairytale proportions. And there I was, sprawled on our big bed in our spacious Osaka apartment, in my underwear, my hair dishevelled…
… Consuming Pocky sticks by the packet, binge-watching Orange is the New Black, and trying to ignore my devastation at being abandoned by my lover midway through our trip.
After our dreamlike holiday romance in Bali, I had spent two months counting down the days until I saw him again. I had images in my head of how the trip would go – a kind of Nicholas Sparks trailer of never-ending romance.
So the reality came as something of a shock. His confused mess of emotions, in which his feelings for me were swallowed up entirely. My total inability to rekindle those feelings. Our attempts to recover what was lost by travelling as friends. Highs when he wrapped his arms around me, lows when he withdrew again. Then, eventually, a premature, flat farewell on a train platform.
So how do you deal with the aftermath, when you’re in a foreign country, continuing on the same journey alone which you had planned to do with a romantic partner in tow?
Perhaps less insane human beings wouldn’t. They’d arrange their flight home and hide under their bed covers for a week. Trust me, that’s what I felt like doing.
But I’m stubborn. The accommodation was already booked and it was too late to cancel. This had started out as my own trip anyway – he’d just come along for the ride – and I was determined to reclaim it. To recover that power, independence and control over your life you can only achieve as a solo traveller.
5 insights from getting ditched by your romantic partner while on holiday
1. Contacting families and friends goes a long way to keeping you sane
One of my greatest fears was having to discuss the situation with family and friends. To have a guy opt out of your romantic sojourn prematurely didn’t exactly make for a postcard-perfect message home. And we always want to paint out holidays in the best light, right?
In fact, I was humiliated. I felt like I’d failed somehow. And despite my deep grief and despair, I didn’t want to be seen as a victim.
I had almost daily messages from friends and family enquiring in chirpy tones (it seemed to me) how it was all going. I’m too much an open book to keep anything to myself (it goes without saying, since I’m now blogging publicly about it…)
But I never regretted telling anyone the full story.
In fact, all alone, I had all these pent-up feelings with no outlet. Contacting others helped me tap into my grief, shed some tears, and wrap my mind around the series of events myself.
We’re lucky it’s so easy these days to seek comfort from people some 8,000km away. People who will park on freeway emergency lanes just to answer your call. Who will send you endless puppy pics, inspirational quotes, and hilarious rants about boys in a bid to provoke a smile.
On R U OK? Day, one friend sent a simple message enquiring after my well-being, having no idea of recent events. My mental state was so unhinged that the thoughtfulness immediately brought me to tears.
These phone calls and messages provided much needed support and comic relief. They proved that while I might feel lonely, I wasn’t alone. While I might feel small, I wasn’t unloved.
2. Try to rush it all you want, but it’s going to take time to process your feelings
In the immediate aftermath of his leaving, I actually felt a rush of adrenaline and a feeling of liberation. I was finally on my own, free from complications or anything (or body) weighing me down.
That feeling subsided. And what was left was a paralysing numbness. I was shell-shocked by what had happened.
While he was there, I’d spent so much time in damage control, trying desperately to create positive memories so that the whole trip wouldn’t be ruined, that my optimism soon crashed when I found myself alone.
I tried to balance out the pain by keeping extra busy. But I soon became frustrated at how unaffected I was by the sights around me.
In one day, I learnt all about the Hiroshima bomb and then visited a beautiful island filled with old streets, temples and deer. There, I sat on a beach with a stunning vista. And I bawled, because I had felt the same emptiness through every experience.
Try as I might, I couldn’t tap into the free-spirited, enthusiastic, curious traveller I typically am. I worried that the experience had somehow broken me.
So instead, I stopped resisting the feelings. I realised it was OK to feel this way. I took away any pressure to have fun by focusing instead on each moment. I threw out my must-visit itinerary and just started wandering aimlessly each day.
This new travel strategy actually suited my mood perfectly, and I started to have spontaneous moments of joy. They were always short-lived and still tinged with an underlying grief, but I held onto them as if they were 10,000 Pocky sticks.
3. Treating yourself is totally justified
Part of my new travel strategy was to spend more time following my emotional instincts and less following a stringent itinerary.
A lot of the time, this resulted in my shunning restaurants in favour of 7/11 bento boxes, eaten back at my apartment in my underwear. What can I say, I’m a classy girl.
I treated myself to a long baths morning and night. Sometimes, I threw in a facial mask to mimic a spa-like experience. I felt like a queen, even if I didn’t look like one…
I actually planned a trip to an onsen on my last day in Japan as a way to take it easy and treat myself on what I expected to be a particularly difficult day (last days always put me in a more reflective mood). It didn’t work out, but I think it also would have done the job wonderfully.
4. Taking photos is a perfect practice in mindfulness
On my final days in Japan, I discovered that I found a level of peace by going out at night with my camera. It forced me to people-watch and to be ever mindful of a potentially awesome shot.
It took me outside my head and put me in the moment – something that little else had succeeded in doing.
It helped that I was staying in or near some truly charming districts – the bright lights Dotonbori in Osaka and the ancient streets and temples of Asakusa in Tokyo.
5. Nature helps you gain a sense of peace
As a huge introvert, I don’t take well to cities full of people. So I found it a real struggle to process my mental state while simultaneously coping with the crowds of Japan’s overpopulated major cities. It only frayed my nerves even further.
So, when I was in Osaka, just a few days after he left, I removed myself from the chaos. I journeyed to Mino Park, a nearby nature reserve.
Here, the air was clearer, and I could choose any number of hiking paths that were entirely unpeopled. Butterflies flitted past and there was a constant hum from Japan’s ginormous cicadas.
I drew energy from the peace around me. And it helped that nature doesn’t give a shit about your love life. Mino Park recharged me and restored some faith in myself.
6. Nothing beats the kindness of strangers
When it came to my accommodation, I was a little trapped. I really wanted to move to a hostel to meet some people who could provide a welcome distraction. But it was too late to cancel the double rooms and apartments I’d booked – and they were holding my credit card hostage. Even if I was a no-show, they’d be charging me the rate for two regardless.
So I continued as planned, solo. And when I felt ready, I sought out company by chatting to receptionists and waitresses. I signed up to workshops – woodblock printing and a classic Japanese tea ceremony.
Every smile lifted my spirits. Every bow deepened my respect. The calm tea ceremony master brought me into the present moment and taught me how to achieve mindfulness through the simplest means.
It was only when I began to open myself up to their kindness that I started to withdraw from the zombie state. I started to understand Japan better. And its image in my mind shifted from a place where I was rejected to a place where I was welcomed.
For more oversharing, travel stories and insights, check out some of my other posts on the ARoamerTherapy travel blog.