I know what you’re probably thinking; “There goes crazy Kelli, traveling during the pandemic again!” Truth be told, I’ve actually traveled a lot within the last year, domestically and internationally – by air and by car. I was also traveling internationally as the pandemic was peaking and the FAA grounded all the jets and countries closed their borders. *Fun fact: I was on the last plane out of Lima, Peru the night they closed their borders last March. Scary shit, I know. A lot of germ-consciousness, PPE, and a bit of luck may be responsible for my not catching this virus….yet. I have a whole method down for air travel. I’ve figured out how to do this safely, though I’m definitely not saying this makes me invincible against the virus.
Usually when I travel and not for work, it’s more than likely food & drink and adventure-based. I’ll plan excursions and make a story out of it, or give the trip some sort of purpose. Basically, I have a bad habit of turning everything into a job. This time, I wanted to plan something without purpose, something where I can just RELAX and not work, but ideally somewhere familiar where I’ve been before and has exactly what I’m craving: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. But not just Playa Del Carmen city; Riviera Maya. A place that’s excluded from the hectic city and disgusting tourists who don’t wear face masks.
What I haven’t figured out how to do yet is be ALONE after enduring a painful yet inevitable breakup back in November. Though I’m crazy independent and love planning solo trips globally, by alone, I mean being single. I was with my partner for nearly ten years and engaged to him for five. I had mini elopement plans on the table. I would say “we” but it was only I who was actually thinking that was going to someday happen. Long story. Anyway, just working endlessly and tirelessly as I try to stash some cash and rebuild my life, I decided, FUCK THIS, I’m treating myself to a vacation.
This trip looked glamorous as hell, but there actually was a very non-glamorous part to this trip in the beginning before reaching paradise that I feel I should share because that’s real life.
Initially, upon booking my trip, I made the mistake of using Hotel Tonight to book a resort “within the area” that ended up being the absolute EXACT opposite of what I was aiming for. Like, could not be MORE opposite. I tried to compromise with myself and see if I could make the best of it but I knew in my gut that I was just in the wrong place. I won’t slander the resort, but if you email me and ask me nicely, I’ll tell you which one it was so you can avoid it. It began by no one at the concierge desk answering the phones so I could arrange the shuttle transportation from the airport and I ended up paying for a taxi myself (about $80 USD with tip). Whatever. When I arrived to the hotel, I immediately noticed how inside the city this place is and not as secluded as Hotel Tonight made it seem it was. People EVERYWHERE, like getting a glimpse into the past, pre-pandemic. Where all your face masks, people?! SUPER SPREADERS everywhere. I got VERY uncomfortable, very quickly. It gets worse. I went to check-in, and the concierge couldn’t find my reservation. This was booked and prepaid in full through Hotel Tonight, mind you. I had a reservation code, confirmation number, and a receipt. I may not know much about how hotels book their rooms, but I have worked in customer service my entire life and I do know that if you’re working for a “luxury resort”, you don’t shrug your shoulders and tell this person trying to check in to wait and sit in the lobby and then go clock out and never come back. After almost two hours, many phone calls back and forth with support for Hotel Tonight, they eventually locate the one and only person who can apparently check me in. He was abrasive, loud, talked over me, barely apologized, grabbed my phone out of my hands to see my reservation confirmation because he actually thought I was a liar….it was awful. I realized I made a huge mistake coming here. It even had me second-guessing my decision to book the entire trip. I also was potentially exposed since no one around was social distancing or wearing masks and just touching my damn iPhone. I reluctantly allowed them to finally check me into my room and it was the moment that man opened the door to my room when I knew I would NOT be staying here. I was SO angry and upset that I dropped my luggage off and took a walk down the beach to try and find a bar I could grab a drink and a quick meal at and immediately book something ELSE far far away from this absolute nightmare. To my horror, the beach was completely packed with people and of course none of them social distancing or wearing masks. A cheesy mariachi band was playing, chicks with bad tans and terrible lip injections crawling around like cockroaches….just the ultimate tacky touristy environment imaginable. I finally found a bar and ordered a way-overpriced cocktail and terrible plate of ceviche. I got the wifi information and immediately looked on a map at the hotels near the place I stayed at in 2016, which was The Viceroy, but they didn’t have anything available. The nearest resort that could take my reservation right away was the Grand Riviera Princess – for the same price as the shit hole I was currently booked in. It was secluded, nearly empty, and offered me a suite with a balcony that opens up to the giant pool that circles the entire resort, plus, it was all-inclusive. NOW WE’RE TALKING. This was the place I was supposed to be at initially. As soon as I booked it, I nearly ran all the way back to the current hotel and immediately checked out. I’ll fight the “non-refundable” booking costs later. Get me the hell out of here! I eventually found a cab and as soon as he drove me away and into the jungle and through the gates to the resort, I started to feel like I didn’t make a huge mistake planning this trip after all! Thank god. It’s very rare to travel internationally and not have some kind of horror story, right? Also, thank you Mercury Retrograde for that experience.
The quality and service at this resort was just day and night in difference! The bellboys grabbed my luggage and sprayed it down with sanitizer, I was IMMEDIATELY checked in without a single hitch, greeted with champagne, and ushered to a shuttle that took me to my room where I almost cried from relief. NOW I was home! OMG. My balcony really did open up to the pool! The room was fancy, clean, and quiet. The bed was huge! So was the bathroom. A walk-in shower! A view of the pool and trees and lemurs and iguanas, not some disgusting shady alleyway. All was right in my world. Now my vacation could begin. I went for a quickie nighttime dip in the pool, took a melatonin…ok fine, a Xanax…and then drifted off to sleep. The next morning, I rolled out of bed and right into the pool again!
I normally avoid all-inclusive resorts because they seem so lame and restricted but this time around was different. I was alone, I didn’t want to plan anything, I wanted to stay inside the resort, I didn’t want to plan any excursions or explore any cities; I wanted everything all right there, whenever I wanted it. It was time for me to be lazy…free meals, open bar….all I had to do was tip. The only planning I had to do was plan a COVID test and a massage on the beach…which was half the reason I picked this area.
In 2016, I got a massage here on the same beach, but just closer to the Viceroy, and it was THE BEST massage I’ve ever had. I booked another one for myself on the sand and just melted as the masseuse kneaded and pulled all the tension and stress from my back through my arms, and out of my fingertips. As I listened to the waves crash and the tropical birds chirp, I just turned into a puddle of goo on that massage table. I’ll always come back to this spot simply for this. Fly 2300 miles for a massage? Sounds crazy, but don’t knock it til you try it.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself as I just woke up and did whatever the hell I felt like doing that day. No sight-seeing, no plans. I even went for a 4-mile beach run and that was the best run I had ever been on. Just me, my music, the sea air, and the warm tide hitting my feet and legs.
Things to watch out for while here:
-Sales people trying to sell you vacation packages. They’ll try to get your attention by saying they’re welcoming you to celebrate their 30-whateverth anniversary at the buffet and you get free stuff, but really, it’s just a sales presentation and those are total buzz-kills…unless you’re into that sort of thing.
-Lemurs in your room! Sounds cute, right? Cute until you wake up from a nap to find one sitting on the table by your balcony after leaving the door open for the ambiance, watching you sleep.
-Having a suite that opens up to the pool means you’re on the bottom floor and you have upstairs neighbors. The floors are marble and the furniture does not have any felt padding on the bottom of the legs…I’ll let you figure that one out.
-When you get cash out at the airport, ensure you get smaller bills. When you break change in pesos or even USD at the stores and the resorts, they don’t really break the change down that much and claim they don’t have smaller bills. This forces you to tip larger than you probably would. I understand some people are shitty tippers, or just don’t know to do it at all, especially when the currency is MXN and not USD, but it’s not cool for us who do know how to tip well in either currency. It’s not that big of a deal since $20 MXN is basically $1 USD, but this is them taking advantage of travelers. Most ATMS also don’t give out smaller bills. In pesos, try to carry around $20’s and $50’s. Like all countries who depend on tourism, Mexico is hurting for travelers, so this doesn’t really upset me as I’m happy to dish out a few extra $$ for getting to enjoy myself for a week in foreign country.
This trip didn’t cost as nearly as much as it probably looks like it did. It’s off-season, plus the pandemic isn’t over yet. The round-trip flight was under $300 from LAX to Cancun, and the stay at the resort before the massage and other random costs like taxis and the COVID test was under $800 for five days for one person, all-inclusive. I probably SAVED more money by being here for a week than I probably would by being at home in LA doing normal day-to-day crap. Worth it? Um, yes. And I’d do it again, but preferably before summer time before it gets too humid and hot. 😉
You can’t put a price on self-care or mental health. Spend your money on experiences, not things. Pamper yourself.
Speaking of self-love and pampering one’s self, check out the Single AF Valentine’s Day Styled Shoot I did to celebrate being alone and complete with yourself on a day where consumerism tells you you need a mate!
I planned this trip for myself as a “self-love” treat. I’ve been through a lot these last few months, worked really really hard, and just HAD to get out of LA for a bit so I could relax and recharge. I already felt more grounded after my first day of zenning out. I just laid around and read an entire book from morning til dinnertime, cover-to-cover. It was The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, if you’re wondering. Perfect, I know. You know what else is perfect? The fact that I booked this trip while having a crappy day and didn’t realize until after I clicked the “Purchase Flight” button on the airline website that this trip would take place over Valentine’s Day. That was a happy accident, but I’m now just claiming that I had planned that all along. This was my first Valentine’s Day solo in 10 years. I find it most appropriate to spend this shit by myself in this type of setting. Like, duh. I was never a big Valentines person, even while in a relationship, but this made sense to me and I was not unhappy with my idea. I was the only person staying at the resort totally solo, surrounded by couples in love at dinner, at the bar, at the pool, on the beach, but fuck it – I’m not at home eating takeout in bed and aggressively trying to find something decent to watch on Netflix…not there’s anything wrong with that! I’m getting a massage on the beach and drinking countless pina colodas and rolling out of bed every morning and right into the pool. I love me for doing this!!!
If you’re wondering if you too should take a trip, solo or otherwise, I highly recommend this place! It’s perfect for a solo vaycay, though it does seem fun to share it with someone else as well – romantic partner, or even a friend! I’m already talking about coming back here with a friend in April, actually. HA!
Some tips on how to travel by air as safely as you can:
Before I list what I do, let me just say that by getting on an aircraft packed with a ton of yucky people, you’ve already decided to take the risk at exposure of not just the virus itself, but other germs and bacteria that cause illnesses. Let’s face it, it’s all recycled air we’re breathing in, even up in First Class. Some of the WORST flu’s and colds I’ve had were from airports. These tips won’t guarantee that you won’t catch something, but this is simply a list of precautions and things I do while flying on an airplane during a global pandemic.
-Be a doll and get a proper COVID-19 test a few days before your scheduled departure. It’s the right thing to do and just good to have.
-Pick out an “airplane outfit” that you can immediately take off once you arrive to your hotel/home and toss it into a plastic bag that is now your dirty laundry bag…or hang it in a closet if you know you wont have access to a washer and dryer for the duration of your trip. If it’s hanging in a closet during your stay, spray that down with a small can of Lysol and just let it sit for a few days. – OR – bring a second “airplane outfit” for the trip back home. Whichever is easiest and fits in your luggage.
-Before you leave for your trip, buy several cans of travel-size Lysol.
-Wear not one, but TWO face masks that cover your entire nose and mouth. Since there are new strains and the N95 masks either work or don’t, depending on whatever virus strain is in the air, wear one anyway and then wear a fabric mask over that one. Or a fabric mask with filters inside and then an additional bandana…whatever you can hands on. My point is, LAYER UP. Less is not more in this case.
-Arguably, gloves don’t do much. Unless you have open cuts on your hands. I don’t really use gloves because I’m not doing that involves anything medical or food-handling, or dealing with 100’s of people throughout the day. I do, however, stock up on strong hand sanitizer. Bring more than you think you’ll need for every pocket in your carry-on. Use that stuff like it came from the fountain of youth. Be conscious of EVERYTHING you touch. Door handles, your own passport after TSA handles it and gives it back to you, your phone after you set it on the counter real quick at check-in. Your debit card. Even after you wash your hands in the restroom, use hand sanitizer again. Be OCD here.
-Anti-bacterial wipes are your best friend once you board the plane. Like the sanitizer, bring more than you think you’ll need. WIPE. DOWN. EVERYTHING. once you get to your seat. Try not to hold up the aisle, but start with wiping down the seat, the handles, the seatbelt, and most importantly, your tray table. If you have a window seat, wipe down the window and the window shade. Wipe down the light and call buttons above you. Wipe down your bag, your phone, your passport, and anything else you removed from your bag before boarding. Repeat after using the bathroom and once again when you land. Do it again after handling immigration forms.
-Bring plastic bags to put your dirty laundry in throughout your trip, and this includes all used face masks. Bring extras and plan on wearing a new one everyday. Face masks are the new underwear – change them daily. Don’t be gross.
-Once you arrive to your hotel, again, spray everything with the travel Lysol. Your carryon, your jackets/coats, your luggage…go crazy with it. Unpack your things and just toss your luggage in a corner and let it sit there for a few days, or however long your trip is. The point is, if it did pick up anything, don’t touch it for awhile. After that, WIPE DOWN EVERYTHING IN YOUR HOTEL ROOM. Door handles, all light switches, the TV remote, the mini bar, the lamps, the bathroom faucets, etc. I also get really crazy and spray anti-bac stuff all over the pillows and throw a hand towel over the pillowcase because even the luxury resorts don’t always wash the bedding or the pillows. SO fucking disgusting, pandemic or no pandemic.
-Depending on your destination, WEAR A DAMN MASK, even if it’s not required. Shouldn’t even have to tell you that, but the world is still chock-full of stupid, ignorant tourists. I’m not sugar-coating this as I’ve witnessed tourists without masks on, bark at resort staff in thick southern American english without even attempting the language. Cover your face and respect everyone’s distance. If a monkey understood it was the smart thing to do, even a monkey would do it.
-Use your best judgment. Yes, we all miss eating out at bars and restaurants, but if a place looks elbow-to-elbow with barely-clothed people, all drunk and sweaty from the humidity, maybe avoid that spot. Like, entirely. Spend your time and money at a lesser-crowded establishment where you’re way more likely to receive better service and a better experience.
-If your destination is one of those places that don’t offer toilet seat covers in public restrooms (this is fairly common, actually) then bring these with you. Lifesavers!
-Most importantly, just TRY NOT TO TOUCH YOUR FACE. Act as if every single person around you has it. Assume they do. Assume it’s living on all the surfaces around you. …as I scratch my eye as I type this, while on the plane back from Mexico to LA. :/
-Schedule ahead of time the necessary COVID test 4-5 days after your arrive back home. And for fcks sake, please self-isolate until then. Be responsible. If you do take all these precautions and still end up testing positive, then be responsible about that as well. Remember, you decided to take the risk the moment you booked your trip. Now it’s your responsibility to not spread it. This virus is constantly mutating and still not fully understood. I have a friend who just recently traveled to Mexico and came back and tested positive but her partner who also travelled with her, did not, despite being in close proximity and doing the exact same things as she did.
If you made it this far and took everything I just mentioned seriously as you’re considering booking a getaway, good! Do it – treat yourself…safely, of course. Thank you for reading. Now go wash your hands.