Why I Chose This Small Town in the Dominican Republic As My First Solo Travel Destination
When I first went off to college, I couldn't fathom eating a meal alone in a dining hall — let alone traveling out of the country solo. Fast-forward around five years, and I found myself working my first full-time job at a travel website. About a year into my career, I was asked to go on my first-ever work trip, which, in many ways, felt like a rite of passage. The only caveat? I would be flying solo, and I didn't know any other person in attendance, nor would I end up meeting them until we were settled into our first destination.
My travels took me to the Dominican Republic to explore the then-brand-new Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda, located in the tiny town of Michès (about a 90-minute drive from Punta Cana). Club Med was the region's first resort, and the village itself — comprised of mostly farmers and fishermen — was essentially untouched. This meant two things: tons of natural beauty and (very) spotty internet and cell service. And, as someone who avoided doing anything alone other than the necessities (grocery shopping, taking the subway, doing laundry), this made my impending travels all the more intimidating.
In anticipation of my travels, I listened to dozens of peers and colleagues speak fondly about their positive experiences on work trips, which had afforded them the unique opportunity to explore new destinations while making friends and happy memories along the way. As someone with chronic anxiety and a type A personality, it blew my mind that people were able to just pack up and go somewhere (especially a place they had never been) without a concrete plan or companion.
Since this was a work trip, I decided to embrace the opportunity with open arms as best as I could. My crippling anxiety was well bundled up, and the only people who knew about it were my then-fiance, therapist, friends, and a (select) group of family members. When it came time to start packing for the trip, I burst into tears. However, I knew backing out was not an option. Once my prescheduled Uber picked me up outside my apartment precisely four hours before my flight (I told you I was type A), I jumped into the car and tried my best to push my emotions to the side. I made my way through airport security, waited by the gate, boarded the plane, and finally fell asleep before waking up in a different country.
At the Punta Cana airport, I eventually found and exchanged pleasantries with a handful of folks in our 15-plus group. The conversations were short and sweet as we made our way onto the bus to Club Med Punta Cana (we'd drive out to Michès in the morning). Following an evening of great food, refreshing cocktails, and mingling, I learned that many of the group members had been on at least several work trips prior, and some had already known each other.
It was time to make our way to Michès. Along the ride, we passed rolling acres of forest, sleepy small towns, and plenty of farmland (and horses and cows, too). And, with no cell service or Wi-Fi, I tried my best to focus my energy on taking in the tranquil surroundings while also making conversation with my peers. Eventually, more and more people joined in on the fun, which eased my anxious mind.
Once we pulled up to Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda, we were surrounded by 93 acres of lush greenery, unspoiled beaches, and panoramic coastal views. Shortly after we made our way through the lobby, we were escorted to our rooms. (It's also worth noting that the expansive property is comprised of four villages — Archipelago, Caribbean Paradise, Emerald Jungle, and Explorer Cove — to offer a more boutique hotel experience). My accommodation — a Deluxe Room in Explorer Cove, the village that happens to be best suited for families — was the farthest out of the way. I was approximately a five- to seven-minute walk — at minimum — from the other group members. I couldn't help but laugh about this, considering my fears of doing anything alone. Now, I found myself in a secluded resort in a small remote town, all by myself. I was initially terrified, but shifting my mindset helped tremendously. Moreover, instead of feeling sorry for myself, which usually leads me to feel panicked and anxious, I used words of affirmation ("I am safe," "I am strong") and basic principles of gratitude.
Over the next few days in Michès, we had plenty of free time, which meant party-of-one coffee dates and soaks in the ocean sprinkled in with group meals and outings to the beach and swim-up bar in the adults-only pool. Additionally, the solo strolls to and from my room offered me the chance to self-reflect while overlooking the palm tree-lined beach and turquoise waters. Eventually, our group left the resort to visit Montaña Redonda, home to the famous Instagram swing, flanked by panoramic vistas of the surrounding region. As we cruised through the country roads, we laughed, shared travel memories, and connected over our incredible field of work. It was quite a bumpy ride up the mountain. The roads got steeper and narrower, but despite the carsickness that ensued — nothing major, fortunately — the awe-inspiring views of the countryside and sea made the trek more than worth it. In a way, I found this to be a poetic metaphor for my entire experience before, during, and after my adventure.
When the final day of the trip arrived, I remember feeling oddly at peace. Instead of wanting to rush back to snowy NYC as I had initially pictured myself, I found myself lingering just a little longer around the resort. This included changing into a bathing suit for one final dip in the ocean, walking out of my way to the beach to feel my toes in my sand one last time, and showing up to the bright and airy lobby a few minutes early to people-watch while sipping my coffee.
Traveling somewhere remote like Michès allowed me to experience the thrills of solo travel. Since I had to check my type A personality at the proverbial door, and seldom had any connection with the outside world (thanks to a lack of cell service), I had no choice but to come out of my shell, interact, and forge meaningful bonds with strangers while taking the time to not only observe, but also admire my surroundings. Because of this, Michès — and other small towns and villages — area ideal for first-time solo travelers. You'll be able to hit the ground running.
Travel has the power to shape us and change our lives, and I learned this to be true after my first solo adventure, letting myself go with the flow as much as I could. What's more, not only did I leave Michès with a handful of new friends, but I also gained a considerable amount of comfort, confidence, and security in doing things alone for the first time in my life. In turn, this once-nerve-racking experience turned out to be one of the greatest thrills of my adult life, one that I would be eternally grateful for, especially after nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, when I — along with the rest of the world — was forced to remain secluded and stagnant.