The thing about gorgeous private island villas is that you don’t usually stay in them alone. On my flight down to Belize, there were seemingly no other solo travelers; the couple sharing the row with me was heading to their friends’ vow renewal ceremony. When I told them I had plans to stay (by myself) at Turneffe Island Resort, a private island 30 miles off the coast of Belize City, they both nodded vigorously and smiled at me in the way people do when they’re at a loss for words.
I had honestly been itching for a solo trip for a few months. For some reason, 2018 really kicked my anxiety up a notch, and solitude is something I’d been craving. I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting that sometimes you need a break from the cyclical business of the real world. I know the private island market is one typically cornered by couples, but can it be equally fulfilling if you’re looking for a little alone time and a solo adventure?
Short answer: Yes. Spending four days on a 14-acre island taught me that vacationing solo on a private island is like getting your own one-bedroom in a building your friend already lives in. You get all the perks of seclusion without spending hours replaying all your isolation-related phobias over and over in your head.
My villa had an outdoor shower roughly the size of my kitchen at home, a view of the Caribbean Sea, a hammock, a personal palapa, and its own little stretch of private beach. Was it abundantly clear why it would’ve been appealing to honeymooners? Yes. Was it weird to have it all to myself? Not even a little. The phrase “villa for one” might not be super common, but it should be, because sleeping diagonally in a king-size bed and sprawling your toiletries out over two bathroom sinks is truly luxurious.
I’ve traveled solo in Europe, and there are few things that boost your confidence as much as planning and executing an itinerary in a foreign country by yourself. But there are times when mapping out discount flights from Barcelona to Athens gets lonely, and you get tired of doing all the logistical heavy-lifting. At a private island resort, you don’t need a travel partner to coordinate logistics, because it’s all done for you. At Turneffe, I didn’t have to worry about planning my daily activities — I just showed up for the twice-daily snorkeling trips, hopped on the boat, and 15 minutes later, I was floating along the Belize Barrier Reef. They also organize a trip to the Great Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye once a week, so I was able to knock some sites off my Belize bucket list. Snorkeling or diving at both locations should be 100 percent mandatory for anyone heading to Belize.
And in the moments when I wished I had someone to talk to, company was readily available. The meals are all communal at Turneffe, so even though I was on a completely remote island, I was by no means starved for human contact.
Sally and Nick Cooper, the managers of Turneffe Island Resort, said solo travelers often choose their island because of the built-in community. Most of their guests are fervent travelers, so they usually have plenty to connect on, as opposed to forcing conversation over meals. I rarely had to succumb to the perils of generic small talk, because there was always someone at my table excitedly telling me how I needed to hone my sailing skills so I could charter a boat around French Polynesia. At least once a day, I left the communal dining tables with a detailed itinerary for my next snorkeling trip to Hawaii or Palau.
But at the same time, I could retreat when I needed to. Activities and resort camaraderie weren’t shoved down my throat. No one was knocking on the door of my villa to usher me to the marina. Every activity on the island has a “come if you want to” feel. Sunrise yoga happens every morning — show up if you feel like it. If you sleep through it (which I did, twice), no one’s going to ask why you weren’t there.
In terms of choosing a destination for your solo island stint, I appreciated the accessibility of Belize. I don’t mean that so much geographically — though finding tropical island seclusion without flying over the Pacific is a perk. I mean more that it’s an easy place to come to on your own: Belizean culture is laid back and welcoming, the locals are friendly (and not in an artificial-smile-around-tourists kind of way), and most of them speak English.
A private island gets you off the grid while simultaneously providing everything you need to relax. The spa was a couple hundred yards from my villa — so was the bar, the pool, and the dive center. All your meals are included, as is the yoga on a floating palapa. (And what’s more essential to your island experience than floating yoga?)
I was fully planning to be self-conscious about mingling as a party of one among parties of twos and fours and fives. But the island is inclusive enough that I didn’t feel sectioned off. The fact that the island was partially occupied by employees, most of whom are native Belizeans and are incredible to spend time with, made me feel less like I was surrounded by twosomes. While I was on the island, they were near full capacity, with about 40 guests and 45 staff.
For me, the biggest hurdle of traveling alone is pushing myself to show up for new experiences. I’m comfortable staying in my shell until a significant other or a parent or even a tangential acquaintance prods me out of it. Without any of that, I had to push myself — to show up to cocktail hour before dinner (the appetizers were good motivation), to ask a stranger for Dramamine (necessary), and to try fishing (in a stunning display of beginners luck, I reeled in a barracuda that was subsequently served for dinner). A private island can facilitate a lot, but at the end of the day, it can’t make you more extroverted. However, it can reward your self-imposed extroversion with a glass of champagne enjoyed in a magically serene outdoor shower.
Turneffe Island allowed for a perfect balance of scheduled activity and uninterrupted alone time. I felt like I got the solo restoration I was looking for, but there was still a structure to my days when I wanted it. Whenever I travel alone, my instinct is to be as frugal as possible, because the notion that extravagant trips should be reserved for families or couples is somehow ingrained in me. Allowing myself to have a pampering experience that was entirely my own felt foreign in the best way. The quietest, most meditative moments I had were just floating by myself in the Caribbean and savoring the island breeze from my hammock. If nothing else, it is something entirely different from the moments you take to yourself back home.