A while back, I shared my thoughts and experiences with the social oddity of dining with one’s lonesome, one of the many realities of heading off into the world on a solo adventure. If you like splashing around in the waves and getting a bit of color, then going to the beach alone is also likely to be an inevitable experience. It wasn’t until I spent a month in Valencia, Spain that I first had to contemplate this shifty maze of both emotional and logistical challenges. Unlike dining alone, going to a public beach alone presents additional obstacles such as the guarding your valuables and the application of sunblock, in addition to feeling self-conscious about being seen alone and in a bikini no less (speedo for you adventurous boys out there).
The Emotional Hump
First let’s address the whole ‘feeling extra self-conscious’ about going to the beach by yourself and baring your half-naked body for all to see and judge. I don’t know how the male contingent feels about this subject, but I would venture to say a higher percentage of women have some kind of anxiety about appearing in the public eye in their bathing costumes, and this anxiety is probably amplified if you’re all by yourself with no distractions to keep you from fixating on that anxiety.
So how does one resolve these less than enthusiastic feelings about sunbathing alone in order to move on with life and enjoy splashing around in the waves? The first step is identifying the root cause of aforementioned anxiety which I think breaks down into two groups. There are those of us who have actually been directly insulted and thus can relate to a previous negative experience, and then there are those of us who do the insulting and whose subconscious is telling them that if they’re insulting others, chances are that others are insulting them.
Some people may be shocked to hear this but my anxiety actually stems from being a member of the former group. I’ve heard, “Oh you have nothing to worry about, you’re so skinny.” This is true to an extent, but then again, I’ve most often heard this from the same people who are quick to make jokes about my less than ample bosom. From what seemed like light-hearted and socially acceptable chiding, stems one of my biggest insecurities as a woman – my small breasts. Since I generally don’t like putting my well meaning friends in a spotlight to be judged more so than they already are, prancing around in a bathing suit always had its downsides for me. What got me over the hump was first a mix of surrounding myself with non-catty female friends, and later on when I was forced to go it alone, it was a matter of necessity. I would either be comfortable going to the beach alone or I would miss out on a beautiful day enjoying the waves and the sunshine. From that point on, it was a slippery slope of self acceptance and confidence that fed me right into the nudist beach in St. Maarten where I merrily ran off into the sea with naughty bits a-flying. I can’t be sure of how this burst of confidence came about, but I like to count this as another case of my want to enjoy life overcoming my fear of judgment.
To think that I transformed from the awkward teenager who wore a t-shirt over her bathing suit to the nutty free-spirit who is all about public nudity, reminds me that yes, people fucking change man. In the end, I think one gets over the emotional challenges to sunbathing alone the same way one starts to enjoy dining alone. You simply have to say, “Fuck other peoples’ opinions”, and move on with it. If enjoying life and all the fruits of nature really are that important to you, then it really is that simple.
The Logistical Hump
Now that the heavy content of this post is sorted, it’s time to examine the logistical challenges of heading to the beach with no friends, which in my opinion, fosters an environment of creative solutions and hilarious social situations. The main problems I’ve encountered have been safeguarding my shit from beach robbers and applying sunblock to my upper middle back.
Problem #1 – Not Getting Robbed
Here’s the situation where I think one can come up with some creative solutions to solving a financial security problem. You walk out to the beach intending to enjoy a day of bronzing your skin mixed with dipping in the water, but soon realize that there’s no one left behind to watch your things while doing said dipping and you’re not sure if you can trust the people around you.
The first solution is: Don’t bring anything valuable! Read: your iPod, phone, camera, etc. That’s easy enough, but then there’s the money issue. You’re not sure if you’ll need money at the beach to buy a beer, pay to use the bathroom or some other necessity that might come up. In Valencia, I sucked it up at the beginning and just didn’t go in the water when I was by myself (this is probably why I was able to tan so much). Then I decided to risk it and only bring a small amount of money with me so if it was stolen while I was in the water, it would be no big deal. Later on, I decided to go to a smaller less crowded beach where I could park my stuff close enough to the water to keep an eye on it.
These methods were all fine and were the only practical solutions giving that I needed to travel on the metro just to get out to the beach, but for the most part in South America, I’ve found myself staying at beaches where my hostel was always within walking distance. This made my life a lot easier, but I still decided to adapt my behavior to make for a more stress free beach visit. I ate, drank beer and bought a bottle of water before heading to the beach so ideally all I would need to bring is the bottle of water and a beach towel. Yes there are some really cruel people out there, but for the most part you can rest assured that the average beach robber isn’t going to steal your bottle of water and towel. For the time I did bring money, I placed it in a ziplock bag and stuck it in my bikini top. This got me thinking that now would be the perfect time to solicit any and all inventors out there to create a bathing suit that has hidden lined pockets with zippers. This concept would be a huge hit with all of the solo adventurer women out there!
Problem #2 – Successfully Applying Sunblock
Oy, this one is the bane of my existence. Sure I like to get a nice tan as much as the next person, but I also have this thing about protecting my skin and not burning. To this end, I always apply sunblock before heading to the beach. However, I like many other people out there, cannot contort well enough to reach the middle of my upper back. I need assistance, and being a lonely little traveler, I’m forced to either forgo sunblock on my back or ask a stranger to assist me. It’s option #2 that provides for some of the more funnier experiences in man/woman social dynamics.
Whenever I need to ask someone to apply sunblock to my back, I almost always defer to the nearest female. Women are not weird about this sort of thing and are thorough in covering every area of your back. Men however, become head cases.
I don’t know when exactly this happens, but at some point in our development as adults, applying lotion of any sort to the body of a member of the opposite sex in any context becomes an overly sexual activity. Perhaps it’s cultural references or perhaps it’s an innate biological urge that is stirred by the act. I have no clue, but all I know is that the sexualization of applying lotion and as an extension sunblock, has been a cause for both headache and amusement on my part.
The headache comes from debating on who to ask, but the amusement results from the male approach to strange feminine creatures who make the obviously seductive request. I feel like there are a plethora of approaches to avoid what could be an awkward situation. My favorite one is the “Just One of the Guys” approach. While I was on the shrimp farm in Ecuador, I wore a halter top one day and asked one of the other male volunteers to rub some sunblock on my back. He swiftly grabbed the bottle and aggressively massaged that shit into my back. I fail to remember all of the details but I think he actually slapped my shoulder at one point. He was definitely sending the message that this was a man’s massage and there would be nothing relaxing or enjoyable about this. When he was finished I thought I should grunt my ‘Thank you’ and bump fists to reassure him that I got the message.
Then there’s the most frequent instance of the “Chatty Cathy” massage. In this maneuver, a guy will talk to you a lot while he’s applying the sunblock as if he’s trying to send the message that he’s not hiding any of his thoughts and feels completely normal about this. He also probably wants a fist bump at the end, but will continue chatting away so you don’t jump to any conclusions about his intentions.
The “I Swear I’m Not a Creep” massage is always fun too. This affable gentlemen will always clarify which parts of the back you want covered so as not to offend you by overreaching with his authority. A guy once asked, “Okay is that enough?” “No, you only got my spine.” He then proceeded to ask twice more which parts I wanted covered.
I can’t be sure of the intent behind the odd behavior that men exhibit when asked to apply sunblock. Perhaps they think I’m hitting on them or perhaps they’re nervous that sunblock application is too excitable a task for them to complete without incident. I don’t know, but the spectacular range of odd behavior that ensues as a result of my requests is motivation enough for me to continue my harassment of the unsuspecting male backpacker.
There you have it, master the practices of not giving a shit about others’ opinions, carry ziplock bags and wrangle a young innocent into lathering you up in sunblock and you’ll be on your way to enjoy the beach without friends in no time.