I love birthdays. Cake and balloons and presents and parties and people. What’s not to love?
When it comes to my own birthday I tend to have high expectations. I usually have to talk myself down from my anticipation during the weeks leading up to my birthday. Life is life; it’s just another day. I may convince myself of that on the surface level, but deep down my excitement remains. What can I say, I’m an idealist.
I’ve had great and not-so-great birthdays. 23 was meh. It was the last day of World Race Training Camp and no one remembered. I realized halfway through the morning if I didn’t say anything I would be living my own version of Sixteen Candles. How do you happen to drop the fact it’s your birthday? Awkwardly, that’s how.
“Say, what day is it today?” I asked the group of people I was sitting with.
“Saturday,” they answered.
“I mean what’s the date?”
“Oh really? Hmmm… I guess it’s my birthday then.”
(Yes, that’s actually how it happened.)
24 wasn’t that much better (though I did get to spend the first half in one country and the second half in another), 25 was better than I thought it would be, 26 wasn’t epic but it wasn’t bad, 27 was interesting, 28 and 29 were AWESOME.
Last July I knew I would be traveling for work around my 30th birthday, so naturally I began dreaming about having my birthday abroad. I loved the idea of beginning a new decade in a new country. In March I found out I had a layover in England.
The only problem was I knew I would probably be alone. I tried to recruit friends to join me, but time and money. You know how it goes.
A month before my birthday I celebrated another friend’s 30th birthday. Four of us went out to a fancy dinner in Atlanta. We talked and laughed and had a fabulous time. It made me wonder, did I make a mistake? Is spending your 30th birthday by yourself terrible idea? Would I be lonely? Or worse… would it be 23 all over again?
A few days later my enthusiasm returned when I booked my hostels. To me, the travel bug is more like a travel drug. It makes me high.
I still wondered what spending my birthday alone would be like. This wasn’t just any birthday either – this was THIRTY. Was I playing it cool, or was I pathetic?
The day before I left for South Africa (my first stop) one of my favorite bloggers published a post about her friend who went to Paris to celebrate her 30th birthday by herself. Other women commented about taking solo trips for their birthdays.
I took it as a sign.
I woke up on my birthday in a hostel in London. I thought about how no one in the entire UK knew it was my birthday. It was my little secret. I got up, got dressed, and had breakfast (tea, chocolate croissant, and a hard-boiled egg). I took the tube to the London Tower Bridge and walked across toward the London Tower.
At the London Tower I looked at the crown jewels and the torture chamber (because nothing says happy birthday like a torture chamber, lol.)
After that I took the tube to a highly rated Indian restaurant called Dishoom. The wait was 50 minutes, so I ordered takeaway and ate it at Parliament Square. With Westminster Abbey in front of me and Big Ben on my left, I scooped up chicken ruby with garlic naan and made a mess of myself. I used someone else’s leftover water bottle to wash my hands. I was grateful there wasn’t anyone there to witness that moment. (At least anyone I know.)
One of my birthday wishes was to get a picture of myself in front of something London-esque. I can be quite shy when it comes to asking someone to take a picture of JUST ME, so I tried snapping a selfie. It didn’t do justice. I gave up and walked closer to Westminster to get a picture of it. Out of nowhere a man asked, “do you want me to take your picture?”
I’m convinced he was an angel.
I went back to my hostel for a bit to charge my phone and rest my feet. On the tube I saw a girl with a birthday button that said “I’m 8!” or something like that. “Is today your birthday?” I asked. She said yes. “It’s mine too!” She was the first person I told that day. Then the woman sitting next to me said it was also her birthday. What are the odds?
After my stint at the hostel I went to Buckingham Palace.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, so I decided to get on one of those double-decker hop on/hop off busses and ride it around (I already had a ticket.) One of the bus company workers chatted with me while I waited at the stop. On a whim I told him it was my birthday. “Really??” he said, immediately extending his hand to shake mine. I thought that was funny. “How old?” he asked. “30!” I said. He was surprised and told me he turns 30 in August. We bonded over that. He has a birthday trip to Croatia planned with his family and a few friends.
I rode the bus and got off after a few stops. I was still aimless and also a little tired, so I went to a coffee shop, ordered a chai and sat by the window. I read and responded to the birthday texts I was receiving. Also: Facebook.
After that I wandered toward Queen’s Theater, where I was seeing Les Mis at 7:30. Inspired by a poster I saw at the tube station, I bought tickets online the night before. I’m glad I did because it gave me something to look forward to all day.
Chinatown was right around the corner, so I bought some takeaway Chinese food and ate it on a bench across the street from the theater.
Then: the show.
I knew it would be good — I didn’t know it would be a slice of heaven on stage. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard voices so striking, so magnificent. It wasn’t just me — the entire audience felt it. We were overcome.
It was the perfect way to end my 30th birthday.
The next morning I took off for Scotland.
Now that it’s over, I would do it all again. It would have been nice to have someone with me, but I also like that I did something new, something different, something adventurous; I faced the big 3-0 in another country, alone. As Carrie Bradshaw once said, “the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.”
P.S. Don’t think I’m not having a big birthday bash though. June 25 and you’re all invited.
P.P.S. THANK YOU to everyone who made me feel so loved from afar!!