Steffanie Rivers

*I love it when a plan comes together! But when you depend on other people it’s no wonder that most things don’t go as planned. That’s how I ended up in Panama City Beach, Florida alone last weekend. Well, there were plenty of people there, just nobody I had planned to be with. It’s a good thing I never leave home without enough money to pay my own way.

I love the water; probably due in part to those infant swimming classes my mother enrolled me in before I could walk. It never was my reality that ‘Black people can’t swim.’ That and ‘never travel alone.’ Less than two hours after I arrived I was in my bikini sitting on the white sandy beach looking out at the ocean. I took pictures of the shoreline, the sunset and of myself! When you have a video camera with a rotating view finder you don’t need anyone else to help take pictures. I walked along the shoreline, I snorkeled and I swam. I was in the water so long the fish started coming up to me; too much so for my comfort. I started to think about all the movies I’ve seen on the Sci-Fi channel where fish attack people and I decided to enjoy the water from the shore for awhile.

That’s when I noticed how aggressive the flies were. Maybe they were attracted to the sea salt all over me or my chocolatey-brown skin. Either way I was still alive, but they were swarming me as though my lifeless body had washed ashore. I was there to celebrate my birthday – not my funeral! I stayed long enough to watch the sunset. All that swimming made me hungry. I hadn’t eaten since I arrived saving my appetite for gulf seafood. So I settled for one of the restaurants that had two-for-one margaritas and free salsa dance classes. Eventhough I’m daring enough to travel alone I rarely venture out at night when I’m in a new city because – like the song says – that’s when the freaks come out. So I made my way back to my hotel room and fell asleep.

The next day I had planned to stick to land activities such as putt-putt golf, go-cart racing and a visit to the botanical gardens. But a funny thing happened on the way to all of that: I passed the beach again and couldn’t resist it. So I kept myself busy with other activities until a few hours before sunset. I took my drinks, newspaper and floppy hat back to the same spot – my spot – and watched the sun disappear into the ocean one more time. If everyone could do this on a regular basis they might actually lower their blood pressure without medication.

I hadn’t checked e-mail in two days. My phone calls and texts were down to a minimum. I wanted to stay longer, but my rental car was due to be returned the next day. That’s when reality sunk in: I can’t stay here indefinitely because I need money to do that! So I enjoyed my last night in Panama City Beach, packed up and headed back home the next morning.

I’m glad I love myself enough to travel alone because it helps to cleanse the soul. If you can’t enjoy spending time by yourself how do you expect anyone else to enjoy spending time with you?

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at youtube.com/steffanierivers.