Celebrating Milestone Birthdays with Self-Love and Travel

Featured image: To honour her love for herself, Nadine L. decided to do everything she’d been afraid to do – including skydiving! / Photo provided by Nadine L.

Women’s Solo Travel Journeys – Love on the Road

As a child, Nadine L. bounced around from foster home to foster home. A ward of the system, there was often simply no space for her, so she’d get placed wherever she could be squeezed in. She was even sent to live in a Juvenile Detention Centre once because that was the only facility with room for her.

“I never really felt like I belonged, that I mattered or was loved – especially loved – and it was something I was always chasing,” she says. “First the love of family, and when that didn’t happen, I switched to love of a partner. I was always looking for love outside.”

She recalls the precise and defining moment that she began to aim at an inexhaustible source of love – herself. It was Valentine’s Day. She was in her early 20s. And it struck her how many times she’d cried when that day rolled around if she didn’t have a partner in her life. How unloved she felt. That year, she snapped.

“I thought: You know what? Valentine’s Day is about love. Well I love ME. So, I took care of me. The next day, I go to the office and all the wives and girlfriends are rapping about what their partners and boyfriends have done, and they looked at me and said: ‘Oh, we’re so sorry Nadine, here we are going on when you have no one.’ And I told them: ‘Oh no worries, ladies! I got everything I wanted. I got my dinner. I got my flowers. I got my chocolate. And I even got my ‘personal’ fireworks. I think that shocked them. They were all much older than me.”

When she was 30, she moved from Montreal to Toronto. And at 35, her long-time best friend threw a surprise birthday party for her. At first, she was puzzled by the pomp and pageantry but then got really excited. She was 35 – what was extra special there to celebrate – the number 35?? But it got her thinking, and the philosophy that now guides her life was born.

“What I realized is that when you’re 80, 85, 90 – you won’t remember your whole life’s worth of birthdays, because that’s a lot of birthdays. But if you focus on the zeros and fives, you get two birthdays to remember per decade. One when you’re entering it, and the other as the ‘hump year.’ It’s a good time to stop and check-in, with another five years to go. Where do I stand? Where do I want to go?” she says. “Every five and zero is a good pointer to celebrate YOU with a bang – and a bang is whatever is meaningful to you and create a beautiful lasting life memory of it. It doesn’t have to be a party all the time with loads of people, balloons and a cake. It could be something completely different. So, I decided that I was going to go on that journey for my 40th.”

She’d recently split up with a partner and reflected on the fact that when they were together, she’d voiced a desire to go to Italy for the romance of it all and all its history, but it never materialized. She asked herself why she needed a partner to do something that had long been on her bucket list. So, she decided to make it happen – and took herself to Italy and Paris for three weeks. Solo.

“I call it the Next Chapter preparation. I wanted to make myself feel special and realize dreams or bucket list items. I love the idea of doing something on your fives and zeros that you can’t afford to do often. You get four years to prepare, four years to heal, four years to evolve,” she says.

Nadine models two white dresses for her wedding
For 45, she decided to marry herself – throw her own wedding, take herself on a honeymoon, and check adventures like skydiving off of her expanding bucket list. Yes, you read that right. Nadine had never married but had been a guest at the weddings of so many friends. She didn’t want to get to the end of her life and not have experienced a day all about her – all about love and celebrations.

“I married myself because I was becoming a new person. I spent a big chunk of my life feeling unworthy of love. I invited the people that have been meaningful in my life. Those who are part of the build and fabric of my life,” she says. “I’ve seen white parties and decided I wanted my own white party.”

The beautiful table set-up for Nadine L's wedding to herself

An incredible dinner menu for Nadine’s 45th birthday celebration,
shared with friends and family at The One Eighty in Toronto / Photo provided by Nadine L.

She sent the invitations in April to ensure her event landed in people’s summer calendars. Then she started layering, asking herself: What do I want to do for me? How do I want to make this a big thing? Powerful questions. So, she booked The One Eighty – a swank rooftop restaurant at the top of Toronto’s Manulife Centre – as her party venue. And booked Da Emma in Montreal for her friends and family there to follow after her honeymoon.

Two weeks before the big day, she mailed a letter to her guests as a friendly reminder:

Dearest Friends,

Thank you for attending my 45th birthday celebration. As one of my dearest friends, the most special gift and treasure that I would require from you is the gift of your words of love to me. Your special letter will then be part of my personal 45th Book of Love.

Need some examples or inspiration? If this is the last time we see each other, what would you tell me? What have I added to your life? Any favourite moments you want to share? Any words of wisdom? What do you love about me? Anything that comes to your heart. I hope these examples can help you and inspire you.

Please find special paper to write on. You’re welcome to deposit your lovely envelope in my special box the night of the event. Thank you and enjoy the upcoming festivities.

Exterior of the book of love from Nadine L's wedding to herself
A book of love letters from Nadine L's wedding to herself

From the handwritten letters guests provided at her party, she created her own special Book of Love. / Photos provided by Nadine L.

“My Book of Love was created out of this amazing moment. Not only was it filled with love, but it could also serve as uplifting therapy when I feel down. I just take out my book, read it – and I’ve saved $150 not having to sit with a professional smile,” Nadine says.

While she stopped short of speaking her own vows, she thinks that the concept of such a contract is an important one to draw with yourself – whether you are marrying yourself or someone else. “You should vow to be there for you, to be your best friend when you’re healthy and when you’re not healthy. You know, rich and poor, the usual. The same vows that you give to someone else? You should first give them to you,” she says.

She surprised her guests by picking up the bill for dinner. The next day, she rented a car and took herself – white going-away outfit and white bikini in tow – to Niagara-on-the-Lake for her honeymoon at The Butler House and was treated like a Queen.

“The owners were a warm and charming gay couple. If I recall, one had an amazing talent in interior decorating and the other was an amazing chef. A perfect combination of talents to create an extraordinary weekend stay with “A breakfast from a Chef “ experience. For the first time in my life, I had an out-of-this-world eight-course delicious breakfast. I went horseback riding. I went hiking. I went fine dining with my own company (it’s often easy to find a seat for one – even last minute!). I went to a spa (that was mainly for couple’s retreat) – and that’s where I decided I was going to read my love letters, while surrounded with couple’s love energy,” she says. “I had saved them, and I wanted to wait for a special moment and read them all at once so I could create an internal explosion of love. When someone has passed away, everyone talks about all the positive aspects about them when they’re lying horizontally. Well, I wanted to hear it and have my explosion of love while I’m still standing vertical. smile

She decided to cap off a weekend of self-indulgence by doing something she’d never done – skydiving. She thought she was going to be a bundle of nerves that morning, but a strange calm had washed over her. “What I’d learned and questioned myself about when I landed was just how many things I’d prevented myself from doing based on my preconceived fear,” she says. “Your 40s are a beautiful time – you’re starting to shed some of the stress, you start to own who you are, or get to know who you are, and are embarking on a journey of forgiving yourself for the things you didn’t do well because you didn’t know better at the time. Like Maya Angelou and Oprah have said: When you know better, you do better.”

The most important lesson Nadine has learned since adopting her Fives-and-Zeros Meaningful Birthday Bash philosophy is that when you experience the act of loving yourself, suddenly you’re no longer walking through life on your own. You now have a best friend walking that path with you. You.

“Most people would say nobody knows you better than yourself. However, it’s not always the case. We don’t take the time to know ourselves and get to know ourselves. We just live life on fast forward. So, organizing something special for yourself every five years allows you to get to know yourself all over again and make you feel special,” she says. “Because you have evolved throughout the years – and your taste or perception of life or your personality might have changed. For example, at 40 I was back raving on speakers and dancing to electronic music like a madwoman and loved every minute of it! I guess it was my midlife crisis. I did the beach music festivals abroad. I did festivals in the woods, the club and parties here. I mean, I’ve done them all and I was out every day all day. After five years of partying, I realized that I couldn’t do this on a weekly basis anymore. I didn’t have the same energy. Again, I needed to get to know and love my new evolved self.”

Nadine L with a gladiator at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Nadine L. poses with a gladiator at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy / Photo provided by Nadine L. 

So what’s next? For her 50th birthday, she wants to stop, go within and ground herself. So she’s planning a solo soul’s journey to Sedona, renting a car at the airport in Phoenix, and driving into some spectacular countryside. She wants to be able to stop, sit and take it all in while driving along the way. She knows it’s going to be a very spiritual, nourishing, cleansing, and reflective trip.

“I will be visiting sacred lands with a guide, experience a sweat lodge ceremony and many other moments. This is my journey. This is my experience. My evolution. My next chapter.” she says. “It’s important from that 50 mark to have cleansed and resolved childhood issues and to let them go with love and peace. I don’t want to be 70 and still crying about some stuff that happened when I was 10 years old. That means I’ve been carrying this for 60 years. No. I refuse. Life and its moments are precious and should be lived with uplifting purposes and happiness as much as possible.”

Nadine’s tips for memorable Fives and Zeros

  • Don’t be afraid to go on a trip by yourself: “Especially for your birthday. Your birthday is a good time to step over that fear and make it happen. Baby steps. Do little things. My first trip by myself was an overnight in Muskoka. Now I’ve done quite a bit of solo travel – Machu Picchu, Amazon Forest, Paris, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Cuba, and more to come.”
  • Organize something that has deep meaning for you: “Something that you dreamed about or cherished for a very long time. Bringing life and reality to your dream and special moments will make your heart vibrate of joy – With or without loved ones, depending on the event or the moment. Otherwise, years after years you just do happy birthday, blow the candles out, and your life passes you by.” Organizing that journey for yourself will make you feel special, looked after, and in control of your happiness. There is no better Self-Event Planner than you!
  • Celebrate YOU: “A birthday is a good moment to remind you to celebrate you. That you’re here for a reason. That you are worthy of love and happiness. That you are here with a gift, a crazy talent – something you’re passionate about (that will bring joy/service to someone else’s life). Celebrate your heart, kindness, great ideas, promotions, evolution, that you are a Mom, a great leader, intelligent, achievement, and so much more.”
  • Get to know yourself between the Fives and Zeros: “You have four years. Ask yourself: How can I work on being happier and getting to know myself? Go on dates with yourself. You know, we keep updating the software of our phones and devices, but how often do you get to update your software? You know, if you don’t, it means that you’re walking around out there as a 30-year-old functioning with 15-year-old ‘software’.”
  • Let love show up & feel it: “Don’t depend on the outside to bring you the love you want and need. I’m still learning that every day. A birthday is an opportunity for celebrating your arrival in this world. If you can celebrate an arrival at a new job with a team lunch, I think your arrival into this world is well-deserving of a celebration! I feel so sad when I hear people saying ‘I hate my birthday. I don’t want to celebrate my birthday.’ Perhaps your birthday brings unfortunate memories and my love goes to you if that is the case. The beauty of doing something special every “Zero & Five” of your life, gives you an opportunity to create a new memory and definition of what your birthday can represent – Love of Self. When doing my activities alone, love showed up in being proud of making my dream come true, and most of all in knowing that I was important enough and now capable to make me happy and that love ‘from me to me’ was fulfilling, abundant and satisfying. When doing activities with loved ones, love showed up in simply being open to receiving the caring love from all of them.”

More From Our Series On Love

From Solo to Baby in Tow: Love on the Road

From Solo to Baby in Tow: Love on the Road

This month, we share the stories of two resilient solo travellers whose adventures gifted them with the greatest love of their lives – their children. Meet Nancy C. and her son Alex, and Coralie and her daughter Carla.

Women’s Travel Memoirs: The Journeys Love Takes Us On

Women’s Travel Memoirs: The Journeys Love Takes Us On

Meet JourneyWoman Advisory Council member Dr. Mary Clark, whose father inspired a sense of adventure that has taken her on many journeys around the world. Few would guess that heart would lead to her spending two weeks on the back of a motorcycle touring the US. But that’s exactly what happened when she reconnected with Ron – a man she’d dated 27 years earlier.

Amanda Burgess

Amanda Burgess is a Toronto-based writer and creative strategist whose bags are always packed for her next adventure; co-founder of the Sharyn Mandel School in Gobele, Ethiopia; and Acting Editor of Journeywoman. Follow her and her adventures on Instagram @unshakeable.me.

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28 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I love to travel solo. I have been to many places. I will continue to travel solo. Well, Thanks for sharing this amazing blog.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you Stella and glad you enjoyed it. We get to discover so much of ourselves when traveling and experiencing so many different adventures.

      Reply
    • Avatar

      I was excited to read of another woman celebrating her 75 th birthday with travel.
      I turn 75 this August VJ Day. In Mass, of Us
      There fore unsure what is open to me for travel.
      Unable to stay in Maine due virus.
      Loved your stories Nadine. I always go to Boston for 4 nights at Christmas.
      Creates happy time for me as a solo.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Also several trips driving solo in France. Joy of my life

        Reply
        • Avatar

          Happy Happy Happy 75th Birthday in advance Gayle!! I wish you and amazing and creative celebration for your special milestone and that it will make being “Loved so Much” becoming a huge 75th Birthday Beautiful Memory.

          Your stories are so inspiring. Christmas and Europe. When you described driving in France, I could imagine myself there, driving a convertible with a scarf covering my hair, large sunglasses and feeling the freedom of air and beauty of France. Thank you for that and keep going on adventure!

          Reply
  2. Avatar

    Well done, Nadine!

    I, too, decided that I was going to celebrate myself, so for my 75th birthday I planned and took a solo trip around the world lasting 6 1/2 weeks…Helsinki, Tallin, Berlin, Prague, Dubai, Bangkok, Tokyo, Vancouver, train to Montreal, Atlanta. It was more fun, more educational, more celebratory than I could’ve imagined.

    Well done, us! Travel on and celebrate….

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Wow Lucretia, It warms my heart to know that you have experienced something so wonderful. Way to Go!! I love to way you live !!: ) You got to experience so many cultures, so many discoveries, so many first time of something (adventure, food, ceremonies, arts, new friendships). It’s like building an encyclopedia of life experiences. I can’t wait to hear the plans for 80 – 85 : – )

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Excellent, keep up the good work and keep traveling!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you Sharon!! I do plan on it : – ) There’s so much more to experience and so much more to grow!

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    I am so proud of you Nadine. Knowing yourself is the most difficult journey, but also the most uplifting and fulfilling.
    I truly hope that your 50th birthday be another very special one.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Awww Thank you Danielle! I absolutely plan to make 50th very special : o )

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Great Nadine!

        I enjoyed reading about all your milestones. Keep going,and redefining your purpose.

        Lots of love.

        Reply
        • Avatar

          Thank you Martine! and Yes to!
          Redefining and Evolving

          Reply
  5. Avatar

    Such of beautiful LOVE story, I hope your story inspires more women to take a chance on self love.

    Thank you for sharing your life, struggles and ultimately finding LOVE.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you Miriam!
      Inspiring is one of the best way to give back : 0)

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you Miriam!
      To inspire is to open doors to so many potential possibilities and wonderful discoveries. : o )
      I really hope it will encourage for more joy and amazing memorable life moments.

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    Nadine, you are light, energy and all that is positive is this world. Thank you for sharing your story. It fills me with gusto for life!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you Fernando! I love your energy as well. Very contagious : o )

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    Bravo Nadine! Les aventures suivantes, j’espere seront avec quelqu’un que tu aimes beaucoup! Pourquoi pas!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Merci Roanna, Absolument!!! Un future rempli d’amour additionnel : – )

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    Well done Nadine– what a wonderful journey to read about your own journey. You are a constant source of joy and inspiration to everyone who knows you!! Much love,

    Nancy

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you Nancy, YOU are an inspiration. Your constant guidance towards sharing love and light with purpose has definitely been a motivation to share my story : o )

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    Inspiring story Nadine! Great to take part in this awesome adventure!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you Gasper!! : 0 )

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    Bonjour Nadine,
    Very proud of you and your journey. You are an amazing woman who has evolved into a great spiritual person. You take care of yourself, but you always think of others at the same time. I have been fortunate that our business path crossed at one point in our lives and we remained friends.
    Love you and enjoy the 50th celebration! johanne

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Soooooo Happy that our business path crossed – almost 25 years ago!! : o ) I will bring you in spirit with me in my heart during my 50th adventure and will be telling you all about it : – ) xoxo

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    Holà Didine tu es très motivante, love you!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Merci ma belle Carmela : 0 )

      Reply

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