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Table For One, Sir?
Vacation checklist: get tan, find self.
By Lee W. Bailey

LIKE MANY people, I have always considered myself an individualist -- a person who can rely on himself, who makes decisions with minimal attention to society's pressures and demands. Recently, however, I began to question the validity of this self-perception. It's easy to lay claim to individuality, but we're rarely in situations that allow us to truly prove our relative independence from fellow members of society. So, I decided to put my impression of myself to the test this past summer.
   I went on vacation alone.
   Some readers may not consider a solo trip incredibly novel or daring. I challenge you, however, to think of the last time you went more than three or four waking hours without being in some form of contact with an acquaintance, relative, or friend. The rarity of such periods of isolation is testament to our "society stuck on fast-forward" (to borrow Douglas Coupland's phrase), in which we are constantly in cybernetic, telephonic, or geographic proximity to colleagues, loved, and not-so-loved ones.
   I selected Greece for my self-imposed solitary confinement holiday. Although Antarctica or the Sahara might have better served the ends of my experiment, the Greek islands were more convenient to me, as I had just finished a summer job in London. (Plus, it's easier to ponder the meaning of life at 80 degrees than at 115 or -40). While there are obviously other people living in the islands, there was little chance of my interacting with them to any significant degree -- I know no Greek, and English-speakers constitute a small minority of tourists to the island group I planned to visit. Secure in the knowledge that I was entering an interpersonal vacuum, I departed from Piraeus, the port of Athens, anticipating a fruitful period of self-examination and truth-testing.
   The islands of Serifos, Sifnos, and Milos were perfect destinations for my two-pronged quest for a tan and some good alone-time. While late summer is the height of the tourist season in the Greek islands, the Western Cyclades are much less crowded than the "party islands" such as Ios and Mikinos, affording visitors abundant space on the beach and more easily acquired accommodations.
   Landing first on Serifos, I trod to the beach nearest the dhomatia where I had rented a room. As I began to descend the dune, which worked in tandem with the azure Aegean Sea to sandwich the beach, I noticed that, of the hundred or so people who dotted the sands below, not one seemed to be alone. The small anxiety created by that realization yielded an important insight: even though I had been preparing myself for a week in absolute solitude, I had subconsciously wanted to associate with other people. Perhaps I am not such an individualist after all, I thought. These revelations -- added to the fact I was also the only person on the beach who wasn't completely nude -- inspired me to retreat to my lodgings and replot my strategy.
   By the time I reached the gorgeous island of Sifnos I had decided upon a new tack. Having realized the inherent hypocrisy in my pre-Greece masquerade as an individualist, I would spend the remainder of my holiday attaining a higher level of comfort just being with myself (and hundreds of naked people). I had a fantastic time hiking, eating, and beachcombing alone. As I rode through rolling hills past pure white monasteries I felt a bit like a Mediterranean Mad Max (albeit on a 50-cc motorscooter), a true loner, as nomadic as the small size of Sifnos would allow.
   I passed the last three days of my holiday on Milos, born of volcanoes and home of the Venus de Milo (not to mention some fabulous Greek bakeries). It was on Milos that I had my most memorable -- though cliched -- experience. Milos features a small mountain called Nyxia, from which there is an unbelievable view of the setting sun. I rode my motorbike as far up the mountainside as possible, then climbed another hour to the summit. Sitting atop the very highest rock, I witnessed an incredible light show courtesy of Nature, feeling fully satisfied and one step closer to self-actualization.
   I boarded my flight back to London, content with myself and amazed that I had spent eight days without even hearing English, much less having a conversation with anyone (well, except for five minutes with two inebriated Canadian PE teachers, but that was on the last night, and was a totally vacuous exchange).

Lee W. Bailey is a senior history major from Houston, Texas.

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