I went on my first solo trip in a very, very long time last month.
I didn’t realize it at first, because I’ve travelled a lot of places by myself. I fly to New York to visit family and friends all the time and no one goes with me; I’ve been to Europe and all over Canada on business; I’ve gone many places, an adult alone, with a child in tow.
But as a friend explained to me today, this is the first time in a long time I’ve gone on vacation alone.
On the trips to New York, there’s always someone on the other end, and an expectation of what I will be doing–my life, in this circumstance, seems to be pretty tightly scheduled, and there’s never enough time for everything and everyone.
When I traveled for work, sure, I had a room to myself and I’d strike out to do what I felt like doing—often alone—but there was always a work group and a job of some sort to do.
And of course, travelling with a child—even though I’d usually meet up with his father along the way at some point in some foreign corner of the world, I still wasn’t really alone, and I certainly wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it.
Funny, now that I can reflect, I most often feel alone when I travel with someone. In my marriage, I was always the decision-maker for us, whether it was choosing a hotel in France (a hotel that never seemed quite right–the location wasn’t perfect, the pillows weren’t fluffy enough) or choosing a restaurant where a picky eater could find something they liked (that was never right either–the service was terrible; it was too expensive), it was always up to me. (And, now, looking back, I now understand that being critical for some people is far more preferred to being criticized.)
So what would it be like if the only person I had to satisfy…was me?
It’d been so long since I really struck out in my own. When I was in my early 20’s, I got it into my head that I was going to drive across the U.S. by myself, from New York to Los Angeles. And so I did.
I connected with a drive-away car company ( I assume they still exist–well, here you go–they do!) and drove an old bomb of an Impala straight out from the city west on Interstates 90, 94, and 80, across the Mississippi (first time ever) past South Dakota’s Corn Palace (a must see) and the stern faces of our forefathers at Mount Rushmore (always makes me want to watch North by Northwest), through the Badlands and the Blackhills and on to the inland desert and Crater Lake in Oregon to the Pacific Coast Highway.
Broke down in Wisconsin and marched through a farmer’s tobacco field (who knew they grew tobacco in Wisconsin?!), where I had a coffee with him and waited for the tow truck; the driver’s wife was from my hometown (what’re the odds of that?). I walked around Devil’s Tower and did the Close Encounters thing (it was popular then–I have a photo…note to self: get those old pix scanned!) with a couple of army guys; I drove
through my first mountain pass deep in the middle of Wyoming (boy, did I need a pit stop after that, which I took in the town of Ten Sleep—might have been Dirty Sally’s, the Ten Sleep Saloon or the Big Horn bar, I can’t recall, but they all must have bathrooms), and I watched Old Faithful do its thing.
I did it again a few years later; flew to LA and rented a car for a big tour of the American southwest; I saw London Bridge in Arizona, along with hundreds of massive saguaro cacti
throughout the deeper, southern part of the state; I slept in my car and woke up to all the stars in the universe in the middle of the night in Bryce Canyon National Park (after thinking distances were less than they actually were); I made the mistake of taking a small mountain road in Colorado up over a pass and came back down in the town of Victor with a foot of snow on the ground (there, I walked into a funeral at the post office; they graciously called the owner of the only hotel in town and she came out and let me in); I saw the Four Corners and almost ran out of gas at the Last Spike monument at the Great Salt Lake (thanks to the rangers who sold me some).
Now that I look back on it, I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I sure wasn’t afraid to strike out on my own. It was definitely a little crazy.
But both times my friend Mike was at the other end, waiting to welcome me to the sunny beaches of the west coast. He and his wife Jay seem to always be there to greet me—even last winter, when I paid a visit over the Christmas holidays.
And now, as I launch this new decade and I begin to take my travel seriously, I find myself without someone with me or someone on the other end waiting to welcome me.
And you know what? It’s fantastic.
I figure when you’re on your own, you can do what you want, when you want, and how you want. You can choose to spend your entire time on the couch watching tv or reading a book, or you can get off your ass and get out and see things. And believe me, if you want to avoid self-loathing, you will get up and get out. There’s not much worse that investing in time, money and travel only to look at the world from the inside of a room.
On this latest trip (which I’ll write about another time so you can make plans to visit yourself), I found a little piece of my 20 year old self. I did things by alone and readily
joined groups; I was out and about all day, every day, and I met so many wonderful people along the way I can’t even begin to count.
Being alone forces you to go out and connect with others, and it was great. And if you remind yourself that there’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely, you’ll always be just fine.
I think one of the highlights on this first solo trip was meeting an amazing of women who were travelling together. They were all from Saskatchewan and a couple knew each other before the tour, and those they didn’t know they were certainly friends with by the time their trip was over. And they seemed to be having a wonderful time. I chatted with them as we were pulling into a dock after a tour on the water, but then had to be on my way to my next destination.
Their leader for this trip was a lady named June Bates and the company she runs is called TreadOn Travel—she’s led groups all over the world and she’s got a lot more planned.
A couple of weeks after I got back, I got an email from her, and even though she and I
didn’t have the time to chat then, we’ve made up for it since. We chatted back and forth for a bit, and just this past week we got together for lunch.
Since getting back into this travel thing is new to me and old hat to her, I had a few questions, and she obliged. And so, here’s a new podcast that tells you a bit about her and a bit about her company. If you’re looking for a small group tour—women, men, couples, singles, hiking and climbing or not, I have a feeling she’d be a great guide…and that she’s probably got a package for you.
A note here: I meant to ask June for some solo travel tips when we were chatting, which I think can be helpful for almost anyone. Of course, I forgot, but she was kind enough to email me some thoughts. Here’s what she said:
- Educate yourself so that you have an idea about where you’re going. (“Some cultures can be a shock for us privileged.”);
- Have patience with those who may have physical problems or small health issues;
- Keep in mind there might have to be changes made in an itinerary because of weather or unforeseen circumstances;
- Pack light! (this is me saying, yeah that’ll never happen, but I will keep trying to lighten it up);
- For solo travellers: Make sure you’re knowledgeable about where you’re going. Never be alone in a place that’s questionable. Follow your gut instinct about safety (your gut’s usually right).
- Best advice: “Don’t expect someone else to make your trip wonderful. It’s up to you once all the rest is in place.”
Check out the chat and check out TreadOn!!