Experiencing the Joys of Traveling Solo
In my thirties, I found myself traveling less. I was working more and my friends frequently had vastly different schedules than mine.
As a single gal, trying to find a travel companion became increasingly challenging.
So I decided to take vacations on my mine.
For an introvert like me this prospect was both thrilling and nerve-wracking. The idea of a solitary trip was appealing, but navigating the details seemed potentially daunting.
Where to go?
I thought about heading to the beach. Unstructured time plopped on the sand reading and people watching. Could be a zen getaway, except I don't really like the beach.
When I remembered that the last beach vacation I took was back in 2000, I decided to keep looking for vacation ideas.
And I settled upon events or conferences. As someone who lives in my head a lot, I like the idea of exposing myself to new ideas and experiences. I found a few Comicons and book events to attend, all by myself, and these solo vacations were exquisite experiences.
How much to spend?
These events had affordable tickets and structured schedules. Activities for these types of events were also concentrated, so I have never even had to rent a car. I have used hotel airport shuttles, public transportation, and one cab ride...because Uber didn't exist yet.
I could decide on how I wanted to distribute my budgeted money. For one book event I attended, I decided to splurge on the hotel. I knew that I would want to buy some books, but there was also a limit to how many I could carry onto the plane. I just ignored the possibility of shipping books back home. Upgrading to the spa resort-like hotel was well worth the money.
I enjoyed a beautiful sunset dinner overlooking the ocean from the hotel balcony. I read in the lounge in the most perfect leather chair. No one else entered the lounge. I went back to the restaurant for another glass of wine and some dessert. Then I knew that a new episode of Game of Thrones would be airing on HBO, so I retired to my room where I filled the spa tub, soaked amongst the bubbles, and watched Khaleesi as I enjoyed the Khaleesi lifestyle.
Socializing as I please...
Morning coffee is a must for me, so stopping at a coffee shop and potentially chatting with people there is always a possibility. Oftentimes, I stop at shops close to the event venue, so I'm already around like-minded folk.
Then the actual events are pretty conducive to socializing as I like. I may sit down at a panel and start a conversation with someone next to me. Other times, I may be wanting to skim through the book I just bought and I'm under no obligation to converse with anyone.
Events almost always have tables and booths of exhibitors and artists. Comicon has an entire floor of geek everything to buy. Walking that floor is a great way to find small businesses who oftentimes have their own website or Etsy shop. I get a chance to talk to the owner, peruse their goods, grab a business card. Having a few minutes to talk to an author is also a positive experience. Gushing about how much I love their book is fun and then I get another signed novel for my collection.
Sometimes I chat up other people and we grab lunch together. I actually walked into one cafe and another attendee was already there and rounding up conference attendees so we could all sit together to share our impressions of the authors. I really liked her strategy of just inviting anyone to join her. I suppose if I really wanted to be alone, I could have sat by myself or found another cafe, but one of the people who sat down to lunch had some great book recommendations. Being amongst my people has proven to be a fruitful vacation choice.
Dinner has ways been time for me. Funny, right? An entire solo vacation, but I still like having my downtime. I love finding the perfect restaurant with a beautiful patio or deck, sitting outside, sipping some wine, eating and reading. At Comicon, there's always cosplayer people watching.
But the best part? I don't have to cook. I don't have to wash any dishes. I don't have that one more thing for work waiting for me. I can just relax and enjoy.
Determining my own schedule...
One of the best parts of traveling alone is that I decide how late I want to sleep or where I want to spend my time. If a panel is not engaging for me, I can quietly exit the room. If I decide I have a craving for a certain kind of food, then I just need to find the potential restaurants. I have no one I have to negotiate with.
So many aspects of my work require compromise. Working as a team. And that's fine. But having the opportunity to do what I want when I want without consulting anyone for a few days in a row is also delicious!
These decisions on how I spend my time grant me the ability to step away from my life and manage stress.
I can sit quietly and think. I can read. I can journal.
No one knows me. I chat with people on my own schedule. I don't have to do any chores, go to any meetings, create or contribute to any work project. I attend to my phone when I want. My focus on these trips is to decompress, learn, relax, people watch, step away from structure, and experience new things.
One caveat for the single gal looking to eat alone...
Sometimes I'll get a waiter or waitress who thinks I'm lonely. These well-intentioned people will try striking up conversations with open-ended questions. I usually just try to jump on something like "What brings you to this destination?" with an answer like "My life has a lot of noise. I'm loving the quiet here."
So far, every waiter and waitress has understood my enigma-like coded answer. They still check in on me and I smile. I tip well. And if I get the impression that leaving me alone may be difficult for this person (I've learned that some people are mortified at the idea of dining alone), I always stop at the host station before I leave to compliment the waiter or waitress. I guess teaching is something you never get away from. I like reinforcing positive behavior and letting the person know that I actually appreciate their effort to not bother my quiet time.
Have you ever traveled alone for the pure joy of a solo adventure? What did you learn from your experience?