How I came to love traveling with myself
How it started
Do you like yourself? Are you good company? Those are questions that might be worth asking if you travel alone. I never really thought about those questions, even having spent a good amount of time in my own company.
For me, however, the initial challenge of being a solo traveler has gone from being a challenge to being a joy.
I married very young, going from my Mother’s house to setting up house with my husband. During those years, as we were raising three children, my travel experiences consisted of camping and the occasional weekend in San Diego. I never ate out alone and certainly never traveled alone. Then, at the age of 35, I found myself a single mother, and travel of any kind was not on my radar screen.
The end of the marriage was devastating for me and I was lost in grief. Being on my own for the first time ever, I found I was navigating uncharted waters. Working full-time and parenting filled my days, but loss made me turn inward, and I found myself needing time alone.
I never recognized it as a child, but I have always been a loner and my way of coping is always to keep to myself. I realized early on in those days that just going into a cocoon might not be the healthiest of coping mechanisms, so I asked my Mom to take the kids for a couple of days and off I went to the “big adventure” of a weekend in San Diego, all alone! I was a nervous wreck at first, driving a whole two hours by myself!
That weekend was also the beginning of something new that would change my life forever. I found my passion for photography!
The weekend was perfect! I indulged in a room at the Hotel Del Coronado, a very self-contained resort, which even had its own little shopping mall in the basement. I never had to leave the grounds if I didn’t want to. It was safe and comforting. Multiple restaurants meant a variety of meal choices, walking on the beach gave me time to reflect, and much of my time was spent reading, until then, my favorite pastime. When I did go out, it was to explore Coronado or Old Town, shopping or eating. What I did not realize until I got home was that except for paying for meals or purchases or ordering in restaurants, I did not speak to a soul all weekend. This realization was thrust upon me when I got home and anyone talking to me sounded like a cacophony of sound. The other realization was I loved traveling alone, and suddenly my camera became my constant companion.
Over the next few years, occasional weekends were all I could manage, but the time came when a passion for photography made it more imperative to get away.
I was so captivated by photography and so nurtured by my outings that I started healing. As I write this, 37 years have passed, and the healing will never be complete, but my two passions have sustained me in moving on.
While I was trying to heal, I decided to take some classes, and my life was forever changed by that decision. In retrospect, I wish I had found that part of me many years earlier, and I find myself encouraging the young people in my world to really soul search where life should take you. I didn’t find my true north until I was 42 years old!
My photography instructor turned out to be a man of vision who chose to expand the horizons of his students by taking them on field trips, usually for an evening in place of classes or a weekend outing. Then a conversation amongst a few of us led to a decision that changed my life and that of many to come. We decided to plan a multiple day trip which ended up being five days to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. That trip was the first of so many I have lost count. For 27 years, we have been planning trips lasting anywhere from three to seven days and taking us all over the country. What’s more, it fired up that travel passion in me, and so began my own travel adventures.
It also, in some ways, made me understand the benefit of solo travel. On those trips, there have been anywhere from 15 to 40 people, mostly on chartered buses. We become one big happy family and genuinely have great times together, but more often than not, at the end of the day, I find myself craving the absence of human contact, so I usually do not join the evening get-togethers, but rather, I find a comfortable spot and a good book.
I live in a world where, by some weird happenstance, all of my close friends are married, so when they travel, they usually travel with their spouses. I therefore found myself wanting to go places, but had no one to go with.
From the time I was 12 years old, my dream had been to go to Africa. Since I was terrified of flying, I had accepted the fact that Africa was never going to happen. Furthermore, the cost seemed prohibitive, and that part of the world seemed a bit volatile. So, I decided to substitute Alaska for Africa. With this came the challenge of going alone, because no one I spoke to had any interest in Alaska.
By this time, I had overcome my fear of flying, and I decided that I was just going to go alone if that was the only way. Other than snakes, bugs, spiders and flying, I actually am pretty fearless, but I also clearly understood that a woman alone flying to Alaska, getting into a car and driving around the wilderness was not the smartest thing to do, even though it was something I would have been willing to do. In the end, I decided that a cruise was the wise way to go.
Now came the logistics of finding an affordable cruise for a solo traveler, and what I found was a treasure.
I love boats, but standard cruise ships look to me like floating hotels. What I found was an older ship, much smaller than most cruise ships, and it had a completely unique program. No casino, no big shows, no ice sculpture classes! Where there was once a casino, there was a library. All of the entertainment was low key, like folk music and string quartets and in a lounge rather than a stage. That same lounge served as the location for various informational lectures about Alaska, as well as daily briefings about the next day’s port excursions. The only dress up required was for a Captain’s cocktail party in the lounge, not for dinner. And the best part: the cruise was 15 days long and stopped at 8 ports along with cruising close to the coastline, so Alaska was always in view. This was really the start of my love affair with solo traveling.
Oddly enough, I did eventually get to Africa, but not alone. As it turned out, it was after the Africa trip before I traveled alone again. When I did, it was to go a place to where I have since made multiple trips, alone and with friends.
I don’t remember what prompted my first solo trip up the California coast, but it was the most ambitious of my coastal drives and one I will never forget. I suppose the choice of one hotel was the driving force behind the rest of the trip. Many years ago, there was a movie called Same Time, Next Year about a couple that meets at the same hotel for a weekend each year. Somehow, I found out that the movie was filmed in a real hotel called The Heritage House and that it was open for business, so that started the trip plan.
The Heritage House was not inexpensive, but they were offering three nights for the price of two, so I decided to go for it, and it was one of the best hotel stays ever. So, from there, I planned out the rest of the trip, staying one night at the Apple Farm in San Luis Obispo, on to a night’s stay in a Lighthouse hostel and then a long day’s push to Little River and the Heritage House.
During this trip, the weather was a little iffy, so I had some down time, which was a real treat. My room was huge, with a fireplace and hot tub, as well as a wide swath of picture window, window seat and all, overlooking the Mendocino Headlands. I spent one day in the room during a rainstorm, with the occasional walk out to the gazebo on a bluff nearby. It was heavenly. I explored the area, including the quaint village of Mendocino.
Staying in the Pigeon Point Lighthouse hostel was quite an experience. The grounds are closed to the public before sunset and not open until around 10:00 AM, so staying there gives you access one does not normally have. There are shared bathrooms, as well as a large common area living room and a big kitchen in each building. Mornings are cold, but make for great sunrise photography.
On the way back south, I spent some time in Pacific Grove, then headed south and home. It was an amazing trip, and one where I learned that I LOVE solo road trips. I have since made the trip up the coast many times and it is always like it’s new.
I love the fact that it always is a little different and I can stop when I want and spend as much time as I want doing whatever I please. Since that first trip, I have taken almost yearly trips up the coast, sometimes alone, sometimes sharing the joy with friends.
Having taken what was a pretty long road trip, I decided to take on an even more ambitious trip and a much more involved undertaking. Again, it was to a place I wanted to see, but found no one interested in going, so I began planning a trip to Washington D.C.
As I researched the trip, I found there were intriguing sights in Virginia, so I decided to be very adventurous and spend some time exploring there as well, and it did not disappoint. It’s one thing to drive around the state you’ve lived in all your life, but exploring the back roads of Virginia was quite the adventure. I found myself on one night traveling back to my bed and breakfast, in the dark, on two-lane country roads for over 2 hours. There aren’t a lot of freeways like here in California. I spent several more days seeing all I could of Washington D.C., although I’m not sure a month would be enough. Then came the unexpected, but joyously anticipated finale to the trip home, crossing the country by train.
I have always loved trains, so that was a good enough reason. I also thought it might help with the fact that I have a miserable time with jet lag. It took me three weeks to get back to normal after Africa. The train ride was amazing, a special treat I will always be glad I gave myself. It did not, however, alleviate the jet lag!
What it did do was give me three days all to myself; a time when I could indulge my love of solitude or go to an observation car and socialize. As you can imagine, I did mostly the former. A roomette, as they are called, consists of two large, very comfortable seats facing each other with a table between. The width of the seat is, except for a small area, the width of the roomette. At night, the seats fold down to make a bed and another drops down from above, if needed. Attendants make up the bed, when you are ready. Meals are included when you have any sleeping accommodations, and you can eat in the dining car or avail yourself of the room service option at no charge. Rolling along with the countryside out the window was absolute bliss, although the rolling motion did make for the occasional nap! I read, I worked on photos on my laptop and sometimes I just gloried in the passing sights.
I could have ridden that train for a lot longer, but, as we pulled into the station, I was thrilled to see my family coming up the steps to meet the train.
In closing, I guess there are several things that you need to know when considering traveling alone. First, you have to be comfortable with just yourself as company. Some trips, like cruises, will afford you the option of meeting people when you want company, but road trips not so much. On a road trip, be sure you are comfortable driving in unknown places and doing all of the driving. Allow yourself some flexibility, in case it gets to be overwhelming. I once made a last minute decision to drive to Chincoteague Island to see the wild horses, but it was a four hour drive there and four hours back. It was a long day that included my taking a wrong exit and getting stuck in Georgetown traffic on a Saturday night and thus getting to my hotel late at night, but it was so worth it, including getting one of the best shots of my life. I do, however, know people who would have been cranky and put off by that day, so know your limits.
Planning ahead gives you some direction, but don’t let the sights you’ve planned for blind you to the wonderful things you may encounter along the way. Some of the best things I’ve ever experienced were things I stumbled onto, but, being alone, you have to step out of your comfort zone. I love old cemeteries, but not everyone would be as at ease exploring them as I am, but what fascinating things you come across when you do. Finally, traveling alone or with others, give yourself the gift of memories, not just photographs, but a journal all along the way. Try doing it at least at the end of each day and don’t just write down what you did, but what it made you feel, your impressions, the memories you want to hold onto. You will treasure them when you go and read them.
A last, but very important tip: MUSIC! Especially on a road trip, music adds to the joy of being on the road. With digital music so available, you can create playlists that are completely eclectic or individual lists of types of music. Coast highway makes me want instrumental music or music I can sing to. Traffic makes me want to listen to audio books. I never listen to the radio, preferring to have total control, but radio works too. Just don’t drive in silence; it’s boring!
While you’re at it, treasure your time with yourself!