The Single Life: Having a Wonderful Time, Glad You're Not Here
- 2010 10 Jun
Ever since Noah began taking reservations for the Ark, travel has been designed for groups of two. Hope and Crosby, Thelma and Louise, Cheech & Chong—they all traveled in pairs. Group trips are also a popular option, but even then most everything seems to be built around sets of two. But what about traveling (gasp) alone? Could you, should you, would you?
While I'm a big fan of traveling with friends—in fact, as you read this I'm wandering about with a couple of travel buddies—there are distinct advantages to taking yourself on a trip. Granted, traveling solo in a double-occupancy world has unique challenges, but it has some fabulous benefits, too.
All About You
The first, most obvious benefit to traveling alone is that it's all about you. You're the only one you have to please. Don't like museums? Don't go. Alternatively, if your heart's desire is to spend all day staring at one special painting/battleground/architectural wonder/whatever, have at it. No one—with the possible exception of a suspicious-minded security guard—will mind. Get up when you want; eat when, where, and what you want; go where you want; stay as long as you want. Please yourself.
One of my all-time favorite travel memories is the afternoon I waved goodbye to my travelling companions and spent the day puttering around London. All. By. Myself. To be footloose and fancy free in my favorite city in the world was a dream come true. I found a fantastic World War II museum, daydreamed my way across Tower Bridge, met a real live gypsy, and—yes, I admit it—ate lunch at McDonald's. (After a week of English "cuisine" I craved something that tasted like home. My experience has been that a Quarter Pounder in the States is never as delicious as the one you find on foreign shores. But I digress...) You get the idea: when traveling alone you can be completely and utterly selfish. And sometimes—for limited periods—that is just bliss.
Rules of the Road
Some years ago I read about a woman who bicycled from London to Jerusalem all alone, camping by the roadside with only a tent between herself and whatever was out there in the dark. Granted, this was several decades ago, but still ... that doesn't seem very safe to me, does it to you? That's one of the downsides to traveling solo—no one is looking out for you. So, before you take off into the wild blue yonder, tell someone when and where you're going. Preferably someone who will miss you if you don't return as scheduled.
Once you arrive, exercise the same basic caution you would at home, kicked up a notch because you don't know the area. Just because it looks quaint and charming doesn't mean it's safe. On that same London trip I witnessed a purse-snatching at Picadilly Circus when a girl sat on the steps to check her phone for messages, setting her purse at her side. It was gone in a flash. Stay alert, keep your wits about you, and you should be fine.
When you go out for an evening's entertainment, many experts recommend telling the front desk clerk where you're going. My personal thinking is the front desk staff is likely too busy to keep track of your comings and goings. So tell that friendly clerk if you like, but I suggest leaving a note in your room saying where you're going and when you expect to return. You can toss the note or add it to your travel journal once you're safely back. And if, God forbid, the worst happens, that note will provide a fantastic clue for the police in their investigation. (Sorry. I've really got to stop watching so many detective shows.)
There are times when being on your own can be a bit of a downer. When you tire of your own company—and hopefully before that talking to yourself thing gets too out of hand—try one of these tips.
- Be like ET: phone home. Sometimes you just need to hear a friendly voice.
- Or do the modern equivalent: catch up with your friends on Facebook or Twitter. (Ha! Like you're not doing that already.)
- Go on a tour—you'll be with people who are interested in the same things you are. If all else fails, you can chat with the tour guide. They're usually a great source of information about local restaurants, shopping, etc., too.
- Take a class—I have my eye on a baking course at the Culinary Institute of America, but you can find short-term classes in a wide range of subjects. You'll meet people and pick up a new skill at the same time.
- At a restaurant, eat at the bar and talk to the guy or gal behind the counter. (Be careful about hanging out at bars alone, though—it's a good place to be marked as a victim by a would-be baddie.)
- Some restaurants have communal tables where they seat people together. I was offered this option on a trip to Santa Fe and turned it down—a decision I really regretted when I bit into the most amazing sandwich ever. (I desperately needed to gush about how fabulous it was and there was no one to tell. I'm drooling just thinking about it. It was this chicken breast on cornbread with incredible ... oh never mind.)
- Consider staying at a B&B rather than an impersonal hotel. I'd probably avoid the ones that advertise their romantic atmosphere, though. Being surrounded by couples all wrapped up in each other can be really uncomfortable.
You'll Never Walk Alone
Truthfully, there's no such thing as traveling solo—because no matter where you go, God is there. As Psalms 139:9-10 reminds us, "If I rise with the sun in the east and settle in the west beyond the sea, even there you [God] would guide me." Maybe you and God should go on a little getaway—just the two of you. It might just be your best vacation ever.
Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends. She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life. Read Susan's blog at TastingGod.wordpress.com.
**This column first published on June 10, 2010.
Resources for the Single Traveler:
A quick search in your favorite search engine for "solo travel" will find a plethora of potential sites. The following are a few Web sites I found particularly interesting and helpful:
- www.Journeywoman.com - fantastic tips on everything from what to wear in Indonesia to how to safely navigate any city's subway. Includes an entire section on traveling solo. Caters to the female traveler, but men can pick up tips here, too.
- www.independenttraveler.com - an excellent assortment of information and links; allow plenty of time to peruse the options.
- www.ricksteves.com - more general tips on traveling; search for "solo travel" on this site for encouraging words from successful single travelers.
Do you travel solo? We'd love to read about your experience! Please share your story in the comments section below.