- Heather McDorman
Vacation for One, Please!
How I learned to enjoy traveling solo and you can, too
It wasn’t something I planned to do, but I have come to love traveling alone. And I don’t mean traveling for business; I mean I enjoy a vacation by myself. Mind you, I don’t want to vacay solo all the time, but, occasionally, it’s a chance to recharge and relax. Let me convince you to give it a try!
My annual solo trip is planned around one of my passions – figure skating. No, I’m no Kristi Yamaguchi, but I’ve been a figure skating fan since the ‘70s and the days of Dorothy Hamill. I went to my first U.S. National Figure Skating Championships while I was in college. My former college roommate/bestie's husband knew the value in making her friends happy, so he treated us to a session at the 1985 U.S. Championships in Kansas City, Mo. I was hooked!
Once my husband and I had a little money in the bank, I drug him along on my first trip to the 1996 U.S. Nationals in Nashville. He toured the city while I sat in a cold ice rink absorbing the junior- and senior-level competitions. I was in heaven. Two years later, Jodi (my fellow blogger) and I traveled to Minneapolis to the 1998 World Figure Skating Championships. It was incredible to share the trip with a friend who loved the sport almost as much as I did.
Following an eight-year pause, due in part to the arrival of my son, I was elated when the championships came to my hometown in 2006. It was the nationals immediately before the Olympics - which is integral to the team selection – so it wasn’t too difficult to coax Jodi into another skating vacation. And for whatever reason, that one was my last skating trip with a fellow traveler.
Since then, I have enjoyed several of these solo trips that scratch both my figure skating itch and my need to recharge. Not having to wonder if a travel partner is having fun – especially when my activity is so niche – allows me to really sink into the vacation devoid of any pressure.
I encourage you to consider such a vacation whether you are watching a week-long national competition or not. Beach vacations, travel abroad, or a tranquil mountain cabin all can provide the same kind of relaxation and rejuvenation I reap from my figure skating trips. Here's why – in my opinion, anyway:
Benefits of Traveling Alone
Guilt-free feeding of your interests – Sometimes fun is lessened when you worry whether or not your travel partner is enjoying his or herself.
Debate-free dining – It can be liberating to choose a restaurant on the fly or with only your own palette in mind.
An open schedule – Trust me, you’ll love the flexibility of bedtime, alarms (or no alarms), or changing around your timeline with nary a care.
Dedicated time for relaxation – Indulge in downtime – whether that means extra sleep, room service, a spa visit or mindless TV. If it recharges you on your trip, it’s worth the time. Being on the go is good, but so is a little self-indulgent quiet time.
Opportunities to build self-confidence and self-reliance – Whether your vacation decisions are small or big, taking command of your trip builds confidence and makes each trip that follows less stressful and, thus, more enjoyable.
But don’t just take it from me. Listen to my kindred spirit (in career, retirement, and blogging), Alan Campbell. He’s turned solo vacations into an art form! You can check out his travels at www.alansheaven.com. Before you do, here are his words of wisdom on the value of vacationing by yourself.
“I often have people ask me if I'm doing my traveling alone and seem to be surprised someone would do that,” says Alan. “My answer is always the same, if I don't do it alone, I don't do it at all.”
And he has some tips for making your trip a success – in his own words!
Alan’s Tips for Road Tripping Solo
My number one tip, always pack granola bars and water. I'm only half joking. I've had many occasions where the timing just wasn't right to easily get something to eat and I was thankful I had something handy to keep me from getting very hangry.
That's the great thing about road trips, you can carry extra stuff in the back you might not need but is nice to have in a pinch. A rain jacket, some plastic bags, a blanket, an extra pair of shoes or boots. I usually leave my clothes in the car and just carry a duffel bag, with a day or two's worth of clothes, into the hotel, rather than dealing with hauling around a suitcase.
As for other tips, of course there's all the normal stuff, make sure your cell phone is charged up, keep your vehicle regularly maintained, keep an eye on your surroundings, etc.
One thing to keep in mind is cell phone service can be spotty. If you're headed somewhere in the mountains, the desert, or where there's a lot of miles between civilization, you might not have GPS. I've had that happen to me more than once and, thanks to my general lack of planning, had no idea which direction I should be heading next. For me, that's part of the adventure, but if you're not like me, you want to make sure you have some idea of where your path should be leading if you lose GPS service.
Also, make sure someone knows where you are and where you're headed. I send my daughter a text every day or two with a general idea of what's going on. This is especially true when I'm hiking and know I will be somewhere without cell service. Believe it or not, I look at my frequent social media posts while on a trip as a way of letting people, a lot of people, know where I am in case something does happen. Talk about crowdsourcing. And, my daughter knows if she doesn't see me posting then something's up and she should probably try to contact me.
The biggest advice I can tell people is do it. Don't think about doing it. Don't wish you were doing it. Don't say you'll do it, but not right now. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow and none of us wants to reach the end saying, I wish I had.
For people who are nervous about going solo, there are a growing number of services out there designed for solo travelers. I'd suggest looking them up. Also, sign up for tours in the cities you're visiting and similar activities where you know there will be other people. Just because you're going on the trip solo, it doesn't mean you have to be alone.
By road, sea, or air – be a smart traveler
And while individual travel can teach you resourcefulness, it’s important to be a smart traveler as well. Take these timely tips direct from travel agent Jerren Pirtle-McKamely from Must Love Travel:
First thing I would say as a single traveler … don’t be afraid. Yes, do your homework, but don’t be afraid of going solo.
Always leave your information/itinerary with people so they know when you are leaving and when you are expected back (also what are your expected excursions or solo options).
Try trips with tour companies that do a portion with a local expert and then a portion on your own (if you want). Many times, you have planned portions (for example, flights, some tours, etc.) but also have time for yourself to do what you want.
Get a passport, even if you don’t have to have one.
Get TSA PreCheck – it’s so worth it to make the airport part of your trip easier.
What about an overseas vacation – solo?!
One of my close friends, Andrea Hanstein, is a travel beast! She lives for her next trip – big or small. I’ve learned a lot from her. On more than one occasion she has traveled abroad on her own. So, what are Andrea’s top tips?
My number one tip is TAKE THE TRIP! Do not let the lack of a travel partner keep you from exploring the world. There are obviously some places in the world that you should avoid, but those are few and far between.
Be sure to leave plenty of time for exploring on your own, but it’s also a good idea to book some guided tours. During my solo trip to Ireland, I befriended a female university professor from South Africa on a trip to County Wicklow and rode my bike all over Dublin with a lifelong U2 fan in his late sixties. Guided tours are a great way to meet people!
Lastly, it’s always a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in the local language. My friend Nina lived in Paris for a few years, and one December I visited her for two weeks. She had to work a good portion of the time, so I was left to my own devices. I studied French throughout high school and brushed up on it before my visit, which came in very handy as I navigated the metro system and ordered meals.
All this travel talk is making me hungry for my next vacation – whether I go solo or not! I can tell you I’m looking forward to the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., in February and a possible trip to Ireland with my dear cousins in the summer of 2023. I’ll be sure to sprinkle in some trips to visit my brothers and friends across the country as well.
I think my friends agree – just do it! It doesn’t matter if your travel is far and wide or near and brief, you’ll energize your mind and feed your soul by investing your time in traveling. Go forth, friends, and tell me all about your favorite travels or future plans in the comments below!