IGNITE August 2019
Making the case for solo adventure at any age
In April, I embarked on a 2,000-mile solo road trip to run a half marathon, camp in northern Georgia, and explore Asheville, N.C. The trip provided me with new experience and perspective, but the responses of friends and family before I left were echoes of things I had heard before: “You’re going alone? Just you?” and “I could never do a trip alone like that!”
Solo travel isn’t always the easiest option, but there are many fantastic benefits to consider. Here are some insights I’ve developed from my experiences that will hopefully make you feel encouraged and inspired to plan your own solo trip:
1. Be prepared.
This is my obvious and serious tip. Do thorough research before going. Mark important locations in your phone. Invest in a reliable portable phone charger. Bring printed directions. Get a car check-up. Test camping equipment in advance. Make reservations but keep options open for spontaneity. Give your itinerary to someone who will check in on you. And yes, prepare a fake story about how you will meet up with a friend later and provide it to people you meet as needed.
2. Travel for a concert or event.
My first solo trip was to Louisville to see one of my favorite bands. Events like this can serve as anchors to your plans, or even help you decide where to go. Does your favorite obscure band avoid Chicago or Madison? Well, meet them where they’re at.
3. Understand that solo travel can be awkward. You will survive.
That Louisville trip I mentioned? I went late to sneak into the pit section only to find out the whole amphitheater was general seating -- like movie theatres pre-2014. And guess what? I can’t recall the people I passed trying to find one of the last seats available, but I do recall how much I loved the show and how happy it made me.
4. Here are my tips if you can’t handle awkward.
Pack a pocket-sized book, one that you can easily bring to a park or restaurant for a quick read (bonus points if it actually fits in your pocket Jess Mariano style). For dining alone, find restaurants with bars so you can sit at the counter and chat up the bartender. Especially in a highly populated city, bartenders talk to solo travelers all the time and will enjoy hearing your story.
5. Talk to the locals — they are wise.
Ask your bartender for recommendations. Sign up for events, like walking tours and fitness classes, where you’ll meet locals. If comfortable, book an Airbnb and ask for recommendations in advance. Many hosts now provide their own guidebooks or gather local tourism guides for guests.
6. Scare yourself -- safely.
It’s one thing to sign up for a thrilling, fear-facing adventure with the company of friends -- it’s another thing to do it all on your own. Whether your fear is very contextual, like heights, or general, such as being alone, solo travel is a great time to address them.
7. DON’T do it for the gram.
This is not to say don’t take pictures. Snap those scrumptious food photos! But don’t rely on others’ likes and responses to inform you of what your trip meant to you. Even more, use solo travel as a method of self-reflection. Create time to work out issues that have been plaguing you. What’s been making you anxious or burnt out lately? Every trip can have space for these questions. On a similar note; solo travel allows you to do travel at your own pace. Explore the world in your own wonderfully unique way and without worrying about accommodating others’ interests.
8. Start small.
Find adventures in your community if you don’t feel ready for solo travel. Read a book at Rockford Roasting, get happy hour at the bar of the Norwegian, visit the Rockford Art Museum’s newest exhibit, make a regular bar into a bar “where everyone knows your name” or anything else that intrigues you.
Best of luck on your first/next solo adventure! If you’d like more advice, or to hear more entertaining stories about my solo travels (I ran over a ladder once!), let’s get tea or coffee sometime.