My first guest post! Check out Norma Wallace’s thoughts on Solo Travel.
“I remember reading Rafif’s post about solo travel and realized I have a story to tell.
At first, I thought ‘no big deal – I have traveled alone before, in my 20s.’ Oh, that was 54 years ago. Things have changed!
A friend asked if I felt comfortable driving 200 miles and going through Portland.
I said, “No, I am not comfortable— but I need to get out of my comfort zone if I am going to have any adventure in my life.” So after reading Rafif’s blog I thought I would put a positive spin on traveling alone. I was going to have a good time.
The first obstacle was a fire that closed the highway for 1.5 hours. Luckily, I had a good book in my purse. I read while I waited for the highway to open. The next obstacle was traffic. I was so thankful for a GPS to tell me where to go. (They didn’t have those 54 years ago!)
The last obstacle, I thought—eating alone. Actually, I was so happy to have gotten through the fire area and the traffic that it was a great relief to be by myself, order the type of food I wanted, and do a little people-watching.
The last obstacle that I haven’t overcome yet: the TV remote in the motel. What happened to just turning on the TV and changing the channel?
Why is every remote different? I will try one more time. Wish me luck.”
I’ve grown bored of all the posts and articles that claim to teach us how to travel: things you should know before you go, how to pack, what to pack, how to get upgrades. The information is almost always the same, just recycled with different pictures and minor edits. I stopped paying attention to the advice: “Pack light!” “Roll your stuff!” “Be prepared for different climates!” I’m sure there’s new and fresh information. I wish someone would publish it.
Also: in response to a common question (“how can I not stand out as an American?”), the number one guidance is: “don’t wear sneakers, especially white ones.”
Well, from my perch at Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik (Iceland) this morning, as part of the Itinerary From Hell that is my current trip (will rant about that separately), EVERYONE but me is wearing sneakers.
The sneaker-wearers are women and men of all ages. They are surly teenagers and hyperactive adolescents. The wearers were Americans, Icelanders, Arabs, French, Spanish, and a host of other nationalities I could not readily identify based purely on spoken language.
I know all this because I had a pretty decent amount of time during my layover (did I mention itinerary from hell?) to people-watch quite extensively. (Greatest sport of all time.)
I saw white sneakers, some with stripes, on not-American feet. There were lime-green sneakers and black sneakers and orange sneakers and a few startling shades-of-fuchsia sneakers.
There were a few sparkly sneakers too, worn mostly by 50+ not-American women. Go figure, globalization knows no boundaries nor age groups.
Anyway, because I have time before my next flight, here’s my travel advice:
Pack light, because you just might have a long trip with multiple stops before your final destination. It just may be that the gods will conspire to make every escalator break down and you’ll have to lug your suitcase up and down the stairs to get to the restroom, the gate, and the coffee. These three places are not necessarily on the same floor.
Take a sweater or warm scarf, because who doesn’t travel in 3 different climates on the same trip? If you don’t take some warm clothing, you may find yourself shivering in a corner of Keflavik Airport, trying to discreetly draw warmth from fellow passengers who are appropriately dressed but who now think you’re a creep.
Oh, hell. I give up. Wear the damn sneakers. This is so you “blend in” when experiencing 1 and 2 above.
I survived the trip. Looking back over the past 24 hours, now that I’m back in Istanbul and finally warm, I’d say it was a tiring but good day. I got lucky with my seats on each leg of the trip: an exit row, an aisle seat on an overbooked flight, and a near-empty row on the last. It could have been so much worse.
This summer I visited a childhood friend who now lives in Madrid, Spain. We had planned to explore Andalusia, and made plans to visit cities Cordoba and Granada. The day before our planned travel, my friend had an unexpected visitor and could no longer make our trip.
What to do? Tag along and be a third wheel? Go alone? I had never traveled solo as a tourist. For business, yes – plenty of that. But as a single female tourist? Nope.
The idea of solo travel was both intriguing and intimidating: the thought of the independence and freedom was exciting. I could do whatever I damn well pleased, without having to accommodate anyone else’s desires. On the other hand, what about mealtime? I would have nobody to talk to! Was there a certain etiquette for solo travelers? Would people think I’m a loser, or have no friends? Incidentally, concerns about personal safety did not cross my mind.
In the end, I took the plunge and went to Cordoba, Granada, and Alhambra on my own.
Guess what? Solo travel is completely empowering!
In Cordoba, as I walked from the train station to my little hotel, I realized I didn’t have to listen to someone else talking. I could focus on my surroundings. I could actually hear the sounds of the city, if that makes any sense. I fell in love with Cordoba.
At Hotel Marisa (clean, budget-friendly, awesome location), I felt a renewed sense of independence. I actually felt at peace with myself – and if you’re reading this and you know me, you know very well that it’s been a long time since I’ve been at peace with myself. In any event, I spent a couple of days walking around the old city, exploring the narrow streets and stopping occasionally for a cold beer or a glass of sangria.
Next stop, Granada. I had the same feeling of freedom, independence, and peace at Hotel Palacio de los Navas, an incredibly lovely and comfortable hotel right by the Plaza de los Campos. For a couple of days, I walked around the city, both on my own and through a free tour the hotel had recommended. I fell in love with Granada.
Before heading back to Madrid from Granada, I decided to walk to Alhambra to see the spectacular castle, fortress, and views. Unfortunately, I had to leave – otherwise, I would have stayed in Alhambra for another week. I fell in love with Alhambra.
So here’s the thing about solo travel: all it requires is a little bit of self-confidence. Mealtime is no problem if you people-watch, or chat with your server, or make conversation with other solo travelers. If people look at you, don’t get self-conscious. They’re looking at you because you’re cute. Or because they admire your courage. Or both.
What I learned is that after 50, you CAN renew your confidence. You CAN regain your inner peace. And in doing so, you can fall in love. On this trip, I fell in love with Spain, and I fell a little in love with me.