Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Way I Roll

The greatest lessons I have learned have been facilitated by travel. It must be something about being in a place out of my ordinary that allows the mind to relax, becoming more receptive to any teachings the world shows us. While traveling with others is a wonderful time for bonding, laughter, and shared memories, the most inspiring trips I have taken, have been taken solo.

Notice, I didn't say 'alone.'

The word 'alone' is laden with negative connotations, "She travels alone," "She eats alone," and "She is alone." The word generally rolls off people's tongues with sour drippings, indicating no one wants to be with her, when in reality the individuality of her moment is by choice.  Solo has a much more positive vibe to it: "She took a solo flight," "She hiked the Appalachian Trail solo," or "She rebuilt an engine -- solo!" A simple change in terminology can change the perspective. But I digress . . . 

I spoke with my sister yesterday about everything from decorating houses to upcoming vacation plans. She is accustomed to
my solo travels and over the years has learned that I do not take on such travels without my wits. That is, in fact, the first thing one must pack when taking a solo trip.

By the way, not as much hubbub is made when a man travels solo, but men should be just as attuned to the ways of solo travel as women. A solo traveler is vulnerable. An unaware solo traveler is a target. A clueless solo traveler is the lead story on the evening news.

My first solo trip was when I was 19 years old, when I drove seven hours away to Nashville, Tennessee, just because I wanted. Looking back at that trip, I did some incredibly stupid things, like all 19-year-olds do, but it was my first venture into a type of travel that I have loved ever since. Why, you ask? It's freeing. 

Traveling with others can be a wonderful experience, taking time away from the normal schedule to spend time with others, experience new places together, have some laughs, and make some memories. Most travels I've taken with others have delved into conversations we had not broached before, an action that would not have occurred without the relaxation that comes with travel. Travel with others includes balancing other's needs with yours, including going places that do not interest you, and leaving places sooner than desired because someone else is bored. Conversations are generally contained to the people in the group. All of these are fine reasons to travel with others; solo travel simply offers a different perspective. 

Traveling as a group of one, the view of the trip takes a new view. Some may call it selfish, but that is a response from those who have never experienced travel on one's own. When solo, conversations occur outside of one's familiar circle. You talk to the hotel clerk, the person waiting for the same plane, a shopkeeper in a small town you just discovered. Much can be learned of the area from these folks, information that may have been missed had you been focused on conversing with those in your traveling party. Solo travel forces you to go outside your familiar circle to ask questions, speak, or comment. Some of my favorite interactions have been with people I've encountered while traveling solo -- interactions that would not have occurred had I been traveling with others. 

It's a curious thing that happens. It's only when we travel to a place where no one know us that we become most ourselves. -- Michigan Tourism Department

While visiting Lake Superior, I met two best friends of 40 years who were waiting for the same lake cruise boat as me. Carla and Nadine were irreverent and entertaining, telling me that they take one trip together every year -- away from husbands and family -- and have done that for 40 years. We laughed and talked for the next three hours of the lake cruise, took a photo, wished each other happy travels, and waved goodbye. They taught me so much in those three hours, about life, finding happiness, and accepting challenges. Had I been with my own group of friends, I would not have spoken with them, missing the interaction that will stay with me the rest of my days. I hope to be like them in my future years and that was worth learning.

With summer season approaching and good travel weather within reach, this topic comes to mind and all the tenets of solo travel are brought to mind. Here are just a few I follow and feel the need to pass along to anyone contemplating a solo trip. 
  1. If you cannot fathom going to a museum or restaurant or market alone, solo travel may not be for you. Does the thought of going to a museum for the afternoon give you panic attacks? Perhaps you should conquer that item before planning a two-week Caribbean vacation on your own. While solo travel can be very rewarding, it also requires spending a lot of time with yourself. If you are not comfortable spending time in the company of you and your thoughts, perhaps you should step into solo travel slowly. Start with an afternoon and work your way up to a weekend.
  2. Have a safety net. Find a friend who is willing to be your daily contact. I have a wonderful friend who not only is concerned when I travel solo, but wants to make sure I am safe. I leave her a copy of my itinerary and route along with a plan to text her every day before 8 p.m. The text tells her where I am and that I am safe. If she doesn't hear from me, she calls. If she can't reach me, she will start looking -- calling the hotel on my itinerary, calling authorities, etc. Our plan has never reached that point, but it's nice to know that if something does happen to me, she has a narrow window of only one day of my whereabouts to help authorities to find me. (It's also nice just to have a brief chat with a friend at the end of the day.)
  3. Your vehicle is your best friend. If driving on this trip, make sure the vehicle is well-maintained and fueled. Never allow the gas gauge to dip below 1/4 tank (I use 1/3 tank as a threshold). Don't ignore dashboard lights (that check engine thingy means something) and know how to change a flat tire on your own.
  4. Use GPS but don't depend on it. If you are a techy, you likely have a GPS (Global Positioning System) app already on your phone or perhaps in your car. Use them, but carry a paper map or atlas as backup. I like to travel to Northern Wisconsin, but as beautiful as it is, there is no cell service, meaning my GPS does not work. I also remember a trip through a populated portion of Iowa where my GPS app lost its mind, and luckily my sister had a paper map from which she navigated our next 50 miles around major highway construction.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings. When in the car, stay aware of exit signs, landmarks, how far you are from the next town. When walking, notice street signs, business names, and the people around you. When flying, be aware of your flight number and gate numbers (and look up the layout of the airport before you leave).
  6. When walking about, don't look like a tourist. Walk with your head up (not ogling the tall buildings, either -- a sure sign of an out-of-towner). Walk with confidence and purpose. Be aware of the people around you and the neighborhood in which you walk. 
  7. Never give up your control of YOU. Don't get into someone else's car. Don't allow yourself to be in a place where it is just you and a stranger (elevators, alleyways, isolated places). These are good rules for daily life, not just solo travel.
  8. Keep your personal information private. When engaged in conversation, it's easy to tell people identifying details of yourself that make yourself vulnerable. For instance, when speaking with random folks, I don't use my real name or real hometown. That is my choice. Frankly, a sinister person who hears the real answers can use Google to find me in about 10 seconds. Something so simple as my first name, my occupation, and my hometown -- boom, I'm located. Especially since there are only TWO Rita's in my town who work in the same industry. I change a few identifying items so they do not link back to me. I use a different name, and I'm always say I'm from a major metropolitan city. I chose a familiar city so I can appear knowledgeable. Why these items? How many times are you waiting for a plane, and another passenger engages you in conversation. What questions do they ask? Usually, "Where are you from?" "What do you do?" and after a bit, "I'm _____, what's your name?" Most people are not looking to cause harm with these questions, but the rare few are. Don't make it easy for them by giving facts that easily lead back to you. Basically, think about the information you generally reveal in casual conversation -- name, occupation, and hometown. Google that and see what turns up. Surprised? Yeah, I thought so. (When I travel, I'm always _____ from _____ every time, so I never appear confused.)
  9. Be cautious but not closed. The elements of personal safety listed above are basic principals to apply to your daily life, not just when you travel solo. Being aware of your surroundings does not mean fearing all that is around. It means opening your eyes to what is happening around your so that you can move more freely comfortably within the space. We do it everyday when we walk into a room, and instinctively see the walls, the furniture, and the people. We know how far we can walk one way before we would run into a wall or stub a toe on the sofa. We make these observations everyday so that when we lose our keys we can say, "Well, I was sitting on the sofa, I'll check there first." It does not mean, "Oh, I might lose my keys, so I won't sit on the sofa." 
  10. Trust your gut. If your gut feeling says you should not do something or go somewhere. Listen. Always listen.
Carla and Nadine. Long-time best
friends, travelers, and examples of
what's important in life.
Even with all the information out there on traveling solo or just traveling in general, some people will trust too much and thus find themselves in a vulnerable situation. Once a person makes these travel tenets a part of normal routine, the rest is easy. Enjoy! Explore! Take pictures! But mostly, learn something along the way. 

Keep your wits about you. If solo travel intrigues you, start with a weekend. Be aware. Know how to take care of yourself, whether that means changing a tire or basic self-defense. Be curious but not lackadaisical. Be adventurous but not dangerous. Solo travel is not for everyone, but for those who find it calling their name, it can be very rewarding. 

1 comment:

  1. What tremendous advice you offer, not just for solo travel but for life! The words you write are so worthwhile xo


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