To be honest, I don’t plan enough trips for myself.
It’s not that I’m short on vacation days. I actually tend to scramble at the last minute every year to use them up before my work anniversary. (*Tip:* never let your vacation days expire. You earned them.) It’s the process of setting a date and destination, and planning an intinerary, that gets lost on me. I’m also not great at finding travel buddies at the last second, and I generally avoid solo travel to keep my worrisome mother a little saner.
Yet having to travel for work simplifies most of these things. Normally, I’ll carve out at least one or two activities to squeeze in between my work time whenever I travel to a new place.
But this latest trip was a special one. I was going to a conference in New Orleans – a city I’d been wanting to see for the past 3 years. I hadn’t gone for the reasons above, but now I had an excuse to get it together, go out there and make a vacation out of it. So I booked an extra three days after the conference to stay put and explore.
Exciting? Absolutely. Nerve-wracking? A bit. Like I said, I really don’t travel on my own.
Not only did I survive my first solo vacation, but I had a truly wonderful time being away and being by myself. And as with most life adventures, I got a few great lessons (and photos) out of the experience! So while I’m no fancy travel blogger, here’s a nonprofit girl’s take on stepping out of her comfort zone to follow a dream 3 years in the making.
1. Just because something is scary doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it.
I’m generally not for doing things that intimidate me; jumping out of planes, getting on rollercoasters, touching insects. There are some lines worth drawing in the sand. But other fears are entirely worth tackling, particularly if you’ll have regrets later on.
I will never lose sleep over my refusal to skydive, but I would’ve been disappointed with myself if I didn’t take this chance to have the New Orleans vacation I really wanted. Even though solo travel can be a bit scary, my experience was completely worth it.
2. When in new places, try new things.
I’m not the most adventurous person; I pretty much order the same menu item whenever I go to a restaurant (and surprise surprise, my restaurant count isn’t very high!). But when you’re traveling, food is a wonderful gateway to exploring the culture and nuances of a place. It’s also one of the simplest ways to experience something new when you’re away.
No, I did not try the alligator sausage while I was down there. I’m not that bold.
3. Loneliness and solitude are not the same thing.
Everyone feels lonely at one point or another, and I used to think that solo travel would only exacerbate that feeling. So I went to a city that is largely visited by couples and wedding parties. Even though I didn’t meet a single solo traveler while I was there, and though I did many things on my own, I was so happy to be doing them and very much at peace!
The road can feel lonely sometimes, as I know from a few work trips I’ve had this past year. But I was able to relax and enjoy myself in ways that were only possible because I was alone. If I could redo it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
4. Clarity really does come from getting away.
I already wrote about feeling stuck in a prior post, and how changing up your routine can help you take a step back from a problem. Still, I underestimated how much you can alter your perspective when you physically remove yourself from a place.
Being outside of your element challenges you in ways that I’m sure just causes your brain to think differently. I felt stronger and more confident each day, which even made me feel clearer on some personal questions I was mulling over prior to my trip!
5. We need an adventure once in a while…and we don’t have to go so far for it.
I appreciate the irony that this realization came when I was 1,000+ miles away. I’m very guilty of getting sucked into work, zombified by my daily commute and feeling plain lazy on the weekends. I forget that I need to change things up and make time for excitement, in order to stay stimulated, energized and overall positive.
6. We also just need to relax.
About halfway through my trip, as I tried to hastily iron out the last of my excursions, I realized that my mind was racing in the same way it does when I’m at work. I was trying to squeeze in activities with the time that I had left when what I really needed (and wanted!) was time to relax. So I cancelled one of my tours, brought a book up to the hotel pool, and decided to sit and read for a few hours. It was by far one of the highlights of the trip.
Extra Tips for the Solo Leisure (or Work) Traveler:
- If you’re there for work, take photos of every receipt as soon as you get it! I take my reimbursements very seriously, and don’t put it past myself to misplace the receipts by the time I return. Store your paper receipts in a safe place, AND take photos of them.
- Consider a selfie stick. When I got my first selfie stick as a Christmas gift, I thought it was a bad joke. I admit it now, selfie sticks are great if you’re on your own and want to be included in your photos. (I generally don’t like to ask strangers to use my phone for a photo, just in case someone decides to run off with it one day.)
- Take out ample cash, and put it in different places. I almost never have cash on me, but I heard the tip in a podcast the day before my trip and decided to take out $140. Thank goodness I did – many of the places I went to required cash, not to mention you’ll have to eventually tip someone! That podcast also advised that it would be safer to not have all that cash on you at once. Store some in your wallet, and keep a good chunk in your hotel room safe just in case.
- Make it easy to stay on top of your personal belongings. I traversed the city with a backpack because it was much easier to carry for long periods of time, and easier to not put down than a purse. I also used a wristlet to carry my cash and cards, so that I could loop it around my belt loop and stick it inside my pocket. This way I could always feel it on me and not worry as much about dropping or leaving it somewhere. This may sound excessive, but taking these extra precautions really helped me to feel organized and have more peace of mind about losing things.
- Ask friends and colleagues for their recommendations. I knew the places to go – and even where not to go – because of the people in my networks who’d been to New Orleans before me. New adventures are great, but if you can get some guidance from those with the experience, it helps you to be a smarter, safer and more effective traveler.
I’m really looking forward to my next trip. For those of you on the road or heading out on vacation, happy and safe travels!