Summer Travel Plans

People have been asking about my summer travel plans and I’m a little surprised to say I don’t have any. Not yet, anyway.

I typically travel some with friends. Due to reasons beyond anyone’s control, I suspect they will all mostly be unable to do that this year. So I’m thinking this will be the year of mostly solo travel.

And that’s fine. I like my own company and always enjoy my solo trips. So stay tuned! There’s adventure to be had!

Have you read my tips for solo travel? Click here to read Solo Travel 101. What are your summer adventure plans? Spare no detail – I want to hear it all!

Solo Travel 101

Traveling with a companion is wonderful but there’s something special about solo travel. People tend to use the word brave when they learn that you travel alone and it always surprises me. In fact, I’m a little taken aback that someone would think me brave because I can function on a road trip without someone else in the car.

If you can take yourself to the grocery store, chances are you have the life skills needed to take a road trip, check into a hotel and find your way around a new town. Google and phone navigation apps make mastering a new place as easy as can be.

Today, I want to share some ideas on how a beginner can travel solo.

1. Start Close To Home – Before you plan a big trip, start by being a solo traveler in your own backyard. You don’t want your first adventure alone to be to another country where they don’t speak English. Start somewhere easy.

Find a tourist attraction like a museum or a historic home in a neighboring town and take a tour. Eat alone in a cafe you’ve never been to. See how it feels to be a tourist in an environment that feels comfortable.

If I were going to experiment with solo travel for the first time, I would choose a place like Marietta, Ohio (pictured). It’s just a couple of hours from home, has lots of small town charm plus history, museums and some neat restaurants. Look for a place that has lots to do so it’s easy to stay entertained.

Someone once told me they would be terrified to eat alone in a restaurant or to even sit alone in a movie theater. The very idea of all that they are missing made me sad. The movie is a no brainer to me. Splurge on the extra butter and get there early so you can stake out your favorite seat. Sit back and enjoy!

Restaurants are admittedly harder. I often have something to do. It’s rare to catch me without a book or a to do list of some kind. There’s no shame in that. However, I have been known to just sit and eat and people watch and enjoy my meal. Look around you. People are so absorbed in their phones and conversations they don’t care what you do.

2. Plan….. or Don’t – Maybe you would be more comfortable with reservations and an intiniary to define your trip. Just remember, the best thing about solo travel is that you don’t have to plan around someone else. In fact, you don’t have to plan at all.

Read that again. You get to do as you please.

I have booked multiple nights in a hotel only to learn that I was ready to go after one day. I have had some of the best meals by randomly choosing a place because I liked the awning out front. I have awakened early by chance and decided to hit the road in the dark with a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich so I could watch the sunrise from the next town. Flexibility is a tremendous perk to solo travel because you can follow a whim instead of a plan and without worry for someone else’s needs.

3. Find The Unusual – I cringe when someone tells me they want to go on “a Brandi Adventure.” It’s a compliment but the very notion stresses me out. When I have someone else in the car, I feel pressure to entertain them, to keep them comfortable and fed. I get distracted with conversation and am not prepared to slam on the breaks for a quick turn because something about a road looks interesting. When you are able to be in tune with a whim, well, that’s where the magic happens. It’s where the fun starts. Don’t be afraid of the fun.

If you see a building with cool architecture, get a closer look. Park the car and enjoy a town on foot. Read the historic markers, track down the restaurant with the best pie, look around the museum, talk to strangers. Find out what makes a place special. Find out what makes it tick.

4. Talk To People – Ask a local for lunch recommendations. Talk to a museum security guard about the artifact they like best. This is actually my favorite thing to do. I got to see the only DaVinci painting on public display in America because a security guard recommended it. Strike up a conversation with a shopkeeper and ask about the town, the business, the broach they’re wearing. Anything. If you show a little interest in people, they typically are happy to share a story and a laugh. I have gotten the best tips and the most enriching interactions out of simply showing interest in someone’s opinions or stories.

5. Be Safe And Smart – Talk to strangers but don’t be too free with information. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t take chances. Do a little research so that you’re informed when choosing your hotel. At least google the hotel and the neighborhood to see if it’s a safe area. For example, I booked a budget hotel in Jasper, Indiana a few years ago. I don’t recall which one but it would be easy to find. I got to my room and looked out the window to see a very large group of extremely spirited bikers pulling into the parking lot across the street. It was a jail. No one mentioned in the hotel reviews that there was a jail across the street. I might have chosen someplace else had I known. I learned from this experience.

When I travel alone, I like to scope out the hotel before dark. Ideally, I’m in my room at dusk but that doesn’t always work well so be strategic about parking. Let me tell you, after a long day of adventuring, it feels positively luxurious to take a hot shower and sit in the middle of a soft king bed to eat Chinese food while watching bad tv.

Most of all, be smart and listen to your gut. If something feels off, get out. Don’t leave food or drink or bags unattended. Don’t flash a lot of cash or anything valuable and do your best to blend in with the crowd. Don’t look like a tourist or look lost. Walk with purpose, even if that purpose is to duck into a store to ask directions and regroup.

Most tourist attractions don’t allow weapons but it’s smart to carry something where you can – pepper spray, a taser, a small handgun or a knife might be appropriate options for you. Years ago, when I was a young reporter, I had a state trooper advise carrying a large Maglite flashlight. These metal flashlights, when loaded with batteries, are heavy and double as a nice club in a pinch.

I wrote a lot about safety because that’s the part everyone asks about. But guys, please note that this is advice I would offer for any outing, even just a day of shopping in your own town. You can encounter trouble anywhere.

Solo adventuring can be the most rewarding, the most fun, the most liberating experience of your lifetime. Take control. Don’t let fear hold you back.

Go forth and adventure. Most of all, have fun!

The Perfect Long Weekend (And Some Free Advice)

Nothing says freedom like a solo road trip. I hit the road Friday afternoon for a trek down to Winchester, Virginia where I made my home until starting the leisurely trip north Monday.

When planning this trip, more than a dozen scenarios were on the table but nothing really excited me. I was studying a map of Virginia when Winchester caught my eye and a vague recollection that Patsy Cline was from here made me pause.

A visit to her museum was one of the highlights of my trip to Nashville this spring and I had to wonder if there were other things to do around Winchester. Turns out this was a silly question. The area is rich in history and natural beauty and there is no shortage of things to do.

In fact, I packed a lot into my long weekend but needed far more time to do everything that looked interesting. I did hit the highlights and saw a lot in places along the way as well.

Sometimes I wish that I had a specific interest- a certain period of time or a field like aviation or rock collecting. It would be nice to be an expert in something.

But that’s not how I’m wired and trips like this make that especially clear.

My activities ranged from Civil War era attractions like Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters and the battlefield at Mannasess to a flying circus, an awesome cavern and the childhood home of Patsy Cline.

The good news about having such a broad range of interests is that there’s always something to learn and a lot of surprises to enjoy.

The highways were useful when I just needed to make time but secondary routes were more fun when the goal was to sit back and enjoy the view. It was about 50/50, a ratio that worked well given the mountainous terrain of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.

This trip was memorable despite the fact I’ve been battling a sinus infection for weeks and still wasn’t feeling my best. For this reason, I took it easier and rested more than normal but still finished each day satisfied with all I had done.

This also helped some with the mental fatigue that’s been dogging me for a few months. I didn’t know what time it was most of the weekend and did not care.

Regardless of how fast or slow I move, I have a knack for attracting people who want to talk.

At the flying circus, I was befriended by a 74 year old gent with a soft Virginia drawl and a curiosity about the sign he saw me taking a picture with. He listened with interest as I told him why solo travel is fun. I also explained that it’s a necessity as I’m not prepared to stop going places simply because I don’t have a mate or someone to go along for the ride.

He gave me two pieces of advice:

1. If you want to retire early, live well below your means and lower your expectations. He should know – he retired at age 54.

2. To never lose my sense of adventure and bravery.

I liked him and appreciated the advice.

On the other hand, a younger man in the same conversation said that no wife of his would be out running around by herself like I do.

I smiled and told him it’s a good thing I’m no one’s wife. Jerk.

I’ll stick with the wisdom of the older man, thank you.

Sunday Mannassess and the road there (95)

After leaving Winchester Monday morning, I followed the recommendation of a friend and took a detour to Lurray Caverns about an hour south of Winchester. Then it was a meandering journey to Clarksburg, West Virginia by way of Oakland, Maryland. My use of finally paid off and I cashed in a free night’s stay at Clarksburg before heading home the next day.

This was a perfect long weekend. With no real schedule and no one to please but myself, it was easy to just enjoy the adventure without pressure or worry. There are several stories to share including some unexpected things from along the way. Those usually make for the  best stories, those things you don’t plan.

We’ll get started tomorrow with a visit to the Patsy Cline House!

Going It Alone

IMG_7784I spend a lot of time by myself -partly by choice and partly by necessity. Sometimes it’s just to prove that I can. I’m happy to have company but am also happy to hike five miles alone, to eat alone in a restaurant or even go to a concert by myself. Solo road trips are actually a lot of fun because you don’t have to take into account someone else’s feelings and can just go where the wind blows you.

However, the one thing I had never done alone is fly.

I’m not really a seasoned air traveler and had never needed to go by myself. For some reason, this really had me psyched out when it came to planning my Utah trip. The thought of getting myself to the airport, through security and to the right place on time was intimidating. I’m not afraid to fly. I was just afraid of the rest!

Turns out, it was fine.  I flew out of Cincinnati rather than Columbus because airfare was significantly less and I was able to choose from several direct flights at different times of the day both coming and going. Think half the price for a direct flight that took a third the time as the ones offered from Columbus. 

I drove myself to the airport, found my way through the whole process and actually enjoyed my flight. Easy peasy.

Coming home wasn’t quite as easy. My flight was delayed and my bags heavier because I evidently am a champion packer who managed to fit a ton of stuff into a carry-on and personal item, making it tough to navigate the narrow aisles of an airplane and to drag through the airports.

Nonetheless, there was nothing to fear. In fact, I would be game to do it again soon if the opportunity arises.

What are you afraid to do alone? I can promise you, it won’t be nearly as scary as hiding from life and staying home all the time! Tell me all about it in the comments.