By Lisa Stapel
Most of us have been on a vacation with our families or a group of friends. Fun is had, sights are seen, yet everyone comes home grouchy and exhausted. Traveling in a group means cramped quarters, differing opinions and juggling the interests and appetites of multiple people.
Traveling alone, however, can be peaceful and rejuvenating. I have gone on multiple vacations by myself, with destinations ranging from our own Upper Peninsula to overseas. Taking a trip alone means you only do what you want to do, whether it be getting up early to hit the shops or having a leisurely breakfast and reading the paper. On a recent solo trip to London, I spent my mornings writing in my journal, and my late evenings watching reruns of “I Love the ‘80s” on YouTube. I spent eight hours at the theater one day attending “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” On my last day I took a train to a famous cemetery. I was alone for a week, and I had a great time.
Now that I’ve convinced you all to pack a bag and leave everyone behind, here are some of my best tips for traveling alone:
You don’t have to go far, or for long. A solo getaway can be just for a couple of days, or even just an afternoon. Clear a day for yourself and hit the road. Bring whatever will help you relax once you’re there: headphones, a good book, a journal, a travel guide.
Make sure to go far enough. Trying to “get away” by just driving across town is difficult. It will be too familiar; you’ll end stopping at that nicer grocery store that you never go to and then heading home early to do laundry. My advice is to shoot for a location at least two hours away; that’s close enough to be relatively inexpensive, and just far enough for it to still feel like an adventure. Some ideas: Ludington, Traverse City, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Chicago.
Check out travel sites. If you’re in the mood to fly somewhere, I recommend Farecompare.com’s “Getaway” option. Type in your departing airport (ex. “Grand Rapids”), when you can travel (“May 2019” or “Winter”) and your budget (“Under $500”). Click “Map It”, and round-trip fares for destinations all over the world are displayed with available dates. Last year, my friend used this site to find us round-trip tickets from Chicago to Paris for $400 each.
Consider traveling at off-peak times. In September and October, the weather is still nice but prices for flights and lodging have dropped considerably. If it is winter and you’re looking to get away for a couple of days, consider northern Michigan. Lodging on the lakeshore that costs $200 a night in July can be quite cheap in January and February. A few years ago I spent two nights in January at a Ramada Inn in Ludington for only $45 a night, including fees. The hotel was so empty I even got upgraded to a Jacuzzi room.
Don’t stay at a hotel. For longer trips, you can rent an entire apartment; check out sites like AirBnB.com or HomeAway.com. Their listings are generally cheaper than a hotel and are fully furnished, meaning you can make breakfast in your own kitchen and have a fridge for leftovers. Check out the rental’s reviews before booking.
Ask Google. Google Maps is a godsend when you’re alone in a big city and relying on public transportation. Type in your destination, click the bus (“transit”) icon, and voila! Step-by-step instructions detailing where to find the nearest subway or bus station, where to get off or transfer and at what times.
Bring extra cell power. Using your phone all day for photos and directions drains your battery fast, and you can’t always find a public outlet to plug in your phone. The last thing you need is to be lost in an unfamiliar city with a dead cell battery, especially if you’re alone. Grab one of those $20 power banks and an extra charging cable and keep them with you at all times. Trust me.
Buy a selfie stick. Yes, they look ridiculous, but if you are traveling alone your only other option is to hand your smartphone to a stranger and hope they don’t take off running. Unless you want all your selfies with famous sites to be obscured by your giant face, get a selfie stick.
If all else fails, make time for yourself at home.
“You don’t need a million dollars to do nothing, man.” –Lawrence (Diedrich Bader), “Office Space”
Not everyone has the opportunity to travel alone, or even to travel at all. We have jobs, families, college classes and financial struggles. I do love a good trip, but I’ve also learned that I don’t need to be stuck at an airport to crack open a book. If you love these ideas but just can’t leave town for a day, find your alone time where you can. Go to a movie or restaurant by yourself. Take a solo walk in the park, or head to your local bookstore and don’t let yourself leave for an hour. The best part of traveling alone is taking the time to be yourself, and you can do that anywhere.