Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Joys of Solo Travel

My last post addressed the joys of traveling with adult children.  But here's my little secret about traveling:  in many ways, traveling alone can be the BEST way to travel.

I do enjoy traveling with my family, and I'd like nothing more than to get my husband to go with me to a conference or a trip to Europe.  But I have to confess:  when the girls left me alone in London, I had an equally enjoyable time being there on my own.

I dove into in living in London:  I got an Oyster card, and used the Tube to get around.  I went to the supermarket and the farmers market.  I got a local newspaper and read it.  I adopted the universal practice of dining alfresco, and the lovely English custom of sidewalk drinking (see the last photo below; a crowd gathered outside every single pub during England's World Cup matches).  I engaged in a stimulating conference and got to meet dozens of peers (and new friends) from all over Western Europe.  Then I roamed London!

Among the advantages of solo travel, you can set your own schedules, and be as aggressive - or relaxed - as you wish each day.  You want to spend a whole day in one really fabulous museum?  You can.  You want to visit 3 or 4 in one morning?  You can do that too.  You can eat whenever and whatever you feel like.  And really, dining alone is no big deal.  Order a big meal, and you have leftovers for a free dinner the next night.

Spontaneity is another virtue of solo travel.  Want to stop walking for a while, and enjoy a beer at this nice looking pub?  Go for it.  Want to linger in a shop and enjoy a conversation with the shopkeeper?  Go for it; no one is waiting on you.  Want to go into every one of the boutiques on this street?  Again, you are your own keeper.

As a big fan of cities in general, I particularly enjoy walking, letting my itinerary be random.  I do set goals, but I let them change as circumstances warrant.  Often I will just head off in a direction (with my hotel address and cab fare handy), and just see what happens.  In London, that was how I discovered all the cool graffiti in Hoxton.  And each time I return home, I try to go a different way and see different things.  That was how I discovered Neal's Yard Dairy.

I tend to do a lot of research about a place I'm visiting.  Whether I'm traveling with others or going it alone, I'll arrive with a general sense of the neighborhoods or areas I want to see (and the areas one should avoid).  That way, I know I'm not venturing somewhere I shouldn't.  I'll have a few good restaurants scoped out.  I'll know what the top-tier cultural destinations are - and have some ideas about how to go deeper than the tourist experience as well.  I ask a lot of questions.  And if I know someone in the place, I'll try to arrange a visit, for there's nothing like seeing a place through the eyes of a local.

Of course, the rules are different at night for a woman traveling alone, and knowing the culture is important.  My point is, don't let the absence of a travel partner hold you back!  Being out there on your own can be empowering.  You'll be more open to encountering new people and ideas.  You'll be more observant.  You'll pick up nuances of the people and their lives, culture and history.  In other words, being alone out there gives your mind the space to grow and leaves you more enlightened.  The world is waiting to be discovered, so go on out there and find it!

Here are some images I captured in Europe this spring - I called this file City Living.  Enjoy!

Child at Prague market

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Joys of Traveling with Adult Children

For parents of younger children, it may be hard to imagine that traveling with them could be easy and just a whole lot of fun for all concerned.  Schlepping diaper bags, strollers, car seats, toys and such is just a whole lot of work.  I don't know why anyone would willingly go through airport security these days with all of that paraphernalia.  Lucky for us, they weren't screening like that when our kids were younger.

But the joys of traveling with my girls these days are numerous.  Now that they are in their twenties, I no longer deal with these ills of traveling:

1.  Tantrums.
2.  Screaming on the plane.
3.  Sibling discord.
4.  Scheduling activities around naps.
5.  Nursing or changing diapers in awkward settings.
6.  Teenagers embarrassed by the parents, who are not invisible and mute.
7.  Eating crappy food with tired little ones.
8.  Worst of all:  being the boss of everybody, making all the plans and decisions.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I wouldn't trade for all the riches in the world their delight in Disneyland, how ocean waves held a magnetic draw on them, watching their little bodies turn nut-brown in the golden sun, or seeing their eyes opened to foreign cultures.  But these days it's just so much more fun, for all concerned.

Well, we're probably in the sweet spot with regard to traveling right now.  Both are single, and able to get away from work and school.  So here's what I get to enjoy now:

1.  Excellent, free - and honest - fashion advice from tireless shoppers.
2.  Experienced travelers who pack well and carry all their own stuff.
3.  Drinking an adult beverage with my daughters.
4.  Young adults with excellent palates - thus enjoyable fine dining prepared and served by professionals.
5.  A shared interest in art, architecture, language and culture.
6.  An agreement that every hour of shopping is earned by an hour of cultural learning.
7.  Extra arms and minds to navigate airports and solve problems (i.e., letting go of control).
8.  Best of all:  independent thinkers who know more than me about some things, add valuable content to conversations, and have ideas I wouldn't have had.

Thanks, Barrie and Annie, for being such excellent traveling partners.  You make me proud that I am able to travel with you.  Where will we go next?