When I graduated from college, I decided to reward myself with a 3.5 week trip to the British Isles (England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland). I saved for months, working multiple college level jobs and was finally able to afford the trip I had always dreamed about and most importantly, without asking for financial help from my parents.
The only problem was, none of my friends could afford to go. So I had to decide – do I cancel or go it alone? My dad encouraged me to go so I could experience the world…although he had never even been out of the country. My mom tried to talk me out of going, although she had taken a very similar solo trip to Europe when she was my age (I can still hear her say, “things were different back then”).
Feeling torn and somewhat scared, I nearly backed out of the trip all together. Not only had I never taken a vacation on my own before but I had never been to Europe.
After some intense thought, I decided to rebook my trip with a tour group at the last minute. Going with a tour group, even if they were strangers, meant I was still a solo traveler, but I also would have fellow college-age tourists to talk and eat with each day which offered an acceptable safety net. This was just what I needed and convinced myself to go.
Little did I know what the travel gods had in store for me. Upon arriving to meet my tour group in London, I walked aboard the luxury coach to find it full of senior citizens. I had to be on the wrong bus, right? A lovely British tour guide was checking people in as they entered the coach so I asked her if there was a different (aka younger) tour group nearby that I should be with. After checking my name on her list and making a quick call, she confirmed that I was indeed on the correct bus with the senior group.
After nearly having a panic attack from the shock and disappointment, the tour guide helped me make the international call to my parents. I explained to them the problem and that the choice was mine – I could leave on a plane the next day and receive a mostly full refund or I could stick it out with the older crowd. Again, my dad encouraged me to stay. After all, I had worked so hard to get there, hadn’t I? My mom’s tune changed when she heard of my new travel companions – she was now thrilled that I would have 15 sets of grandparents keeping a watchful eye over me as I traveled from country to country and city to city. Once again, I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and moved on with my trip.
Although the early dinners and even earlier bedtime routines were a little hard to get used to, especially as a new college graduate with really no bedtime, the caring gestures of my new, albeit older, travel companions made me feel safe, welcome…and somewhat of a celebrity. I became everyone’s granddaughter or niece over night and my daily activities were the talk of every dinner conversation. I eventually knew everyone’s name, where they were from, and those who had single and highly eligible grandsons or nephews I might be interested in. Everyone wanted to know what wine I was having with dinner, what hobbies I had, and what I was going to do with my career. Although I did end up taking a few walks/mini tours on my own, the time I spent with my travel companions was priceless. Their stories, encouraging words, rowdy singing and laughter, not to mention their daily check-in’s to ensure I was “ok” and calling my parents every few days – all made my trip more than bearable – they actually made the trip enjoyable and one of the most memorable vacations I’ve had.
I remember a lot about the countries and cities I visited (the Ring of Kerry is even more beautiful than I imagined), but it’s really the people I met that I remember the most. They opened my eyes to retirement travel and that you can still be adventurous over 60. They also made me appreciate my youth and the importance of just living each day in the moment. Plus, I ended the trip with enough advice on wine, dating, marriage and, of course travel, to last a lifetime.
When the trip ended, I cried saying goodbye to everyone. The trip itself was truly bittersweet – I was sad to leave my new friends but grateful that I had made the right decision, which ultimately gave me the opportunity to get to know them and learn from them.
Now, many years later, I still look at that trip as a turning point in my adult life. I not only paid for an amazing trip myself, but I also overcome my fear of solo travel which allowed me to experience new countries and cultures, meet some really fun people, and have many great memories because of it. To this day, I’m convinced that trip made me the prepared, thoughtful, and culturally aware traveler I am today.
Solo travel is not for everyone. However if you never done it, why not give it a try? You just might surprise yourself and have the time of your life.