Beginning when they were still in elementary school, I’ve told my four children (three daughters and a son) that they shouldn’t even think about getting married until they are 25.
Because they need time to get through college, start their careers, and enjoy at least a few years of life that are all about them. Once they marry, life instead becomes about them as one half of a couple. And if they decide to have children, life is really never about them ever again.
When she blinks and suddenly wakes up as a 50-something adult, most every woman will have spent more than 20 consecutive years putting other people (her husband and her kids) and other priorities (her career and her household) first. And if she’s one of the 8.5 million single mothers in America (like me), time alone is as rare as a winning Powerball ticket.
So it’s no wonder that the hottest craze in travel is especially appealing to midlife women. Traveling alone has been one of the hottest travel trends this year, one that’s expected to continue into 2020 and beyond.
I recently gave solo travel a try, and this is what I learned.
1. My Solo Trip Was About Me (And Only Me)
After years of putting other people and priorities first, solo travel allows you to be deliciously self-centered and focus on nothing but what you want to do, see, and eat. This isn’t a business trip where your boss, your company’s travel policy, and business objectives dictate the details. And this isn’t a couple’s trip or family vacation where compromises are often required to ensure that each traveler gets to do or see at least some of his or her “can’t miss” items.
No, a solo trip is all about you. You pick when you want to wake up and when you want to go to sleep. You choose what you want to do and where you want to eat. And you set the pace at each stop.
After spending every minute of the past 20 years focused on at least two other human beings (my firstborns are boy/girl twins), the biggest benefit solo travel gave me was time all to myself. For three wonderful days, I did what I wanted, when I wanted to do it, for as long as I wanted. Not once did I hear, “Are we there yet?” And no one complained about how many photos I took of the Great Salt Lake and a bison cow grazing in the tall prairie grass on Antelope Island.
2. Because It Was All About Me, I Could Really Focus On The Destination
It’s hard to truly enjoy an art museum, presidential library, or medieval chapel if your travel companions aren’t really into the experience. You may want to linger in front of Monet’s masterpieces, read every word about the Watergate scandal, or take a thousand pictures of one of the oldest structures in the Western Hemisphere, but it’s hard to fully enjoy it when your travel companions are antsy to move on to the next stop.
3. Less Was More When I Dined Out As A Solo Female Traveler
When I travel with my kids, we spend as much time planning where we’re going to eat as we do deciding what we’re going to see and do. We love food, and experiencing locally owned restaurants and regional cuisine is very important to us. So before we visited Portland, Maine, we knew all of the best places to eat lobster rolls. And before we visited Austin, Texas, we knew all of the best barbeque joints. But on my solo trip, the idea of sitting down to a full-service restaurant meal all by myself didn’t sound nearly as fun as dining with someone else.
So I opted to grab a few things at the grocery store and eat at fast-casual establishments instead. On the plus side, I spent a lot less on food and ate fewer calories when I traveled solo. On the downside, the food wasn’t nearly as special or delicious, and I didn’t get to try as many things as I do when I travel with others.
4. Solo Travel Allowed Me to Get Lost
Perhaps the most unexpected benefit of solo travel was lots of time to get lost in my thoughts. No one needed me to run them to the dance studio or expected me to cook dinner. There was no television in the one-bedroom apartment I’d rented, and I didn’t have anyone to chat with as I hiked the trails at Antelope Island. And there was no one sitting across the table from me at dinner.
But the peace and quiet quickly filled my head with a colorful kaleidoscope of memories from half a century on this wonderfully exciting planet. When I passed a young family on a trail, the chatter between their two preschoolers reminded me of when my twins, Bo and Juliette, were that age, constantly jockeying for position as co-firstborns.
When I bit into my gyro sandwich for dinner, I remembered the incredible food I enjoyed on a trip to Greece. And when I settled into the small, well-appointed downtown apartment I’d rented for the weekend, I remembered my first apartment after college, back when I had a few years to spend my time and money 100 percent focused on what I — and I alone — wanted to do.
Like one third of the respondents in this Booking.com study, I would definitely take another solo trip. It was refreshing to sneak away to a few delicious days all to myself. And if you’re a midlife traveler who hasn’t taken a solo trip yet, I highly encourage you to try it at least once!