Hitting the open road – or air – by yourself can be an adventure on its own.
I love traveling. Sharing adventures with a friend or my kids is thrilling. Yet, I’ve found myself for a few hours or a few days alone in a foreign city: Istanbul, Dublin, London. I’ve met women who were traveling alone: a thirty-something at the Tower of London who spoke no English; an around-the-world voyager in Cusco, Peru; a Chinese woman on photo safari in South Africa.
When my cousins backed out of our St. Kitts excursion last year, I went anyway. It was a wonderful week, and I came home with a new skill.
It made me wonder if other women were seeking solo travel because they prefer it.
Local residents MARY BLAKE, GLENDA NEWELL, and NAOMI PAINE are just some of a growing number of women emphatically saying yes and embarking out on their own.
Solo travel allows them to follow their own itinerary, to observe local people and customs, and to absorb their surroundings without distraction. While there are many companies eager to work with solo travelers, these women plan their own adventures.
Blake (left) worked overseas including in Senegal and the Philippines for several years. She traveled from both locations, sometimes for business, but often for pleasure.
“I didn’t want to have to wait for somebody else’s schedule to open up,” she says. “There were too many things I wanted to see and do to put them off and wait for other people.”
From Senegal it was a quick flight to South Africa where she rented a car and meandered her way to Krueger National Park.
“It was a different adventure than I would have had with somebody else,” says Blake (who contributed the photo of the leopards, taken on one of her trips).
She talked with strangers along the way, some of whom pointed out that she shouldn’t be traveling alone, she recalls. Fortunately, she had no problems.
She also drove around Portugal, staying in converted castles along the way.
“I could set my own schedule,” she says. “I met people along the way and enjoyed it. When you’re traveling with somebody or with a group you don’t always get that experience of meeting other people. When I have done travel with groups, it’s often a little cliquish.”
Returning to the U.S. after her Philippines assignment, Blake took a two-month break from work by purchasing a car in Portland, Oregon, and driving it 10,000 miles to Key West. She and three outfitters spent a week on horseback, then whitewater rafting in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
Her mother joined her for camping in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Most of the way, she camped in a tent. In New Orleans, she woke up to a tent covered with spiders. She switched to hotels for the remainder of that journey.
Camping puts one in unusual places. “I’d meet people in the laundry mats and have wonderful conversations. I got a wonderful understanding of the issues in those communities,” Blake says. “I had spent so much of my career overseas, the trip helped me to connect with my own country and understand different parts of the U.S.”
The first time Newell (right) went to Paris, she was to meet the sister of a friend, but her intended host had been called out of town.
“I was there by myself,” she says. She was also there with $20 and a credit card because she had left her wallet in Charlotte.
“I did a lot of free stuff,” Newell says, like visiting museums on the free day.
Newell returns to Paris as often as she can, but she’s also traveled solo to Stockholm, Portugal, and parts of Africa.
She says that first visit to Paris, sans money, was nerve wracking at first, but she enjoyed the people.
“They say Americans are treated badly in France. I didn’t find that to be the case,” Newell says. “I believe that in any culture, if you make an effort to speak to them, to communicate, that people are always welcoming.”
She says that trip also taught her that traveling alone made the itinerary and the experience her own. Newell says she prepares for trips by browsing travel guides and talking to other travelers.
In Stockholm, she relished the art and the coastline. Likewise, in Portugal, she stayed on the beaches near Lisbon, traveling back and forth by train.
“I went to the beaches, museums, monasteries, palaces, and a fourteenth-century Moorish castle,” she says.
In Africa, Newell rented a flat for a month. “The country itself is amazing,” she recalls.
She took regular trips to game parks including Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. She joined park rangers for 4:30 a.m. walks looking for poachers and wounded animals. On her first day, she came face to face with a leopard stalking two zebras.
“We didn’t talk. We used hand signals. The zebra bolted, and when I turned, there was a leopard in the bush. I froze. It felt like forever, but it was seconds. The second leopard growled, and the first leopard ran off. I wasn’t afraid. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw,” she says.
A few days ago, Paine (left) and her dog left Carolina Beach State Park in their camper (shown right), the beginning of at least a year on the road. Paine has planned this trip for decades but moved its timing in by three years as she watched friends and family members face illness and death.
“It jolted me,” Paine says.
She has no real itinerary, but she has a long list of places to see.
“I don’t want to say I’ve driven through a state. I want to explore wherever I am,” she says.
Paine plans to hike, shoot photos, kayak, whatever is appropriate.
“I was just in Raleigh wrapping up a project. Now, I’m sitting in my camper in the park,” she said before taking off. “It’s so peaceful. There’s greenery. I can hear the birds, the trees. I’m not a city person so doing this is great for me.”
Paine grew up on Cape Cod with parents who ran a campground. They spent much of their time in tents and campers, she says. She and her daughter took a five-week travel trailer trip in 2007.
She says she sees little difference in the extended travel she has planned and the shorter trips she’s taken.
“A lot of women say I’m crazy,” she says. “It takes so much guts. You’re walking away from your comfort zone and going into the unknown.”
Paine, however, won’t be totally disconnected. With her laptop and cell phone, she’ll continue to work.
“Thousands of people are out there in their rigs working on the road,” she says. “I’m in a Facebook group of more than 3,000 women doing this.”
To view more of artist Janette K. Hopper's work, visit www.janettekhopper.com.