As a solo, female traveler, I love planning an adventure in which I can meet new people, experience different things, and visit new destinations. In order to get past the planning stage, I did need to face my initial anxiety about traveling alone. When I became an unexpected, relatively young, widow I was sad that my husband would not be here to join me in traveling as we grew older. Although he did not have that opportunity, I felt determined that I was going to travel and enjoy new experiences anyway.
After Mike died, I found myself wanting to get away from my home town where sad memories haunted me. My first trip was a solo weekend at a grief retreat in Connecticut. I drove myself the two hours to get there, which included a boat ride across the Long Island Sound on the Orient Point Ferry. Once I arrived, I checked into my own hotel room. That was a bit exciting as I had always shared my room in a new place when I traveled in the past.
Once I unpacked, it didn’t take long for me to get bored of sitting alone in my room. The retreat had a common room where people were gathering before dinner. Snacks were provided so I made a plate and sat at a table with some female travelers. Each of the women had also traveled here on her own so we talked about our drives and where we came from. It was a simple conversation to break the ice with strangers and it helped that we all had just arrived.
My Connecticut weekend was a trial run for my big solo trip I had planned for the end of the summer. Many widows suffer from anxiety or even panic attacks on certain holidays and anniversaries, especially during that first year. As the date of my husband’s death was the end of the summer, when I would be off from teaching school, I planned a solo trip from New York to Thailand.
So many things can go wrong when planning and executing a trip to a foreign country. At one time I thought it would be a great career to be a travel agent. I worked for a hotel representative firm in New York City for a year back in the 1980s. My job description was to speak to travel agents about the properties that we represented and make reservations. I even was sent to visit Bermuda for a long weekend so I could discuss the properties in detail. This gig was fun for a while.
I furthered my travel career by working in Aspen, Colorado as a waitress and then became an employee at two different hotels in San Diego. I enjoyed some of the benefits of working in the travel field; discounted rates at hotels and restaurants, complimentary whale watching and hot air ballooning excursions, and meals were often included!
Those are awesome memories, but traveling as a middle-aged solo widow is a bit different. I am never really relaxed until the plane is in the air, then I can rest, assured that I am on my way. Traveling on my own was a challenge. My anxiety would begin to build a few days prior to the trip. I’d procrastinate on packing. My heart would race at night reminding me of the panic attacks I had after Mike’s passing.
The trip to Thailand was wonderful and I am so glad that I went through with it despite several close friends and family members thinking I was off my rocker! As I’ve gotten older (and wiser) I’ve developed some good travel habits and pre-trip strategies to help calm the anxious feelings that come with travel jitters.
#1 – Use a travel agent or tour group
That is the easiest way to avoid excess anxiety and to be sure that all the details are taken care of. Find and speak with a certified, experienced travel agent, or sign up with a reputable tour. The travel agent will book the airlines, the transfers to the property or tours and recommend an itinerary. Sometimes transfers from the airport are included, and other times you will have to arrange that on your own so check your itinerary. When I went to Costa Rica for a yoga and writing week retreat, the ride was two and a half hours from the airport. Good to know that was included in the retreat package.
#2 – Find and locate your valid passport
Do not wait until the last minute. It can take several weeks or months to update the passport so you may need to do that as well. Be sure you have your passport located and keep it with important papers and items you will be bringing on your trip. Take a photo of your passport on your phone, just in case. For travel in the USA, having TSA pre-check is nice and gets you through security quickly and hassle-free. Global Entry is convenient for when you return going through customs but I know that in some places it is very difficult to get. I was told you can get Global Entry when you return from an international trip, but I have not done that. Also check for any immunizations you may need before traveling.
#3 – Print out your Flight information
This may be a generational thing. My son who is 24 years old and travels a lot uses his phone for all that information and thinks it is odd that I need a hard copy. I experience a bit of flight anxiety until I am actually sitting on the plane. I don’t really have a fear of flying, I just fear I will miss the flight or have the wrong information. That happened one time when the night before my flight I went to print out four boarding passes and I only got one. Somehow when booking the flights to California, I had managed to delete the other three. I was lucky that time when I called the 800 number to explain but that taught me a lesson.
My goal is to alleviate unnecessary anxiety. One of the best tips came from my mother-in-law. She always traveled with a manilla folder filled with important papers. Now I do the same. My folder contains the printouts that state my airline information, hotel information and tour guides regarding day trips that interest me. If I ever lost my phone, OUCH, I would still know where I was supposed to go and which flights to confirm.
#4 -Research the places you plan to visit
So much information is now available online. You can research the hotels and landmarks in the locations you plan to visit. You can read so many blogs on Pinterest by typing in the names of cities. Some blogs are super informative and have great photos. YELP is a great resource for ratings and reviews of hotels and restaurants.
Another app I download is called Mapsme. I used this one on my first solo journey to Bangkok, Thailand since it was an unfamiliar city with the language barrier. I downloaded the maps of places on my itinerary before I left home. Using this app you do not need to be connected to WIFI. I was able to able to explore new places and then find my way back to the hotel following a map that I had downloaded to my phone. The app knows your location and the street names in English which I found to be very helpful.
#5 – Plan your transport from the airport
When you are solo, you want to figure out how you are going to get to and from the airport. Friends are great, but sometimes a car service is more practical, especially when your international flight is early in the morning. One time I didn’t plan for a ride home and took a private car which cost twice as much as a car service had I planned in advance. It’s upsetting to get taken advantage of in a new place. Another option is to possibly share a ride with a fellow solo traveler. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers and make new friends.
#6 – Arrange for care of pets and mail
During busy school breaks, kennels fill up fast. As a teacher I learned this the hard way. More and more people are offering to house sit and pet sit while you are away or to watch a pet in their home. Make a plan in advance. You don’t want to leave your little fur babies stranded. Also, be sure to have the mail stopped or have a neighbor bring it in for you.
#7 – Pay your bills before you go
No one wants to be sitting on the tropical beach, getting ready for that first sip of Pina Colada and remembering they were supposed to pay the electric bill. Get that over with. Also, be sure to let your credit card company know you will be traveling and where. I learned that lesson the hard way after filling up the gas tank in Tennessee. I soon received a text message telling me they were canceling my credit card due to a fraud alert and sending me a new one. I had to speak to quite a few people to convince them that it was really me and I would not be home anytime soon to get that new credit card. They can be so efficient.
#8 – Make a list of what to bring
I like to make a list of the important things to bring on a trip and cross them off as I pack. It helps me think through what I will need and then ensure that I have packed it. Start with eyeglasses! Then medications. Passport, wallet, cash, charger, phone and iPad or laptop, toiletries, make-up, and toothbrush (I always seem to forget my toothbrush!). Finally, I will always pack a bathing suit in my carry-on bag. I love to swim and I have had my luggage lost before. As long as you can get to the beach or pool right away, you will be happy – even if the luggage has had a delay.
#9 – Keep in touch with family and friends
When traveling solo as a woman, you want someone to know where you are. Let people know where you are going. I finally learned how to use WIFI correctly so I keep my phone on airplane mode. I log in at airports, hotels, and restaurants using their password. I was able to write my blog online and keep in touch with Facebook, email, and texting without getting a plan for my phone when I traveled to Thailand. If you are going to a more remote destination, it is best to call your phone carrier and ask which program they have that best meets your needs. My last international trip to Mexico only cost $10 per day which was worth it for me.
#10 – Purchase a fun magazine and some snacks in the airport
I always think that traveling on a trip solo means I can indulge in whichever magazine cover strikes my fancy. It is not something I usually pay for, but traveling is a fun treat, and no need to start serious reading now. If time allows, I will often go to the bar at the airport, even by myself! It is fun. I get a glass of wine and sometimes talk to people although now I am just as hooked on my phone as everyone else. Mike used to be great at chatting with strangers when we were traveling. We met many different people and had great conversations. I think that is the point of traveling. Make the world smaller by engaging with as many souls as possible. The rewards are invaluable.
#11 – Take a deep breath, relax and enjoy
Remember how lucky you are to be able to travel and experience new things. Be sure to take those moments of alone time when it is quiet to enjoy a few deep breaths to calm any anxious feelings you are experiencing. Sometimes traveling alone can feel awkward. Post some fun photos on social media to connect with family and friends. Getting out of your comfort zone is a great way to grow and experience life. Be curious and good luck!