I’ve been a solo traveler all my life and have always loved the feeling of anticipation, excitement and, yes, fear on the verge of heading off to parts unknown. I thrive on being on the brink of new adventures and meeting new people. But after 50 years, I decided to become a different kind of solo traveler — one who traveled alone but with a group. I was a Road Scholar “newbie” at the time. For my first program, I chose Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota because I thought that, at the age of 71, I had earned the right to learn about a world with which I was largely unfamiliar (and whose distances would be difficult to cover on my own). I had written about South Dakota history for K-12 online encyclopedias but had never been there.
Barbara posing with friend at High Plains Western Heritage Center, Spearfish, S.D.
On my trip, I found that I was solo in some ways but not in others. While I traveled to our starting point by myself, once I got there I met an intrepid and inspirational leader, a crack series of speakers and a funny and kind group of fellow Road Scholars. We developed cohesion while journeying through snow for four days in the Badlands and Black Hills. I returned from my experience with some reasons why I — and perhaps you — might like solo travel with Road Scholar.
I had always wanted to learn about Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands and the Black Hills. Several of my friends said, “And you want to go there because … WHY?” I could have answered: because I was interested in the insanity/brilliance of Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor responsible for Mt. Rushmore, and by the wild and tragic history of late 19th- and early 20th-century settlement there, from land grabs to the gold rush to mining to Deadwood. Then I discovered that my fascination with Borglum was not shared by my friends or family.
He likes to lie on a beach in the sun. I hate hot weather (and especially SAND). He likes to have nice meals in good restaurants. I am happy to chow down on bread and cheese. He doesn’t like to wake up early. I am raring to go at 6:30 a.m. (same with late nights — I’m fading by 10:00 p.m., not him). I can choose a trip that interests me and travel in a way that I feel comfortable. (By the way, when I traveled completely on my own I usually didn’t venture out at night because I felt uncomfortable in many places as a solo woman.)
Sherry, Pam and Barbara on a snowy day at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, S.D.
When you travel alone, your significant other will (probably) miss you. You will (probably) miss your mate. When you return, you will be happy to see each other (probably). This is a good thing, once in a while. One person on my trip said, “So your husband allowed you to come by yourself?” I explained that this is a quality that he admires in me: I am interested in the world, in seeing new things, in setting out on my own. I spend A LOT of time with him when I’m home, which is lovely (usually).
There are other solo female participants on Road Scholar trips, whether they too are taking time away from their significant others, are single, divorced or widowed (not to mention two delightful — and well-traveled — nuns on my trip). This is a great chance to chat, laugh and bond. As a matter of fact, my best buddy on my Road Scholar trip was another wife who left her husband home. “He really doesn’t like to travel,” she said. But she does. I’m sure that we became better pals because we were on our own; being a solo traveler pushes you to communicate.
You can go to bed early — if you like — open the windows, lie in a bathtub, play music you want to hear, write in your journal or visit with another solo traveler. I have had roommates assigned when visiting retreats. Thirty years ago I checked in to one, thinking that I would be alone in the room when I found another backpack there. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really liked my roommate. In fact, now she lives halfway across the country, and we are still talking and writing. I know that I will be in touch with some buddies from my Road Scholar trip forever.
Barbara on her final (and finally sunny) day at Mt. Rushmore.
The first day I had a conversation with a couple with very different ideas about life and with very different goals. I didn’t think that we had a thing in common. By the third day, we were giggling on the bus about how we misidentified wildlife from our bus window through the snow. I learned to be flexible, to stop prejudging and to not let my own way of seeing the world get in the way of getting to know some pretty terrific people. Having traveled for more than 50 years, I am a compilation of experiences, opinions, judgments and enthusiasms. And little did I know that I would be so enthusiastic about geology, paleontology, mining, science and cattle farming in South Dakota. Becoming a solo group traveler taught me that I can still thankfully grow and change.
Give “solo group travel” a try yourself! Check out Road Scholar’s programs with singles at no extra cost. Or enroll in any educational adventure that appeals to you and opt for our roommate matching to meet a new friend.
About the Author Barbara Winard has earned degrees in English literature, journalism, and, later in life, gerontology. Although for the past 25 years she was a senior editor and writer of online encyclopedia articles for children. She began her solo travels in college, and after returning from a long trip to Asia, wandered off the street and was hired by the Asia Society in New York City to produce films and print materials for adults and children about Asian culture. She was also a producer and writer for New York City’s public television station, WNET/13. She lives in Jersey City.
Many thanks for your comments. I too, at age 77, have traveled solo throughout my life. Road Scholar in January 2020 will be my first foray alone with a group. I appreciate your insights and will bear them in mind while on the road.
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