Boring, wordy post written while on an airplane ORD-SFO today.
I realized that the way I schedule my vacations currently is pretty unconventional—I often take a few days here-and-there while on business travel, when work sends me to places that are either interesting or where friends live. For instance, I have made use of business trips to San Francisco, Cleveland
, Kansas City, Seattle, Waterloo, DC, and many other towns to see friends, which has been absolutely wonderful.
For instance, on this current trip, I took one vacation day in Minneapolis after my conference to hang out with my friend Psycho Security Guard
–I haven’t seen him or his family in about a year and a half. His daughter is 3 years old now, quite adorable, and whip-smart. Then I’m taking two or three vacation days (and a weekend) to go to Colin & Jess’s wedding in San Francisco—and see a variety of Teps.
I’m in a position (single and without children) that this system of “micro-vacations” works perfectly. My schedule is flexible, it requires little planning, and doesn’t require airfare and logistics for multiple people. All that I really want for accommodations is a couch and a wireless high speed connection. I realize, of course, that there are plusses and minuses to either lifestyle—but right now, honestly, on the scale of things, this one works for me. I’ll admit that there are definite downsides (discussed below).
I’m probably going to take a similar mini-vacation in August, when I am out in the Bay Area for a conference. But I haven’t planned a big (e.g., weeklong) for this year… perhaps I should try to schedule one, to avoid burning out. Anyone have any suggestions?
However, my current life arrangement makes me worry about planning/enjoying large vacations by myself. It is part of what keeps me from trying out the world traveling that I’d like to do (e.g., South & Central America, Southeast Asia). I figure that travel logistics can be very annoying—you don’t have the option of “Ok, you watch the bags and wait in line, and I’ll grab us some food and water.” I’ve dealt with this by being the organizer for various group camping trips (Badlands/South Dakota
, Big Bend, Yosemite, Saguaro). Perhaps I should try a big solo vacation, though, anyway. A quote from David Margolick (contributing editor at Vanity Fair) on this topic struck me:Some people are well-suited to solo journeys, but I am not among them. If such trips had a sound track, for me it wouldn't be that old camp standard about wandering happily with a knapsack on my back - "Val-de-ri, Val-de-ra" - but "Courage," a song from Schubert's "Winterreise" in which a stalwart traveler tries, rather unconvincingly, to show he can hack it on his own, can fend off the loneliness and despair.
I haven't had specific crises; it's rather the general, predictable situation. Naturally, there's no one to share the joys. But more often than that, there's no other brain to pick, no other set of legs to choose between left or right at the next corner, no one's plate to pick off.
The hardest part is the meals, and there are lots of them, because they are easy, mollifying, something to do. You're thankful to bury your head in The International Herald Tribune, but if the place is dark, you're out of luck.
Perhaps this is why solo travelers write so many postcards. Go with another person, even if it's the wrong person, and you're spared that, along with the table for one in the corner.
But along with the sadness, there is a crucial bonus to being on your own: serendipity. People touring in pairs seem self-contained, impermeable - except, perhaps by other pairs of travelers, often from the same place (home), often doing the same superficial things. When you are alone, and when you have the courage to appear as vulnerable as you really feel, this is when travel's most memorable moments occur.
On the flip side, I know I enjoy solitary travel at times—see my travelogues from NYC
, for instance. I can geek out looking at infrastructure, or sample the strangest food, or have odd schedules, or stop to write postcards for hours at a café—without worrying how much I’m boring somebody else. I know that I can get annoyed and lose patience with others easily—which might be at least as unpleasant as the problems of traveling alone.