Traveling for a living means that I am quite often alone on the road. Book or tour research is fun with others, but alone it is very efficient. I am used to the blank stares when I explain that I’m alone. Solo female travelers get what I mean, and I’ve written about it before. There’s an unspoken question about why I’m alone and why that’s ok. It’s a mix of pity and non-comprehension that all of us alone on the road get to deal with.
When I’m working, it’s an easy thing to shrug off. It’s an explanation that most people can process, even if the side glances persist.
However, I am laying on a beach in the Algarve by myself on VACATION. No work, officially at least. No excuse for being here other than that I want to. And you know what? It’s glorious and I especially don’t care what people think.
As you know, I am a tour guide and work with vacationing clients, organizing and caring for my guests. But above that, I’m a mom. I’ve been a wife, a partner, momma to other people’s kids. Every vacation I’ve taken since I was 21 years old has been one that I’ve organized and taken care of. I’m not alone in this. Women disproportionately organize, schedule, research, and helm family vacations. We are the buyers of travel.
Don’t get me wrong, we like doing it. The research and discussion about it is a part of the fun. But we often don’t vacation in the sense that we don’t get to totally turn off.
Last summer, I took my kids camping. It was great but of course a ton of work on my part, as the only adult in attendance. Even if kids are great help, I am always responsible from pitching the tent to choosing the hikes. And the equipment! Kids come with so many accessories, no wonder moms drive mini vans. Just keeping track of the Stuff is a job in and of itself.
Similarly, on a family vacation last summer on a Sicilian island, I had a wonderful time, but it was not relaxing. Cooking, cleaning, helping kids scrape sand off their feet, dealing with quarrels, compromising on what the daily plan would be. I wouldn’t change a day of it, it was a beautiful week I won’t forget. But I’m not sure the word “vacation” really fits.
I booked this trip because my kids are out of town and I found a dirt cheap ticket to Portugal. It was kind of spontaneous. I asked a few different friends if they would join me and nobody could get away. So, here I am by myself and it occurs to me how glad I am about that. There is nobody to compromise with. There are no kids with bee stings to heal or sibling arguments to settle. I don’t have to cook or worry about running laundry. I don’t have anyone to worry about, to wonder if they are hungry or having a good time. It’s a little unsettling. The silence, the days open to possibility.
If I don’t feel like eating, I don’t. If I want to sleep until noon, I can. If I feel like doing inadvisable things, nobody is here to judge. I can drive fast while singing at the top of my lungs, eat as much sugar as I want, topless sunbathe, meet handsome strangers, or just do nothing at all. This is freedom at its finest and I am embracing that…maybe a little too much.
That is not to say I’ve been totally alone. I have visited girlfriends, had some nice dinners. I joined a few activities, like sailing, where the group hung out afterwards for drinks. I’ve met lovely people on a food tour as well. If I want company, it isn’t any further away than my phone.
I used to be sheepish and embarrassed to ask for a table for one. On this particular vacation, I am proud to sit alone, reading junk food books, or just staring at the sea. Company is nice, but your own company can be, and, let’s be honest, probably is the most relaxing.
Next time someone asks me if I’m alone, I will smile and say, “yes, I am not responsible for anyone but myself.”