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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.”

Sarah Murdoch

This post was written by Sarah Murdoch, founder and director of Adventures of Sarah. Sarah has been guiding around the world for 20+ years, after catching the travel bug while studying in Italy in 1995. Between guiding she is also a journalist, travel guidebook writer, occasional architect, and full-time mom to Nicola and Lucca. Click here to find out more about Sarah.

15 Comments

  • Sheila Bauer says:

    Perfectly expressed Sarah! As a young backpacker I mostly traveled alone, but of course met many others like myself (this was 40 years ago). Then came trips with my husband and too many to count camping trips with kids. As you said, very fun, but a lot of work. A few years ago I decided to spend a week in Venice by myself at the tail end of a trip with friends because I had never been and always wanted to. It was a fantastic week of exploring and contemplation, just pure magic. It became and still is my favorite city in the world. I’ve been back numerous times, usually with my husband who also fell in love with it, but I will never forget discovering it on my own. We both just retired and are leaving for extended travel in Europe next March. First stop – Venice! Enjoy your VACATION. you’ve earned it!

  • Lara says:

    I love this & I can totally relate. We just got back from a 10 day road trip to Colorado and I get it about feeling responsible for everyone and making all the decisions & I have a partner. In fact I was going to email you to ask about doing my own trip planing for Europe with Teens or going with a tour. I know I could do it on my own, but the thought of being the one in charge the whole time seems overwhelming for Europe. Enjoy Portugal – you look relaxed!

  • Page McKinstry says:

    Fantastic! Enjoy EVERY MINUTE in honor of us planner Moms!!! We envy you!

  • Machelle says:

    I love this! Enjoy yourself, my friend!

  • Karen says:

    Good for you! Most people I know, including my husband, can’t understand how anyone would want to travel by the self, but I do it occasionally and enjoy it. I usually have an opportunity/excuse to do so when traveling for a work conference. I once spent 5 days in Seattle, going up in the Space Needle, cruising the harbor, hanging out at Pike Place, shoe shopping and just walk around the city, doing what I wanted to do and it was glorious!

  • Melissa Martin says:

    I love this paean to solo travel! I just got back from 12 solo days in Iceland – drove the Ring Road and everything – and had a wonderful time. And, yes, lots of questions and odd looks. It used to bother me but not anymore.

  • Karen B says:

    I spent two weeks alone in Paris a couple of years ago. At first I was concerned that I would not be able to figure out how to fill my days but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had absolute freedom to do as much or little as I wanted. I loved it. The only hesitation I have now about taking organized tours is that I will lose the freedom of doing lots or absolutely nothing.

  • Amy says:

    And this is exactly why I love business trips by myself, without co-workers. Sometimes I don’t even friends that I will be in town. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends, sometimes it nice to not have to worry about anyone but myself.

  • Donna says:

    I loved this post!! I have to say I like traveling alone. As an invisible middle aged woman I feel like I can just move in and out of whatever I want to do with ease, and I love it. That kind of stealth is powerful. 🙂 Plus, you get top notch restaurant service when you are alone, and I kind of enjoy that extra!

  • Hazel says:

    I suggest and plan all our trips. I enjoy doing the research, however often my husband will fly home before me and I will have a week by myself or travel to see a friend. I love it ! no one to consider except meee ? I can do whatever I want whenever without discussion or consultation. My husband is a terrific traveling companion and we work well together but ……..,.

  • janet says:

    As I have been searching for options for a family break in the last few days, I was resenting the fact that it is always and only me that does all the ‘work’ about when, where and how, including budgeting and logistics… I love travel, so I do it… but the idea of solo travel is becoming more and more appealing! Thanks for reminding me I CAN go alone.

  • SharonP says:

    Bravo Sarah. Perfectly expressed. You used the word ‘compromise’, and when we women travel, we inevitably compromise in many ways, whether its eating when others want or need to eat; avoiding visits to certain places because they won’t be to our travel companions’ tastes; or toting everyone else’s accouterments in our ‘Mary Poppins’ purses. A holiday alone is a time to shake off all the labels, roles and baggage and rediscover ourselves. I hope you find that too.

  • Adele Miller says:

    Sounds glorious! I have always referred to family travel and getaways as "trips" and save the word vacation for when it’s just me and my husband. And I hear you on the So.Much.Work front……..because even when the goal is relaxation , there’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that needs to be taken care of. I long to go away by myself, but what holds me back is the feeling that using precious resources (vacation time, money) on myself would be selfish. Can’t wait until retirement, when time at least will be in more abundant supply.
    Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

  • Robin Sistad says:

    I feel the exact way. the best vacations for me are always when I travel solo.

  • M Oconnorrafuse says:

    This is totally how I feel at times too and love my solo adventures !

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