Traveling alone for the terminally awkward
May 28, 2015 5:22 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to plan a beach vacation for the end of June - help me figure out where to go and how to make the best of a solo vacation?

I'm taking my first week-long vacation in almost 1.5 years during the last week of June. My work can be very taxing and I'm burnt out and exhausted. In theory the idea spending a few days alone recharging sounds wonderful, but putting it into practice has been anxiety provoking and led to a lot of procrastination around planning the trip. I enjoy my alone time, but when doing things alone that most other people are doing in groups (going to the beach, going out to eat) I tend to feel insecure that I'm by myself. I'm pretty shy when I first meet people unless I'm also with people I already know so actively trying friends while on vacation sounds overwhelming.

What I'm looking for in terms of where to go:
-Location with a beach, preferably where the water will be warm enough by late June to go swimming in the ocean.
-Within 4-6 hours of NYC-- I prefer traveling by train/bus over flying but I'm willing to keep my options open.
-I can drive but do not own a car so I would prefer to go somewhere where I can travel by public transportation/on foot and not have to rent a car.
-Quiet and not super touristy.
-I'm not really interested at all in doing sightseeing/touristy stuff, but the option of having interesting things to look at or do in the area would be nice.
-Budget-wise I don't have a particular price range in mind but I'd like to keep things on the affordable side. I'd like to prioritize spending money on nice accommodations.

As far as traveling alone goes, I'm looking for advice from other shy/awkward/introverted travelers about making the most of traveling alone. I don't want to default to watching TV in my hotel room!
posted by fox problems to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in your shoes a few years ago, I made the mistake of planning activities during my vacation. I had to forced my poor burnt-out brain and stressed-out body to just watch the world go by. It took me days before I allowed myself to just sit nursing a soft drink at a beachside cafe and let my mind wander.

Keep in mind why you are going on this vacation. Allow yourself to do absolutely nothing. Practice being by yourself and have an exceptionally low-key holiday. You need time to breathe and recover from stress.

All the best and I hope you have a good time. It is so hard to be kind to yourself at times like these.
posted by kariebookish at 5:57 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sophia Dembling is an introvert and a travel writer, and she has written about traveling as an introvert a couple of times. Perhaps you'll find something helpful here:

Confessions of an Introverted Traveler

Travel Tips for Introverts

posted by kimdog at 6:12 AM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

If it's in your budget you might consider a few days at winvian in Ct. I wouldn't want to spend a week there- it might start to be too isolating- but a few days alone would be SO SO relaxing. They are all about comfort and treats. You would not feel out of place as a solo traveler. What you are paying for is not just a place to sleep but a very high level of service- if that's your thing.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 6:20 AM on May 28, 2015

Bermuda would be perfect for you, especially guest houses. The considerations you listed are the reasons I like it there. Driving is no problem -- you cannot rent a car there!
posted by jgirl at 6:29 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've had similar vacations using traditional bed & breakfasts - I use Air Bnb, but that may be more work with sifting through reviews. Newport Rhode Island was very walkable. The shore of New Hampshire (Portsmouth) is very laid back, but I've only been there in the off-season.

Berlin, Md is nice - the Atlantic Hotel comes to mind, but you may need Uber as supplemental transportation.
posted by childofTethys at 8:15 AM on May 28, 2015

I don't have a location recommendation for you, but I would suggest getting some sort of sunscreen applicator so you can apply sunscreen to your back. When I took my first solo beach vacation, my biggest anxiety was scorching my back because I couldn't get sunscreen on it- the discovery of those little applicators was life changing. Also, just bring lots of reading material for when you go to restaurants or cafes. Being able to relax with a good book or magazine while eating and/or enjoying a beverage is a luxury; you will be the envy of many.
posted by shornco at 8:31 AM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would want to have some sort of goal to help me overcome the strong gravitational pull of the hotel room. Geocaching could be great for this. It's low-key, but gives you a direction and a reason for being out and about -- and might take you to cool places you wouldn't notice otherwise.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:39 AM on May 28, 2015

Best answer: Go to busy places at off-peak hours. If it's awkward eating alone, it's worse to wait around 20 minutes by yourself to eat alone in a crowded place where you will likely be lowest in priority to the waitstaff. I prefer to sit at the counter or bar whenever possible as it feels more "normal" to be alone at those locations. Bring a magazine/flat book/tablet wherever you go. A phone works, but everyone's on their phone, while reading a book looks more like a planned engrossing activity and not just a way to pass the time. That said, you'll probably use your phone more than normal days so bring a charger or battery pack if you expect to be out long. If you have any interest in sketching or writing, bring a notebook/sketchpad everywhere. For more involved activities like going to the beach, thinking ahead is key. You won't have the option of having someone watch your stuff while you change/swim/fall asleep. I think for me I never feel awkward alone as long as I have something to focus on and know that I appear so. But at the end of the day, really no one cares that you are alone. Just relax and enjoy.
posted by bread-eater at 9:13 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I did this a long time ago -- I was on the west coast and drove to Lake Tahoe, where I stayed in a motel and read and read by the pool, occasionally getting out for a drive or hike or walk in the area. It was very restorative.

If mid to high 70s sounds warm enough to you, consider Hyannis. You can get there by train, and there are a number of reasonably priced motels/hotels in the area. (Book now as these places fill up fast.) You could also ferry out to stay on Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, or just to walk around there. Bring your Kindle and comfortable walking shoes and maybe a camera and just enjoy being on your own. I'd eat anywhere you like, and just let the maitre'd know you want a table for one. Try a movie on your own -- that is really a wonderful thing to do.
posted by bearwife at 9:23 AM on May 28, 2015

Best answer: I have some of the same anxieties you do, about dining or going out alone. But they're not as bad when I travel solo. The anxiety comes from a feeling that if I was less shy, I'd be going out in a group of people; being alone reminds me of my shyness. But if I'm travelling then I have a good reason for going out alone, and it's harder for self-doubt to take hold.

And you certainly don't need to make vacation friends, though it can happen more easily than you might think. Even for us shy folk. You're all going through the same bonding experience of being in a new place together, so talking about what you've done, what you want to do, etc. is a rich source of small talk. And a lot of times, couples or small groups of friends are open to meeting someone new and having a chat. Talking to the same one or two people for a whole vacation can get pretty dull, after all. So don't force it, but be open to the possibility of making friends.

Anyways, my point is that maybe the things you're stressing about won't be as bad as you think. Have a great trip!
posted by Banknote of the year at 9:37 AM on May 28, 2015

Regarding feeling insecure when other people are in groups: I’ve mostly gotten past this by recognizing that I don’t actually wish I were hanging out with them, and the main reason I feel awkward is because I’m afraid other people will see me alone and think I’m a loser. Then I realized that (a) most people won’t notice because they’re doing their own thing; (b) even if they did notice and think I was a friendless loser, who cares?; and (c) if they thought I was lonely, if they were kind they would either empathize or come over and talk to me, so if they’re not doing that then they’re DEFINITELY not people I should be wasting headspace on. Maybe this helps if your reasons for insecurity are similar to mine?
posted by metasarah at 9:44 AM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm an unambiguous introvert and have traveled on my own for weeks at a time.

I understand the feeling of awkwardness around doing activities on your own or dining out by yourself. It was my first solo business trip that pretty much cured me of my lingering anxiety about eating dinner on my own. I wasn't on that trip for fun, but either way I still had to eat dinner—and why should I limit myself to mediocre hotel room service or fast food when I could go out and enjoy something nice? You should avail yourself of whatever activities you think would be relaxing or enjoyable. Yes, a lot of people only do these things as part of a group, but that says as much about them as about you. You are taking this trip by yourself because that's what you wanted to do, not because there is something wrong with you. That last part might sound flippant but it really did take me a while to internalize it.

There is a difference between traveling alone and being isolated. When I travel by myself I find that I most enjoy being in places where is plenty of ambient activity and some opportunity for low-key, casual interaction with people. Dining at the bar at a restaurant (versus getting a table by myself) has yielded some interesting conversations. Sitting outside at a cafe with a good book is a great way to relax and do some people-watching.

I've had good experiences using Viator to set up day trips and activities (caveat: I have no idea how good their service is inside the US). That gave me access to places that would have been difficult to reach by myself and I enjoyed meeting other travelers as part of a small group.

Solo travel is a gift, a rare opportunity to do things at your own pace and according to your own interests. Enjoy your vacation!
posted by 4rtemis at 11:12 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm pretty darned socially awkward, and one thing that's helped me is to remember that touristy locations in particular have received COUNTLESS solo travelers before me - I'm truly just not that interesting to the locals, and the other tourists are probably too busy touristing to dwell on me. Alternatively, sometimes it helps to just lean into the awkward and embrace it - if I could dig it up, maybe I'd share the picture of me at the Space Needle (at one of those fake background things they make you do at certain attractions), with nobody for company other than the ginormous wheeled suitcase I'd dragged around Seattle that afternoon. I certainly looked kind of dumb, but what the hey, it was fun and I'm surely the only person who was there who actually remembers me.

On another tack, would it help to start doing a few things alone near your home? Maybe that would help you get used to the feel of it and hopefully get a realistic sense of how little you actually do stick out? Bring along a book (they really do feel like a license to be out alone sometimes) and treat yourself to a dinner out, or a trip on your local touristy boat/bus/Segway tour or whatever. Hopefully you'll find that the fun and freedom of solo travel outweighs the awkwardness, and that you really aren't being noticed as much as maybe you fear. Good luck and have a wonderful time!
posted by DingoMutt at 11:24 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Reading is perfect for this! I love DingoMutt's suggestion of going out somewhere local before your trip and "practicing" hanging out alone - maybe check out a restaurant you've been meaning to try, bring a book, and just enjoy chilling on your own, reading and trying some new food. I used to do this when I lived alone (and I have some similar anxieties to you, I think) and I was really surprised at how nice and non-awkward it felt. It was a nice conversation starter with waitstaff, who were often curious about what I was reading, but also gave me a good "out" if I just wanted to be quiet rather than chat.

I haven't traveled a ton to the east coast, so I don't have any good location recommendations, but I did take a short solo trip once to San Francisco and really enjoyed it. What helped a lot was finding a hotel that was fairly central and in an area where I felt safe on my own, and being willing to walk all over the place and just explore. One of my favorite parts of travelling alone is how unplanned you can be - your goal for the day can be something like "check out the cool restaurant I saw online" and then you can spend the entire day meandering towards that. There's none of the advance planning and preciseness with times you need to do when travelling with others.

My favorite day on that trip was when I got myself up early, walked down to the shore, and just walked all the way down a public bike path to a little shop at the end. I had a great time just taking pictures of artwork and nature at my own pace. Later on in the day I noticed there was a Lush bath store in walking distance of my hotel, so I picked up a bath bomb and had a nice night in at the hotel, resting my feet and reading in the bath (which was something I couldn't do at home in my crappy apartment shower). Your preference for going somewhere near a beach sounds perfect for this kind of day - fairly unplanned, and lots of appealing choices for how you can spend your time out of the hotel room. Bring tons of books and don't worry too much about interacting with the random people you meet, treat it as a little retreat for yourself in and out of your hotel room. I think you'll really love doing this!
posted by augustimagination at 12:55 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since you are burnt out and exhausted and procrastinating, how about Club Med (or similar all-inclusive resort)? I did that one year a long time ago when I was feeling the same way, and it worked out well. I went to Martinique over Thanksgiving - I didn't have to think about it, or plan, and NONE of my relatives were there! ;)

I didn't think that I was a Club Med or Sandals kind of person, but it was quick and I could afford it. I planned to sit on the beach and read books all week, but I ended up meeting a couple of other women about my age who were both traveling alone, and we went to the beach and ate together quite a bit, along with meeting other people along the way. (I'm not extroverted, btw)

I don't know if it is within your price range - I got a $1600 quote for Turks & Caicos (3 hour flight) incl. airfare, room, all meals, alcohol, equipment rental, exercise classes/activities. At any rate, now you know T&C's are just three hours away, maybe that will inspire you to make your own plans! (It looks so beautiful)

Trip Advisor Reviews for Turkoise
posted by hiker U. at 2:21 PM on May 28, 2015

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