Day 1 (Monday):
I’m sitting at the JetBlue gate at Reagan National waiting for my flight to Tampa, Florida when I get a “like” and “comment” in support of my solo travel virgin post. I consider this a good omen! Update: my daughter couldn’t join me after all so this will truly be my first solo vacation trip (business trips do not count).
You’ll need fuel for this long post so have a generous helping of a yummy dish I made last night: baked cod with olives and limes .
Finally on the plane, I stretch out in the exit row. It’s definitely worth the extra money to be able to extend my long legs. No one is sitting next to me — a rare luxury. Sadly, this also means there’s no chance I’ll be sitting next to an attractive male. I have no qualms about sitting in the exit row. I work out and swim and am capable of opening up the emergency door if needed. Good to feel empowered!
As the plane takes off, I give myself a silent reminder to lose my typical Resting Bitch Face expression for the duration of the trip. Let’s see how this goes!
Evening 1 (Monday):
After picking up my rental car at the Tampa Airport, I drive the 75 minutes or so to Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island.
I chose this area because of the beautiful Gulf Coast sand and clear water that I love so much and my impression of a laid back, casual town with enough restaurants, bars (with music), and shops to keep me mildly entertained.
As a solo traveler, I didn’t want a high end fancy resort populated by couples and families.
I picked my hotel for it’s “practically on the beach” location in the center of town. Hotel reviews promised a casual vibe and there is an on site restaurant/bar with nightly live music. As a bonus, my room has a full kitchen.
I arrive at the hotel about 6 pm. After the obligatory quick walk on the beach to check out the sand and surf, I decide that the best social option for dinner is to eat at the hotel bar.
Only a few people are sitting at the bar. It seems strange to plop myself next to them when there are so many empty seats so I pick a location at the end with a nice view of the beach and sunset across the street. I enjoy the ambiance and my well-made skinny margarita. I try to relax and not worry that I don’t have anyone to talk to.
After a short time, a group of 5 people arrive and sit next to me. Soon they engage me in their conversation. Lovely! One of the women and I talk about extroversion and reaching out proactively to talk to strangers. I am impressed by her confidence. She says she puts on a different persona when she travels. She’s more outgoing when she’s not in her hometown and is unafraid to initiate conversation with men.
After we finish our drinks and food, some of us decide to explore other nearby bars with music.
We find a lively bar with an engaging band and I even get up to dance solo, along with several other women. Note: I am typically a shy dancer who is most comfortable shaking it alone in my living room.
Day 2 (Tuesday):
It’s a beautiful morning and I stroll down the street to a dockside restaurant. I enjoy my standard egg white/veggie omelet outside by the water.
After breakfast, I drive to the local grocery store for provisions. While checking out, I get a text from one of my new “met at the bar” friends. She’s flying home today and asks if I’d like to meet the group for lunch in an hour. How nice to get the invite but the beach calls to me so I decline. A few hours later, I make plans to meet another group member, Ms. A, for dinner Wednesday night.
Finally – I’m on the beach. Once in the water, I swim confidently but the current carries me farther out than I intend. I’m in deep water and the shore seems far away. Plus I wore myself out and I’m tired. No family members or friends are keeping an eye on me and there’s no lifeguard. My swimming form degrades, as I try not to panic and do a toddler crawl to get toward shallower water. I’m soon back on the sand feeling silently chagrined (no one knows what happened) and remind myself of the ocean’s power – particularly when I’m alone.
Evening 2 (Tuesday):
I want to be pampered for dinner tonight so I head to the Beach House and ask for an outside table for one. It’s lovely to relax near the water as the sun sets. I’m sitting near a family with an infant and young children and another table of teenage gigglers enjoying a grown-up dinner. I’m happy to be past these life stages and savor my wine and grilled fish. After dinner, I stroll through the town and even though I’m pretty well stuffed I stop by a soft ice cream place for a vacation indulgence.
Day 3 (Wednesday):
Today the water is like glass (another reason to love the Gulf) and so clear I see a starfish on the ocean floor. Swimming is effortless today. A school of small fish decide to bump me on their way south. Later a huge manatee swims by as everyone on the beach strains to see. I practice my Spanish with a young family from Argentina and chat with a woman who moved here from Maryland. I think my Resting Bitch Face is on vacation.
While drying out in the warm sun, I play with my dating apps. There are certainly more potential matches in Florida compared to the DC area. This is another reason to go on solo trips. I chat online with two Bumble matches. One sends me his cell number and I use my premium whitepages account to get his name. Further searching pulls up his photo on mugshots.com. Sigh! No more dates with ex-cons (a post for another day).
The other Bumble match is either a fiction writer or I’m way out of his league. After I challenge him and he unmatches me, I wonder if I’m jaded and overly suspicious. Have I rejected a good prospect? Details to be provided in a future post.
Evening 3 (Wednesday):
I drive across a bridge to the tiny waterfront town of Cortez where I meet Ms. A at a dockside restaurant/fish market. Tonight’s dinner was swimming in the Gulf a few hours ago.
Ms. A and I get to know each other. I’m impressed with her sense of adventure. She’s another example of a woman starting over and making a new life after a marriage ends.
Day 4 (Thursday):
Another perfect beach day with water like glass. No daytime adventures other than reading a good “beach romance.”
Evening 4 (Thursday):
Mood check: So far I feel okay on this trip. I am wondering, however, if I’ll meet more people. If I’m to gain confidence with solo traveling, I need to feel that my Monday night socializing was not a fluke.
I’ll have my chance to find out tonight when I return to the restaurant/bar under my hotel.
I arrive about 6 pm. The bar is fairly empty and I find a seat with a view of the ocean. It’s clear that I’m a creature of habit as I order a skinny margarita.
I look around and notice an attractive man sitting alone across the bar. As I assess him, I conclude he is too young and too short for me. Still I know I should smile at him but can’t seem to do so. This is something I need to work on. I remind myself that a smile is not necessarily a come-on but it boils down to being a shy ambivert and fearing rejection. I can handle online rejection but it’s harder for me to contemplate an in-person snub.
While I’m inwardly berating myself, a couple in their 70s walks in and sits next to me. At that moment, my fish n’ chips arrives. “Good choice,” says the man in a British accent. I laugh and ask if that’s his real accent. It’s real and I learn that the couple lives just outside of London. We have a delightful conversation about their trips to the US, my trips to Europe, our respective children, their grandchildren, etc. At one point, I notice the man across the bar has left. After dinner, I say goodbye to the couple and go for an evening walk on the beach. I feel a little lonely as I watch couples and family groups strolling by.
As if on cue, my daughter calls to see how I’m doing; I instantly feel better.
Day and evening 5 (Friday):
It’s perfect weather for my last day at the beach. Mood check: I am feeling a little lonely.
A planned dinner with Ms. A is cancelled when her mother has a health crisis. I opt for another dinner at my hotel bar. No connections are made tonight and I only talk to the bar staff. It’s time to go home.
Day 6 (Saturday):
I head to a gas station near the airport to fill up before returning the rental car. Tampa Airport is well organized with good signage and soon I’m having a leisurely pre-flight lunch with a glass of wine at…yes, you guessed it…an airport bar/restaurant.
Mood check: I’m feeling very competent at the moment. I enjoyed my first solo vacation and made some connections. Although I had a few lonely moments, I have those at home too.
Considering a solo trip? Some insights/lessons learned:
*A beach trip can be a good first solo vacation. Days are easy and with the right town, nights can be fun.
*Pick a relaxed friendly beach town with enough bars, restaurants, and shops so you have options for things to do. Three to four full days and nights (two travel days) is a good length for a first solo trip.
*Read solo travel blogs for travel tips.
*Pick a hotel with a bar/restaurant or one that has nearby bars/restaurants so you have built-in and nearby dining options.
*Eat dinner at the bar if you want to socialize. There’s a good chance people will initiate conversation and you can practice being proactive.
*Be friendly and talk to as many people as you can – people near you on the beach, people swimming, staff at bars and restaurants, and shopkeepers. Even if you don’t make a friend, you’ll feel less lonely.
*Call, text, and email family and friends to feel connected and especially if you’re feeling lonely.
*Visit any dating sites and apps you belong to for a new crop of potentials. If you’re lucky, you might even meet someone in person. As always, use due diligence to vet anyone you meet.
Until next time, happy travels and dating or not dating.