Nadia Goes to Vancouver: Solo Trip #2

Vancouver from hotel

As I gazed out the 19thfloor windows of my fancy downtown (Coal Harbor) Vancouver hotel room, I felt like a character in The Matrix movie. Super high-rise buildings, a setting sun, and the haze from far-off forest fires burning in British Columbia had my adrenalin pumping.

Downtown Vancouver’s futuristic, apocalyptic vibe didn’t factor into the Matrix but it inspired other film-makers to use the city as the backdrop for such sci-fi themed movies as Tomorrowland, Deadpool, and Godzilla.

Is it any wonder I had a brief panic attack on the first night of my second solo trip adventure?

It’s been awhile, dear readers, and this is a long post, so chow down slowly on pasta with tomatoes and goat cheese while I share the details of my second solo trip.

When we last explored the solo travel world, I had returned from my first journey – a low-key beach vacation on the Gulf Coast of Florida.  I knew it was time to take a bigger leap out of my comfort zone. If you can’t challenge yourself at age 60+, when, if ever, can you?

Relying once again on the baby steps philosophy, I wanted to visit a foreign English-speaking city I had not been to previously.  Vancouver with its mix of nature and culture seemed like a good choice. I had always wanted to travel there and had even been planning an anniversary trip there before my marriage ended (no sympathy needed– just a fact).

August seemed like the ideal time to visit this city by the water and mountains. It’s the month with the lowest chance of rain and the temperature is ideal for touring around. I booked a hotel and my flights and embarked on travel research.

I no longer feel strongly about adhering to a schedule when traveling. Impromptu off-the-beaten-track explorations can often be the highlights of a trip. But as a solo traveler I wanted to have a rough outline of my days with some planned tours or activities to ensure built-in socializing.

Along with Vancouver-related research, I read solo travel  memoirs for courage and inspiration and looked forward to my adventure.

Back to arrival night: After that first moment’s existential panic (I’m all alone although Neo may be nearby), I texted my brother and started to relax. Connecting with him every evening helped to keep me centered.

The next morning I walked along the glorious Seawall, the 10 km pathway that extends into Stanley Park, and felt my anxiety leave. I had five days and six nights to explore this part of the world on my own terms and at my own pace.

Despite bringing three journals of various sizes, I didn’t keep a travelogue.  I checked off things on my itinerary, a great help in trying to recount this for you.

What I did:

The Lookout at Harbor Center: Tall building with 360°view of the city. Haze from the forest fires interfered with visibility or I would have enjoyed this more.

Vancouver Foodie Gastronomic Gastown Tour: I love food tours. You get to try a local foodie’s curated favorite restaurants along with sides of history and companionship.  As the birthplace of Vancouver, Gastown has loads of history and an eclectic vibe.  This tour, recognized by Forbes as one of the nine best food tours in the world, was a lot of fun and I enjoyed meeting the other travelers. Highlights of the tour: pesto pizza at Nicli Antica and key lime/coconut mousse pie at Mosquito (sadly this restaurant just closed – promise, not my fault).

Key lime mousse

A non-food tour highlight: the 6 pm musical “eruption” of the Steam Clock.

Side note: I signed up for another food tour of Chinatown on a different day but it was cancelled.

Granville Island: Going to Granville Island is a must do for visitors to Vancouver. The immense Public Market is one of the highlights of the island but there are also shops, artist studios, and free entertainment by the waterfront. I enjoyed my afternoon there. The market, which was reminiscent of markets I visited in Barcelona and Madrid, had gorgeous displays of fresh fruit (many unusual varieties), vegetables, pasta, salads, seafood, pastries, herbs…and more.

After wandering and ogling the bounty, I bought a couple of salads and sat outside on a bench to enjoy the sunny day and a musician playing nearby. An age-similar woman sat down next to me and we struck up a conversation. A New Zealander and widow, my seat buddy left her native country to live in Austin,Tx to be near her grandchildren.  She was visiting Vancouver with friends and had stopped at Granville as part of a bike tour.  Like everyone I encountered, she was interested in my trip as a solo traveler but couldn’t imagine doing it herself. I enjoyed our chat and wished she was also traveling solo so I could pal around with her.

After lunch and just for the fun of it, I took a water taxi around False Creek before jumping off at Yaletown, a neighborhood known for its boutiques and restaurants.

Musical nooner outdoor concert: When I was researching this trip and following various Vancouver-based groups on Twitter and Facebook, I learned about a summer outdoor lunchtime concert series in the downtown area.  With impeccable holiday timing, I was able to attend the season’s last concert and walked 20 minutes from my hotel to Hamilton Street to see Coco Jafro.  This Vancouver-based Funk, World Fusion, R&B, Soul, Jazz and Afro-Beats Band had the crowd dancing and smiling.  As I sat there with office workers and locals, I felt like a Vancouverite – not a tourist.

Stanley Park and the Vancouver Aquarium: One of the reasons I chose my hotel was its location within walking distance of Stanley Park. I walked there several times, admiring the water and woodsy views and checking out the enormous Totem Poles.

The  partially outdoors Aquarium was my favorite Park attraction. In addition to a dolphin show, you can also watch the feedings of the sea lions and sea otters.  The playful sea otters charmed me; I couldn’t stop smiling at their crazy antics.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park: A peaceful garden at the entrance to Chinatown. I missed the tour but enjoyed ambling around, looking at the bonsai trees, the pond filled with lily pads and orange koi fish, and the carefully landscaped space.

VanDusen Botanical Garden: An incredible 54-acre garden. I’m not sure I saw all 250,000 plants and the various animals that live here, but I tried. I spent my last Vancouver afternoon in this garden.  At this point in the trip, I had developed some pretty angry blisters (despite wearing “good” tennis shoes). So I walked, rested, walked, rested – and took a taxi to and from the garden.

Van Dusen Garden

What I didn’t do:

Date: I chatted briefly with a guy on Bumble but deleted his profile when, instead of answering my questions, he wanted to get off the site and chat via whatsapp.

Go on a whale cruise: I was tempted but worried the motion might reignite a recent flare-up of vertigo.

The Solo Experience:

Despite my initial bout of arrival loneliness, I was comfortable and had fun for most of the trip. By the fifth day, however, I longed for a travel companion.  Yes, I could eat by myself and enjoy talking to the wait staff and I could ask a stranger to take a photo of me but I needed more quality people time.  If my other food tour hadn’t been cancelled — or if I had been able to find a fun and nearby meet up to attend — I might give this solo adventure a higher score.

Would I return to Vancouver?  Yes, but I would like to explore this great city with a travel buddy next time.

For my next solo trip, I plan to schedule more tours or people-centered activities such as a cooking or art class.  As for accommodations, I will investigate youth hostels since they provide a built-in social environment and single en suite rooms are sometimes available.  Oh, and I’ll bring a blister prevention kit.  Insert laughing/crying emoji.

Until next time, happy traveling or staycationing!

XXXOOO

Nadia

Diary of a Solo Trip

solodiarycoverpix

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 .

solodiarycod

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.

solodiarybreakfast

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.

XXXOOO

Nadia

 

 

 

The Solo Travel Virgin Plans a Trip

solo travel pix

When you don’t have a romantic partner, travel for pleasure can be problematic. After the end of a marriage, who you vacation with is no longer a given. Have a taste of roasted mushroom and broccoli grain bowl while we explore this issue.

Did you and your now ex spouse have a regular vacation plan– South Carolina in July and Vermont in the fall with an occasional splurge trip to Europe? Or maybe every six months you picked a destination out of a hat and went somewhere new.

Were you that couple who preferred to schedule everything or did a no plans type vacation excite you more? Who was the planner in your travelling duo?

Before I was married, I travelled with my future husband several times a year – to beaches, to visit family, out West, to Europe. We travelled well together – no fights that I remember, though sometimes our interests diverged. I was the planner.

Sometimes travel plans were hatched but not implemented. We never took a much-discussed cross-country trip with our dog – despite buying a special truck just for that purpose.

Our vacations changed once we married and had kids. Finding a putt putt took on critical importance. Without a babysitter accompanying us, there were no late nights at music clubs. As the kids grew older, we sought out beach places with “teen centers.” After the kids were out of the house, we took “couple vacations” again before the marriage was over.

Now as a free woman, I can travel at will with only my needs and schedule to consider. It could be exciting but I’ve been fighting the inevitable solo vacation. As I write this post, I’m trying to figure out the source of my reluctance.

My concerns:

*I will be lonely and miss having a companion to share experiences with

*I won’t meet people, said the somewhat shy ambivert

*I will dine alone at every meal and will feel awkward

*If it’s night and I’m lost in a place where I don’t speak the language, I’ll be in harm’s way.

Fortunately, others who have faced the same fears have come up with ways to overcome them.

I reviewed the alternatives to solo travel. Organized group travel – even when the trips are geared to singles – don’t appeal to me at present. Finding friends to travel with is not always easy, as they often want to travel with their spouse or partners. And single friends may not always like the same kind of trips or have the same budget.

Since my divorce, I have been fortunate to have my daughter as a travel companion. We’ve had some great trips but her life is busy now and she’s not always available to travel with me. This surfaced recently as I discussed taking a much needed spring trip. It appeared she would not be able to come this time.

So I bit the bullet and reframed my sadness over not having a travelling partner as an opportunity to finally experience solo travel. Baby steps I told myself. No need to jump into a solo vacation with a 5-week backpacking trip through Thailand or a several month journey through Mexico. I decided I would be better off starting my solo travel experiences stateside where I could speak the language. And given the long, grey winter; the idea of a beach vacation seemed perfect. I decided to focus on Florida and hoped to find an area I had not been to before.

There was much agonizing over the specific beach town, the type of hotel, the type of city/community, etc. I didn’t want to blow my vacation budget on a luxury resort experience in Florida. With other more exotic trips on my bucket list, I needed to be mindful of my travel dollars. I also wasn’t sure that as a single traveler, I’d be comfortable in a fancy place. I’d have no problem enjoying a luxury hotel with a travel buddy but I was looking for a relaxed, casual vibe this time. I thought a smaller hotel/motel would be less intimidating. Similarly, I wanted a low-key town where I could wander into a café or tiki bar and feel comfortable by myself. Think: the opposite of South Beach. And I wanted to be on or close to the beach. I hoped to find a place with a big pool but sadly only the huge, expensive resorts have dreamy infinity pools.

Finally, I found a small hotel right on the beach in a quaint beach town on the Gulf Coast. Booked everything and felt empowered. I had finally done it! My solo travel life was beginning. I texted my daughter the trip details.

“Yay,” she wrote back. And then a couple of minutes later, “I checked my schedule. I can go with you!”

Until next week, happy trip planning, dating or not dating.

XXXOOO

Nadia

 

Solo Travel Resources:

 

https://solotravelerworld.com

 

http://www.adventurouskate.com

 

https://www.women-on-the-road.com/best-travel-blogs-for-women.html