Judging the Solo Traveler

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I have a trip to the Caribbean planned for a few weeks from now.

I can’t decide if I should go.

I have no problem traveling solo. In fact, I probably like it a little too much. When I travel with people now I get all squirrely, like “how am I on vacation yet being forced to do a thing that is not the exact thing I want to do at the exact time I want to do it!” Of course by the end of the trip that tends to be outweighed by the laughs and the splitting of cabs, and all things considered I’d rather have a travel partner, but overall I am not a person who gets bored alone or nervous about eating alone, etc.

My only solo travel issue is the motivation. It’s one thing to drive a few hours, go to a museum or a battlefield, and eat Chinese food in a Holiday Inn. But feeling confident in getting on a plane and spending unnecessary money without any encouragement from a travel buddy is a tough task.

Explaining to people that you’re getting on a plane alone to sit on a beach alone is an even tougher task. So I just don’t do it. I don’t think I’ve told anyone outside of my immediate family about any of my solo trips that weren’t work mandated. There’s always something inside me that feels dumb about it. What is wrong with me that I don’t have anyone at the ready for trips and that I’m happy spending time with me? Also it’s people’s responses that make me feel dumb. In asking people’s advice about whether I should go, I heard:

“You should just save your money.”

“You’ll get kidnapped.”

“You’ll get sex trafficked.”

“Don’t you think it’s a waste?”

When’s the last time a couple said they were going on vacation and anyone responded with anything other than “Ooh can I fit in your suitcase?”

But these questions all resonate (except the kidnapping ones) because they are in the back of my mind.

Despite the fact that I save 1/3 of my paycheck each month, I feel guilty making an unnecessary expenditure. (Did I mention the trip was part of a prize so I have 3 free nights and free airfare?) Despite that fact that I think I’ve used 10 sick days total (out of 60–and they don’t roll over) in 5 years at my job, I feel guilty taking 2 consecutive days off.  Without someone else in on it, it’s hard to feel like I deserve to spend the money and the time on myself.

And society backs me up.

Traveling alone often costs twice as much. Every article about traveling alone is “why you can handle it” and “how to not die from being alone.” Every person you encounter requires you to repeat yourself: “yes, just one.”

If I don’t go, it’s fine. I will save the money. I will watch 32 hours of Gilmore Girls. I will go to work and sit there while my clients do the exact same things they would do if I weren’t there. I will be safe and unjudged.

Or I can go and be tan and drink a $20 pina colada and read at least 2 books and swim with dolphins and walk on a beach at sunset.

I have 7 days to decide.

What are your experiences with solo travel and being judged for traveling alone? Is it worth it?

 

 

Photo credit: http://www.freepix.com

The Three Levels of Bumble Communication

Step 1:

I send a hilarious gif

source

Step 2: The responses

60%

No response

20%

Guy: Haha great opener.

Me: That might be my favorite movie. What’s your favorite scene?

::conversation ends::

10%

Guy: [says something sarcastic/bantery]

::banter continues::

Me: [prospect of someone being able to hold conversation leads to mental wedding planning]

Guy: So what are you looking for here.

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And that concludes every interaction ever on Bumble.

The Lazy Tourist

I love to travel.

I love to find destinations and plan outings and read reviews. I love to experiences other regions.

However, my experiencing other regions often just means listening to new radio stations while I’m wandering around a new town.

I hate group tours and I avoid paying entrance fees at all costs. (Free museum in DC ruined me.) I like to do things my own way on my own time.

The lazy tourist’s way.

And that’s how I saw Southern Virginia, starting with Montpelier, the home of James Madison.

Montpelier was really lovely. At least outside was. Because I got there and decided $22 was too much for a guided tour.

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How much more exciting could it be from the inside?

I really don’t like guided tours. And I knew I was seeing the Confederate White House so that was enough houses for one day weekend. Instead, I walked the grounds for hours. The first portion of the hike was the Landmark Forest, a green area that is molded to be the same as it was historically. It was a substantial hike over various terrain. Nothing overwhelming but more than a stroll.

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The trail then forks onto a demonstration forest with lots of informational signs! Finally, the Montpelier loop, 3.55 around the property. I would have much preferred if the forest area was this longer loop, but listening to The Election College podcast and learning about the presidents gave me my own little tour.

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Weird historical bug carcasses

Next stop: The Museum of the Confederacy.

The Museum of the Confederacy is…odd. It doesn’t quite glorify the Confederacy, but it essentially leaves out Union details. So it basically doesn’t have any information. It mentions the Confederate leadership at major battles, and casualties, and… that’s all I remember. There’s no mention of strategy or soldiers. The more I type about this the weirder it’s becoming! They do have a lot of neat uniforms and weapons. There’s a whole floor devoted to the flag and controversy, but by controversy they apparently mean the Daughters of the Confederacy being mad about people using it disrespectfully? There were like 8 walls on the progression of the flag and importance of carrying it and how Pickett didn’t really lead his charge (not sure if it was the flag’s fault) and then a plaque that was like “all we know for sure is discussion will continue.” The variety of items with the flag is always interesting to see.

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There was also this shirt that was again…odd.

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However, the Confederate White House was actually really cool. 80% of it was just seeing a Southern planter’s home in all its opulence, but the tour guide was good and it was interesting info on something I know little about. (His wife was quite the sparkplug!)

Following that I drove over to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which was a delight! First of all, it’s free, which makes museums so much less pressure. Second of all, it’s huge and excellent. Almost all time periods and cultures represented, with many artistic masters. The Faberge section was my favorite. A wide array of items and many frames and lockets with the family of the Czar still in them!

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While at the museum, I was distracted by my quest to find fried green tomatoes. I’m in the South and I want authentic Southern food, but I don’t really like barbecue. Unfortunately for me, Richmond’s all up and coming, so hipster gastro such and such dominated the scene, especially in the museum neighborhood. Lots was closed or closing soon too. I found The Fancy Biscuit and it fit the bill: closeish, FGT, cute, excellent reviews.

Well I order, put my card in the machine, and the cashier goes “Oh. Wait. Shoot. We’re out of fried green tomatoes.”

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I got deviled eggs instead. They were very very delicious.

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Unfortunately, I still didn’t have FGT, and my biscuit was just ok. It was so drowned in cheese sauce that I couldn’t taste the egg and it just made a more watered down cheese sauce. It filled me up for the day and night, so I can’t complain that much…

I then made my way to Carytown, the hip shopping district according to the questionable tourism books. It was very cute, but unfortunately it was pouring and cold outside, so I could only get so enthused. Plus I didn’t find anything to buy.

Then on the way to the hotel, I detoured to the Ave. I was going to save it for the next day but it was right there staring me down.

I was astounded by the size and presence of these statues, especially Lee. They’re completely awe inspiring. And then you realize what they’re for. And it’s weird.

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The Biggest Loser

But there are weird statues all over the world. Albania honored George W Bush?

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Dubya (allegedly)

Can we just look at them and say “weird, people back then thought this was important”? Easy for me to say as a white woman…

 

Less controversial is the lovely Virginia State House. The lazy tourist drives by and takes a picture.

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A little zooming in and you’d never know you were standing on the side of a road in a construction site instead of an official tour!

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The quick stop leaves time for Hollywood Cemetery, home to President James Monroe and a bevy of Confederates. Fools might schedule a tour to learn things, but the lazy tourist just drives by asking Siri to read wikipedia entries out loud.

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Death over the James River

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Jefferson Davis, against a blue sky of supremacy

It’s just about time to head home with a full belly.

First, courtesy of Sugar Shack

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It’s still no Voo Doo, but not a bad snack.

Then onto Lunch/Supper. And finally

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Yay. Trip complete.

Trip Overview

For year 4 of my annual fall foliage trip, I ventured a little off tradition but a little more on the beaten path than usual.

So far I’ve been to the Hudson Valley and Mid Atlantic Civil War battlefields with Appalachian Trail sections nearby. My Hudson Valley trip was an accidental hardcore hike, while my other trips are more of a history-hike hybrid. This year, I was settled on the history before the hike. I wanted to go to Richmond, Virginia. I was inspired by this summer’s Confederate monuments debate and discussion of removing the monuments, as Richmond has Monument Avenue, a boulevard with some of the oldest and largest Confederate statutes in the country. I’m torn on the monument debate but wanted to see this display for myself. Also in Richmond is historic Hollywood Cemetery and the Civil War Museum (or so I’d been told).

As the date neared, hiking seemed sparse right around Richmond so I investigated a side trip to the Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah Mountains. Yet, somehow in my planning, I didn’t realized until 2 days before that it would be almost 3 hours from the mountains to Richmond, on top of the 4 hours to get to the mountains. That, combined with the poor foliage reports given our warm fall, was a dealbreaker.

So I took out the paper map sent by the Virginia Tourism Board and did some searching. Low and behold, James Madison’s Montpelier is on the route I would have taken to Richmond, just almost 2 hours closer than the mountains, and there are 8 miles of trails there!

 

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They still make these!

 

On the appointed day, I set off for the 4 hour drive past DC and through the rolling countryside of Virginia, with the wind in my hair belting 70s rock hits, frequently hoping a drone was taping me for the road trip montage of my life movie.

I enjoyed Montepelier for a few hours then, exhausted by the hike and drive, decided to head to a hotel. On these trips, I like to pick a hotel pretty last minute. On this trip, it was really last minute. I knew there weren’t really any hotels around Montepelier, so I thought I’d decide that day which direction I wanted to head. Originally I thought “I’ll spend a night in Charlottesville after driving and hiking all day then get up at dawn to see that city!”

Unsurprisingly, that no longer seemed like the best idea. So I decided to head toward the next destination of Richmond, about an hour away.

And here presented the problem with picking a destination more on the beaten path: you’re not the only one there. Hotels in Gettysburg are easy: fancy bed and breakfast or 1 of 3 Comfort Inns. Near a city, you pick a hotel downtown and deal with higher prices and parking fees. Pick a hotel not downtown, and you’re not experiencing the city and you feel guilty holing up with take out.

But I opted for the latter, which still was going to run me around $100. However, this hotel had a bar and omelets in the morning! I check in to the spacious accommodations, settle in, and go down to check out the bar.

There’s no bar.

The bartender didn’t show up.

Also the “bar” is 3 stools at a counter with a beer tap and doubles as the breakfast room.

My grumpy deal-hunting mind goes forth to get retribution. I contact priceline in a chat and after a few minutes the rep says they’ll compensate me with a coupon for my next stay.

I check my email. There lay my coupon. 5% off my next stay.

So approximately $3.

Hell hath no fury like a woman who gets 5% off for her troubles.

Barely enough for the tip for the drink I’d have to pay for elsewhere since the bar wasn’t open.

I spent the next 2 hours talking with Priceline and the hotel staff. No one would budge. I became more and more enraged and probably seemed more and more insane fussing over the need to have a drink in my hotel versus the Applebee’s across the street. The hotel said they’re not responsible because the rate was non refundable. Priceline claimed to be off the hook because it’s up to the hotel, despite it being their incorrect information. Through all of this really I was technically wrong because I got the info from figuring out which hotel the express deal was for…technically I wouldn’t have known these details.

Finally I gave up for the night.

I never give up on a refund.

Trip tainted. Sigh.

I rallied the next day though and continued my tour of Southern non-hospitality in the cold rain, visiting the Confederate White House and Museum, both weird and fascinating and deserving of more attention in a future post. Then The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, a treasure trove of amazing art! Who knew!

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So many tiny eggs

Then on to biscuits, and monuments, and Tj Maxx! All this in one day, when usually all I can manage on a Sunday is 4-7 episodes of SVU and a nap!

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I also got yelled at by an angry driver who told me to go fuck myself while I look a picture of a Confederate monument. There’s that Southern hospitality again!

The final day was the food tour. Especially since the main tour I planned consisted of a battlefield that didn’t exist. Whoops. Why have your headquarters at Chimborazo Medical Hospital if there’s no hospital, National Park Service?!?

It was ok because it left more time for croissants at Whisk, where I actually did experience hospitality in addition to deliciousness.

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mmmmmm                                                                                                                          (credit: http://www.petitemodernblog.com/2015/12/28/whisk-bakery-new-rva-trea/)

Then Hollywood Cemetery and more monuments and more food.

And back to Philadelphia in a magical drive up 95 on a Monday afternoon hitting no traffic. All of my suffering healed in one drive, a reminder to think positive and embrace spontaneity.

Russian Tampering

I raised my age range on okcupid to 47–because, desperation—and that apparently is the same as requesting to only be contacted by Russian spies/Nigerian princes posing as singles:

Very nice and how are you this morning . Name is chip .. love the profile .. too funny … haven’t had good bar crawl in awhile …🤔🤔🤔🤔 hope to talk with you ..

Hello, how are you very beautiful and wonderful woman. Would you consider for the coffee or drinks sometime? I hope you do, have a great day.

Hi beautiful its nice to meet you….I’m Jeremy by name and you?………….or mail me on [redacted]

Curious about my summer of reading? Here are installments 1 and 2!

9. Leave Me

Leave Me: A Novel by [Forman, Gayle]

This was just enjoyable. Kinda trashy, good characters, nice story. Nothing fancy but nothing bad! Solid middle of the pack.

8. End of Your Life Book Club

Just barely breaking the top 10 is this story of a mother and son bonding over their shared love of books as the mother suffers from cancer. I cried at the end, but I don’t remember anything about it, so…

7. Shanghai Girls

Shanghai Girls: A Novel by [See, Lisa]

My 70-year-old knitting friend recommended this. I started writing that as a disclaimer but actually a fan of grocery store sales and WW2 novels is a kindred spirit so I don’t know why I didn’t listen to this recommendation sooner.

I was pleasantly surprised by this story of sisters escaping to the US during China’s revolution. It’s not a region of the world I’m drawn to, but maybe my lack of knowledge on the subject was what drew me in. I found myself referencing the story almost every day I was reading it, and on top of the historical aspects, it was a touching family story.

6. Claire of the Sea Light

Claire of the Sea Light (Vintage Contemporaries) by [Danticat, Edwidge]

I seem to have a soft spot for Caribbean stories, at least this summer. It’s another subject I’m not educated in, and there’s an ethereal and spiritual factor in the characters that elevates a so-so story.

5. The Orphan Mother

This completely took me by surprise. It was a staff recommended read at the library, and since I love Civil War history I picked it up as a throw away. And then I read it in a day. Not groundbreaking literature, but great historical references to the lesser-known details of life for blacks (free and slaves) and whites in a Southern town during the war–especially interesting to see the war as more of a background event than a mid-battle story.

4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel by [Honeyman, Gail]

Another one that took me by surprise! I envisioned it as one of those popular summer reads that is gimmicky or otherwise annoying (basically every top summer read the past few years), but it was a laugh out loud funny story about incredibly endearing and complex characters.

3. Augustown

Augustown: A Novel by [Miller, Kei]

I came upon this accidentally when I went to a reading for another book and this author happened to be there. This was my first intro to Caribbean literature–a tale of Jamaica and Rastafarianism. A) Both of those things are fascinating B) The mysticism and magical realism of this had my mind racing the whole time I read. The interconnecteness of people and history and legend goes so deep beyond the story itself. The writing required concentration because it was in a thick accent, but it was worth it, and had my screaming from the descriptiveness at times. I picked it for my upcoming book club and can’t wait to discuss it with others.

2. The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give by [Thomas, Angie]

No surprise this renowned book of summer 2017 comes in the top 3. I read it in 6 hours. I liked the characters and the story, but what I loved most was the family relationships. In contemporary fiction, it’s so unusual to see a non-divorced, bickering, devoted, loving family making hard decisions and supporting each other. It’s especially unusual to see a black family portrayed that way in the media, but for any family to show so much love in a modern story is refreshing and appealing.

1. The Bright Hour

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by [Riggs, Nina]

I have a maybe masochistic draw to stories about death. And yes I cried at the end, but I was so much more filled with a love of life reading this. It was so real and accurate and engaging. There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been covered in the many reviews, but go and read this and appreciate each day for what it is. Yeah, that’s annoying and trite, but someone Riggs’ entreaty to appreciate life was more real and more impactful. It wasn’t a “life is beautiful” but rather life is beautiful and often shitty but there’s something in that too.

 

The End.

Only 6 months until I can read another!

Next 5: 20 Books a Summer

I’ve clearly needed a lot of time to think of these next 5 reviews. Worth the wait? Check out the start of the series here.

15. The Wonder

Well this was a slog. I never saw or read Room but if that got such acclaim the author’s other work has to be great right? No! Why haven’t I learned by now ?

Slow and boring. That’s all I can remember–proof positive it’s one to avoid.

14. Jane

Product Details

I’m not usually a contrarian, but Jane Eyre, and Jane Austen, and Brit Lit in general is just not my thing. I can enjoy a rom com remake of a Jane Austen book, but otherwise I just find them tedious and predictable. My dislike for Jane Eyre, especially, always surprised even me because it’s a little more unique than the others. More gothic, more forbidden lovely, but not for me.

However, since I feel crazy having this take, I picked up Jane, a modern retelling of the story that students recommended.

It read like typical chick lit. Awkward girl meets handsome

14. Commonwealth

Tied for 14th place right on the precipice of mediocrity and terribleness. I know I’m supposed to fall all over myself for Ann Patchett but…this was fine. Family drama, some compelling characters, mostly terrible people being terrible aka acclaimed contemporary fiction. Blah.

12. The Widow of the South

Product Details

This book was good! Not great. I read it after reading The Orphan Mother, which I tore through. The Orphan Mother told a less familiar tale of Civil War/postbellum times in the South. Maybe this just seemed repetitive after a very similar topic by the same author, but it didn’t captivate me. I have referenced it several times in teaching, however, so it clearly has significance

11. The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by [Wilkerson, Isabel]

10. Imbeciles

Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by [Cohen, Adam]

My nonfiction is grouped right in the middle of the pack. These both discuss incredibly significant and frequently overlooked periods of American history: The Great Migration and the eugenics trend. They both started off fascinating and engaging. I’m less familiar with eugenics than the migration so Imbeciles especially left me exclaiming during each read at all the next facts.

They both go 100 pages, run out of new information, and yet continue for hundreds more pages.

These books, as with many non fiction titles, are in desperate need of a ruthless editing. They weave in many characters and time frames, challenging I’ll admit, but they give the reader no credit for remembering anything that happens on any page. With each new locale or reintroduction of a character, the authors retell relationships and plot, sometimes pages worth.  Wilkerson’s book is especially problematic as the entire text weaves among the personal stories of 3 migrants. So each time we revisit a migrant, we have a backstory. Again. Sometimes multiple times in one page. Imbeciles gives chapters worth of repeated biographical information on its main topic but never gives context for present day or other parts of history. Both titles draw in the reader with an under discussed topic and approachable writing style but their attempts to personalize the issue go off the tracks and leads to detail overload.