Thursday, August 25, 2016

Traveling Solo

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Traveling alone for pleasure has come up several times recently in conversations with friends. A few friends have ventured on solo trips with trepidation; some enjoyed them, some did not. More friends have said that not only could they not imagine planning a trip alone, they couldn't imagine why anyone would want to do that.

And, then, there are a few weirdos like me (at least I hope there are) who actually enjoy it. It's not that I don't like traveling with family and friends--I do! But traveling alone is very different experience. My first solo trip was my second trip to England, the year after I graduated from college. I had been for the first time the previous September with my parents. I knew, after one week in England, that I absolutely had to go back. So I moved back home and worked in the family business for the next nine months, saving money and planning. In June of that year, I took off for England, alone. I'd bought a bus pass rather than a rail pass, because I didn't want to see Britain only from the backside, so to speak. I spent the next cold, rainy six weeks crisscrossing the country, staying in cheap (and often horrible) B&Bs. But there were some gems, too, and I saw wonderful places. And I looked and listened and made notes, taking it all in.

That, for me, is the big appeal of traveling alone. You have the opportunity to observe and process in a way that isn't possible if you're socializing. There is also, of course, the fact that you do only the things YOU want to do.

What about you, fellow REDS? Do you like to travel alone? And if so, what have you done that's most memorable?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I used to enjoy traveling alone when I was a young woman, but I think so many years of solo business travel has made me appreciate having a companion (or companions) along.

When I was in college, I spent a summer at an archeological dig in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. I had a week or so before my semester started in London, so I went to Rome and Nice on my own. I did the topless sunbathing thing and felt very daring! Then, when we had the end-of-term holiday, none of my friends wanted to go to Germany and Austria, so I went by myself, to revisit some scenes of my childhood and see my dream city, Vienna. 

The things I loved then about going it alone? I talked with and met more people - there were several times I wound up having dinner with someone I had just met that day. Speaking of dinner, it was great not having to adjust to anyone else's stomach. (I swear, half the time we spend traveling as a family is consumed with finding food for one of the kids or Ross.) And, as an art/archaological/history museum fiend, it was bliss not having to cut a visit short because my companion was tired or bored. (My perfect art museum companion is my mother, who would stay until the doors close.)

And of course, you all know how much I value my solo visits to my agent's house in Nantucket in February. Is it a state peculiar to writers, or does everyone crave more time alone as they get older?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Okay, just between us? I adore traveling alone. I mean--I thrive on it. I get to make all the decisions. I can eat whatever I want. I can get to the airport really early, ridiculously early, because it's much more relaxing for me, without having to explain that to anyone. I can have hamburgers and salad and wine and diet coke and tea in my hotel room every night, and hot have someone wonder whether I am in a rut. I AM in a rut, and I like it there. I can work on my book for hours without feeling guilty.  I can sneak down to breakfast in a jersey nightgown and a levi jacket and scarf, snag my food and two cups of coffee and take it back to my room and watch the news. Oh. It is completely great.

Now let me say.  My mom used to say a "vacation" was not fully realized unless there was something to have a vacation from . So I am infinitely grateful to be able to travel with Jonathan at the times I do. ANd I love our vacations together--he is a perfect travel companion.   I'm just saying: when it's book tour and I am on my own? I really like it.
Julia, that is a good question.

RHYS BOWEN: I've always traveled alone, ever since my parents put me as a young teenager on a train in London and I made my way to Vienna unescorted. A year later I went to France by myself, finding the way to get around Paris from one station to another. I suppose I had been up to London on my own from the age of about ten, so nothing phased me much.

And I still love finding myself alone in a strange city. Sometimes when I come to New York on business I take a day to just wander around, discovering little treasures: a garden between tall buildings, new Subway murals, old Jewish delis. And I find myself thinking "Nobody knows I'm here but me" and it's a heady thought. Like Debs and Hank I love the freedom to stop to eat when when I feel hungry, suddenly decide to fan a museum and go shopping or just sit in the park and people watch. 

And I love getting room service when I'm on book tour and come back late to my hotel, then curling up in pjs and eating a sinful helping of fries. However..... I only like being alone for a finite amount of time. After three or four days alone in a city I find myself chatting to grocery clerks and the person next to me on the bus. And I do enjoy traveling with husband and family too. Just not all the time!

HALLIE EPHRON: I can't imagine traveling alone for pleasure. It's like an oxymoron. Because the fun of travel for fun is doing it with someone. YOu've got to be compatible because within five seconds you'll know if you're not. My druthers: food (YES, all kinds), walking (YES), museums (YES), shopping (NO NO NO!!!), wildlife (BIG YES). 

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Love, love, love traveling solo. Of course, I love traveling with my family, too. And, come to think of it, when I travel alone—for research trips—I'm really traveling "with" my characters. Having someone else along would impede all the ideas, the scribbled note-taking, the feeling of overhearing snippets of their conversations....

That said, I went to Scotland to research Maggie Hope #4, THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT, and I'm going to be returning to Edinburgh, with Noel and Kiddo, next summer for a proper holiday with all of us. I loved it so much I have to share.

But first I'll be traveling solo for work to ... Shetland! Yes, the very northern tip of the UK! The 8th Maggie Hope novel will be set in Shetland and revolve around the so-called Shetland bus—the secret boat service that ran between the UK and Norway, ferrying British SOE secret agents in and out of Nazi-occupied territory. So, solo research trip for me and THEN a meet up with the family. Sounds like a good compromise!

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm with Hallie--would rather travel with good company than alone. Definitely book research days are more productive alone, but for fun--I like someone to share the road with. Unlike Hallie, I don't at all mind a little shopping...

DEBS: Everybody's hitting my fantasies! Room service (adore it when I'm book tour.) Vienna. New York. Birding. And Shetland!! Susan, that sound fabulous. Ever since I read Ann Cleeves I've wanted to go to Shetland. Plus, the research time alone, and then the family time, is the perfect mix.

And that's a good question, Hank. I've always liked that time alone, but I think these days, because I'm so frazzled all the time, I appreciate it more.

READERS, solo, companions, or both? And what about the time alone?


  1. When I was in college, I used to ride the train into New York City by myself and spend the day wandering around the city, visiting museums, shopping, or seeing a Broadway show. And although I really enjoyed it, I much prefer to travel with someone. I always seem to get all the things done that I want to do and, for me, it's much more fun to be able to share the adventure . . . .

  2. I have always loved travelling alone. Maybe it is because I am an only child, and no one else in my family liked going to see new places. My first time travelling solo was going to Europe for 2 months at age 19. Berlin was my first city, and exploring that divided city by myself was a great eye-opener and start to that European adventure.

    And for work, it was also solo travel @95% of the time. I went on @15-20 trips a year, mostly in North America, and loved it.

    I usually go on 3-4 trips a year for pleasure solo. I love being able to plan my itinerary and explore a new city on my own. And I usually met both locals and other visitors on my travels so I got enough company to satisfy me.

  3. A little bith of both. I have travel rituals on the way to my destination so there is where I like to travel alone. But once I get to my destination, I need friends otherwise, I'm in my hotel room the whole time. That's one of the reasons I love going to reader/author conferences because I satisfy the travel alone part and then get to hang out with my friends.

  4. I understand your ritual, Dru Ann. But I must admit I find going to Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime, and interacting with authors and friends a bit too overstimulating. That is why I give myself at least 5-7 days to travel and explore the convention city on my own. That is what I am doing for NOLA.

  5. I love to travel alone! I backpacked through England and Wales January of my senior year of college and LOVED it. I stayed in hostels and road the trains. I met up with a friend for one night and then went back on my way. I travelled to Italy for work, but took one day at the end of the trip to just be alone in Florence and it was divine. I also went to Philly for Wendy Tyson's first book launch and stayed at a fantastic hotel where I had room service and an incredibly decadent bath.

    Now that y'all have brought it up, I think I need to plan a solo trip soon. :)

  6. All these mentions of Bouchercon are making me really look forward to it! Who will be there? Two things I'm thinking of doing are visiting the MacNeal family crypt (Yes, Noel's side of the family is Scottish/Creole, from New Orleans) and also the World War II Museum.

  7. Susan, if your suitcase feels a bit heavy, don't worry - it's only me in there stowing away to Shetland with you. Oh how I dream of visiting this glorious place. Be sure to say hi to Jimmy Perez for me.

    Looking forward to Bouchercon as well. The WWII Museum is on my list as well - it is supposed to be fantastic.

    I'm not really the travel alone type. I need interaction and I am too shy for my own good around strangers.

  8. I'm with you, Dru Ann. A little bit of both. I like having other people around because I get terribly lonely. I'd probably rarely leave my hotel room. Yet I do like trips when I get some time to myself - usually to write or just decompress. Because I am an introvert and I need that.

    Whenever I travel with my family, it feels like every minute has to be scheduled and just -- ugh. But then there are the moments when we are en route or hanging together and one of the kids will say something funny. Or I'm traveling with my SinC buddies and there are those moments. Like coming home from Bouchercon last year when we thought we were going to have to evacuate the airport. One of my friends had just come back from a pedicure and she was still wearing those flimsy flip-flops. All she could think about was not messing up her toenail polish! It was hysterical.

    I'll be at Bouchercon and yes, looking forward to it. My husband will have free time while I'm doing the author thing - I'm trying to convince him to go to the WWII museum. He's such a history buff.

  9. What a timely post this is. I'm sitting here working on my next Jungle Red post which is about my upcoming trip to New Orleans for Bouchercon.

    I love traveling alone. Always have. I'm pretty picky about who I do travel with, and so far, Donald Barley is my favorite traveling companion. But. I still like those occasional trips by myself.

    Like Debs, I love having that alone time to really observe, think about and process some of the places I'm visiting, sites I'm seeing. Like Hank, I love the total freedom of doing what I want, when I want without saying, "yes, I'd love ice cream for dinner. I believe I'll call room service."

    I recently had a "girl's week at the beach" trip, but I was careful about who I invited and was pretty sure those who were coming would mix well together (although, really, you don't ever know for sure!). Not only did it work well, it worked so beautifully we're already planning it again for next year. This came about because, frankly, I've been fighting some depression since my mom died last year. I needed some girlfriends around to be silly with, but at the same time could allow those random tears. They will never, I don't think, fully understand exactly how much that week at the beach helped.

    I've rambled, haven't I?

    imagine that.

    I love traveling alone. And, honestly? Would do more of it if I could afford it.

  10. Susan, I'll be at Bouchercon, and very excited to have a chance to meet you, at last. And to seeing all the Reds and Reds-adjacent, as well!

    Hallie, love the photo. Is it a kingfisher? From which country?

    You all know I was in Europe recently on my own, completely alone for only a week, but considering I have only been traveling internationally since spring of 2001, it was a big deal for me. Our supremely well-traveled Rhys, though, gave me a couple of pep talks that made a big difference in my enjoyment.

    Having traveled extensively within the US, mostly with my husband, it was a refreshing change to make my own schedule, and one that didn't revolve around where and when to take photographs. :-) One of my best days happened in Innsbruck. My travel agent had advised me to take a day trip to Salzburg from there to visit the Mozart House, etc. However, it had been raining and cold all over Europe (this is when Paris flooded), and the forecast for Salzburg was more of the same. I just couldn't face trudging around to yet another museum or church, in pouring rain, especially when it was only going to be cloudy in Innsbruck.

    The desk clerk showed me how to get to the funicular that went up the mountain on the other side of the Inn River, and I decided to visit the Alpenzoo, Europe's highest zoo. A mere 12.50 Euros bought a ticket back and forth on the Zaha Hadid-designed funicular that crossed the Inn and went straight up the mountain, and included entrance to the zoo. The day turned out great, with intermittent sun, not a drop of rain, and spectacular views of the city, far below and across the river. I spent a lovely day hiking up and down the mountain, checking out native Austrian Alpen animals, chatting with visitors from all over the world with small children, and having a traditional Austrian meal (late) at the beautiful old hotel at the zoo.

    Best of all, my "dinner" later was nothing more than a glass of the local wine, Gruner Veltliner, and my favorite dessert of all time, the regional Sacher torte. That would never have happened if I'd been traveling with anyone else. That day remains one of my favorites of the whole trip, too.

  11. I think I've probably come across as antisocial, which I think everyone would agree I am NOT. I am not shy, I love being with people, and I'm always interested in people. So maybe that time alone serves as a counter-balance. And I think all of us who write, at least, have to have the ability not only to spend time alone but to enjoy it. Otherwise work would be hell. (Not to say that there aren't days when it is...)

    Karen, you zoo days sounds amazing. And I put in the photo of the kingfisher, because I know how much Hallie loves birding (as do I.) It just said "common kingfisher) so not sure if it is American or not. I'll bet Hallie can tell us.

    Looking forward to seeing everyone at Bouchercon! But I am giving myself a "quiet day" when I get to New Orleans, and will have to retreat to my room periodically:-)

  12. Yes, traveling alone for work, and together for pleasure. (I love that JOnathan carries my heavy stuff!--even though I can do it just fine on my own.)

    ANd ye, KAye, it is a juggle to travel in a pack! We have several couples we go away with, and it's terrific--but we're all used to each other's quirks, and have learned to (mostly) ignore them.

    Hey--let's make sure we all know who's gong to Bouchercon! Susan, Debs, Hank, Rhys..

    Rowena--you are so brave! oxo

  13. Great topic! Traveling more for book research (and writing with no interruptions or obligations) is a major goal for the next couple years! I envy those of you who can do it!!

    I love traveling alone too, which is great because my husband has canceled on me at the last minute on several major trips. On one, I met friends for a house party then drove around France for a week by myself--once I bought a TomTom navigating by myself got easier. When I was single, I use to travel alone most of the time--for business and for fun--and often met interesting people along the way. When traveling with other people, we tend to stay more to ourselves which is kind of disappointing at times.

  14. This is a topic right up my alley: I LOVE traveling alone. I probably travel alone better than with companions. I relax somehow--my brain returns to me, in a way--that might not make sense, but I don't know how to explain it. The first time I traveled alone was right after college when I moved to South America. I burst into tears of fear as I entered security, surprising my parents, and then I was fine,and since then I've thrived on it. Novel research, my own personal writing retreats -- it's all good.

    Even little trips give me pleasure. Tomorrow I'm taking the train up to Seattle to do an event at Seattle Mystery Bookstore. I'll only be there for 24-hours, but I'm excited to sit on a train for three hours and just "be" (but I'll be working on the WIP mostly).

    Can't wait for Bouchercon! Who else is getting in early to do the tourist thing?

  15. AND THE WINNNER of Debra Goldstein's book via the cake blog: well, let Debra herself announce! Yay!

    …is Kathy Reel. If she will send me her address (, I'll be glad to send her a book and some swag for running late :).

  16. Lisa, "my brain returns to me" is an absolutely perfect way to describe it. That's exactly how it feels!

  17. Hank, I haven't been to NOLA since I was a teenager, when I went several times with my folks and loved it, so I'm really looking forward to it. It is my daughter and son-in-law's favorite place, so they're coming, too, with Wren (her first trip to NOLA), although they are not registered for the conference. I can see the days flying by already, and I'm afraid I'm going to be trying to finish my copy edit! Eeek.

  18. Lisa,

    We are getting in to New Orleans on the Sunday before Bouchercon. There are lots of people doing the same, so the city will be a virtual who's who of the crime fiction community.

    Looking forward to seeing everyone there. I'm moderating an excellent panel on Strong Lead Characters with a stellar group of authors on Friday morning @ 9:30. Maybe I'll see some of you there!

  19. I've always traveled alone and I love it. I tend to lose myself in places, it can drive traveling companions nuts. Of course, I also love traveling with family, but I'm lucky enough to have a husband who says, "We'll meet back at the hotel at 6." and mean it and not be resentful.

  20. I tend to do both. More often than not, I travel to mystery conventions by myself and then meet up with friends who are also attending. I am attending Bouchercon in NOLA. I have never been to NOLA, so I am looking forward to it. Not sure if my husband will be joining me this time or not. I do think the WWII museum sounds interesting. I am excited about the new experience and about hopefully meeting some new friends!

  21. Great discussion! I love traveling alone and I traveled all over Japan in my twenties alone also later in Mali in West Africa.

  22. Great discussion! I love traveling alone and I traveled all over Japan in my twenties alone also later in Mali in West Africa.

  23. I have traveled alone, for a whole year as a teacher for a rapid reading/study skills program, and often for pleasure as well, though I'm also happy to have company. A friend once said of one trip, "You're going ALONE?" I assured her there would be people on the cruise. I've met some awfully nice people when on my own. Why miss anything you really want to do? <3

  24. I hate being alone, except when I'm working on my books. I would never travel alone for pleasure. It wouldn't be pleasure. Like Lucy, I want to share the experience and impressions of a place with someone. For me, it's a need for companionship. Perhaps that sounds sappy.

    On another note, Susan, I've been to Edinburgh twice and absolutely loved the city. It's nice that you'll be able to visit with your husband and son next year.

  25. Hi Debs,

    I love solo travel. My parents never stopped me from travelling alone when I was young. I had fun, and it gave me a lot of confidence. I'm not sure how wise it was on my parents' part, but I took part in things according to my choice, planned on my own as I made arrangements, packed my bags, and left. I've visited places and done things that some of my friends never have done.

    I started early when I was eight, I think, by taking a train from Salem to a farm about 30 miles north where I joined a farmer who took me in his truck to visit his cows pastured in New Hampshire. On the way he told me all about the advantages of real pastures where the cows eat fresh growing vegetation. He also explained how you can know what the cows ate when you drank the milk. Sometimes it had a hint of wild onion and sometimes apple, clover and local grasses. His home farm had an apple tree the cows would pull apples from. His milk was the best I ever had.

    I still make trips like that. Sometimes it's summer in Oxford for study and living at Christ Church College, and other times it's visiting a farm. Several years ago I visited a hog farm in Iowa and stayed with the family that owned and farmed it. They lived so far away from town that the family built a small church at the place where four sections of family farmland met. All four related families could attend either as a meeting or when a minister came through, a regular service.

    Not too many people want to do these things with me.

  26. My husband and I have different interests for what we do in our time away from work. And I encourage it because we have so little time to do what makes him/me happy so do it rather than suffer through something that is not making you happy. For the last four years Steve has gone to SHOT show in Vegas in January. SHOT is shooting, hunting, outdoor and ... T something. He is a kid in a huge-mongous candy store there whereas I'm sure I'd be complaining about how boring it all was and my feet hurt. Last year I decided that I deserve an away vacation, too, so I went to Bouchercon last fall in Raleigh and I'm going again next month in New Orleans. Mystery books are what I love. He would be bored to tears ... or worse, tantrums. So far it's working out. I don't know what I'll do next year. Maybe Bouchercon ... maybe Ireland. :)

  27. I love to travel and it's great when my husband or friends can join me, but, if they can't, pffft, it'll be fun, anyway! My love of solo travel started with my first job out of college, in R&D for a tech company. They sent me all over the country by myself; in retrospect, I can't believe how lucky I was! I can't think of a trip that hasn't involved learning something surprising, fun, life-changing along the way. The sign on my desk reads "Blessed are the curious, for they shall have ADVENTURES." I love adventures!

    But I think the thing most people really hate isn't traveling alone, it's eating alone. Nobody can believe I go to nice restaurants by myself... with a book, of course! That's always worked just wonderfully, except in Atlanta. For some reason, people in Atlanta abhorred the idea of a woman alone with a meal and a book, and kept stopping by to express sympathy (and, usually, to ask me to join them.) It was really a challenge not to turn it into a drinking game, but THAT wasn't going to end well... :-D

  28. I just got home from dinner at Spiro's with a Jane Yolen book on my Kindle. ;-)
    On one of my recent cruises, Norwegian was testing, as part of the open seating, having a "mixer" table for single passengers and anyone else who wanted company at dinner.

  29. I so wanted to get here earlier today and post, but I have had the most glorious day, so I don't feel too bad. After picking up my younger granddaughter (turns seven on Saturday) from school, we went and had ice cream, and then we met her parents (my daughter and her husband) at the boat ramp right across the road and went boating on the Ohio River. This was a big deal for me, as I am not a boater, but my sweet granddaughter wanted me to go, as they had gotten a new boat, and so I went. It was wonderful--the scenery, the feeling of floating across the water with the blue sky above, and telling stories to my granddaughter as we sat in the front of the boat. We explored a sandy bank where they often go, and I can't wait to go again.

    So, I am definitely going to Bouchercon. I'll be the one with bells on or baltering (see my FB post). I can't wait to see all of you who are going! Prepare for some hugs and squeals. I just did a post on my book blog with a little contest for naming the authors in the pictures. The first group of authors were some of the authors who have already experienced my squeeeeeeeee. The second group were some authors I intend to meet and squeeeee to in NOLA. I hope some of us here can get together, including you, my Reds authors and other authors (Lisa A.). Terry Shames is going to join a large group of us going out to eat and to hear some music Tuesday night. I had such a great time going out to eat in Raleigh with Terry and Rhys along. Others are welcome.

    Traveling alone? I fly alone all the time, but I usually meet someone at my destination. When I go to Hawaii when my husband is there on business, I do sightseeing by myself and love it. I do have a travel buddy that I've traveled with the last few years, and she and I always have a great time. We travel very well together. I wish that I had traveled more by myself before I got married, but for some insane reason, I thought I should get married at 22. My big trip to England and Scotland that I hope to go on in the next couple of years is a little uncertain as to whether I'll have a travel mate or not, but I know some people with whom I can connect in those countries, too.

  30. I have traveled alone quite a bit. I find I'm braver when I'm with friends, and more likely to go places that might not have been at the top of my list.

    However, I still remember a horrible, screaming family argument (not my family, thank heaven!) that I witnessed in Vienna, Austria. I decided then and there that it's just hard to be together 24/7. It taught me to split up sometimes when I travel with friends. If I'm not interested in the Museum of Boat Barnacles, I go where I want to go, (sometimes shopping), and we meet up for dinner. Everyone is happy, and we have new things to talk about because everyone had an adventure. It's the best of both worlds.

  31. Terrific post! Love all of the comments above.

    Travelling solo for me is fun, though it's also fun with family and friends. I had the extra challenge of having 115 db hearing loss, which is major! I learned how to rely on visual cues. Regardless, sometimes people want to help me, which is welcome sometimes when I do need help. Sometimes they will listen to my speech and try to figure out where I am from :-)

    As an only child, I learned to be very independent. I travelled solo by plane when I was in the 5th grade from the East Coast of the US to the West Coast. I travelled solo when I went abroad for my Junior Year abroad to Oxford, England. Travelled to Germany on my own and I got lost! I got off at the wrong train station in Hamburg and I went to the poilz (police) station and asked for directions. Travelled solo to Europe to meet up with a tour group (14 days) then I travelled solo from Rome to Copenhagen on the train. I notice that when I travel on my own, I prefer to stay at bed and breakfast inns instead of big hotels. One exception is when I went to the Malice convention in Betheseda (sp?).

    Susan, on one of my solo trips, I went to Edinburgh for a week. They had this wonderful Children's Museum on the Royal Mile, which I liked better than the children's Museum in London. I think Kiddo will love the children's museum on the Royal Mile.

    Krista, I find I am braver when I am with friends. Your story reminds me of a friend's teenager. She and a friend were travelling together to Europe. The friend's teenager really wanted to see JK Rowling's midnight reading in Edinburgh but her friend wanted to go to Rome. Eventually, they agreed to split up and she went on her own to Edinburgh because she loved loved the Harry Potter series!

    Deborah, this is a great topic!


  32. A little late on this, because I was, in fact, on vacation with my family- 2 daughters, 2 sons in law, a grandbaby, a grand 3 year old. Needless to say, it was very different from traveling alone! I love taking a vacation with all of them ( more vacation than "traveling" as such), love to travel with my husband, and love to travel alone. The first time I did that was when I went to Williamsburg, a desire no one in my family shared.I took the train, stayed at a B& B, did my history geek thing to my heart's overflowing content. No explanations, no compromises. It was great. The next time was when I was able to attach a few days in Paris (hadn't been there in 30 years!) to a work training program in Oslo. It was great too. PIs anyone surprised? I navigated the Metro (well, I live in NY and rode the subway every day - I could do it, I told myself) I walked my feet off, and then took a boat ride on the Seine. Ate whatever, whenever.Went to Monet's garden in Giverny on my birthday. After awhile, I got lonely, sure, but I was also observing, absorbing, taking notes both mental and on paper. Cause that's what writers do.