2013: The Year of Social Solo Travel

by Gray Cargill on December 26, 2013

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2013 was a much busier travel year for me than I expected it to be. At the beginning of the year, I only had three trips confirmed. By the end of the year, I’d gone on seven—thanks to four serendipitous opportunities. I never left North America, but I was able to visit four new destinations, experience a new cruise ship, and revisit some old favorite cities, too.

Don’t let anyone tell you solo travel is always lonely. If there was a theme to all my travels this year it was “social solo travel.” I had meetups with friends old and new on every trip I went on this year (including one trip where I brought a friend and another trip where I met up with family). Talk about shaking up my usual travel style!

Here’s a recap of the highlights:

The Riverwalk

The Riverwalk

San Antonio

This was my first trip to Texas and hopefully, it won’t be my last. I loved the gracious hospitality of the people of San Antonio. And the temperatures in January were pretty pleasant, too.

Prettiest tourist attraction: The Riverwalk

Best meetup with a long-lost friend: My friend Lorna, whom I met six years ago and have only stayed in touch with via email and Christmas cards ever since, happens to live in San Antonio. We caught up over lunch at the Tower of the Americas—great company and great views are a winning combination!

Best new friend made: Teresa, a reader of my blog, contacted me before my trip to meet up for lunch. We hit it off and spent an afternoon hanging out at the Japanese Tea Garden and Museum Reach of the Riverwalk. I would see Teresa again in Toronto later in the year.

 

Alamo

The Alamo

 

Coolest thing I did in Texas: Visiting all four missions along the Spanish Mission Trail.

Most surreal moment: Walking on the grounds of the Alamo, in the footsteps of legends like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.

Way to impress, San Antonio.

 

678 Ocean Place

678 Ocean Place is a hub of activity aboard the Breakaway

Norwegian Breakaway

I had a terrific time on this new cruise ship’s 2-night inaugural cruise out of New York. Norwegian Breakaway continues Norwegian’s commitment to solo travelers with Studio cabins and Studio Lounge, but the ship also has a really beautiful design and layout.

Favorite Ship Feature: The Studio Cabins and Lounge, of course, since they’re solo-friendly.

 

the Waterfront

Seating for Fat Cats on the Waterfront

 

Favorite NEW Ship Feature: The Waterfront. This on-deck neighborhood of restaurants and bars is a fabulous new addition to the Norwegian family.

Best meetup at sea: This cruise was my first opportunity to meet in person my long-time online friend and occasional guest blogger, Tracy Antonioli (The Suitcase Scholar). It felt more like a reunion than a first meeting. Sadly, we neglected to mark this historic occasion with a photo. #bloggerfail

 

Look ma! Not seasick!

Look ma! Not seasick!

 

Happiest moment: Realizing that, after failed attempts with sea bands and the scopolamine patch, I finally found something that prevents seasickness: Bonine. My seafaring travels are back ON.

 

Toronto City Hall

City Hall, Toronto

Toronto/Niagara Falls/TBEX

Thanks to the TBEX Travel Blogger’s Conference, I was able to check some items off my travel bucket list—namely, visiting Niagara Falls and the city of Toronto, Ontario.

Favorite thing about Toronto: This city embraces sci-fi like no other city I’ve visited. It has a terrific blend of celebrating its past, while looking to the future. I could live there.


Niagara Falls

At Niagara Falls

 

Most mind-blowing natural wonder: Niagara Falls, of course. There’s nothing like standing next to such an enormous and powerful force of nature to make you feel insignificant in the scheme of things. Mother Nature rules.

Best days-long travel blogger party ever: TBEX. 🙂 The conference was fine, but what I loved the most was the opportunity to catch up with so many travel blogger friends—and make new ones. Not to mention meeting another good online friend, Lisa Egle (Chickybus) in person for the first time. I love the power of social media for connecting us to one another, but nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

Best thing I ate all year: Sasseh. Sasseh is sugar-on-snow (maple syrup poured over snow to harden it) wrapped around a cube of cheddar or blue cheese on a skewer. Oh. My. God. It was so good. I will be dreaming of this treat for the rest of my life. (The blue cheese was the best.)

 

Sasseh

Sasseh!

Mystic, Connecticut

My cousin’s wedding provided me the opportunity to visit the quaint New England seaport of Mystic for the first time.

Best Mystic Tourist attraction: Mystic Seaport, of course. It’s historically interesting and very picturesque.

 

Tall ship

“All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” –John Masefield

 

Greatest travel challenge of the year: The 10-hour solo road trip to and from Mystic was brutal. I don’t enjoy driving long distances by myself. I had carpal tunnel syndrome for weeks after this. But I met the challenge head-on, and I did it. Go me.

Most serendipitous moment of the year: After a week of nonstop rain, the skies cleared and the sun came out just long enough for my cousin’s wedding in the park. The weather gods were certainly smiling on them.

 

Mille Fiori

Mille Fiori by Dale Chihuly

Montreal, Quebec

I am so lucky to live just 2 hours south of Montreal. I love this city! It’s the perfect weekend getaway for me, and I never get tired of strolling the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal.

Favorite activities: It’s a tie. I was very lucky that two fantastic exhibits were going on in the city during my trip: The Chihuly blown glass exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and The International Mosaiculture at the Botanical Garden. They were two of the best examples of creativity I saw all year.

 

Shepherd

A Shepherd with his sheep, sheepdog and horses

 

Best example of shaking up my travel style this year: This was not a solo trip: I brought a friend, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Don’t worry, it hasn’t convinced me to give up solo travel, though.

 

Las Vegas sign

My favorite repeat destination

Las Vegas (Times Two)

I didn’t intend to go to Vegas twice in one year, but since I did, I had the opportunity to experience twice as much as I normally do in my favorite city, including lots of new restaurants and attractions, and some new shows.

Best social experiences of the year: When it comes to my travel social life, Vegas is special. I’ve been to the city so many times, I’ve become friends with people who live there, and with other Vegas visitors who love the city as much as I do. This year, I was able to meet up with many of them, usually in small group settings or one-on-one for meals or drinks. For an introvert like me, that’s my preferred social setting. And the Third Annual Vegas Solo Meetup drew a really fun crowd this year. Thanks to everyone for coming! As long as you keep coming, I’ll keep hosting them.

 

Vegas Solo Meetup

Third Annual Vegas Solo Meetup

 

Best new show: Michael Jackson ONE (a Cirque du Soleil show at Mandalay Bay). This is a multimedia show using Michael Jackson’s music, dance styles, fashion, and even his image and voice. It is so well-choreographed, it blew me away.

Best new Broadway import: Rock of Ages is an infectiously fun show. If you were into big hair bands of the ’80s, you might get a kick out of it, too. I love the humor and the way the cast interacts with the audience.

 

Neon Boneyard

The old Frontier sign at the Neon Boneyard

 

Best Vegas tour: The Neon Boneyard. After three years of trying to get in on a tour of the Boneyard, I finally made it happen! Woohoo! This is one of the best tours you can take in Las Vegas. You learn a lot about the history of the city from its neon signs, believe it or not.

Favorite new Vegas attraction: Springs Preserve. Springs Preserve isn’t new, per se. It’s been around for several years. But this was my first time visiting. I loved the many walking trails in this desert setting. My friend Brian and I visited when it was all decked out for Halloween, which made it even more fun. If you want to enjoy the great outdoors in Las Vegas without having to go too far afield, this is a fine choice.

Favorite new photo opportunity outside of Las Vegas: Again, this is not a new destination, but it was new to me. Bonnie Springs Old Nevada is kitschy fun. It’s an old Western town that badly needs some refreshing, but the desert setting is just beautiful. If you’re a photographer, it’s worth a drive out for the interesting photo opps, including the desert landscape.

 

Bonnie Springs Old Nevada

Bonnie Springs, Old Nevada – there are great photo opps here

 

Most Relaxing Experience: Canyon Ranch Spa. It’s been several years since I’ve taken the time for a spa day, and it reminded me how important relaxation can be. I could have died happy in the salt grotto here.

Best Adult Beverage of the Year: The Smoked Whiskey at Rx Boiler Room.

I had to save the best for last:

Most Adventurous Activity: Without a doubt the most adventurous–and fun–thing I did all year during my travels was the Richard Petty Ride Along Experience. I got to go three laps in a stock car around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a professional race car driver. Our speeds got up to 160mph. With the beautiful Las Vegas mountains as a backdrop to the racetrack, it was breathtaking in more ways than one.

 

Richard Petty Experience

Me? In a race car? You bet!

 

For these reasons and more, 2013 is definitely going to go down in my personal history as a very good travel year. But. . .it definitely left me wanting to go a bit further afield in 2014. Can I make it happen? Stay tuned. . . .

How was your travel year? What were some of the best things you did?

lee January 16, 2014 at 9:43 am

Have a great time in Hawaii…. have only stopped on trips to Japan but the 1 day layovers were great….I shall only do 2 long term trips this year exploring alternatives to hotels and planes. It has been an adjustment to travel for 6 to 8 weeks or more at a time…. your pace is totally different and my focus is on local life and people…. so far very rewarding….

I look forward to some insights on Hawaii…this year I hope to use my RTW points and shall stop on the way to China…….all in the plan but things often change……..

Gray Cargill January 17, 2014 at 8:29 pm

Thanks, Lee. I think Hawaii makes a great stopover point for a trip to Asia from the U.S. I can’t even imagine traveling straight through. It would kill me.
It’s not everyone who can travel 6-8 weeks at a time; I imagine it’s lovely. For me, that will have to wait until I retire. 🙂

lee January 17, 2014 at 8:48 pm

I look forward to your Hawaii posts to put in my file…. a trip can be a combination of time and money
…. after working for more years than anyone should, I am now ‘working’ at a true passion.
and I agree the long flights are NOT worth it even if the price is low. But most of the great places are farther than 6hrs away….just have to break up the route or take a ship.

enjoy your trip

Wesley January 13, 2014 at 11:39 pm

I’m so jalouse on your adventure mate.
Hope 2014 will be great to.

Gray Cargill January 15, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Thanks, Wesley! Where are you headed next?

Gray Cargill January 15, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Thanks, Wesley! Where are you headed to next?

JohnSR January 12, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Seems like an amazing traveling year, hopefully you’ll have an even better year 2014. Had a pretty good year myself and sadly I think 2014 will be spent much more at home.

Gray Cargill January 12, 2014 at 8:23 pm

I hope so, John. Sorry to hear you’ll have to scale back on your own 2014 travels, but I know how that is. Sometimes, other obligations get in the way, or the money isn’t there. Just keep your eye on the next trip, whenever that is. Nothing says you can’t start planning it, even if you don’t get to go for awhile.

John@SR January 18, 2014 at 8:08 am

You’re absolutely right. There’s no point sitting around waiting for that perfect time to leave – better start planning to make that moment come sooner. 2014 just started so you’ll never know what’s gonna happen. Take care!

Gray Cargill January 18, 2014 at 9:33 am

That’s the attitude! Best to you, John.

Brittany @ Paws for Beer January 6, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I did the Richard Petty 3-lap ride along too a few years ago. It was awesome to be able to see what it’s really like out there on the track.

I also loved your posts on San Antonio – I can’t wait to go there some day!

Gray Cargill January 6, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Fun, isn’t it, Brittany? Thanks, I’m glad you liked the San Antonio posts. It’s a great city. Once I can retire and become a snowbird, I’m thinking I’d like to spend a winter there.

AC | I Wander January 6, 2014 at 11:13 am

This is a great 2013 travel summary! Wish I could have traveled as much last year but am pretty satisfied that I managed to cross off a few places from my bucket list.

Any plans to visit Asia this year?

Gray Cargill January 6, 2014 at 7:44 pm

Hi, AC – No, I won’t be making it to Asia any time soon, I’m afraid. Europe is at the top of my travel list. So many countries and cities there I have yet to see…

Susan January 6, 2014 at 4:47 am

I can live the experience through your blog and I just want to travel a lot, but never get time from my busy schedule. I am blessed that I am from Europe and at least been to few parts in Western Europe.
You seem to have some really great adventures in solitude..:)

Thanks for sharing.

Gray Cargill January 6, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Europe seems like a great home base for a lot of travel. Maybe someday I can do that.

Susan January 10, 2014 at 10:50 am

Yeah agree. I usually get 20-25 days a year..Looking forward to your tips on travelling. Thanks

Shereen December 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I had a great travel year. I had the opportunity to participate in the final year of the Rotary Group Study Exchange program which allowed me and 4 others to spend a month travelling through 8 cities in the state of Parana, Brazil. We were hosted by many families and other warm and welcoming. I’m looking forward to 2014 travels to Singapore and Thailand:)

Gray Cargill January 1, 2014 at 2:10 pm

That does sound great, Shereen! Glad to hear you’ve already got your 2014 travels well in hand, too.

Kirstin December 30, 2013 at 5:18 am

Unfortunately most of my travel in 2013 has been for business purposes – five trips to Auckland. I did take one week off and visited a friend (who lives in Auckland) and we travelled to the Coromandel – a lovely spot, especially popular for New Years Eve.

Gray Cargill January 1, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Bummer, Kirstin, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had little leisure travel this year. I hope 2014 is a better travel year for you!

Kirstin January 5, 2014 at 3:02 am

I am planning a trip to Rarotonga in August. It is a lovely little island that uses New Zealand currency and is less than four hours flight from Auckland.

Gray Cargill January 5, 2014 at 1:32 pm

I’ve heard of Rarotonga! That’s cool, Kirstin. Have a blast!

John Bannerman December 27, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I’m a travelling introvert — also had some great solo adventures. Love your recounting of some great experiences.

Gray Cargill December 27, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Hey, nice to meet another traveling introvert, John!

Christine | GRRRL TRAVELER December 27, 2013 at 1:28 am

OMG- I was wondering where you took that racecar photo… that is such a cool adventure. Major hats off to you… but you didn’t get to blog any of it for Solofriendly? I also hear for oodles of money, you can race laps in Lamborghinis and major something cars like that.

The more I get the hang of traveling, the more I find solo travel is much more social than my life at home. It’s all a state of mind. At home, I’m much more solitary and fall back into societal norms of isolation and being less than open-minded at times. haha… Wish I could snap out of it and live the way I travel.

Gray Cargill December 27, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Christine, it was SO much fun! I had no idea it would be so much fun! I will be blogging about the Richard Petty Experience for the Vegas Solo, since I did it in Vegas. Stay tuned, coming up soon! Yes, there are also exotic cars you can drive that other outfits offer.

I have to agree with you; solo travel is often more social than my life at home, too. I think it’s because at home, I’m caught up in my daily routine (work-home-work-home), whereas when I travel, I’m out there doing new things every day and paying more attention to what’s going on around me. It’s not like we can’t be “travelers in our own backyard” but when you’ve got so many life obligations, it’s hard to make time for it. Maybe that’s a 2014 goal (challenge?) for both of us?

Maria Falvey December 26, 2013 at 10:58 am

Loneliness is a state of mind. I have experienced it at home in a room full of people, while traveling with a companion and when solo – if you adjust your mindset, you’ll only ever be as lonely as you allow yourself to be. Your year of solo travel was very social and engaging and has me looking forward to your upcoming adventures in 2014.

Gray Cargill December 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Agreed, Maria. I have felt lonely in a crowd of people at home, too. It’s more of a mood or attitude than really anything to do with our surroundings.

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