[Today’s post comes from semiregular Go Go Go photographer Cary Mele.]
This past weekend, I spent five days by myself at Disneyland. I love traveling alone–I’ve gone to New Orleans, England, and Ireland solo, too–but I was a little worried about being a thirty-something on her own at the Happiest Place on Earth.
As it turns out, being alone at Disney is completely awesome. So much so that I’m not sure how I can ever go back and not be on my own. I had such a great time that I wanted to share a few tips I learned from my solo travel experiences that can help make traveling alone even more fun.
1. Go for a run.
I am a runner. Not a fast runner, but a runner who loves to run in new places. I think there’s something really liberating about running free in unexplored territory. One of my goals is to eventually run a race in all fifty states. Currently, I’ve gone for a run in eight states and raced in four. But I’ll get there. There’s a race happening just about every weekend, so I like to look up any local races where I happen to be traveling and sign up to run. (RunningInTheUSA is a great resource.)
This particular weekend, the purpose of my trip was for the race itself–I was participating in the Disneyland Half Marathon, as part of my Coast to Coast Challenge (running at both Disney parks in one calendar year). But I’ve found that when running a race, you not only get to see new areas, but you also get to interact with locals doing the things they like to do to start their weekend mornings.
If you’ve never run an out-of-state race, I highly recommend it.
2. Make dinner plans with a random stranger.
Before I left for Disney, I participated in a conversation via blog about the best and worst parts about solo travel. The feelings were pretty much unanimous that the hardest thing about traveling alone is dinnertime. [Editor’s note: Ugh, agreed.] For some reason, sitting alone at a dinner table in public is very unnerving for most people. For me, I tend to combat that feeling by either bringing along a book or sitting at the bar to be less obviously dining alone.
However, for this particular trip, I happened to have been in contact with a woman from Calgary who would also be heading to Disneyland solo and running the half marathon. She proposed we meet up for dinner so we could have at least one meal where we didn’t have to dine alone. After doing a quick Google search for her (I didn’t want to agree to meet up with an escaped convict or anything!), I determined she was safe enough to take the risk and agreed to meet her for a pre-race carbo-loading dinner.
The dinner turned out great–we had a ton to talk about, and I really enjoyed myself. We also had a little cultural exchange when I taught her what churros are, and she taught me about beavertails.
The best part is, we were able to meet up again in the starting corral before the race, and I had someone to wish me luck before crossing the starting line!
3. Meet up with a long lost friend or relative.
I have a cousin I’ve only met once who happens to live not far from Disney. She offered to meet up with me at some point during the trip.
I’ve found that often when I travel, there are friends or family I sort-of know but are just distant enough that I am a little apprehensive about actually meeting up with them. Well, here’s what I’ve learned: if they offer, do it. Some of the best experiences I’ve had have been when I spent a day with someone I only barely knew and by the end had a new friend and a great day in a new city. It’s happened in London and in Dublin and again in Orange County.
My cousin and her boyfriend picked me up from my hotel and took me to the Orange International Street Festival. Spanning over four blocks, there were stands set up selling food and beer from various countries of the world. We ate and drank and had an awesome time. And I left feeling like I finally found the long-lost cousin I had always wanted.
The best part? She’s actually coming to Chicago next week, and it’s my turn to return the favor. I plan on taking her out to Paddy Long’s for a beer and bacon tasting, followed by a tour of the city.
4. Take advantage of being on your own.
I feel like we can get so used to always being with other people that sometimes we forget how to just be on our own. There are so many perks to being by yourself, and once you realize what those perks are, you’ll start to wonder why you didn’t sneak off on your own sooner.
As I said, I love traveling solo, but I was a little hesitant about doing it at Disneyland. However, now that I’ve done Disney alone, I’m not sure if I can go back to visiting with others.
First of all, it was so nice to be able to go on whatever rides I wanted, as many times as I wanted, without having to discuss it with someone else. Even if you travel with an easygoing person who is up for anything, it’s still necessary to say, “Hey, let’s go here next” or ask, “Are you hungry yet?” But when you’re on your own, there are no compromises, no questions, no seeking permission. If you want to do it, you just do it. If you don’t, you don’t.
I am fortunate enough to have been to Disney World twice in the past several years–once with three young children, and once with my parents. With children, you constantly need to stop for feeding, bathrooms, and naps. With parents in their sixties, you need to “Slow down! Hang on! Wait up!” Not that either of those trips were awful–I enjoyed them both immensely. But in comparison, being at Disney alone was incredibly liberating.
Finally, Disneyland has a wonderous thing called the Single Rider line. You know how a lot of rides tend to be four- or six-seaters, but there are always groups of three or five? Well with a special Single Rider ticket, you can move to the front of the line and be a seat filler for those empty seats on the ride. The Single Rider line probably saved me, literally, hours of waiting in line. It was fabulous. And a definite perk to being on my own.
So if you ever have the chance to go somewhere new–whether it be a new city, a new country, or even Disneyland–do it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have anyone to go with you. It might just be that going alone will be even more fun.