They say the hardest part about traveling is all of the planning that goes into it. You have to take the time to compare flights to find out which one is the cheapest, but also while factoring in the quality of the flight. You might be able to find a cheap flight, but then again, you might be crammed in tight with somebody that you’d rather not be mistaken for going out with.
After booking your flight, you have to decide where you want to stay. Will you go the traditional route of staying at a hotel or will you go the modern route of booking an Airbnb? The traditional route is your safest option, but may cost you some more money in the long run. Hotels in cities can add up quickly and all of the free soap that you steal isn’t going to always make the booking worth it. The Airbnb route is your cheapest option in most cases, but just make sure you read reviews on your host before you book. The last thing you want to do is wind up at some creep’s house that has pictures of Jonathan Taylor Thomas scattered on their walls and listens to Marilyn Manson at full volume.
Finally, after booking your flight and figuring out where it is you’re going to stay; you have to plan what it is you’ll be doing while you’re on vacation. With some many options at your fingertips with smartphones and apps—this task can feel overwhelming. You want to make the most of your vacation, but you also don’t want to be more stressed out than a 1st Grade teacher on the week leading up to Christmas vacation.
Just commit to something. Stop analyzing, reanalyzing, and overanalyzing. You’ll never book the trip if you overthink it all. Commit to a destination, find a flight and go from there. That’s what I did when traveling to California and it took me on the adventure of a lifetime.
I didn’t get any sleep the night before my flight to San Diego. I never do when it comes to trips. I felt like the last kid to fall asleep at the slumber party as I lay on the air mattress in the living room at Matt and Hannah’s apartment. Will I make my flight on time? What if my flight gets delayed? What if my plane crashes? These were the types of thoughts that were running through my mind as I stared up at the ceiling. What was I getting myself into?
Growing up, my family went on a few family vacations throughout the years. They weren’t as wild and crazy as the Griswold’s, but they were special in their own right. We traveled out to Colorado Springs one year to visit my step-mom’s family and to see Pikes Peak. We ventured down to Disney World in Orlando with my mom to see the house that Walt built. We visited Mount Rushmore before Nicholas Cage was there to find the treasure that was rightfully ours. We even took a trip through Canada to see Niagara Falls and then we came back through the United States. Those are trips that I will always remember and will take with me.
As we grew older, our schedules became more complicated due to school, sports and summer jobs. Less time was made available to travel together as a family and the scrapbooks stopped getting filled up with pictures from faraway locations. Backsides found metal bleachers instead of back seats in the Suburban. Wrinkled dollar bills and paychecks were put into savings funds for college instead of souvenirs. Notebook paper was used for handing in assignments and not for “the license plate game.” This was a reality we had to come to terms with and realize a chapter in our lives was ending, but that didn’t mean we had to stop traveling. The travel just took on a different form.
Traveling alone allows you to find yourself. (I know what you’re thinking. “That’s so cliché and is probably a quote on someone’s Pinterest page,” but bare with me here.) When I tell people that I’m traveling alone, the response normally goes like this, “What? Why?” But there are many things you learn about yourself while traveling alone. You learn how to problem solve without being able to rely on someone immediately.
For example: My train that was supposed to travel from San Diego to Los Angeles kept getting delayed. The first time they told us that the delay would only be 45 minutes long. (That was manageable. I had a good book with me.) After that 45 minutes was up, they told us it would be another two hours. Now, I’m a pretty patient guy, but a 2 hour and 45 minute delay was a bit excessive, even for me. At the one hour mark of that second delay, they had us line up for the train that was supposed to be arriving soon. During that time, I got to know the man ahead of me in line. We talked about everything from baseball to our families, to what team we were rooting for in the Super Bowl. (It’s amazing how well you get to know who people truly are amidst delays.) Anyways, the speaker came on again and they told us that our train has been delayed indefinitely until further notice. You would have thought everyone was just told that eating tons of carrots would not in fact give you night vision. The man ahead of me turned to me and said, “Do you want to ride with me to L.A.?” Going against everything my mother, father and Rick Springfield had told me about strangers, I said, “Yes.”
Now, I want you to keep in mind that I felt I was able to get a pretty good read of this man while we were in line. He was constantly calling his wife to check in and give her updates on the train’s status. He shared with me photos of his family and details about what he did for a living. He seemed like a stand up guy that I could trust with driving me to the City of Angels. This isn’t always the case, so I encourage you to make sure you feel confident with the person if you ever happen to encounter a situation like this. Anyways, the man got me safely to L.A. and he even gave me one of his umbrellas to have while I waited in the rain for my Uber driver. (What a guy, right?) He was one of the first people that I met on my journey, but he wouldn’t be my last.
During my time in California, I decided to treat myself to a day at Disneyland. (Yes, a 23 year-old man can still have fun at Disneyland.) They say that it never rains in California, but that’s a lie because it rained everyday that I was there. Well, if you’re traveling solo, this actually can work to your advantage while at the place where dreams come true. The lines were practically nonexistent due to the on and off rain, and the fact that it was a Monday certainly didn’t hurt either. The longest I waited in line was roughly twenty minutes and that was for the epic Peter Pan ride called Peter Pan’s Flight. The rail suspended ride takes you over the city of London and weaves you over Neverland as you dangle in the air on your imaginary pirate ship. (It’s freakin’ awesome.)
While I was waiting in line with my hands shoved into my pockets, a group of three women from Idaho were ahead of me. They were playing this scavenger hunt game and I decided I would try to help out. We slowly started to get to know each other and once they found out I came to Disneyland alone, they invited to join their group! I was hesitant at first because I had the unique gift of being a single rider all day, which more often than not, would get me to the front of the line faster. This gift was one that all parents at the park envied. I honestly heard a mother say, “I’m going to need to check into a psych ward after this,” while I was eating my lunch. But I wasn’t worried about making it around to all of the rides. I had planned to spend eight hours at Disneyland that day and whatever I got to was what I got to. They welcomed me in whole heartedly like I was a lost sheep wandering around a rainy Disneyland looking for my shepherds. They let me use their Fast Pass on more than a couple of occasions and I felt like I was part of a heist. (It doesn’t take a lot to get me going.) They were pros as it was not their first time at Disneyland and I was glad they took me under their wing.
There were also quite a few other people I came into contact with on my journey. There was Kyle who was heading to San Diego to pick up a friend from the Navy base to drive him and his car back to Chicago. There was Angel at the Santa Fe Depot who flips classic cars for a living now that he’s retired. Dave, who drove me from the train station to L.A. Chang, the Uber driver who convinced me that I was a Virgo and Leo all while on the way to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. There was James, Isabela, Wesley, Victor…I could go on and on. Although I may have been traveling alone on this journey, I never felt completely alone. All of these people touched my life in one way or another and I hope I did the same for them.
This trip to California was a “goodbye” to my childhood. I had recently graduated from UW-Eau Claire in December and had just completed my student teaching towards the end of January. It is now time for me to be an adult. I now have to make adult decisions. I have to start applying for jobs, looking for places to rent, saving for my future and it’s finally time that I learn how to cook more than just breakfast food and pizza. There’s no way that Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go could have prepared me for this step into "the real world.” (Yes, actually it could.)
I’ve been preparing for this “adulthood thing” for a while now. It’s not something that you can stamp on a person one day and say, “You’re an adult now. You know everything you need to know.” It doesn’t happen all in one day. It’s a growth process. Little by little it starts to come together. You travel to different places. You start talking to people that are older than you and begin to seek their wisdom. You try making new foods just to say that you could. You read more often than you did before and begin to take on different views of the world. You form your own opinions, not just ones that you’ve become accustomed to hearing down at the coffee shop or bar. You take chances and begin to lead with your gut more. You’ll find that traveling solo has shaped you into the person that you are and are becoming. And you won’t get mad at yourself for crying to Elton John’s “Rocket Man” as your plane lands back home because now you’ve got to tackle this thing everyone has been calling “the real world.” You're ready.