Even for those of us more prone to staycations than globetrotting, summer inspires adventure. With so many travel apps and tools at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to find but harder than ever to discern. We scoured the region for travel experts to offer real-life advice to help you travel better, smarter, and safer this summer.
What is it about a breakup that prompts happy couples to show up everywhere?
That’s what I was wondering as I stormed through Denver International Airport a few months after a particularly bad split, practically sneering at the excited couple waiting to board their plane to Honolulu. There were no irritable couples sniping at each other or seemingly just tolerating each other’s presence. Nope. Only love was in the air as I walked to my gate to board a flight to Montana for a 3-day stay at a dude ranch—alone.
Now, before you feel as sorry for me as I was feeling for myself, here’s the catch: I was about to spend the weekend glamping along a river; fly fishing, yogifying, horseback riding, and sipping red wine from my cabin’s private hot tub. Life was about to get good. Yet, as I sat at a table for one eating gourmet food and curled up in my impossibly huge bed, I couldn’t escape the realization that I was alone and no amount of five-star distractions would help me outrun that fact.
But here’s the other, more optimistic ah-ha moment that came to me in the saloon one evening: I had just spent the day doing exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. In fact, I realized, it was the first time in my life that I was experiencing the pure, selfish bliss of traveling without being a “we.” All of my other trips had been with a boyfriend or friends. Did I get lonely? Sure. Did I spend a lot of time in that beautiful Montana countryside taking a machete to the thorny thistles of my mind, backtracking through the ups and downs of my failed relationship? Yep.
And still, that first taste of traveling by myself would inspire a slew of follow-up solo adventures, everywhere from India to Poughkeepsie. I quickly learned that in lieu of a partner or friend to talk to during my travels, I would talk to myself—and this solo-traveler inner-voice took on a persona that sounded like a straight-shooting woman who dropped insights that went something like, Girl, get ready for a truth bomb.
Sometimes I appreciated what she had to say. Other times, I wished she’d shut up. But when I look back now on what I uncovered during all of those solo journeys, I’m left feeling grateful for both the stretches of lovely, inspired solo time as well as the struggles. Here’s hoping my ah-has will inspire you to pack a bag and take your own adventure.
“Girl, you’ve got to take up your space.”
The first night I slept alone in that comfy Cal-King bed, I curled up in the fetal position with a laser-like focus on the emptiness beside me. As I tried to fall asleep, my mind raced through all of the ways not having a partner would make me feel like something was missing. No date for those upcoming friends’ weddings. No sure-thing Friday night plans. No built-in Sunday morning brunch buddy.
I drifted off despite my gloomy musings. But when I got out of bed the next morning and looked down at that 1,000-count Egyptian cotton-covered bed that didn’t even look as if I’d slept in it, I lost it. Girl, what are you doing not spreading out like a starfish in that huge bed? Did you consider the possibility that maybe you’d actually enjoy not having someone next to you?
In that moment, I vowed to make a few changes the next time I crawled between the sheets. That night, I scrambled into the center of the bed. I laid on my back and spread my legs and arms out wide. I rolled side to side with no fear of too much mattress bounce stirring a phantom someone next to me. I fell asleep almost immediately and slept like a rock.
Like so many women—even those of us who grew up in feminist households—learning the fine art of taking up space and naming what we really need can be a challenge. All too often I orient toward others, meeting the needs of those around me before my own. And while it may seem so simple, really settling into a bed without having to share it liberated me from that other-focused thinking.
“Girl, getting to know your loneliness is the only way through it.”
There is an undeniable truth that anyone who’s ever traveled alone will admit to: There will be times when you’ll wish you had someone special next to you to witness something amazing. I have a friend who takes just-for-her trips every year, leaving her husband and kids at home so she can do things like standup paddleboard with manta rays in the Sea of Cortez and heli-ski in Alaska. And every time she goes on one of these epic solo adventures, she cops to moments where she wishes her family was there with her.
I can relate. While I’ve ditched my initial dread of things like eating alone and navigating city streets by myself, there are always moments—mostly when I experience something awe-inspiring—where I find myself wishing someone I loved had just experienced it, too. And those moments can make a girl feel incredibly lonely.
A few years ago, I was on an African safari deep in the bush of Zambia. I was with a group, so I wasn’t by myself exactly. But as I sat with my feet dangling in the Manzi River and watched the pink sun sink into the horizon and light up the African sky, I could almost feel the lack of someone beside me. But anyone who’s ever been in the grips of something really hard—loss, grief, anxiety—will tell you that the only way to make your way through is to gut out those painful feelings for a while. Finding yourself alone, out of your comfort zone, and far away from the vices you usually turn to in an effort to avoid all of those emotions can fast-track that process.
Not too long ago, I found myself walking through the airport with a face-swallowing grin on my face. I held my boyfriend’s hand as we made our way toward the plane that would take us to Rome for a romantic getaway. I realized we were the exact couple I would have hated all those years ago.
But here’s the thing I know now, the truth bomb I’d drop on my sassy sidekick back then: Girl, embrace it all. It is priming you to make those future trips—the ones you’ll take with girlfriends and, yes, the love of your life—even sweeter.
Anyone who’s ever been in the grips of something really hard will tell you that the only way to make your way through it is to gut out those painful feelings for a while. Finding yourself alone, out of your comfort zone, and far away from the voices you usually turn to can fast-track that process.Meghan Rabbitt
Being inquisitive inherently makes you more mindful and open to learning new things. And when you travel with this mindset, it can change you forever.—Carol Dimopoulos
How to Be a Mindful Traveler
By Carol Dimopoulos
Even if you pride yourself on not being one of those loud, demanding, “obnoxious Americans” when you travel, there may still be ways you’re unknowingly disregarding other people (and their cultures) when you’re on the road. “Truly mindful travel means you’re invested in developing mutually meaningful connections with local communities, and that you’re culturally aware and environmentally conscious,” says Carol Dimopolous, president of Perillo’s Learning Journeys—a company that offers experiential travel experiences around the world. “While it can be easy to forget these things when you’re traveling, it’s also easier to incorporate all of these aspects into any trip than you might imagine.”
Here, Dimopolous shares her thoughts on how to travel more responsibly.
Do your homework on the language and traditions of the country you’re visiting. This is particularly important in non-English speaking countries where a lack of verbal communication can make situations hard to read. Some countries are loud—like Greece and Italy—but the same behavior that is perfectly acceptable and even expected there isn’t appropriate in Asia, for example. You’ll also want to stick to unspoken dress codes, like covering your head and shoulders in Arab countries and taking your shoes off before entering temples and homes in India. The more prepared you are about these important cultural rules and traditions, the more respect you’ll get from the locals, which can really prime you for a deeper, more meaningful experience.
Give back to the local community. Sure, you could simply travel to a resort and not venture outside its safe confines. There’s a time for that kind of travel. But if you want to really get to know a country, figuring out where there might be a need for help has the potential to make a trip truly transformational. I believe every traveler has a responsibility to understand where there’s a need and give back if possible. Travel has the ability to create long-term understanding of a place, cultural reciprocity, and peace. And volunteering while you travel is the best way I know how to do this.
Work with a local guide to help you plan your itinerary—and to show you around. Sure, you can get a lot of great insider info from travel books or friends who’ve been to a place. However, when you’re being shown around in a country by someone who lives there, it can take your understanding of a culture to an entirely new level. When you work with local guides, you’ll get to know them over the course of your trip, which can give you a true and nuanced understanding of the city and country you’re visiting.
Travel with a big dose of curiosity. Being inquisitive inherently makes you more mindful and open to learning new things. And when you travel with this mindset, it can change you forever. When you can visit a new place with curiosity about others and how they live, you start to see that even though we all have different life experiences and cultural backgrounds, we are all the same. You start to see mothers trying to take care of their children, people going to work, couples loving each other. Suddenly, you see how we’re all connected, and your travel becomes transformative.
Stay open to adjusting your behavior. Most of us aren’t disrespectful by nature. So, when you’re traveling to a new culture and you are inappropriate—say, you wear shorts and a tank top in a religious place where it’s respectful to cover up, or you go in for a hug when it’s customary to bow—it’s important to tweak your behavior. When you learn what you should or shouldn’t do when visiting a place, it’s important to really listen and adhere to those rules,” she says. “As Americans, we’re all about asserting our independence. That’s in our DNA. But when you learn about a cultural nuance, don’t think of it as a personal assault on you. Remember, you’re in someone else’s home for a little while.”
Make time to simply observe, with no agenda. When you’re visiting a new place, it can be tempting to jam your schedule with sightseeing and walking tours and reservations at the best restaurants. But in addition to checking out all of the must-see-and-do spots, try to carve out some downtime. Go to a yoga class, sit in a park and read, or get lost on windy streets in an artsy neighborhood. Do the kinds of things that help you feel like a local, even if just for a little while, and you’ll get to experience a whole other side to the place you’re visiting.
7 Ways to Be a Boss on Your Next Trip
By Amita Mehta
Considering my parents fled Uganda as refugees—and lost every bit of material wealth in the process—you might imagine they’d want to stay close to the new home they created in Amish Country for my three brothers and me. Instead, my parents instilled in us that there was a whole world out there beyond where we were raised.
On our meager budget, my parents piled us into our giant Dodge, which I called the “Green Machine” from the time I was old enough to crawl. We hit the shores of the Atlantic Ocean from Wildwood, NJ, to Rehoboth, Del. We crossed the border to Canada and shot down I-95 to Florida. On these trips, I learned what it means to travel, understanding when we needed passports, developing a sense of direction, and learning that the journey is almost always more exciting than the destination.
Being bit by the travel bug so early in life, I’ve made it my mission to see a lot of the world—and I’ve learned so much during my travels to India, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Singapore, and many more extraordinary destinations.
Here’s my inside scoop for making your travel easier, safer, and, most importantly, unforgettable.
1. Research. Then, research some more. My travel adventures begin well before I leave. I love digging into social media and travel apps to explore locations months before I’m packing my suitcase. I love reading reviews and hearing how other travelers experienced a particular destination. You can get so much information from hearing what others have to say about the time of year they traveled, the location and proximity to attractions, and what was overrated or unexpectedly memorable about a destination.
2. Reach out to locals. When I want insider info, I get a little gutsy. I’ve been known to send a DM to an Instagrammer who posts amazing content about where I’m going or write to an Airbnb owner who seems especially helpful. It may sound like a lot of effort, but it’s a great way to find off-the-beaten-path gems.
3. Plan to have your first meal at the bar. Even if you’re traveling with your sweetie or a friend, having a drink or meal at a bar is a great way to start talking to locals and get a download on the real scene versus a more touristy path.
4. Carve out solo time. Even if you’re with your partner or family, taking a few hours to wander by yourself can be particularly potent when you travel. For me, traveling alone creates a space for personal growth and boosts my street smarts. But it’s not only about feeling vulnerable and putting myself out there; it’s also about building relationships with people different from me. Traveling has given me an invaluable skillset of being able to relate to people, regardless of race, culture, or gender—and I am a richer person because of it.
5. Tack on a vacay day when traveling for business. I admit, when I first started going on work trips I felt guilty even taking a walk in a place I was visiting. Over time, I realized how useful it is—personally and professionally—to relate to the culture in which you’re working. Now, I always book a buffer day, even if it feels inconvenient.
6. Push yourself. For me, the best kind of travel isn’t just about booking something expensive and exotic. I chase adventure and distinctiveness, whether that means meeting an ornery monkey on a Belizean jungle tour or taking in stunning architecture in the Italian countryside. No matter where you are, new experiences will give you a boost of confidence that lasts long after you’ve come home.
7. Stay safe. Even if you consider yourself a seasoned traveler, it’s important to take safety precautions. One of my top tips for international travel—and something that’s often overlooked—is to make a copy of your passport and leave it with a friend or family member. It is so much easier to get a new passport expedited if someone can e-mail the copy to the U.S. consulate. Don’t wait till the last minute to see if you need any vaccinations before traveling to a foreign country. As soon as you book your flight, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for any vaccines you’ll need.