Traveling Solo Part 2

It was completely quiet except for the wind. It was just me, alone in this wild, remote place. And I loved it. I didn’t feel lonely or sad. I felt alive.

As I sat there, I realized I didn’t want to be anywhere else, with anyone else.

I was at peace.

Last week I wrote about my experience traveling solo through South Dakota. I’ve never done anything like that before; I’ve always had a travel buddy with me. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to relax and enjoy myself, or if the unrelenting solitude would drum a chorus of constant reminders into my head…

You have to travel alone because you don’t have a husband or family

You’re alone

You’re alone

You’re alone

Surprisingly though, the chorus NEVER popped up. Sadness, discontentment, and feelings of loneliness never surfaced, either.

I was good. More than good, actually.

It turned out that I enjoyed every aspect of my solo trip. I loved traveling on my own and would jump at the chance to do it again.

Since I’ve been back I’ve had a lot of people say things like, “I could never do that.” “I don’t think I’m brave enough.” “Weren’t you lonely?”

If I was sitting across from you at the coffee shop and you said those things to me, here’s what I would want to tell you:

  • It’s okay to be alone

I was really worried about this. I honestly thought I might hate it. I’m not sure why, though. I do a lot of life alone. I like my own company. But traveling just seemed different.

I think the biggest question for single women traveling alone is always-

What will other people think of me?

It turned out that it didn’t matter at all. Honestly, most people were so busy corralling children and watching out for poisonous snakes (thanks, Badlands) that they never noticed me. I doubt I even registered in their minds.

Nobody cared that I was alone. Some people even seemed envious.

And, the freedom to come and go as I please was amazing.

Hold your head up high and revel in that.

  • It’s easy to miss out on opportunities because you’re afraid

If only one thing sinks into your heart, let it be this:

Don’t let the fact that you’re single stop you from doing anything. Whether it’s solo travel, trying a new hobby, visiting a restaurant, going to a party, or anything else, don’t let fear become a deciding factor.

I almost didn’t go on my trip because I was so caught up in my own head. I was afraid. I was anxious. I was embarrassed to be seen on my own. I was worried about flat tires, creepy truck drivers, scary hotel rooms, wild animal attacks, and being forced to survive in the wilderness (have I mentioned that I have a very over-active imagination?).

But I knew that if I didn’t go, I would regret that even more.

Take more chances. Live with fewer regrets.

  • Solitude is a beautiful thing

Our world shrieks at us- Television, social media, podcasts, audiobooks, music, conversation. There’s always so much noise.

It makes it hard to hear what we really need to hear.

I teach kindergarten, so I’m constantly surrounded by noise. I like to joke that I’m immune to it. I know it affects me, though. The clamor of social media does, too.

Being totally, absolutely alone in a remote area wasn’t frightening. It was life-giving. The chance to sit, breathe, and just “be” was refreshing.

I felt filled up rather than depleted.

  • God is always with you

I was never truly alone! God promises that He is always with me, wherever I go. He knew where I was, even when I was in the middle of Black Hills National Forest and there wasn’t another car on the road.

One of the best aspects of my solo trip was the opportunity for long, quiet times of prayer, meditation, and Bible reading. There was no need to hurry and rush things. The solitude (and crazy driving) (and the possibility of meeting rattlesnakes) gave me ample opportunities to draw closer to God.

  • You can choose your traveling companions

Even if you’re traveling alone, you can still choose the “companions” you take with you. Those companions might be fear, self-doubts, uncertainty, shame, or discontentment

Or they could be excitement, wonder, joy, peace, and contentment

The choice is up to you, but your point of view will color your whole experience.

I’m so glad I took a chanced and traveled solo!

Take a chance!

I love to travel. There are so many amazing things to see in the world. Don’t let the fact that you’re single prevent you from seeing any of them. If you get opportunities- take them and run!

You’ll be better for it.

This week, I’m so thankful for the blessing of trips that take me out of my comfort zone. I need them. Together, let’s celebrate every SINGLE blessing!

Traveling Solo- Part 1

A solo trip is something I’ve thought about for a long time, but I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to actually try it.  I felt like there was so much stigma around solo travel- 

What are people going to think of me?

Can I stay in a hotel room by myself?

What if something goes wrong?

And how awkward am I going to feel being around couples, families, and groups all the time?

I wouldn’t know unless I tried, right?

My experience

I planned to visit my sister for Easter weekend, see her new baby, and then go from there. Her location in Wisconsin would be the perfect jumping-off point for a western road trip.

The visit to my sister was also what prompted the idea of solo travel. I thought it might be awkward to invite someone to travel with me and then tell them they had to first spend three days staring admiringly at my seven-week-old niece. I just didn’t see all the pieces fitting together. 

So, I hit the open road, leaving my sister’s house and my tiny new niece for the unknown. South Dakota has always been on my bucket list, I had lots of miles on my soon-to-be-ending lease, and a week off school.

The time had come to try a trip on my own.

The first hurdle- driving. There was A LOT of driving.

Eight hours of farm country lay ahead of me, but the weather was brilliant and sunny, with crazy-high temperatures. I sweated my way through the drive, forgetting to take my sweatshirt off at every rest stop. And there were a lot of those! I don’t know if it was the coffee or nerves, but I had to stop A LOT.

At least I was able to get out and stretch my legs.

In between stops, there was hardly any traffic, so I set the cruise and… went. Best of all- there was Caribou Coffee in Minnesota! Seven hundred calories, but so worth it. My trip was off to a great start.

Interstate 90 is the main highway across South Dakota, and the roadside attractions make a major effort towards keeping drivers entertained. I stopped first at the roadside Sculpture Garden, which was closed but provided me with an exciting detour down a dirt road, where I almost got stuck in a dirt pile. Next was Mitchell and the Corn Palace. It is a true testament to the remoteness of South Dakota that the Corn Palace is so well-marketed. Mitchell was a seedy town with a tiny main street decorated in an Old West theme. If I ever need leather goods or tomahawks, I know where to go.

The Corn Palace is really just a corn façade. The rest is a regular building, complete with a full-size basketball court. No idea why…

My visit was tempered by the rumbles of thunder coming with more and more frequency.

I dashed back to the car just as the rain started. My sunny day was gone, and so was my smile. It became three hours of rain, hail, thunder, lightning, and wind. At one point there was even sleet and I seriously considered just stopping.

I pushed on and made it to the highly advertised Wall Drug just in time for the snow to come. Somehow, the snow seemed to even put a damper on my buffalo burger. Snow was not in my plans.

But when I hit the Black Hills the next day, snow blanketed the landscape, providing me with some hair-raising driving. The speed limit dropped, and dropped, and dropped again as the road rose and fell, twisting around. At times it seemed to disappear completely, causing me to shriek and hit the brakes. Thank goodness there were no cars around me.

I skidded my way to the Crazy Horse monument and then to Mount Rushmore. Both have long been on my bucket list. I love bucket list days! There’s something so surreal about experiencing things for yourself when you’ve only ever viewed them in pictures.

 Everything was covered in snow.

Not my ideal, but beautiful in its way.

After a brief stay in a one-stoplight town that left me thanking God I lived in Ohio, I was ready to visit Custer State Park. Again, the roads were completely empty. It was just me, my music, and my terror, alone on the crazy, twisty highway.

Not going to lie, the driving was tough. My heart was in my throat the whole time. I was dry-mouthed and chilly; my legs were shaky when I finally flung myself gratefully out of the car.

The roads were narrow and full of multiple hairpin turns, with frequent drop-offs. At times I had to almost stop, but then I was nervous about making it up the hills. They just kept winding up, up, up. I couldn’t believe how high I was at times- with the earth falling away and spreading out right next to me. Beautiful, intimidating, and invigorating.

The driving was a challenge, but it was exhilarating, too. I must be crazy.

Custer is famous for its scenery, but I didn’t get to see a lot of it. Everything was (surprise, surprise) covered in snow and the temperatures were still low, so I wasn’t motivated to explore much. When I tried to stop at one of the lookouts, I almost got stuck in the snow.

I did see a lot of wildlife, which was amazing, though seeing all the buffalo made me feel guilty about eating one of their number the day before.

And then- Badlands National Park. This was my favorite part of the trip. Almost as soon as you get in, you’re greeted with the Pinnacles Overlook. Jaw-dropping.

Amazing. Breathtaking. It was so wonderful it almost moved me to tears.

I couldn’t believe I was the one looking at it. At the second overlook, I sat down and ate a pizza (I only travel with the essentials). It was completely quiet except for the wind. It was just me, alone in this wild, remote place. And I loved it. I didn’t feel lonely or sad. I felt alive.

As I sat there, I realized I didn’t want to be anywhere else, with anyone else.

I was at peace.

Views like this one are the reason I travel!

I’m so incredibly thankful for what I was able to experience and so glad I didn’t let fear hold me back. The whole trip was great, and I would definitely travel solo again.

I’ll talk more about traveling alone in my next post. This week, I’m thankful for the blessing of an adventure. My ideal trip might look different than yours, but I loved it. Together, let’s celebrate every SINGLE blessing!

Debunking the Myth Part 3- Are You Worried?

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?    -Matthew 6:27

It might seem strange to start a travel post with a verse about worry, but that’s where I was at. On my first trip to London I fought anxiety constantly. I worried about missing our trains, getting on the right train, finding our way around the city, arriving on time to everything ( I had a PLAN, darn it), standing in really long lines, where we were going to eat, what time we should get up, catching all the right flights, and on and on.

It all started when the airline changed our connecting flight, leaving us a tight forty-five minutes between flights. For weeks before the trip I fretted about making our flight connection.

We arrived early, with time to spare.

Once we landed in London I immediately became concerned with catching the right bus and finding our hotel.

No problem.

What were we going to do with our luggage?

The concierge let us leave it behind the desk.

Now was the really hard part- using the Underground. I devoted a lot of time and preparation researching all the train lines and connections, but it seemed way more intimidating now. How in the world were we going to get to the right stop?

By asking the cute guy standing next to us.

Do you see my problem? I was spending my dream vacation worrying about every detail I couldn’t control. In spite of the fact that everything flowed smoothly and we encountered no problems, I continued to fight for control.

My most cringe-worthy moment came toward the end of the week. My cousin, Elisabeth, and I were booked for a crazy tour that included Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Oxford (I do not recommend that). We went to see Cats the night before the tour and got back to the hotel very late.

In spite of that I insisted we get up at 5:00 the next morning to make triple-sure we didn’t miss our pick-up. Oh, it was so late and I made us get up soooo early, just to eliminate all possible travel problems.

Yeah. Once again, there were no travel problems and we ended up spending at least an hour just sitting by the Thames, killing time until our scheduled rendezvous.  

If I had been Elisabeth, I would have killed me instead. But my saintly cousin didn’t say a word about my rabid determination to not be late. She never complained about rising before dawn just to sit by a river in the cold. To my dismay, our pick-up merely drove us to Victoria Station. If I had known, a simple, and much later, train ride would have brought us to the same spot.

Seeing Stonehenge for the first time made the crazy-early morning worth it!

Oops.

Every, single aspect of the trip went smoothly. Well, except for Elisabeth falling off the sidewalk and bloodying her knees because she was looking at her phone. But that only happened one time.  And we did get seriously turned around because of my terrible sense of direction. When we asked a policeman for directions he laughed at us.

The rest of it was great.

Standing on top of the London Eye, watching the sunset, I was so glad we were there. All the worries faded away in the glow of a perfect moment.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. –Matthew 6:34

I wish I applied that verse better to my trip, both before and during. After I came back and was reflecting on my experiences I began to see how much time I wasted worrying. I realized that my worry didn’t add, enhance, or help. It only took.

It took my excitement, my pleasure, and my ability to enjoy the moment I was in. It robbed me of time and perspective.

Debunking the Myth:

How often do we treat our single lives the same way? Remember the myth- “A life without love is no life at all?”

Do you spend time worrying that your single life is no life at all?

I do. I don’t fight anxiety just when I travel. I deal with it on a daily basis- fearful of all the aspects of life I can’t control. Since being single is completely out of my control, I worry:

 What do other people think of me?

Where am I going to live?

 Should I save more money?

 Who am I going to talk to at the party? 

Am I missing all the best parts of life?

While it may seem natural to be concerned about those things, it’s still a problem. The Bible commands me not to worry because when I do, I stop trusting in God and start focusing on myself. Worry means I’m only thinking of me.

I stop seeing the good things around me. On my trip, every moment I spent in my head, trying to work through a potential problem, was an experience I was missing. I was blinded to the beauty and wonder of travel.

Friend, don’t let worries over your singleness steal your joy! Don’t let it cloud your viewpoint.

A life without romantic love is still a life that’s filled with meaning, purpose, laughter, and wonderful moments.  But in order to recognize that I have to learn to rein my thoughts in and not buy into the myth. I have to challenge every lie with truth and get the focus off myself. With God’s help I can move forward through my days with confidence, trusting in Him to lead one step at a time.

And when you close your mind to worry and open your eyes to the beauty of the moment, you’ll find more blessings that concerns.

My fearless travel buddy and I.

This week, I’m thankful for the blessing of plans that fall into place, whether or not they had any help from us. Together, let’s celebrate every SINGLE blessing!

Debunking the Myth: A Life Without Love is no Life at all Part 2

I gripped the armrests and squeezed my eyes shut. I wasn’t a nervous flier, but the Tegucigalpa airport was reputed to have the second most dangerous runway in the world. The mountains directly at the end of the runway forced the pilot to slam on the plane’s brakes, causing it to fishtail wildly.

We landed safely and I reassured the wide-eyed twelve-year old next to me that flying wasn’t always like this. He in turn gasped out, “It’s not like in the movies.”

Honduras awaited us.

The details of how I ended up being a part of a mission team in Central America are foggy at best. All I can say is that God put it on my heart to serve that summer, and I’m not one to pass up an opportunity, so there I was, blinking in the broiling sun and fatigued from an early-morning flight.  

Because I actually lived in a different state, I only knew a couple of the team members. I met most of them at the airport that morning. We were probably the most ragtag team you’ve ever seen- ranging in age from twelve to eighty-one (yes, you read that right), from a variety of churches and backgrounds. I was the only adult that wasn’t married or a mother, so I floated between the teens and the older adults.

To say I was out of my element would be an understatement.

We visited a school one day. It was always so much fun to interact with the kids.

I am a Type-A, detail-oriented, take-charge, stick-to-a-schedule-no-matter-what person. I totally own that. Here in Honduras, however, everything was so different.

Most of us spoke little to no Spanish. We were supposed to be helping with Bible camp, with the promise that the children coming would speak English. They didn’t.

They wanted us to do some painting. The paintbrushes shed little hairy bits into the paint. Once we had paint, that is.

The ladies were supposed to help in the kitchen. But there were local women already in place.

We couldn’t drink the water (at all).

All toilet paper had to be thrown away, not flushed.

The beetles were so big we could hear them clicking against our windows at night. Some of them were the length of my thumb.

Our daily schedule was haphazard at best. We never knew where we were going to end up- at a church, a street market, a school, or in the middle of the city.

On top of that, we were confronted with the harsh realities of a Third World country. I encountered deep poverty for the first time; I’ll never forget the sight of small children sniffing glue in the streets, barefoot and dirty. We learned to use bathrooms that had no running water, toilet paper, or electricity. Even at the camp where we were staying, the electricity would come and go.

Guess what?

It was the most amazing experience. Heart-breaking, shocking, terrifying, thrilling, and wonderful. The people of Honduras were warm, welcoming, and kind on levels that aren’t seen in the United States. They were so much fun to be around and we were all usually laughing. We couldn’t always understand each other, but the ideas got across.

I loved trying new foods, visiting the markets, participating in the church services, tramping through jungle, singing in Spanish (badly), and even being pushed out of my comfort zone. I had never given my salvation testimony through a translator before or walked up to a stranger to share the gospel. We all wore gospel bracelets, and I still remember holding my hand out to show mine to some girls. My hand was shaking violently because I was so nervous.

Almost nothing went according to plan on that trip, but it was beautiful in its own way. God was at work in that place, and my experiences changed my life.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip. Honduras is a beautiful country!

Last week I said that I was going to be addressing a myth about singleness: “A life without (romantic) love is no life at all.” This quote brought me up short and penetrated my mind. My hearts aches for all the single women that believe this is true. For so long, I was there, too.

When single women start to embrace lies about their lives, it’s like the lies block out the sun. Suddenly, you’re not aware of the warmth and goodness. All your focus on is what you don’t have and what you’re missing. Your mind can get so twisted up you completely miss the truth:  

The true value of a life is in what you have, not what you’re missing.

It’s in all the little moments- shining bits of goodness that show us more of God.  

Romance is just one aspect of life. For some it is a wonderful, beautiful thing. But if it’s missing for you, that’s ok. There are so many other wonderful things that can fill up a life.

My mission trip experience was incredible for so many reasons. Whenever I think of it I think of riotous color, bright smiling faces, bananas right off the tree, games, laughter, sleeping outside under the stars, and joy even in the midst of poverty.

Let me tell you, in those moments, life was pretty worthwhile. That’s the beauty of a life planned by God. He brings you to places (like Honduras) that you never would have chosen for yourself. God wants to stretch you in ways you didn’t think possible, but when He does it gives you a life bigger and better than your dreams.

 Because we are small, finite people, our dreams are just as small.

Our infinite God is so much greater. The Bible tells us that His thoughts for us are more numerous than the grains of sand. Pause for a minute and let that soak in. God never stops thinking about us. He never stops thinking about you.

Friend, you don’t need romance to have a fulfilling life. You don’t have to sit at home and wallow! As a single woman, you have unique opportunities to travel, volunteer, serve, and otherwise explore the life God’s given you.

This week I’m thankful for the blessing of unexpected opportunities. Together, let’s celebrate every SINGLE blessing!

Debunking the Myth: A Life Without Love is no Life at All

I love the city of Chicago. Yes, it has its issues, but it also has a lot of really great things to offer. I am a culture girl, so my favorite places to visit are the museums, which are some of the biggest and best in the country. There is also a world-class aquarium, one of the oldest zoos in the county, a beautiful nature center, terrific theater, waterfront attractions, and a great food scene. Who could ask for more?

What I do in Chicago, however, matters less than who I do it with. The real appeal of a visit into the city stems from the people that are with me. My friends and I have had some crazy experiences and made some beautiful memories there. 

I moved away from Chicago six years ago, but it’s still one of my favorite cities and i try to go back at least once a year.

In honor of summer and because of the pandemic, I was hoping you would do some armchair traveling with me. I want to spend the next few weeks blogging about two things:    

1.) Some of my favorite travel memories

2.) An appalling myth of singleness

They go together, I promise. At least in my mind.

Let’s start with the travel memories:  

A few years ago, the school I was teaching in became heavily involved in a foreign exchange student program. One year my friend LaurieBeth and her family decided to host one of the students, a seventeen-year old boy from Ecuador.

There were four or five other exchange students visiting that year, too. At Christmas time my friends and I took three of them, along with some other teens, with us into Chicago. Ice skating in Millenium Park is a long-standing tradition; we thought it would be a fun experience for three kids from South America.

I’m terrible at ice skating, so I was secretly looking forward to being better than the exchange students. Afterall, they had barely seen snow. Imagine my dismay when they all bobbled, wobbled, and then skated smoothly away! As for me, I couldn’t get anywhere without lots of wailing and two friends holding onto my arms.

After ice skating and the requisite stop at Caribou Coffee (those were the good old days…) we all headed up Michigan Avenue to see the giant Christmas tree displayed in front of the Hancock Building. In case you’ve never visited Chicago, let me tell you- that’s a long walk. Especially with massive Christmas-shopping crowds and freezing temperatures.

A soon as we arrived at the tree one of the students announced that his train left in twenty-five minutes and he would be in trouble if he wasn’t on it.

This is when things got crazy because we now had to make a mad dash through the crowds to the train station. Just for the record, this wasn’t the same train station the rest of us needed. Oh no. This was a completely different train station in a completely different part of the city. The window of time to drop him off and catch our own train was small. The race was on.

One of the girls with us wasn’t going anywhere fast, due to a recent foot surgery. We split into two groups- one that could hustle to two different train stations and one that would do a more leisurely stroll straight to our station.

LaurieBeth, the three exchange students, and I took off, ducking shoppers and jaywalking at as many intersections as possible. I won’t say we were running through the streets, but it was anything but casual. One of the girls had asthma and started wheezing in the extreme cold. While I was concerned for her, I was also a tiny bit grateful because that meant I could stop running.

When it became evident that we were not going to make it to train station number 1 on time, we abandoned that idea and beelined for station number 2. There was an 8:45 train and an 11:00 train. We really didn’t want the 11:00 train.

Success!  We managed to race up the stairs and leap onto the train just before it departed. However, the other half of our group wasn’t so fortunate. They ended up carrying the foot surgery girl, which slowed them down just enough to miss the train. 11:00 train for them.

 In spite of all the craziness and hassle, we would all tell you that was one of our best times in Chicago. My friends and I still talk about the “Year of the Exchange Students.”  When we reminisce, that crazy trip is always at the top of our favorite experiences list.

It was freezing outside, but what I remember most was life, warmth, and laughter; the joy of watching teens try new things and the hilarity of scrambling through busy streets. The relief of collapsing on the train.

The feelings of friendship and belonging.

I may not have romance in my life, but I still have a lot of people that make it great.

Debunking the Myth

That’s where my second focus comes in: Remember, I told you that I wanted to address an appalling myth? Well, here it is: “A life without love is no life at all.”  

Whoa.

That’s a stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of statement.

In total disclosure, this quote is from a Hallmark movie my mom was watching (More on those later). But I was flabbergasted when I heard it. The speaker was, of course, referring to romantic love and the futility of living without it. It’s stuck with me ever since.  

This month, I want to spend some time debunking the “Life without romantic love” myth in the hope that we can all learn to toss that statement out the window. I want us to truly see just how great our lives can look, even without romance. It’s entirely possible for a single person to live a life that is full, happy, and adventurous. 

That’s where the travel stories come in, like the one above. We are going to travel, we’re going to laugh, and we’re going to celebrate together, right where we are. So buckle up. It may be a bumpy ride!

This week, I’m thankful for the blessing of travel adventures shared with friends. They add so much color to my life. Together, let’s celebrate every SINGLE blessing!