Bon Voyage

Incredible journeys and the people who take them.

Photo: Shutterstock.

Vacationing While Single

The good, the bad, and the divine.

In my vacations, as in the rest of my life, I like some combination of socializing and solitude. Everyone gets the socializing part; the solitude, others often find puzzling. When I was living on the East Coast, hundreds of miles from the ocean, I'd rent a beach house for a week every summer, and invite friends to stay for the first five or six days. Then I'd want that last day to myself. I just loved having some time to be totally on my own. I remember one friend in particular who just couldn't fathom that. She'd ask, when the end of the week drew nearer, whether she could stay that last day.

Sometimes I'd go out to dinner on that final evening. I guess beach town are so much about sociability that people can have an even harder time with the solo diner in those settings than they do in others. So I'd get the solo-diner treatment, with the hostess seating me in some out-of-the-way hidden area - so as to protect me from embarrassment, I guess (or maybe to protect the reputation of the establishment as a fun place to be) - then serving me quickly, and perhaps a bit too solicitously. (The whole topic of going out to restaurants on your own is a fun one, and I've even done some research on it. I wrote about that in two of my first posts to this blog, here and here.)

When my parents were living, sometimes the entire family would share a big beach house for a week. Their kids, their grandkids - we'd all be there. Our tradition was to have dinners together every night. We would all see each other then. The rest of the time, we could head off in pairs, groups, or on our own. Perfect.

On another vacation, I coordinated with my close friend from graduate school. It was many years after the two of us had left Harvard (where we occasionally took I-Hop breaks at 3 a.m.), and she was on sabbatical with her family in Australia. I flew the 22 hours from the East Coast of the US, spent some time just with her, some time with her and her family, and some time on my own. Another version of perfect.

One other vacation started as two other single women professors and I stood shivering in the dark cold winter morning, collars up against the wind, as we waited for a shuttle to the airport. We had decided, spur of the moment, to take advantage of a great fare and head from Virginia to Cozumel, Mexico. The academic tasks we had left undone still lurked in our minds. Then hours later, as if by magic, we sat in our tees and shorts, taking in the sun and the sand and the extra whiffs of warmth blown in from the sea. Now it was visions of the good life that were dancing in our heads, as we shared margaritas and chips and a salsa so fiery that it made our ears hurt. Our time together was fabulous, and probably made the more so by the fact that at the end of the day, I could retreat to the room I had to myself. When we returned to Virginia, it was still winter of course, but we all wore our Cozumel tee shirts to the next faculty meeting.

In vacation travel, as in holiday travel, singles are at risk for being treated as not fully adult. You know the drill - you get the back seat of the car, and the pull-out couch in the living room instead of a room with a door that shuts. Fortunately, these examples of singlism are not universal singlehood experiences. You can have enlightened friends and family members. Or if you have the nerve, some thick skin, or a sense of humor, you can stand up for yourself. For a beautifully written example, take a look at Wendy Braitman's story, over at Huffington Post, called "How I grabbed the best bedroom in the guest house."

I like to show not a hint of defensiveness or apology about my solo traveling self, even when I'm not really traveling solo. In my book, Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After , I mentioned the man at the beach who saw me reading on a chaise longue, with an empty one beside me, and asked whether I was "by my lonesome." I was making fun of his conflation of being alone with being lonely, and of his cluelessness in phrasing his question that way when all he really wanted to know was whether anyone was using the vacant chaise. What I didn't say in the book is that I never denied that I was on my own, even though, with all honesty, I could have. I had traveled to the Cayman Islands with a friend. I wanted to read for a while with the ocean at my feet; she wanted to head back to her room. I could have said all that - oh, I'm not alone, my friend is here, she's just in her room right now, so you can have the chaise - but I didn't. Revel in your solo spunk, and it will become easier for others to do so, too.

So what are your stories of Vacationing While Single? Share the agonies and the ecstasies. Does singlism ever take a vacation? Do you have any tips for keeping it at bay? Do you know of travel packages that do NOT involve a "singles supplement"? If so, let's give them a shout-out. Do you share my affinity for both socializing and solitude while vacationing, or do you prefer just one or the other?

[To read other "Living Single" posts, click here.]

Bon Voyage