See America Solo – All 50 States: With the 2020-2021 pandemic travel halts, I have been both planning my next journey and daydreaming about my top odysseys over a life time of solo travel. As a teenager, I became an “Accidental Solo Traveler”! That is early on I found that it is hard to find a travel mate free at the same time to go to the same place on the same budget. Full disclosure: I have a life-long love of adventure and remote places to go often at odd times of the year. Here are just a few vignettes:
- Siberia in Winter: I was thrilled to have an all expenses paid work trip to Siberia one January. When my colleague and I arrived in Moscow’s international airport, we quickly found the Customs/Immigration line for foreign visitors. Actually, there was no line at all! We were apparently the only foreigners keen on visiting Russia in the midst of the winter’s chill.
- Amazon River Christmas: What could be less seasonal than starting Christmas Day swimming UpRiver in the Amazon nestled in the middle of the Brazilian rain forest. Our small band of fifteen were repeatedly warned to avoid accidents since we were “10 hours UpRiver by fast boat from the nearest hospital”. While two of our motley crew were nibbled on by piranha, luckily the week long trip continued. Caveat: If you ever find yourself in this position, piranha like to hug the shallow waters near the shore.
- Phnom Penh New Year’s: On a past Christmas Day, I headed out solo for Siem Reap, Cambodia. I was just in time to toast the New Year in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Surrounded by centuries old culture, ancient temples and remaining colonial architecture, it was and is the most exotic Dec 31/Jan 1 of my life.
At eighteen, I had my first solo trip abroad. I joined a volunteer team sponsored by the international YMCA for a summer off Venezuela’s coast in Trinidad and Tobago. By age twenty, I decided it was time to “see America”, my home country. I had no car and no travel budget to speak of. At the time, I was living with fellow students in a small house in Washington, DC’s trendy Georgetown. Undaunted, I discovered that Trailways and Greyhound bus companies had open tickets that could be purchased from DC to Los Angeles. There was no limit on how many days you spent on travel or how many times you were off and on. Better yet, their tickets could be used interchangeably between the two companies. I immediately hatched the idea that I would make my way 3,000 miles overland solo with only an overnight suitcase.
Unlike my years of travel to date, I had no real plan or research. I had loosely decided that I would check each day to see where the bus would be in the early morning. That would be perfect for a new “self-guided” day tour daily. For sightseeing, I would look for state capitol buildings to visit as well as museums, historic churches and any stately architecture. I did also throw in some national parks and natural sites. I even took a local Day Line tour of Salt Lake that included a swim! In addition, I had spent a semester on a college exchange program. It included students from all over the United States. That was perfect to provide an entire array of friends I could stop to see as I hopscotched across the country.
See America Solo – All 50 States: Part I of My Journey:
This first part of my adventure focuses on my first few days that took me to the American Heartland. The first stop was Chicago. In those days, you could drop your bag in a bus station locker. My first stop was the Art Institute of Chicago which dominated a block on Michigan Avenue. After a half day there, it was time to stroll the Magnificent Mile of high-end retail shops. On my budget, it was only possible to window shop but fun in any case. Next I wandered along the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the US Great Lakes. Last was a visit to the Millennium Park right in the midst of downtown Chicago.
It was time to be off and visit a high school friend in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We were off to a bumpy start when the bus broke down in Plano, Illinois. Our weary band of travelers waited patiently by the roadside to be rescued by a new bus. However, with no set schedule and no deadline to meet, this was only a mild inconvenience. Wisconsin was one of the highlights of my trip filled with contrast. One minute I was touring Milwaukee and the Johnson Wax Factory in Racine. It is a storied work of architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, built between 1936-1939. The next day I was witnessing a calf’s being born!
Please join me on the next part of my five-week odyssey in an upcoming post. In the interim, see our fresh personal tips on how to plan your own odyssey across America!
Our Practical Hacks:
- Be realistic about the distance and time involved. While you can drive straight through in a few days, to see major sights and cities takes weeks. If you are in school, working or have family responsibilities, how long can you be away?
- Really study the geography. While it seemed so familiar to me, I had no idea that Chicago was only about one-third of the way to the West Coast. As you go west, the states are much, much larger.
- There are at least three routes to choose from crossing the United States. I took the middle route. There is also a northern route closer to the Canadian border. The southern alternative would take you through the Old South and Southwest.
- Have a clear idea what you want to see and do. For example, if you are thinking of stopping in major state and national parks, it will influence which rout is best.
- Use our Solo Sherpa, free app to plan your budget and track expenses as well as for packing lists and tips. It is available at the App Store for iPhones. The Solo Sherpa is available for Android devices at the Google Play Store.
- While I took the bus, you may want the freedom to drive or the comfort of a train. If I were doing it today, I would take the train. However, for solo driving tips, be sure to see our advice on how to have a better trip whether you are renting a car or taking your own car. (“Six Tips for Making Your Road Trip a Success”.)
- Think carefully about the climate and time of year. Even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, “off-season” major places may be closed.
- Pack like a pro. However, you travel, it is no fun to cart around heavy bags and totes. With security concerns, many public places no longer have lockers for short-term storage.
- Use your phone/tablet and have a place to stay in major places. Otherwise, you may find as I did on one trip, that it took hours on a cold night finding an overnight vacancy.
- Have access to emergency funds, especially if you are driving solo.