Dispelling the myths of solo travel

As someone who recently dived into the world of solo travel, I decided it was time to try to dispel some of the myths of solo travel. I’ve recently returned from an amazing solo trip with Trek America, where I spent two weeks on the road around the amazing Eastern USA on their Best Of The East tour.  I had been aware of Trek America for a while before I decided to take the plunge and book a tour – and am so glad I did. Read on to find out how any apprehensions I had about travelling solo soon melted away before I had even hit the road.

Pre-Tour Thoughts

Travelling to the USA was something I had been attracted to for a long time, I think this desire to visit the USA probably spans from years of seeing jaw-dropping landscapes, iconic cities and monuments in television and media over the years.  I guess there’s something magical about it! A few years ago I first came across Trek America. Back then I was still a student, working part-time to fund my studies.  At that point actually booking a tour seemed a distant dream, ‘Who would I go with?’ and ‘How would I ever afford it?’ were two questions which kept cropping up in my mind. However, back then I already knew that my ideal itinerary was the Best Of The East.  It covered a lot of the places I wanted to visit in the USA – scenic national parks and cities, and being on the East coast would be easier, and less costly to fly too. Travel forward a few years to 2013 and I was working full-time in a good job where I knew I could comfortably afford to undertake a trip to the USA.

My desire to travel to the USA had never actually disappeared in those years.  Back in the winter of 2012/ 2013 a work colleague was in the process of leaving the UK to walk the Pacific Crest Trail – an epic 2,650 mile hike from the Mexican border to Canada. My colleagues incredible challenge and stories ultimately led to me biting the bullet and hitting the book button on the Best Of The East Tour for June 2014. After all, whats a 2 week camping trip when she would be hiking for 6 months! During the weeks and months leading up to my journey, I was really excited and really just raring to get on the road! At no point did the fact that I would be traveling solo daunt me!, apart from maybe the odd day where I would suddenly think ‘What have I let myself in for?’, where a quick read of the Trek America Live Forum would quickly dispel any worries I had about solo travel.

As the weeks and months drew by, I guess my biggest fear about travelling solo came down to US immigration. I had concerns about all the questions they might ask, ‘What is the purpose of your trip?’ ‘How long are you travelling for?’.  I must stress that the actual flying solo part wasn’t something which particularly bothered me.  I’ve always loved airports and flying and consider this part of the experience! I researched the immigration procedures thoroughly and prepared myself so that on the day, I would fly through the airport!

In the weeks leading up to my trip, I also met almost all of my fellow Trekkers on our own Facebook Group, allowing us to chat and get to know each other before we even left the UK.  I had already read that the majority of Trek America customers travel solo,  and so I didn’t feel awkward about being the odd one out.  Finding your trekkers on Trek America Live and setting up a Facebook group is worthwhile – some of us had talked for over ten months before the trip, so this helps get rid of any nerves about travelling for two weeks with a bunch of new people in a van!

Thoughts Leading Up To The Trip

Solo travel in the USA.

It was finally time to embark on the journey of a lifetime! I travelled via my local airport, so I was comfortable with finding my way around, and as long as you follow the signs, you can’t go wrong.  I arrived at the airport bright and early, around 3 hours before my flight.  Check in was easy. The airline did have their security, which was a first for me, but they were pleasant and just basically confirmed what I was travelling to the USA on (ESTA or VISA), what my destination was, and confirming that I had packed my bags myself.  I got through this quickly and headed straight to security.

After reading about airport lounges on another blog, I had decided to book myself into the airports newest lounge, which included fast track security access.  This was a great decision.  It only cost me around £20 but gave me a nice chilled place to relax before my flight, with unlimited food and drink and free wifi.  The included fast-track security pass took any stress out of airport security and I was through in under 5 minutes. This is worth its weight in gold! I would recommend this and is great if your travelling solo, giving you a quiet place to chill and catch up on Facebook and any work you might have with the free wifi! Heck, it was also nice to enjoy a free beer, even if it was 7 in the morning!

It wasn’t long until it was time to board my flight. The flight was pleasant and relaxed.  I had pre-booked a window seat as it was nice to have the window to lean against and look out off, which is a good idea if you are planning on trying to get some sleep! The inflight entertainment was good and had a selection of new films and shows to keep me entertained, but mainly I just tried to catch some sleep. Nobody batted an eyelid about me being on my own.  As we approached the last hour of the flight, we were given a form for entry to the USA to fill out.  This is nothing to worry about, but just make sure you have details of where you are staying at hand, particularly the address of the gateway hotel, or place you are staying on your first night in the USA. I kept all my travel documents to hand, and I would recommend this for safety reasons.  I had all my travel documents in my backpack/ carry-on which I kept with me the whole trip.

The next part of the trip was probably the part I was most anxious about – immigration into the USA.  I had been concerned about all the questions they would ask, particularly with being a solo traveller.  But this wasn’t anything to let myself get bothered about. At the end of the day, they are just people doing their job! The questions went ok, I just explained that I was doing a group tour and meeting people in the USA, and they were totally fine with that.  The only other question was about how long I would be in the USA. I just told them when my return flight was and everything was fine.  And I was through – I had made it into the USA. The hardest part of the solo travel experience was over!

I arrived in the USA 2 days before my Trek, as I had planned to try to see some of New York and get used to the time difference.  As I had already met my fellow Trekkers on Facebook, 4 of us that had arrived early managed to explore New York together.  This made a huge difference, being able to explore the city with a group of new friends made the experience less daunting, particularly being someone from a small town!

Thoughts During The Trek

The next morning was the first day of the Trek. We all met in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza, Trek’s gateway hotel in New York, bright and early. We were met by Mary Rae, our tour leader. Even though this was the first time the entire group had met, it wasn’t particularly daunting! As I’ve mentioned most of us had spoken via our Facebook Group, and there were only a couple of new faces! A few of us had even met in the hotel bar the night before. Before long we were all chatting away comfortably with each other! Normally this situation would be out with my comfort zone, usually, I’d be quiet and a bit overwhelmed with meeting so many new people.  I really do think that the online social aspect of Trek really helps.  Even if you are usually quiet, you’ll soon find your self comfortably chatting with everyone!

Above all, our tour leader was fantastic. She was one of the most helpful, cheerful and knowledgeable people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Mary Rae helped ease everyone into the group, after all, we would be spending two weeks together! That first morning we all did our introductions.  This was good, especially for those that hadn’t already met online.  Later that day after our first stop, where we ate amazing Philly Cheese Steaks at Tony Lukes, we all played a game to help remember each other’s names.  This involved going round in a circle and saying our name followed by an item we were taking to camp, based on the initial of our first name, and then saying everyone opposites name and item! This was a challenge for those of us towards the end of the circle trying to remember everyone’s items!

By the end of the first day, any apprehensions and worries I had were gone.  It already felt like I had known everyone for a lifetime! By day two we were telling stories around the campfire and even getting to know another Trek group.  By day 4 of our trip, we were holding an ‘Engagement Party’ for a budding bromance which was happening between two fellow passengers! By the midway point, we were having the time of our lives in Nashville, line dancing and having an amazing time at the Wildhorse Saloon. We even had the pleasure of celebrating two birthdays on the trip! It was great having so many life experiences with a bunch of new friends – like the fantastic day we saw four black bears in the Smoky Mountains!

Bear and Cubs in Cades Cove

The second to last day of our trip was a sad one as we all knew that our amazing experience was coming to an end.  To that end, we all made the most of our remaining time together! It was the 4th of July that day, and everyone was excited to celebrate it in America. We celebrated by having a fantastic barbeque, party and water fight at camp, followed by an impressive fireworks display at Seneca Lake. This was a bitter-sweet moment, as amazing as the day was, we all knew the end was looming.

The last day was an emotional one.  Having travelled over 2,600 miles on the road with these new friends, and shared so many amazing experiences, it was hard to say goodbye.  We spent the last moment in the van singing along to ‘Timber’ by Pitbull, which had become the song of our trip.  When the song ended halfway through in the car park of the Crowne Plaza, reality hit home that the journey was over.  Luckily a few of us had a couple of extra days in the gateway hotel before we had to say goodbye.

Thoughts On Returning Home

Having been home a few weeks now, I remember every moment of my Trek America trip fondly with no regrets, and I’m so glad that I took this opportunity and loved every minute of it. Any worries I had about solo travel melted away and were pretty much gone before I had even boarded the plane. If you’re worried about the airport, don’t be, it’s not worth it.  Everything will be okay, and you’ll have so many amazing memories you’ll wonder why you ever let it bother you.  I never felt like I was truly solo at any point during my trip – more like I was travelling with a group of 13 close friends.  The majority of Trek America passengers travel solo, and you’re unlikely to be the odd one out! I now feel more social and up to new opportunities. Within weeks of returning home, all the UK passengers on my Trek have already planned a reunion, and we will be spending a weekend together exploring Birmingham in November.

Having experienced my first Trek I now definitely have a thirst for travel and a desire to explore more of the USA. So much so that I have already booked my second Trek – I’ll be exploring the West coast including the amazing sights of the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley in October 2015 on the Westerner tour.

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