Travel + Leisure calls solo travel “deliciously self-indulgent.” Why? Because you can “eat whatever and whenever you want, spend as long or as little as you like in a place, skip famous sights, sign up for the super cheesy. It’s a time where the only compromises you have to make are with yourself.”

That sounds good, of course, but I never thought solo travel was for me. I spent my childhood adventuring with my parents and other family members. When I got married, I relished the thought of a lifetime travel companion. How often we have regaled with stories of road trips with friends. I wanted to share memories with others, not make them on my own.

Then COVID-19 happened. A year and a half into the pandemic, an absence of companionable travel opportunities marked the longest travel-free period of my life.

The stress of global and personal events was getting to me, too. I felt depressed and anxious. I was having trouble focusing at work. Then, a bit of almost-solo-travel came to my rescue.

My husband’s work required a four-day trip to Huntsville, Alabama. Working remotely, I came along for the ride. His long workdays left me to occupy myself between the hours of breakfast and dinner (after all, who keeps up with the exact time while on vacation?). So there I was, wandering around an unfamiliar city on my own.

And I fell in love with solo travel.

Three occupations served as a gentle introduction to enjoying travel alone. If you’d like to try solo travel for yourself, I’d recommend starting with the following activities, which can be replicated wherever you are in the world.

Visit a Botanical Garden

On our first day in Huntsville, I dropped Marc off at the job site and hightailed it to a nearby botanical garden. The Huntsville Botanical Garden sprawls over 112 acres. My day started with a stroll down a meandering wooded path, dotted here and there with whimsical works of art like a painted outdoor piano and a moss-covered table set for dinner with the birds.

Daisies photo by Cara Siera
Daisies photo by Cara Siera

I was determined to walk every path on the property, and I believe I succeeded. My favorite by far was a well-preserved section of forest known as the Mathews Nature Trail that had been planted with carefully curated native plants. The Holmes Trillium Garden boasts the largest collection of cultivated trillium plants in the country. That might not mean much to most visitors, but I have a soft spot for trillium. The otherworldly three-leafed plants grew in the woods behind my grandparents’ home and sparked my curiosity and later passion for flora.

But the best part of that forest garden was that I was truly alone. For an hour, I didn’t see another human soul. The stress and negative emotions I’d been carrying drifted away on the breeze, and I felt a calm lack of trepidation that I hadn’t experienced in ages.

Finally, my day ended with a close-up encounter with thousands of tropical butterflies fluttering throughout the 9,000 square foot Purdy Butterfly House. Passing through the gift shop, I picked up a resin-covered monarch, a bittersweet remembrance of the short-lived butterflies that complete their lifecycles in the gardens.

That butterfly represented what I had found in the gardens that day – beauty amid chaos, and a way to preserve peace of mind. Solitude without demands or expectations from others gave me the time and space to think, feel, and unwind.

Enjoy the Hotel Amenities

Until my almost-solo trip, I had never spent a whole day at a hotel. They’ve always just been a place to sleep, shower, and stow my stuff.

With work-related deadlines looming, I decided to spend Day 2 in my room. But the whole day wasn’t spent working. I ate the complimentary hot breakfast with my husband before he left for work. I went to the gym. I took a nap amid pillows and comforters that were inevitably plusher than what I use at home. I watched reruns of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, another nostalgic throwback from my childhood. I ordered takeout. I let myself rest and recharge.

Hotel Room photo by Cara Siera
Photo: Cara Siera

Check Out a Museum

I love museums. I love to read every description and ponder over every object. I love to feel the deep sense of connection these artifacts create between myself, here and now, and others who came before.

When touring a museum with a group, there’s never enough time for that. But on my own, I fell into the real and imaginary worlds of oils and acrylics, blown glass and black and white photos. As I sauntered, I daydreamed about the places in the pictures, about putting my own brush to canvas, and about seeing my own photography displayed in the same way someday.

Art Museum photo by Cara Siera
Art Museum photo by Cara Siera

The Huntsville Museum of Art is small, and even my leisurely perusal only took until lunchtime. So, I rambled around the adjoining park and pond until a burst of rain drove me back to my car.

Take the Leap

Three days of solo travel excursions left me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated in a way I hadn’t anticipated. And, while I still prefer companionship on long trips, solo day trips are now a permanent part of my self-care arsenal.

If you’re not feeling up to hopping a plane or taking a long car trip unaccompanied, you can do the same – find solo escapes within a short drive of home. Museums, gardens, parks, zoos, spa days, and similar venues offer a welcome departure from the everyday grind.

Who knows – once you’ve tried a solo day trip for yourself, you may find that grander solo adventures await!

COVER: Monarch butterfly photo by Cara Siera