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Traveling Solo: a road trip to self-care

I have always enjoyed alone time, so when I started working with a career coach back in the beginning of last summer — more about working with a career coach in another article — she encouraged me to take a trip alone. One of the many things we talked about was how limited my alone time was with a super busy job and two kids under 3. At first, I was a bit hesitant and wasn’t sure I could take a trip away from my family. But the more I thought I about it, the more I realized that not only was it actually what I needed at that moment, but it was also something I needed to make a regular thing. Taking care of everyone around me was predicated on me taking care of me.

I wanted to take my first solo trip to a place I was somewhat familiar with that was good for my soul. I’m energized and refreshed by being in nature, so I decided on a road trip to Yellowstone, staying overnight in Idaho Falls. Growing up, we lived in Idaho Falls for six years, so going to Idaho Falls has always felt a bit like coming home. With only 2 days for the trip, I drove to Idaho Falls from on a Friday afternoon; I stayed on the Snake River near the Falls. The greenbelt in Idaho Falls is another happy place, and so Friday evening, I did a quick walk around the greenbelt.

Friday night was beautiful but being alone made me more aware of my surroundings. I am always super aware of my surroundings, even with people, but alone I become hyper aware, so I wanted to get back off the greenbelt before dark. I got dinner to go from Outback and bought some wine to enjoy back in my hotel. I took a bath with magnesium salts I brought and went to bed early. This was my new reality — traveling solo meant luxuriating in things I used to see as rote — bath, early bedtime, sleep.

I woke up the next morning early and headed out, making a quick stop for my morning coffee (buying an additional cup for the rest of the day). I headed to the town of West Yellowstone, which is a quaint little town. While it sure has its tourists spots, there are some great shops, too. One of my favorites is Madison Crossing: Homeroom. I had bought an adorable bear wine bottle holder a few years back and wanted another one. As luck would have it, they had another bear wine holder in stock! I always make a stop at the liquor store for a Montana distilled huckleberry vodka, because it makes the best Moscow mules. Then I headed into Yellowstone Park. Because it was the off-season, the park was only a little busy, and I got through in about 5 minutes. I will avoid the busy season at Yellowstone if at all possible because I spend more time in traffic then you do actually seeing the sights.

At the entrance, I picked up a map at the entrance and planned a path so I could see what I wanted in the one day I was there and skip over things I had seen too many times. First, I did a hike to Ice Lake which was on the way to the Upper and Lower Falls. I would recommend two things to make any hike in Yellowstone more enjoyable, but especially when you are solo: bear spray and a bell to hook on your backpack. There are bears in Yellowstone, and I worried that the risk was higher with fewer people in the park. I had a lunch of pb and jam at the lake mid-hike before heading to the incredible Upper Falls. I hiked along the path of the falls, which I had never done, and it had incredible views. From there, I drove to Yellowstone Lake, which was pretty but super windy that day, so I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I would like. Finally, I wanted to see if there was a chance to catch Old Faithful. I lucked out. I found a super close parking spot; the lot is massive and the sign tells you when the best guess of when old faithful is going to go off next. I waited maybe 20 minutes and got to see the show! Which I enjoyed, but have to admit that I enjoyed it more when I came at the end of April a few years ago and the ground was warm, but the air was cold, which made the atmosphere of the eruption magical with the steam and fog. Finally, I wanted to eat dinner along the Madison River. In the park, there is a road that runs parallel to the main road along the river as you are heading out of the park at the West Entrance. The drive is worth taking for the views; you can pull off and get close to the river which is exactly what I did. I enjoyed a quiet dinner with river as the sun was setting. I headed back to Idaho Falls that evening for another night of uninterrupted sleep.

The next morning I wanted to go for a run along the greenbelt again. I grew up walking/roller blading around the green belt, and I love how peaceful it is. But this run wasn’t peaceful. For some reason, there were lots of guys out walking early this morning, which I found odd at first. It then made me more and more uncomfortable. I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, but the presence of so many men alone and their gazes made me feel I wasn’t wearing enough clothes. Any guy I passed, I looked directly at with my best “don’t fuck with me” look, and then I spent the rest of the run looking behind my back. It was the fastest I had ran that mileage in a while. Looking back, there were a lot of guys and I wasn’t comfortable. Was I being paranoid? Maybe, but I was alone and a woman- that is all I need to be hyper vigilant.

On the way back home, I decided to stop at Lava Hot Springs. I used to go as a kid and hadn’t been back in too many years to count. I went to the hot soaking pools and it was a pretty quiet day. I hadn’t planned on going when I left for my trip, so if you go, think through what you are going to bring with you: water, snacks, TOWEL and easy clothes to change in and out of. It was such a calming experience. Because there wasn’t a lot people I got to enjoy floating in the water and feeling the pebble floor on the feet. I was able to clear mind. It was the perfect end to the weekend that allowed me to regain contact with myself.

Traveling solo isn’t possible for everyone; I’m lucky to have the financial means to travel alone and a partner who can take care of our children while I’m gone. I glad I have that privilege, because taking this first solo trip was really important for emotionally and mentally. More about that in Traveling Solo, Part 2.

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