In an alternate world, I’m a professional traveler. I’m one of the badass wanderlusting women I see on Instagram, trekking across Kyrgyzstan and living the #yurtlife, flitting to Bali to shoot a Six Senses #ad, and taking an extra week in Morocco to hit Chefchaouen for the perfect #BlueCity shot.
In this world, I have student loans. In my twenties, I had a hard time taking vacation days because where can you go with no money? Sensing my impending burnout before I could, my boss ordered me to leave for a week. I could only think of one viable option: Myrtle Beach.
I didn’t really want to go there, but my grandma’s longtime partner had recently passed away, and left her a condo that now sat unused while she waited out the recession to sell it. Free lodging!
So I gassed up the Focus and headed from Detroit to Little River, South Carolina. I took precautions. I wore a diamond-ish ring on my left hand and kept a picture of my young niece on my dashboard, so that if anyone was tempted to abduct me they would see the evidence of my fake family—people who would notice if I went missing—and possibly reconsider.
I stocked the passenger seat with a first-aid kit, a blanket, and granola bars, in case I careened into a gorge and had to survive for an extended period until help arrived. Thinking I should have a weapon, I stashed a hammer in the console.
I arrived, miraculously unscathed, at my destination, which turned out to be a retirement community. I felt very safe.
I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I drove a half hour south to the beach to put my toes in the sand. Being there alone felt like a great secret, and something to be proud of. I couldn’t really go swimming, because I didn’t want to leave my things unattended, but it still felt like a success.
The next day, I drove around until I stumbled on the Intracoastal Waterway, and enjoyed crab cakes and a frozen strawberry margarita. The day after that, I saw a flea market off the highway and left with a footstool I didn’t need and a bracelet that I definitely did.
I bought a bottle of wine only to break the condo’s aging corkscrew, and then spent about three hours looking for a foolproof way to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. There is no foolproof way; some trick involving a shoe broke the bottle and I sipped the remaining wine slowly not so much to savor it but because I was scared I might swallow a piece of glass. I curled up with a book by the fake fireplace and relished my independence.
I planned to stay for five nights, but I left after four. I missed my bed and I was a bit anxious about the drive home, best to get it over with. Besides, I had accomplished what I needed to. I had gone out into the world by myself, and lived to tell the tale.
After getting married two years ago, my husband and I started traveling in earnest, doing our best to see the world before starting a family. Leaving no vacation days untaken, we’ve cruised the limestone islands of Ha Long Bay, hiked Icelandic volcanoes, and gulped water from a dacha well in Ukraine. I’ve got a list of travel hashtags in my Notes app.
Still, that first, most boring adventure warms my heart. Sure, it was a random solo trip to stay at my grandma’s dead boyfriend’s condo in a suburban Myrtle Beach retirement complex.
But it was also a badly needed reprieve from the responsibilities and monotony of home—things that didn’t feel so stifling after a few days in some other place. And most importantly it was a proclamation that I didn’t need money, or a partner, or a plan. The beach is free, and not really that far if you’re determined to get there.
Nervous about traveling alone? Start in your own backyard: take yourself out to dinner and a movie. Follow us on Instagram at @ShesIndependent_ and tag us in your solo stories!
Hayley Roberts is a writer and nonprofit communications professional from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She holds a master of arts in professional writing and digital rhetoric from Michigan State University, and is passionate about politics, words, and cats.