My Solo Summer Vacation

Facebook post from June 27, 2012. Atlantic ocean as seen from North Myrtle Beach, red painted toes in the sand and flip flops to the side.

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. 

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