By Chris Watson
Publisher Chris Watson has been boat and cat sitting for friends in Bradenton Florida. With a couple of weeks out by himself he has discovered a few simple things to do when vacationing solo or in pairs. He calls it a vacation brought to you by the letter “A”…
Agenda, awareness, alternatives, action, adventure…all interesting ideas when we vacation solo or in pairs. In the days of our family vacations, either as kids or during our active child raising, only the first word was paramount. We always vacationed with an agenda. Whether that agenda was a destination (“We HAVE to see Mt. Rushmore”), an activity (“We have to go river rafting”), or a visitation (off to grandmother’s house we go), vacations all had purposes. Meaningful and interesting purposes, but deliberate agendas meant to capitalize our time with family and expose our kids (or being exposed as kids) to cool things.
Now living solo or as a couple we have time to spend…just us…no point, no limits, no “must do’s”, and no agendas. Depending on your point of view this either sounds boring or terrifying. It is actually neither. I recently spent time along the Gulf Coast of Florida while boat and cat sitting for friends. In essence, I just had to “live” for two weeks in the midst of some of the most amazing beaches, museums, restaurants, and outdoor parks anywhere in the world.
At first this prospect in my mind became a two week military survival training exercise. I had to accomplish certain things to “make” it by myself for two weeks. It wasn’t my fault, really. I, too, grew up with vacations that had agendas. Even while living in our size household many of us still choose to take a cruise or a destination vacation, both of which can be fulfilling and rewarding. However, to just “be” in a new and beautiful place can be intimidating. Where do you go? Where is a good place to eat? What do people do for fun?
It comes down to the three things we do at home all the time: Awareness, alternatives, and action.
When we are at home we tend to do what our friends, co workers, neighbors, and families do. Our awareness of our home is built in, brought to us via our tribe. However, when we are in someplace new and not on a structured vacation, it is necessary to heighten our awareness, becoming conscious of opportunities for entertainment, good eats, or just plain loafing.
It is all well and good to say, for instance, “Let’s go to the beach.” As I vacationed along the Gulf coast I became acutely aware that there were hundred of miles of “beach”. Some obviously were better than others. What I did was ask where people went. Not just the people at the end of the dock but other vacationers, people in the grocery, people gassing up their car, my breakfast server, ANYONE who could tell me things like, “Oh, that beach is a tourist trap and a mess. Go down the road about 3 miles to….” The key to being aware is to ASK and pay attention. Once you become aware of your options you then are ready for…
No one in an area is going to recommend just one place to visit. This can be frustrating, especially if we are use to just going to the zoo, an amusement park, or a shopping mall, where are alternatives are built in. Although all of these places have their purpose when truly visiting a new place we have to get off the beaten path and wander to where we are directed. This means seeking out alternatives to the commercial, generally monotone places that anyone with a hotel
travel guide can find. Plus looking for alternatives is more problematic while visiting someplace new. Most of us can name ten places to eat in a five mile radius of our home (not to mention a couple of markets, a couple of places to get gas, and a pub or two). Those “home” instincts don’t serve us in someplace foreign. We have to ask the locals to get our information.
Looking for alternatives doesn’t just mean in where we go. It also means in what we do and how we do it. The beauty of a no agenda vacation is getting to try things that may be harder to access but can never be repeated in a large commercial venture. My friends
recommend a place called the Star Fish Co, a not very easy to get to commercial fishery that has a small public market and restaurant attached. It was one of the best meals I had with the bonus of the server recommending a drive along a Florida coastal highway 789. All of that I would have missed if I stayed on the usual routes non locals frequent.
Above all, when in a new place, whether the beaches of the Gulf coast or the mountains of the Rockies, get out and DO. I took a kayak trip through Robinson Preserve, over 600 acres of mangrove forest and nature preserve. Kayaking wasn’t my only option, with extensive hiking trails, biking trails, and picnic grounds and other family areas, Robinson was completely accessible, inexpensive, and something completely different from just “going to the beach”.
On a different trip I went to the Sarasota farmers market, and mingled with natives and tourists alike in this large downtown venue. I then went and visited an upscale local market, called Morton’s, and was dazzled by an amazing selection of gourmet staples (who carries multiple kinds of caviar?), fresh produce and meats, and an in house deli and bakery that was simply stunning.
Both of these places took effort to get to. They were not parking friendly with tourist trams to conveniently take me to their front door types of places. Both were TOTALLY worth it. I had to do some walking and some asking and finally rely on my GPS. In a phrase, I had to take action to get there. However, the slice of Margherti pizza was worth the drive to Sarasota by itself. Yes, one slice was worth the effort.
All of this leads to adventure. Again, there is nothing wrong with planned, all in vacations. But don’t shy away from just going and being somewhere far from home. It can lead to places that no agenda can ever take you. There is nothing wrong, and even something very right, with just picking a place, showing up, and asking the locals what to do. They are almost always happy to provide the genuine seeker with their local knowledge. Then, Go! Or, in the words of Dr. Seuss, “You’re off to Great Places! Today is the day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!”