I recently returned from a solo trip to Salinas, CA. While there, I attended the 38th Annual Steinbeck Festival “In Search of America” at the National Steinbeck Center, right in the heart of Salinas. This year’s highlighted book just happened to be one of my favorites, Travels with Charley.
Though I hadn’t originally planned to travel across the country by myself in August, that’s what ended up happening and it was a surprisingly wonderful journey.
What I discovered about traveling alone
- It’s a great way to remind yourself of how strong and independent you actually are
For example, for the first time in a long time, I made all my travel arrangements by myself, refusing to let anything flummox me. When the basic economy flight I was on said one small piece of carry-on only, instead of getting upset, I reminded myself that one of my goals was to carry less baggage (figuratively!) so here was the chance to practice it (literally!) I also rented my first car (at age 56!) and learned to use Google maps (after years of relying only on OnStar). Not only did I get myself from the airport an hour away and back, I navigated around Salinas with few problems and spent the day in Monterrey. Pretty empowering stuff!
- You can be yourself
I admit it; I can be a little silly sometimes. Some of my friends and family enjoy that, others not so much. So-when I decided to eat my Friday lunch in the house where John Steinbeck was born and raised, I let my imagination run wild. I ordered chicken tortilla soup (for his successful book, Tortilla Flats), half a Monte Cristo sandwich (for Charley the French Poodle), and a green salad (Salinas is the lettuce capital of the world). The food was delicious and the restaurant is run by a group of lovely volunteers. I was even able to pick up a copy of America and Americans, Steinbeck’s last book, which I’d never read before, at the gift shop on the ground floor.
- Curious and friendly solo travelers meet interesting people
Everywhere I went people either started conversations with me or I started one with them. I talked to people of all ages from all walks of life and had a few laughs as well as learning a lot about life in California that I didn’t know before. Sadly, as with Cuba, my lack of fluency in Spanish inhibited me somewhat but the year isn’t over yet. Still time to work on that New Year’s resolution! I have to say that most people were intrigued and impressed that I had come all the way from Trumansburg, NY to celebrate Steinbeck!
- The itinerary is all yours.
I spent hours in the Steinbeck Center, moving at my own pace through the varied and detailed exhibits. Same with the day I spent in Monterrey, mostly at the fabulous Aquarium. I could also choose whatever restaurants I wanted to eat at each day so I tried to pick a variety of local flavors.
- Traveling alone leaves plenty of time for introspection and generating new ideas for future writing projects.
It really is a luxury to be able to take a break from your normal routines and daily thoughts. I had my travel journal and a notebook to write in, plus the different programs at the Festival and the Center exhibits to give me lots of inspiration and food for thought.
Of course, I did get lonely once in a while. Traveling with others has lots to offer. But I also realized that I could easily take a Steinbeck-style trip across America myself and enjoy almost every minute of it. That discovery alone was worth the time and money I spent to get to Salinas!