After seven weeks on the road, ten plus days to recuperate and catch up on mundane personal matters, I am ready to start blogging again and sharing the insights I gained on this once-in-a-lifetime road trip. For those of you who have never followed my blog, in late April I embarked on a solo driving adventure with the goal of visiting thirteen culturally diverse, solo friendly destinations located along the US Atlantic coast starting in Miami, Florida and ending in Kennebunkport, Maine. The focus of the trip was to gather affordable luxury ideas for my upcoming website, Astrid Solo Travel Advisor, to have fun and to gain a better understanding of the many micro-cultures along the eastern, American seaboard. I had never visited eight of the thirteen places, most of which were in New England.
Having traveled extensively my entire life both domestically and internationally, the biggest impression garnered from this experience was America is Awesome: its powerful but short history, its wonderful, delicious food, its old and contemporary lifestyles, its functional and distinctive architecture, its beautiful gardens and green spaces, its citizens struggling valiantly with modern day life, its scenic beauty, its creative freedom and affluence and last but not least, its ever evolving innovative economy. It's no wonder so many people all over the world are fascinated by America and Americans. This journey made me fall in love with America all over again. The following are some of my solo travel tips and major trip takeaways.
- When embarking on a long, driving journey, leave early-- really early! Thirty minutes before sunrise is what I recommend. Make yourself a strong pot of coffee, take a cup or two for the road and go. Pack the car the night before. I have found leaving at 5:00 AM gives you more daylight driving time, helps you avoid some of the traffic rush hour backups plus you can go longer distances before you begin to get road fatigue, which usually kicks in around four o'clock in the afternoon. I found arriving at my next destination before dark to be critical to the quality of the next day's activities.
- Get the Starbucks app and use it to find where the nearest Starbucks is located. Whether you are a coffee or tea drinker or just want a higher quality snack on the road or while visiting a new place, Starbucks is your best, most consistent bet. Numerous times on this trip, Starbucks was my friend away from home. A cup of cappuccino and a biscotti was all I needed to keep me going.
- Utilize some type of vehicle navigation system. This is a must have for solo drivers. First and foremost, you will not get lost. At all times you will know your route, your driving distance to go and the approximate time you will arrive at your destination. The system in my Range Rover indicates approaching gas stations, various eating venues, where there are traffic slow downs and where the rest stops are located. This technology is a vital solo driving safety component. I can't stress this tip too much. Make sure you understand all its features before you leave home. If your system is set on "backroads" and not "major highways," you might find yourself taking the "slow road to China" route!
- Sirius satellite radio capability is a wonderful resource available to help you cope with long driving distances. You can listen to all types of music genre, the news, the weather, etc. The Sinatra channel accompanied me my entire trip. I learned so much about the singer's life, career and his music. Listening to Sinatra's voice and his volumes of American music recordings set the mood for my trip and became one of my enriching trip takeaways.
- Zen Travel. I coined this term while on the trek to describe travel moments or occurrences that were unplanned but most memorable. I am the first to advocate doing extensive pre-trip research and putting together a detailed itinerary. Conversely, many times I have found the serendipitous happenings are the most unforgettable. When something out of the ordinary is unfolding, let go of your agenda and go with the flow. I will be doing a future blog post on the many Zen Travel moments I experienced during these seven weeks.
- Develop a trip budget; you can easily blow tons of money in an unfamiliar, exciting place. Because Astrid Solo Travel Advisor will focus on affordable luxury ideas for solo travelers, I pay close attention to developing trip budgets, on what things cost and where you can save money so you can freely spend it on special activities or purchases. I know myself; I like the finer things in life but I don't like to overpay for anything. A good rule of thumb is your daily trip costs should equal three times the cost of your lodging. Likewise, future blog posts will detail my budgets for each place visited and whether I stayed within the pre-set limits and if not, why.
- Pack multiple pairs of walking shoes! Flats, sandals, trainers and even heels need to have comfort construction. After three days of serious walking, your feet will begin to be an issue if you wear normal shoes. Aching feet, legs, hips and back will, definitely, damper or ruin your fun. Try and wear a different pair each day. This will help with feet fatigue. When packing for a trip I always start with what type of walking shoes I will need; next, I plan my wardrobe around my shoe selections. For style, I like Aerosoles shoes.
- If you have a hobby or special interests such as painting, gardening, or wine drinking, do research before you leave on where to go to participate in these activities. I recommend viewing examples on YouTube of what you love to do that is available to experience where you will be traveling. Once you get to your destination, make sure you explore these personal interests and don't get too caught up in seeing the must do sights. For example, I am a competitive bridge player and I try to find a partner and a session at one of the ACBL Bridge Clubs wherever I am visiting. Typically, I get the hotel concierge to make the partner arrangements from the local bridge club. I did this when visiting The Hamptons and enjoyed playing with an eighty year old lady spitfire.
- Sleep late and stay up late. Travel activities don't usually get started until 10:00 AM anywhere you travel. Lack of adequate sleep leaves you prone to accidents, over-eating and makes you more vulnerable.
- Do things you have never done before. On this trip I kayaked, took food, walking and trolley tours, sailed on a schooner, made my own perfume, lobster fished, tasted all types of unfamiliar regional cooking, stay at an Airbnb property, visited beautiful churches of my own and other faiths, toured numerous wineries and went whale watching. I thoroughly enjoyed and learned from each new experience. Future blog posts will highlight these adventures.
- Use a trusted food app. I employed Urbanspoon and loved it. Some of my most fabulous meals came from recommendations found on this site. Particularly, I paid attention and followed the site's Top Picks recommendations and looked to eat at the places ranked the highest. I never had a bad meal using this app. In January 2015, Urbanspoon was acquired by Indian startup Zomato. While the mobile app is still functional now, everything will soon be transitioned over to Zomato as they continue to build a streamlined international brand.
- Journal daily during your trip with pictures and written thoughts. I found when traveling solo your thoughts and senses are heightened. Likewise, I make daily to-do lists with addresses and phone numbers of everywhere I will be going. One of my greatest joys is sharing my journal entries with family and friends. Ultimately, this activity led to the idea of creating my new travel website. When you are out of your home environment countless times you will come up with many new ideas, new ways to solve old problems or just experience way out but meaningful "Ah Ha" moments. Don't lose these pearls of wisdom; journal.
- Maintain your daily bedtime routine. I know this point might sound unnecessary but I believe it is important to emphasize. Repeatedly, when you are traveling or you are in an unfamiliar place you will be tempted to go to bed without brushing your teeth, removing your makeup, reading to help you sleep, taking vitamins or meds, etc. I find keeping some of my standard daily routine helps me stay grounded and relieves some of the travel related stress. Some people like to bring travel candles of their favorite scent and burn them when they are in their hotel room at night.
- Get a stylish backpack. Backpacks are becoming highly popular with "boho" and older travelers alike. Shoulder strap crossbody bags are good for going out at night but backpacks are great for extensive daytime activity. You can carry so much more in a backpack and it is much better for relieving back or shoulder pain experienced from carrying shopping bags, souvenirs, cameras,etc. I never thought I would be a backpacker but now I am hooked.
America and its many diverse mirco-cultures are so interesting and inspiring. The thirteen I experienced along the Atlantic coast were Miami with its Cuban, Latin American cosmopolitan vibe. It is one of America's most creative modern design meccas . With its prolific building campaign, Miami is on its way to becoming the "Manhattan of the South." International, sophisticated and cool describes this fabulous city.
Boca Raton, "the resort city of unrivaled opportunity," as coined by its early developer Addison Mizner. Blackstone Group now owns the enormous, diverse Boca Raton Resort which is managed by Waldorf Astoria and is being continuously updated. Included at this resort is an award winning spa, a cutting edge longevity clinic, a fabulous yacht marina, a glamorous beach and pool area, too many restaurants to count, three golf courses, a first class tennis facility and a hard-to-find croquet lawn. It is by far the largest, most comprehensive American resort I have ever visited. If you want to get away and rejuvenate at a reasonable cost, this is your place. Room rates start at around $185.00 per night which could fluctuate up or down depending on the season.
Palm Beach, the winter haven for the east coast rich never disappoints. It is one of my favorite American travel destinations. I have visited this magical place now over eight times and have made friends and numerous acquaintances. I never tire of visiting this people watching, shopping mecca. The best of the best is at your fingertips in ultra-toney, Palm Beach.
The Fountain of Youth, pirate and ghost lore, the historic Spanish district, impulse shopping venues galore and early American history await your discovery in St. Augustine, Florida. Most everything a traveler will want to do is centrally located, making America's oldest city a pedestrian-friendly place to visit.
Once you cross the Georgia state line and enter the Low Country a metamorphosis occurs. You travel through swamps, the trees change from palm to southern live oaks, the architecture is Southern in style and feel, the food completely transitions into "down home" cuisine and the pace of life slows considerably. The Southerner talks with a distinct accent, dresses preppy or red-neck, casual. What you will find is the Southern way of living life, suddenly, hits you in the face. Charm, attention to aesthetic detail, lots of drinking, eating and talking with family and friends are standard southern cultural priorities.
The under-visited Jekyll Island Club and Hotel is steeped in mystique and history with the financial and industrial barons of the late 1800's such as JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, William Rockefeller and George Jay Gould I wintering here. The Club was ultra-exclusive and steep in secrecy. An interesting fact that occurred here was the creation of the US Federal Reserve Bank. Top bankers and politicians traveled to Jekyll Island under fictitious names to avoid scrutiny which changed the American financial system forever. Today, the historic resort is lovely with gorgeous, manicured grounds where deer roam freely at night, piano music in the well-appointed main dining room, a full-service fishing marina and plenty of verandas to enjoy an evening cocktail. In addition, the island's beaches and maritime forest are fun to explore and enjoy on foot or via bicycle.
Savannah was a total delight. From the informative trolley tour, to the delicious food tour, to the entertaining "Savannah Dan" walking tour, to the tour of Bonaventure Cemetery, the setting for the movie In the Garden of Good and Evil, to the numerous historic mansion tours and the countless hours walking through the many beautiful squares and parks of this historic river city made for enriching time for this solo traveler. While there, I discovered that Savannah had the oldest Jewish community in America of which one of my distant relatives was a part of, a fact I uncovered while on this trip! The tremendous influence and catalyst for urban revitalization through historic preservation that SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design has had on this now vibrant southern city is a great example of collaboration between higher education institutions and community development. It's definitely "happening" in Savannah.
Charleston, the Southern Capital of Culture, never disappoints. The "Old South" grandeur is evident in the many restored Civil War era mansions, the still vibrant historic City Market which is great for souvenir shopping, the fine antique stores that make your heart skip a beat , the nearby stately plantations and gardens are to die for, the Gullah influence on this beautiful city is eyeopening and the fabulous low country food will put a pound or two on your waisteline. Start any visit to Charleston with a carriage tour; it will put you in a southern state of mind.
The Hamptons was my favorite destination on this solo journey. I loved everything about this area of the east coast. Each village; Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Sag Harbor all, had something special to see, do or experience. In my opinion, the shopping is better here than anywhere else in America. You will find almost no famous upscale brand stores. What you will discover is affordable, highly fashionable clothes and accessories designed by trendy New York designers in the many unique specialty stores. I went over my shopping budget here but it was worth it. The farm to table and the organic, high quality food movement started in this area. Ina Garten, the "Barefoot Contessa," began her food empire in West Hampton. The restaurants and many markets are second to none. Likewise, I have never seen more mega, beautiful, getaway mansions in one place in my entire life than in The Hamptons. This is the well-known area for America's rich and famous. With this concentration of the uber-wealthy comes the best of everything. Conversely, what shocked me was nothing was exorbitantly expensive like in Palm Beach. The feel and style of the place was classic but casual with a touch of earthiness. I will return to The Hamptons; it's the "cats meow."
I have wanted to visit Newport my entire adult life to better understand what it was like to live in America's Guilded Age and it did not disappoint. The preservation efforts of the Newport Historical Society and Doris Duke's Newport Restoration Foundation are keeping the essence and the architecture of this grand American era alive. Touring the many palatial mansions built by the early industrial barons such as the Vanderbilts was so interesting. Likewise, absorbing Newport's culture and natural environment, gave me a better understanding of what made Jackie Kennedy Onassis tick; her love of historic preservation, books, simple classic style, horse riding and sailing all started here, the place of her childhood home, Hammersmith Farm. Newport is old money and class personified, a highly interesting place to visit.
Then came the beautiful and artistic Provincetown, Massachusetts, which is known for its status as a welcoming LGBT community. The town was wild and wacky, and a total hoot! Art galleries galore, quality theater, vibrant and eclectic shops and oodles of good restaurants are what you will find here. The quality of the light, one of the main reasons artists and writers have settled here is instantly apparent. People watching and whale watching were the highlights for me. Whoever you are, Provincetown is a fun place to visit.
The phenomena of the witch trials in Salem has always fascinated me. Why did this cruel time happen in early American history? Now I know. Salem offers many venues and historic places to visit to understand the dynamics of what took place here. Fear, prejudice and cruelty have no place in American, or for that matter, in any society. The sights of Salem properly bring home this moral tenant. One highpoint of my visit was the interview I did with one of America's leading psychic's, Lori Bruno who was the inspiration for Patricia Cornwell's character, Nana, in two of her novels, At Risk and The Front. A future blog post will chronicle this interesting discourse.
Other than being, uncomfortably cold the entire time I was in Portsmouth, it was worth the visit. American colonial architecture, interior design and historical gardens abound here. The wealthy ship captains of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made Portsmouth a vibrant place. John Paul Jones, America's first Navel Admiral, set the stage for this city to be a naval center which it is still today.
My last stop and most pleasant surprise on the trip was Kennebunkport, Maine. I had no idea it was so wonderful here. Maine to many southerners seems like such a faraway, bland place, a nonevent. Was I wrong! The clean, crisp air, the impeccably maintained vacation homes and yards, the proliferation of unique specialty shops, the variety of scrumptious lobster dishes, the friendly, happy people and the elegant bed and breakfast I stayed in, the Lord Nelson Manor, all made for a perfect ending to a memorable trip.
I realize this blog post is rather long but my desire is to inspire you to see America because America is Awesome! In the coming year, I will be posting more information on the in's and out's of each destination on my blog and on my upcoming website, Astrid Solo Travel Advisor. If you have a question about any of the places I traveled to on this amazing solo driving adventure, don't hesitate to ask or comment below. To receive my insights and affordable luxury ideas for solo travelers, sign up at AstridTravel.com for updates. I promise you will be informed and entertained!