I recently returned from a blissful sojourn in the northern part of the state.
I spent the first part of the week catching up with family and friends. After that, I set out on my own in search of adventures in the Brainerd area.
There’s something special about traveling alone. Given a choice, I prefer to travel with another person, but going solo has its rewards, too.
When we are near our home base, it’s easy to get in a rut. We go to the same places, drive on the same roads, and know a lot about the area.
Venturing out alone and exploring new places inspires a heightened sense of awareness. It’s the same sensation I get when I am hiking in the woods. I am more alert and tend to notice more than I do when I’m at home.
Being in an unfamiliar place forces me to be alert because I am learning new roads and looking for landmarks.
Like many people, I got my first taste of this when I left my hometown to go to school in another state. When we don’t have other people to consult, we learn quickly to rely on our own ability to navigate and make decisions.
When I was young, there was no Google Maps, online route finders, or GPS in cars and on phones. We relied on old-fashioned paper maps, which are a pretty good way to learn. Instead of following a single pre-determined route, maps give us a broader view of the area, which is helpful if roads are closed or we get off course.
Traveling alone, without a partner to assist with navigation, we learn to assess the area before embarking.
It’s no more difficult than traveling with a directionally-challenged navigator. I have driven with people in the past who said turn right when they meant left, or told me to take a certain exit as I was passing it with three lanes of traffic between me and the exit.
Experience has made me more comfortable with making adjustments on the fly. If I take a wrong turn, or find that my GPS has let me down, I simply evaluate the situation and come up with a new plan.
Large cities can be tricky, but in open areas I establish a sort of cross based on major transportation arteries. This helps me navigate by paying attention to whether I am east or west, north or south of my base.
There were a few times during my recent journey when I found myself temporarily off course. Instead of getting stressed by this, I saw it as an opportunity to see more of the countryside. An advantage of traveling alone is that I can be flexible about time and not have to live by someone else’s schedule.
After a couple days in the Brainerd Lakes region, I had a pretty good feel for the area and had no trouble working out routes to the places I wanted to visit, and combining places that were in the same general area to save backtracking.
I’m not a social person by nature, but when I am 300 miles away from my nearest friend or relative, I have no trouble talking to people I meet along the way.
Hotel staff, restaurant workers, bartenders, and store clerks can all be good sources of information.
I have also met some interesting people through chance encounters with fellow travelers.
People on vacation tend to be relaxed and friendly and are often happy to share their experiences in the area, as well as talking about their home states.
I visited breweries in four cities during my trip, and had some pleasant meals along the way.
When traveling, I make it a point to avoid national chains and support locally-owned establishments.
These independent shops and restaurants can be memorable.
Some people like chains because the food is the same wherever one goes. That, to me, is also a drawback.
Independent restaurants may not be all that we hoped, but they may be fabulous. It is a risk worth taking. They can also be wonderful sources of local knowledge.
One question I often ask when checking in to a hotel is “Where do the locals go to eat?”
Not only can one learn about a place by mixing with the natives, but people generally don’t support a local establishment if they aren’t getting value for their hard-earned dollars.
My time on the road went by much too quickly, but I brought home some happy memories and some ideas for my next adventure traveling solo.