Let me tell you upfront: I’m happily married. But being part of a couple hasn’t stopped me from engaging in leisure activities that I like, but are repugnant to my spouse. As a result, I sometimes vacation alone. And people notice.
After all, most travelers spend time waiting in lines — at airports, on cruise ships, whatever. And what do they do? In the great American tradition, they eyeball each other’s clothes and travel accouterments.
That’s when they notice I’m alone. If I make noises like I’m on a business trip, flipping my cell phone and brandishing my laptop, I usually get this tolerant, oh-that’s-so-boring look. Sometimes I’ll even get pitying glances if people surmise by my dressed-down appearance — sweats, athletic shoes and dark glasses — that I’m hustling to the far corners of the world to handle a family emergency.
But if I’m obviously geared up for vacation — by virtue of a large-brimmed sun hat, sandals and spandex — people will either try to ignore me completely or punish me with smirks and patronizing airs. The presumption is that I am vacationing alone because (a) I’m a lonely bachelorette/divorcee whose therapist told her to “get a life;” (b) my marriage is in the dumpster, but I want a decent tan; or (c) I’m a wild and crazy gal with no respect for traditional values and democratic institutions.
The last time I was judged to be of low moral character (by discerning co-travelers) was when I opted for a long weekend at a dude ranch in Tucson, Arizona. I set out in good spirits for Tanque Verde. For one thing, I didn’t have to deal with fliers, who, when they’re not fretting about terrorist attacks or mid-air collisions, are quizzing everyone about the in-flight movie.
No, on this occasion, I would be pressing the pedal. Yup, it was just me and my Volvo zooming down the highway. No presumptuous looks from guys old enough to be my grandfather, and no curious eyeballing from the self-righteous and smug. Just me, my map and an overnight bagful of bodice rippers and action-thrillers. At 80 mph (128 km/h), few drivers (or passengers for that matter) can compute family or marital status. They’re too busy fooling with the dials on their entertainment centers and wondering if they have enough gas to make it from here to there.
So it wasn’t until I pulled into the ranch that I started getting the knowing stares. The front desk clerk was subtle about it, but I could see her wondering if I was on the lam, running away from an abusive husband and rotten children or meeting my lover for an illicit rendezvous while hubby was peddling aluminum siding in Milwaukee.
It didn’t help my reputation any when I asked the desk clerk innocently, “Did I get any calls?” She just handed me the room key and pointed.
It wasn’t until I walked into the dining room that evening that I felt the full weight of discrimination and speculation. “Just one?” said the hostess with a look of disbelief. “Let me see what I can do,” she said anxiously. With that, she flounced off to confer with her colleagues. Five minutes later, I was seated and introducing myself to the other guests at the table. I could see it in their eyes, so I figured I’d clear the air right away. “Yes, I’m here without my spouse, and no, I’m not a desperate housewife, black widow wannabe or groupie.”
With that, I plunged into the fruit cup and initiated a brief period of exchanged whisperings and surreptitious glances, after which I was bombarded with the usual: What’s wrong with your spouse? Does he walk on all fours? Does he really trust you? Or is he pretending to be okay with this and hiring a private investigator to follow you?
The word spread fast. By the next day, I could linger around the horse corrals and feel totally confident that any one of the wranglers would pair me with the wackiest horse. To guests and employees alike, I was a maverick, a mustang — a new-millennium misfit who bumbled through life without regard for other people’s comfort levels.
Tanque Verde turned out to be like most of my solo adventures: lots of fun and games and a side order of confused faces. None of this, mind you, bothers me. I’m used to being treated like an outsider. In fact, I prefer it. It has its advantages. I don’t have to listen to boring table talk about 10-month pregnancies and male menopause or engage in meaningless “girl” chatter about the idiosyncrasies of my significant other. And parents never sic their kids on me. (“Don’t bug her, Mitchell. She’s got a lot on her mind!”)
And since the benefits exceed the costs, I intend to vacation solo again. Only next time I plan to challenge my fellow travelers a little more. I’m going in drag!
If You Go
Tanque Verde Guest Ranch