The surprise of getting solo time on a group trip

Fancy some solo time on vacation? Take a small-group trip with Intrepid Travel. Last month I went on a road trip with some strangers that took us from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco. I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up. Being around new people morning, noon and night could prove difficult for me, an ambivert full of energy, who needs time to recharge. However, I always want to push myself to try new things, and a road trip focused on Pacific Northwest and NorCal culture and cuisine seemed like a great plan.

I arrived in Portland the day before the trip at the Rose Hotel, a Staypineapple hotel. As soon as I walked in, I knew I was in for a treat. The lobby hosted their “Afternoon Delight”. Sugar cookies shaped like pineapples and covered in sugar crystals served with coffee and tea greeted me at check-in. They even sent me upstairs with some extras for later.

An adorable pet-friendly boutique hotel, a stuffed dog with a pineapple golfer hat sat on my bed, welcoming me to my room. I had time to settle in because the group only met in the morning. The cleanliness of the hotel and my room overall was most appealing, making the double duvet and comfy bathrobes the main act of the evening.

In the morning, I met everyone I was going to be traveling with over the next six days and the itinerary. Intrepid Travel is more of a boutique group travel agency, with most of their trips averaging around 10 people. They never cancel because of a low booking rate. They just go with it and take whoever delivers. I heard of a tour that ended with the guide and a guest. It rarely happens, but the fact that they made the trip for this one person is phenomenal in my book.

Bielawski Cliff

With over 1,000 accessible adventures to choose from, the other members of the group came from several other countries. A few of us came from the US, but there were people from the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. As I just learned they all had pretty neat stories and it was fun to talk to them, especially with the different accents and slangs I learned from their parts of the world.

We all introduced ourselves over famous voodoo donuts before heading out for our first activity. The group would cycle around Portland, visiting food trucks along the way. The cycling guides from Around Portland Tours made us lose calories while we cycled through the city. The setup was perfect. We cycled a bit, stopped and had something to eat. Then we would cycle to another stop and eat again. We had coffee at one stop. Breakfast at the other. Zero-proof craft beers and soft drinks from another. Next, tacos. Our final stop was at a batch ice cream parlor. We sat outside and ate our ice cream then played with the pup who came around. Back at the store, we put our bikes back on and talked about our next steps.

We went back to the hotel together. Then we could do our own thing for the rest of the evening, if we wanted to. Alternatively, we could meet the group for dinner a few hours later.

I chose to meet the group and it may have been the best meal of the trip. The group went to Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine, where we were spoiled beyond belief. We ordered all sorts of perfectly plated noodles and curries, as well as Instagram-worthy drinks like cotton candy, Cloud 9 and their decadent group dessert platter. The staff came out singing with the dessert! It was a great event and really kind of them!

Spoiler alert, I never missed a dinner with the group during the entire trip. It should be noted that at the end of the first day, I was excited to travel with everyone. Although I still wasn’t sure how much “me time” I would get.

The next day was departure day and the group was heading to Bend, Oregon. But not before stopping for lunch with the Salmon Queen, Brigette McConville. She is part of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and a pillar of the community. We arrived to a river to table lunch of smoked salmon and berry cake picked by the salmon queen. We learned about his family’s history as longtime tribal leaders as well as his grandmother’s advice on starting a business.

“Do one thing and do it well,” McConville explained, “So I started with the fish. Wind-dried salmon. Cut it thin, salt it, and let it dry in the sun. His soft voice and soothing left the group silent, their gaze fixed on her. After our dessert, we visited her store. McConville beads jewelry and makes traditional accessories for her tribe. I now wear a pair of her earrings almost daily.

Bielawski Cliff

We said goodbye and headed to one of Oregon’s “seven wonders”, Smith Rock State Park. We wandered around the edge of the deep gorge for a bit and admired the sight of rock climbers scaling the giant cliffs. There was also a plethora of trails to hike there, and many people came for the longer hikes in the area.

In Bend, we arrived at the Campfire Hotel & Pool Club. That was SO cute, y’all! The design of the whole hotel had a camping feel to it. Its fairy lights and huge campfire were welcoming. But, the heated salt water pool was what got me into it. A bit of rustic luxury was fine with me. The little bar, inspired by the popular craft beer scene in Bend, was cherished. There was the iconic garage door and everything. Apparently Bend’s water is unique and perfect for brewing beer. Dinner with the band that night was at a local brasserie, of course!

Bielawski Cliff

The next morning we were off to kayak the upper Deschutes River. By the time we finished, I felt like I could kayak on my own. It was as simple as that. Not to mention that the methodical rowing was also very relaxing. After kayaking, we talked about what the group wanted to do next. This happened throughout our trip. Intrepid Travel group trips have key elements of the vacation itinerary that are sure to happen. But, they also have little surprises along the way that are optional.

Our group decided we wanted to go check out the latest Blockbuster video. It was an excellent choice. The store is still open and people are still renting and returning DVDs and even VHS tapes. Surprisingly, it was also a museum with different kinds of memorabilia from Blockbuster and movies in general. The best part was watching multiple people come in and turn in their videos. The locals are the real Blockbuster fans.

The next day the group took a nap as we drove to Ashland, Oregon. This town is super cute. Every year, Ashland hosts a Shakespeare Festival that lasts all summer. Most of the city participates in one way or another. The city has a reputation for having some of the best art galleries, restaurants, and theaters of any small town in the United States. In one part of town, all the restaurants were named after Shakespeare’s characters, as were the names of the drinks. The wait staff were obviously dressed in Elizabethan style clothing. Picturesque and fun, this town deserves an extended visit in the future.

Maggie Jay

After a short night in Santa Rosa, California, and an unexpected theft of 12 different craft beers, the group traveled to San Francisco. Along the way, we stopped at one of the best scenic views on the west coast. The breathtaking panoramic view of Goat Rock got better as we got closer. The wind was blowing that day so the waves were huge. They crashed repeatedly against the rock, creating huge clouds of spray. Everyone went their own way to the beach, naturally finding some alone time to resonate with the final days of the group trip. We hit the road again, ready for lunch in Larkspur.

Shipla Ganatra

Sitting outside at Hog Island Oyster Co., the group was there to get oysters because we were going to learn how to shuck them. After a delicious lunch and a stroll through the shops, we took our oysters out into the water overlooking San Francisco and then cracked them open. All fed and educated on oyster shucking, it was time for the long-awaited visit to the redwoods of Muir Woods. The coast redwood forest rose high into the sky. The trails were easy to hike and hiked along a small stream. So we walked a long way to see some of the special groves. Foliage covered the ground and it looked like Tinkerbell could be spotted at any time. It was close to magic.

We gathered for our last activity together. Stop at the Golden Gate Bridge lookout. Another breathtaking view that day, we all gathered for our last photo together. A bittersweet moment, it was time to head to the Stanford Court Hotel.

We all said goodbye in the hall and went our separate ways. I went up to my room and my jaw dropped immediately. The large picture windows showed a virtually endless view of the city and the bay below. I walked around town, but spent a lot of time in the room admiring the view. A quiet and luxurious boutique hotel, the Stanford Court Hotel was definitely the right place to end this small group trip and give me a chance to quietly absorb the total experience.

Maggie Jay

Really, it was the clever conversation, the gut laughs, the amazing travel stories, and the exposure to different cultures within the band for me. It was the beautiful sightseeing, the delicious food, and the perfect hotels for that much-needed “me time” that made this trip so special. And in fact, the amount of solo time was great. The relaxation of driving with a knowledgeable tour guide and safe driver from place to place was such an unseen bonus.

Overall, the group trip gave me enough time to recharge my batteries. Choosing how much time to spend with the group, while having the bed to myself each night was a great way to travel. Traveling alone with a group of strangers might be my new favorite way to travel.

Related: 6 Tips to Help a Solo Traveler Navigate a Group Trip Successfully

Maria R. Newman