My First Solo Vacation

Although I have traveled for work-related trips before without any family or friends several times, I had never truly traveled by myself for a vacation until I went to Des Moines, Iowa for a half marathon recently. I have heard several bloggers and podcasters say how much they enjoy solo travel and how everyone should try it at least once in their lives. After doing it myself this time, I have to say I truly did enjoy it.

Overall, there are many pros to traveling by yourself, which I’ll list some of here. Of course, everyone is different and I’m sure my perspective at this point in my life is unique to me. Still, some of what I’m about to say may inspire some of you to take your first solo trip or at least plant the seed. So here are some of the pros to traveling by yourself:

You can do whatever you want, when you want. As a mother, this one was pretty big for me. My daughter is now sixteen and for the past sixteen years, I’ve always had to consider my daughter’s wants and needs when on vacation. Yes, the easy way out would have been to have just left her at home with a close friend but I always felt like kids benefit from traveling the world so there was never a vacation that she didn’t go on with me.

When she was really young, I had to make sure she got her naps in and went to bed on time and when she was older I made sure I included her in the decision-making on what we did. This was the first time in sixteen years that I only thought about what I want to do and it was huge. I found myself skipping things I would have normally done (like going out for dessert just about every afternoon) and instead choosing things I know she wouldn’t have liked. Besides my daughter, there was also no husband’s wants to consider, which of course was also huge for me to not have to consider for once.

You can go to sleep whenever you want and wake up whenever you want. I realize this kind of goes under the first pro but it seems like to me it should get its own paragraph. Again, as a parent, this one is pretty big. Not having to consider anyone else in the room and being able to stay up as late as you want (and make as much noise as you want) and then wake up without anyone else waking you up is a big deal.

You really get to know yourself a bit better. When you’re by yourself 24/7 and are only in the company of strangers when you go out in public, you pretty quickly get into your own head. If you’re not already comfortable in your own skin, this could be pretty scary. Fortunately for me, during the pandemic, I read more self-help books than I had in my entire life because I went through a rough patch in my life. Because of that, I now see aspects of myself I couldn’t see before and know myself better than I ever have (I guess that’s one good thing to have come of the pandemic for me personally anyway).

You also get to know the place you’re staying better. Now this one surprised me. I’m not sure why but for the first time ever I felt like I learned my way around the area (Des Moines) almost immediately upon arrival. It could be the incredibly easy grid layout they had for the streets there, but I don’t think so. I’ve been to other Midwest cities and other cities that are laid out in a similar grid-style and I never felt like I figured my way around as quickly as I did in Des Moines. I think it was purely the fact that I had no one else to help me so I knew instinctively that I had better figure my way around quickly. Yes, of course I had Google Maps but I found myself turning it off after a couple of turns because I already knew where I was going.

Strangers will talk to you more when you’re by yourself. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who the stranger is. When I was in the Denver airport for a layover on my way to Des Moines, a woman sat next to me and started chatting away incessantly, something that would not have happened if I had been with someone else. She was obviously lonely and just wanted someone to talk to, but when she wouldn’t stop talking after what felt like a solid 30 minutes, I told her I needed to go to the restroom and slipped away. I’ve also noticed other strangers were more chatty with me at restaurants and other public places when I was by myself. Usually, this was a good thing.

Of course, the single biggest con that I can see with solo travel is you don’t have someone close to you to share special moments with. That stunning sunset, the unique sculpture, or the amazing dinner you had by yourself will just have to be enjoyed by you and you alone. The best you can do is snap a photo and send it to someone or make a video call but it will never be the same as if they were with you in-person. When I finished my half marathon in Des Moines, I made a video call to my daughter but of course that only lasted a few minutes and once I hung up I was still by myself.

Still, I agree that everyone should go on at least one solo vacation in their lives. I believe it’s good for the soul and who couldn’t use more of that?

Do you take solo vacations or do you always travel with friends or family? Are you curious about taking a vacation by yourself but never have? Tell me about your experience with solo travel.

Happy travels!


The Albuquerque Half Marathon, Albuquerque, New Mexico-50th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New Mexico was my 50th state.

So many things went wrong with this race going all the way back to the beginning. The Albuquerque Half Marathon is normally in April every year and I was supposed to run it in 2020 but because of covid it was pushed back to November 2020 then ultimately to November 2021. When I showed up at packet pickup the day before the race they couldn’t find my name on the list of registered runners. I started to panic. That was my worst nightmare, well that and oversleeping the morning of a race.

The volunteer asked if I had some kind of email confirmation or any kind of proof I had registered. I tried to bring up my email on my phone but my cell coverage had been spotty since I had arrived. I asked someone working at the Fleet Feet what the wifi password was. No one knew. Now I was really panicking and I blurted out a jumble of “but they can’t find my registration and I’m sure I registered and the race is tomorrow morning and I can’t get a signal on my phone!” I wasn’t in tears but I was close.

Someone from the store got the wifi password off the router and I was able to find an email where I had told the race director I had registered for the April 2020 race and just wanted to confirm my registration would rollover to November 2021 and he said yes. I couldn’t check my bank account for payment because my online banking was temporarily down and my credit card statements didn’t go back that far without pulling them from archives and that took at least 24 hours.

I showed the email to the volunteer and she said that would do as proof (even though I see what little proof it really was) and she gave me a race bib and handed me a nice cotton/poly blend long-sleeve race shirt. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I left the store. I laid out my flat runner in my hotel room and got ready for another restless night full of tossing and turning.

Race morning was a brisk 40 degrees but it was sunny and I knew it would warm up quickly. After chatting with another 50-stater (this was his 26th state), I used the port-o-john, left my coat in the gear check pile, and made my way to the race start. The race start, like everything else about this race, was low-key. The race director said to pay attention to the signs to turn on the course and stay behind the cones on the road because only one lane was closed to traffic. Promptly at 8:30 he blew a horn and we were off!

Although I had tried to start my Garmin in plenty of time for it to pick up a signal, it looked like it had but then must have dropped off because I ran the entire race with no GPS and no idea of my speed. The best I could do was go by the mile markers on the course and use the time on my watch to guesstimate my split times.

Since this race was at 5300 feet, I had no grand ideas of setting a PR. On top of that I had developed severe foot pain on the side and arch of my left foot three days before the race when I made the bright decision to wear new shoes to work. Even though I only wore those shoes one day my foot had continued to get worse each day to the point where it throbbed even when I was sitting. Desperate, I found a pharmacy and bought some pain cream some people in my running group had previously raved about. I began using that four times a day and massaged my foot starting Thursday evening (the race was Saturday so I knew it was a long shot).

Miraculously my foot did get better and didn’t bother me in the slightest during or after the race. However, I had another pain to deal with. Towards the end of the half marathon in Iowa in October my piriformis had flared up and well, it was back with a vengeance during this race starting around mile 6. I had shooting pains running through my hamstring, glute, and lower back.

Although I took this the day before the race this is ironically where we missed the turn on the course

Before my literal pain in the ass started, somewhere relatively early along the course, maybe around mile 3 or 4, I noticed a small sign with an arrow to turn but I ran past it thinking it was for the 5k runners. There was a 5k, 10k, half marathon relay, and half marathon but the half marathoners started somewhere different than the other runners. Since there had just been a sign for 5k runners right before I saw the small sign to turn, I assumed this second sign was also for 5k runners. I was wrong. It was for everyone.

Another reason I hadn’t turned is because the faster runners in front of me including a pacer also hadn’t turned. All of a sudden I saw the lead pack running back towards me with the pacer yelling, “That was our turn! Everyone go back to the turn!” There was most definitely some cursing going on at that point. Because of my watch and no GPS I have no idea how far we ran in the wrong direction before running back.

My morale took a hit and I even told myself I didn’t even care what my finish time was. “Maybe I should just walk,” I thought to myself. But then my ego stepped in and said quite loudly, “This is a RACE, not a walk! You can do this! It’s your last state after all!” So I sucked it up and just kept running.

Cottonwood trees with their gorgeous leaves were on parts of the course

The course was kind of a mixed bag, with parts full of views of the gorgeous Cottonwood trees with their bright yellow autumn leaves and the river or some nice houses in well-groomed neighborhoods but then at other times we were running past run-down parts of town. The last mile was a bizarre winding milieu past some strange business and a city park with about a million twists and turns.

Finally the finish line was within sight and I had a tiny bit of kick left to finish strong. I had pictured that moment many times, with my arms outstretched over head and a huge smile plastered on my face. I’m not sure if I was smiling but my guess is I wasn’t and for sure my arms were firmly by my sides. I was gasping for breath as I was handed my medal, on par with everything else about this race, small but nice.

I grabbed some water and checked out the results on the leader board. I was third in my age group and finished in 1:56. Given the elevation and missed turn, I was happy with that.

I saw they were giving small plain medals to the top three finishers in each age group for all of the races. I grabbed some snacks (there were only pre-packaged snack foods like pretzels and granola bars) and walked to the field for the awards ceremony. I quickly saw just how long it was going to take to work through female then male runners from age 5 to 80 in five year increments in the 5k, 10k, half marathon relay, then half marathon.

After debating what I should do, I seized the opportunity when the announcer said they were taking a 10 minute break after the 10k awards and asked if it would be ok to skip protocol and just get my medal early? I felt kind of bad asking that but I had to catch a shuttle bus back to the start, drive to my hotel, shower, and check out by noon and it was 11:40. She said that was fine, handed me my medal alomg with her congratulations, and off I went! Somehow I managed to do all of that and I was in Santa Fe around 1 pm, ready to celebrate my accomplishment in the beautiful city.

Would I recommend this race? I’m not sure since it’s usually in April and I have no idea how the weather would be then compared to November. I do know the autumn leaves were gorgeous and added to the scenery along the course. It is also very low-key so there were no bands along the course, the medals were small and simple, there was no expo, and post-race food was simple and minimal but that could be because of covid. All of that being said, I do like small races like this was and everyone was nice and friendly.

Have you run in New Mexico? If so, where and what was your race like? If not, any plans to run there someday? Have you ever missed a turn in a race?

Happy running!


WOW- Iowa! Des Moines, Iowa- It’s Not What You Might Think

I believe many people have a preconceived notion of what a place will be like before they ever step foot there. Many people think of three things when they think of Iowa: football, farmland, and corn. What I discovered when I visited Iowa for my first time was these things are definitely huge here but what’s missing is pride and family. Iowans are fiercely proud of their state and for them family comes before anything else.

For my first trip to Iowa, I chose to go to Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. The population is relatively small at only around 215,000 people or just over 700,000 if you include the suburbs. Des Moines is the most populated city in the state too so this is most definitely considered the “big city” in these parts.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of things to do in Des Moines, especially in the downtown area. Just don’t expect a big city vibe when you come here or anything even close to that. I highly recommend staying in the downtown area. Most things are within a mile of downtown and it’s a very walkable city plus there are multiple places where you can rent a bicycle. I chose not to rent a car when I was here and it turned out to be a wise decision, saving me on parking fees not only at the hotel but also the metered spaces all over the downtown area. There’s also a free bus called Des Moines Regional Transit Authority (DART) that runs every 10 minutes between the East Village and Western Gateway Park Monday through Friday.

Photo to back up my attempt of a witty title

What’s There to do in Des Moines?

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit botanical gardens. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden was the first place I visited here. For $10 admission, I saw the Conservatory, Bonsai Gallery, Wells Fargo Rose Garden, Dorothy and Max Rutledge Conifer Garden, Koehn Garden with reflecting pool, Ruan Allee walkway, Water Garden, Lauridsen Savannah, and my favorite part of the garden, the Hillside Garden and Waterfall. Inside the conservatory there was a Desert Garden, Rainforest, and Horticultural Exhibits area. There is also the Trellis Cafe but I didn’t eat there. Multiple seating areas are all around the outdoor spaces in addition to inside the conservatory. I walked through every garden and it took me about an hour. It is one of the smaller botanical gardens I’ve been to but worth coming here if you enjoy gardens.

Close to the botanical garden is the small but free Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens. It’s a peaceful spot beside the Des Moines River. You can easily see the entire area in 10 minutes or less if you’re just passing through.

Also nearby both gardens is the Lauridsen Skatepark, the largest skatepark in the United States. The park has five skating areas and runs adjacent to Principal Riverwalk Park. A unique part of the park is a bright red “WOW” sculpture (seen in the first photo above) 80 feet long and 12 feet high that was designed to be skated on but has become an Instagram hotspot for people just walking through.

If you have children or are a child at heart, there’s the Blank Park Zoo with the typical zoo animals like lions, tigers, giraffes, rhinos, and penguins. There are also behind the scenes tours, which are quite pricey for non-members but half the price for members. The zoo is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm and admission is $14 for adults and $8 for children. The Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater is also a fun place for families. SCI has numerous hands-on exhibits designed to spur interest in science and learning along with live science demonstrations, a planetarium, and IMAX theater. SCI is open Thursday-Sunday and admission is $11 for adults and children.

Salisbury House and Gardens is a 42-room mansion built in the 1920’s modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England in the style of Gothic, Tudor, and Carolean Architecture. The house is filled with original art, tapestries, and antique furniture from around the world. One of my favorite things was learning all of the background information about the Weeks family that lived there. Carl Weeks made his fortune by combining cold cream with face powder and began his own makeup company, The Armand Company. Salisbury House is open for tours Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 pm. Self-guided tours do not require reservations and are $10; guided tours at 1 and 3 pm are $15 and reservations are recommended.

Salisbury House and Gardens

If you enjoy history, the Iowa Hall of Pride is a fun way to learn about Iowa. There are displays about some sports legends from Iowa like gymnast Shawn Johnson, track and field Olympian Lolo Jones, professional football player Kurt Warner, plus many others. There are also displays and information about musicians, farming, wind farms, bike trails, just to name a few. Most of the displays are touch-screen with multiple videos to watch. There’s also a game area where you can play arcade-type games for a fee. It is open Monday through Friday and costs $10 for admission.

The Farmer’s Market is a fun place to stroll around if you’re in Des Moines on a Saturday from May 1 through October 30 in the mornings until noon. Several blocks downtown are closed off to cars so you can leisurely browse from over 150 vendors. I saw everything from meats, cheeses, breads and other bakery products, tea, artwork, handmade jewelry, fresh flowers, and a wide variety of produce. There were also some bands and musicians scattered throughout the area.

For art lovers, the Des Moines Art Center is a wonderful place to explore for about an hour or so, plus admission is free. There’s mostly modern and contemporary art, which I’m usually not a huge fan of but I enjoyed many of these pieces of modern art and could appreciate them. One of my favorites was a temporary display by Justin Favela and is running through January 2022. Using only tissue paper and cardboard, he designed enormous food-related pieces of art that I found intriguing. There were also some paintings by famous artists like Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvadore Dali, and Renoir.

One of the Justin Favela displays at the Des Moines Art Center

An outdoor art exhibit that’s also free, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park includes artwork by more than 25 artists on 1330 Grand Avenue in downtown Des Moines. There are walkways around most of the sculptures and grassy areas in others. The park is open from sunrise to midnight daily.

Where to Eat

There is no shortage of bars in downtown Des Moines, some of which also serve pub-style food. There isn’t a huge selection of restaurants in the small downtown area, but there are still quite a few including The Spaghetti Works (affordable especially for what you get), Court Avenue Brewing Company, Buzzard Billy’s (cajun), Exile Brewing Company, Hessen Haus (German food), Pho Real Kitchen and Bar (really good Vietnamese food), Royal Mile (British Pub-style food), and one of my favorites, Fong’s Pizza which has Asian-inspired toppings like Crab Rangoon or ramen noodles if you’re adventurous plus more traditional toppings. There are of course more restaurants in the area if you have a car or aren’t staying in the heart of downtown. All of the above restaurants are within a mile of one another if you are staying downtown and are easily walkable, however.

Where to Stay

I stayed at the Hampton Inn Downtown and found the location to be perfect for me. Since I could walk to most places I wanted to go to with the exception of a couple of places I didn’t even need to rent a car. However, the hotel walls are thin and the doors so heavy they slam loudly when closed so be advised and bring earplugs. There’s also a Residence Inn right beside the Hampton Inn; both are on Water Street. For a non-chain hotel in the downtown area, there’s the Des Lux Hotel and the Surety Hotel. If you want to stay closer to the Wells Fargo Arena and Iowa Events Center, there’s a Comfort Inn and Fairfield Inn and Suites nearby.

Final Thoughts

You may be wondering how many days would be the right amount for Des Moines. I stayed five nights and thought that was a day too many; four nights would have been plenty or even three nights. A long weekend would actually be just about right and give you plenty of time to explore the major sights. Since I was running the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon on a Sunday morning, I decided to stretch out my time a bit more in case I needed to take it a bit easy after the race, plus I wanted to give myself a buffer in case of flight delays before the race since there aren’t many flights from where I live to Des Moines.

I realize Des Moines, Iowa isn’t on most people’s list of places they want to visit, but honestly, it’s a nice city with friendly people and some unique offerings. If you ever find yourself in the area, try to forego any preconceived notions you may have and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Have you been to Des Moines? If so, what did you do? I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the area!

Happy travels!


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