A couple of weeks ago, I embarked on my greatest adventure to-date! Inspired by my amazing friend Tricia’s solo trip to Belize (P.S. she just killed it in the NYC marathon!), I decided to take a selfie trip to FL to finally meet a manatee!
Crystal River, FL
I’ve traveled by myself for business before, but this was my first solo vacation. And so “solo vacation” gets both added to and an simultaneously crossed-off the bucket list!
My adventure started with an evening flight into Tampa. My only creeper encounter happened at the car rental desk when the night clerk complimented by bag, asked where I was staying, and whether I was visiting my grandmother or aunt. I felt like little Red Riding Hood telling the Big Bad Car Rental Wolf to get lost.
My alarm was set for 3:30AM so I could get dressed, check-out and be on the road by 4:30 headed to my manatee adventure. I was the only car on the pre-dawn road so I rolled down the windows, blasted some tunes, and squealed every time I saw a mile marker counting down the distance to Crystal River.
Three Germans joined me on my manatee adventure, and the Bird’s Underwater (http://www.birdsunderwater.com/) tour Captain swiftly nicknamed everyone in their group, “Germany” and me, “New York”. We were shown a manatee safety video which instructed us how to avoid frightening or interfering with their natural behaviors. Essentially, you have to wait for the manatees to approach you, and you can only pet them with one hand otherwise it’ll appear that you’re grabbing them. So basically, it’s just like attracting dudes at bars.
Is this real life?
Once the sun rose and provided enough visibility, we grabbed a noodle and jumped into the water. Captain John almost immediately spotted an baby manatee who was curious and interested in playing, so we all swam over and our manatee adventure began.
I’ve included a video of my manatee encounter at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeD7ojkXZzI
This was the greatest experience ever. I loved it. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone who isn’t afraid of sea-life. October is still off-peak so we only encountered about 6 manatees during our 5 hour adventure, but during the winter months the river and springs are full of 100+ manatees! I’ll be recruiting adventure buddies to join me for my next trip.
My solo vacation continued after a short drive down to Clearwater Beach. I checked into my beachside hotel and spent the afternoon lounging by the pool, crushing Orange Crushes, and reading trashy magazines. Heaven!
Vessel of Pain
Saturday I went solo kayaking in Honeymoon Island State Park. It was another first for me. I paddled out to Caladesi Island, which was only a 15 minute trip, but halfway there I was sure my arms were going to fall off and I would never make it. Fortunately, after some self-directed pep talks, I finally made it ashore. I parked my kayak, collected some shells, took a few more selfies (what else are you gonna do on a solo-cation?), and sent some S.O.S texts to friends to let them know I would be living on this island for the remainder of my life.
Eventually I found the strength for the return trip. Upon docking on dry land I felt so exhilarated by my physical accomplishment, I decided to hit the bars!
Later whilst sitting at the bar at Frenchy’s Rockaway Café for dinner, I noticed and inquired why the bartenders were all wearing face paint and zombie make-up. It turned out there was a zombie pub crawl starting at a neighboring bar, and they were doing zombie make-up for the crawlers. Fate!!
I headed over to the neighboring bar, ordered a drink, and got zombied-up. And that’s where my plan ended… ggrrrrrrreat.
By then my awkwardness was masked by beers and zombie blood, and thankfully a cute non-zombie asked me to play corn hole, then darts, and I ended up joining their group for the rest of zombie crawl.
Meeting locals… bar crawling with strangers/temp friends… swimming with manatees… By the end of the night and the end of the weekend, I felt like a champion solo-cationer!
This trip was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had this year. While I always love to have my friends, family, and travel buddies by my side, it feels incredibly brave and adventurous to stake out and explore on your own. But next time you’re all invited! I promise.