Ellen Perlman is a freelance travel writer with a great sense of adventure. She writes about her travels for newspapers such as the Washington Post and also on her own blog Boldly Go Solo.
We caught up with Ellen recently to find out more about her passion for Solo Travel and her adventures, with or without a bike!
You’ve written on your website that your first road trip was at the age of 7 when your parents drove from New York to Las Vegas. Do you think this was genuinely a decisive moment in your life? Or is there something in your genes that needs to be satisfied by traveling?
I’m not sure the first road trip was a decisive moment. In fact, I had a tendency to get carsick and fall asleep during long rides. But I enjoyed the adventure of stopping at new places and I loved staying in hotels. In those days, some of them had beds with “magic fingers” – you put in 25 cents and the bed would vibrate and the three of us kids would get a big kick out of that. Plus, there were candy machines! And if we were lucky, there would be a pool. These are the things you think about when you’re seven.
How did the 2nd trip from New York to California differ from the first? You must have been what? 10 years old then?
I was 12 or 13 during the next trip. The two trips kind of meld in my mind. I do remember my older brother was 18 on the second trip and helping with the driving and clashing with my dad, as teenagers are wont to do. My father didn’t meet us until we were most of the way across country and he flew out. He couldn’t take that much time off work. I remember we camped in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and at a campground in Denver but didn’t camp all the time.
I think the love of travel developed over time. My father loved to travel so maybe I just thought it was the thing you were supposed to do and the more I did it the more I understood the joy and the value of those experiences.
What was your first bike?
My first bike was a Gitane. 10-speed. Light blue.
What bike do you ride at the moment?
I have two road bikes. One’s a LeMond that I bought for a triathlon several years back and that I use for weekend biking. The other, heavier bike I bought used from a tour company called Backroads. It’s a modified Fuji and is the bike I commute to work with. It has a rack so I can bring clothes with me. Coincidentally, it’s also light blue.
You moved to Exeter UK to attend University. This must’ve been a culture shock! Are there any noticeable differences between cycling in the UK compared with the States?
I loved that culture shock. I think my love of travel intensified in that year. Absolutely everything felt different and it was an adventure just walking down streets, reading street signs and hearing people talk. Zebra crossing? The high street? Dual carriageway? Roundabout? All new concepts.
I didn’t have a bike while I was there. But I always thought it would be strange if I had to look for traffic over my right shoulder instead of my left. And how do you handle roundabouts? I returned to England a few years ago and friends and I rented bikes in Somerset. I noticed that what I thought were bike trails were actually roads. The kind of narrow roads you find in rural areas where you have to pull over to let another car pass. That was amusing.
You’ve named your blog Boldly Go Solo, yet you’ve also written that you don’t plan long journeys alone as you get lonely. I take 2 things from this, 1. You don’t have a permanent travel buddy, therefore you set out alone, but 2. You expect to meet people along the way. Am I correct? Is the social element a big part of the enjoyment in traveling for you?
I don’t have a permanent travel buddy mainly because my “other half” can’t get away to do all the travel I want to do, and he wouldn’t want to do half the things I do in any case. He mostly likes to hike and ski, which I also enjoy, but those aren’t the only things I want to do. I also like to do cultural and adventure travel, biking, kayaking, rafting, etc. I have traveled many times with friends and boyfriends and there were good aspects to those trips, but when two people have different ideas of where to eat and stay, how late to stay out and how early to get up and what to see and how much to spend, it can get wearying. It doesn’t seem right to spend a lot of money to travel only to have to compromise most of the time. You get away to relax and restore, but that doesn’t always happen if you don’t get to do the things you’d really like to do.
How did it feel getting your first story published in the Washington Post?
That was a great feeling. I was a couple of years out of college and when I got on the train on the way to work that day, I was looking around at what newspaper everyone was reading and wondering if they were reading my story. I had this sensation of wanting to point to the story and then to me and tell them I wrote it. Also, a friend left a stack of papers at my front door that morning. That put a big smile on my face.
You write a lot about solo travel as a genre. Is it a current trend in the States for people to travel solo?
The solo travel trend seems to have been building more for women than for men. It’s still a small percentage though, I’m guessing. I find it interesting how difficult it is for most people to even think about traveling alone. Some people literally marvel at the fact I’m willing to do it.
On the subject of solo travel, what is it do you think that attracts people to travel alone?
I think that most people who travel alone either don’t have a good travel companion or don’t want to have to compromise. Or, they have an interest that doesn’t appeal to anyone they know – for example, tango dancing in Argentina. How many people can you find to join you on that trip and do you want to travel with them?
And more specifically, what attracts you to it?
I didn’t start out seeking to travel solo. There was a point where I was single after a four-year relationship and I needed a vacation. The former boyfriend enjoyed planning vacations. I didn’t care much for that aspect. So I chose Club Med because with one phone call, the vacation was pretty much taken care of for me by other people. Once there I met a group of really fun people (after a few days of loneliness and wondering why I’d done it). But it ended up being so much fun that after that, I started seeking similar vacations, where someone else did the planning and other people showed up so I had company.
Do you write on the go? or take notes and piece it together when you’re home?
I take loads of notes when traveling. But I don’t write the story. Still, the ideas start swirling in my head all the time about what I’m going to write, or what the theme should be, so it doesn’t feel like a cold start when I actually begin to write.
I read your post on ways for cyclists to find companions: You mention the ‘companions wanted’ page on adventurecycling.org. What other networking tools do you use to cennect with solo travelers?
I don’t try to connect with solo travelers. For that post, I offered it as a way for people visiting the cities mentioned to try to connect if they wanted to. Again, some people are solo travelers because they don’t have travel companions but would really like to be with someone throughout a trip. My definition of solo is pretty broad. It basically means you don’t have someone you can count on as a travel companion. It doesn’t mean you necessarily want to be alone all the time you’re away. I’m open to meeting a lot of new people and that’s what can make travel interesting.
Back in 2007, you wrote about tour operators offering a ‘Tour de France‘ holiday. This is particularly relevant right now, as we’re mid-way into Tour de France 2013. What’s your opinion of competitive cycling? Does it go against the grain of solo traveling?
I have to say I don’t see what one has to do with the other. One person might travel solo to compete in a race. Another might travel to be a spectator at a race. A third might have no interest in races whatsoever.
As I mention, my idea of solo travel is doing what I want, where and when I want, but not shunning other people. It’s mainly because I don’t have a solid travel companion but also because I’ve had such a great time meeting new people by turning up places alone – and that goes for parties and other activities throughout my life. Some people stay home from all sorts of things because they’re afraid to set out solo. That’s the obstacle I’m suggesting people overcome if there are things they really want to do.
Just one example that has nothing to do with travel. A friend gave me two free tickets to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes the other night, just a few days before the performance. I took them, knowing my partner couldn’t make it that night. I started calling friends but I knew that if no one else was free, I’d go anyway. Someone else might have given away those tickets if they couldn’t find someone to go with. I say, why miss the free show?
The posts on your blog date back to 2007. If it’s not too bold of me to say, I guess you could be considered a veteran solo traveler! What changes have you seen, if any, in the nature of travel in recent years?
I’ve been traveling solo for much longer than six years. One of the major changes is all the travel apps available (I just posted today about three of them). And then there are the free or inexpensive lodgings in people’s homes, through couchsurfing, Airbnb, Servas and others.
Many people seem to view solo travel as a long-term endeavor – a year, several months. Some see it as a trek or an adventure broken up by stints of working to earn money to keep going. For me, it’s a method of taking vacations from my job, like most working people. The trips last only one to two weeks, since American businesses are quite stingy with vacation days.
The whole point is to go see the places you want to see and do the things you want to do. If you have someone to travel with and you travel well together, that’s great. If you don’t, I see no reason to stay home.
Solo travelers also open themselves to romantic adventures that don’t occur when traveling in groups or with a companion. Enough said.
Well! What a finish! If you want to hear more about Ellen’s romantic adventures, you’ll have to wait for her book! If you have any questions for Ellen or would like to share your travel stories and experiences, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.