By Lisa Rubenson
Picture yourself in a place you’ve always wanted to visit — a place that is special to you — and give yourself permission to go. If you have the desire, the means, and can carve out the time, why wait? Traveling with others can be great when the stars and schedules align. But it’s easier than you think to go it alone.
A vacation you take by yourself to a destination of your own choosing. I didn’t coin the term, but I love it. “Solo” sounds more adventurous than “alone,” and the softness of “-cation” feels restful already, like a throw blanket over a lounge chair of letters.
You might think, “that sounds selfish.” But the first rule of solocationing is guilt-free buy-in. When I travel with others, even those I adore, I need alone time. I slip off for walks or offer to go “get supplies” at least once a day. Granted, not everyone is an introvert like me. When we make it a priority to sit in the stillness and savor the world around us, we fill up our oxygen tanks in a way that isn’t always possible when we’re with others.
On a solocation, you call the shots. No judgments, no negotiating. If gelato “happens” for breakfast, it happens. Spend days steeped in the arts and culture, exploring the outdoors or seeing the sights. This is your time — whether you’re enjoying conversations with the locals or curling up in solitude with a stack of books — spend it as you like.
My recent solocation was all of the above. For years I had wanted to go to Santa Fe, but life things and caretaking responsibilities had made it impossible. After experiencing the devastating loss of both my dad and stepdad within six weeks of each other, I decided it was now or never. Life is unpredictable, and we need to carpe all the diems we can.
I was excited about my trip, had found a great deal on a flight and a perfect place to rent in the historic district. What I hadn’t anticipated was the release of emotions I’d feel walking into the Charlotte airport, alone with my thoughts. The sight of distinguished-looking older men with canes or wheelchairs being helped through security set off a wave of grief-storms that had me crying into my scarf all the way to Albuquerque.
Once I stood on New Mexico soil, I felt a shift. The air was cool and dry, and the sky was travel poster blue. The fog of sadness I couldn’t shake at home lifted as I started the drive to Santa Fe. I opened the windows, blasted music I usually pretend not to like in front of my kids, sang and played the air drums all the way to my VRBO.
My casita, aptly named “Casa de Angeles,” was tucked behind a wooden fence with a light blue door and bright flowers everywhere. A print over the desk said, “I have arrived, I am home” and, for the next five days, I was.
It’s hard to stay inside in Santa Fe. You either want to rent a bike and ride through the foothills or explore the centuries-old city on foot. I couldn’t get enough of the art on Canyon Road—the gallerists were happy to talk about their artists’ work, even after they realized I was more of an appreciator than a collector.
The Teahouse Santa Fe was a nice repeat spot for coffee and people watching. A waiter there saw me writing and announced, “we’re all poets,” before reciting one of his own. When you’re solocationing, people seem more apt to reach out.
I spent one day in an area north of Santa Fe called El Santuario de Chimayo, not far from the stunning Santa Fe Opera house and the pueblos of Tesuque and Nambé. The Chimayo campus has drawn spiritual pilgrims for more than 200 years. I wrote a prayer for everyone I loved, and even people I didn’t, and tucked it into a crevice on one of seven stone arches. I felt at home in the collective weight of people’s grief but felt a shared peace there too.
One night, after dinner with local friends in the courtyard of the Santacafé, a storm rolled in. The skies were their usual pre-sunset pink below the horizon; above it, ominous gray. It hadn’t started raining yet, so I drove up the hill toward the Cross of the Martyrs. This 25-foot white cross looms over the city and honors 21 Franciscan priests who were killed there in 1680.
I only knew that I was suppose to be there, in that city, on that night to experience the arc of the storm. I felt grateful for the solitude, yet far from alone.
I was the only one there. The sun was sinking fast, and the only sound was approaching thunder. I walked down the ramp and stood facing the city, letting the rain soak me through, thinking about the people, the history and the spiritual richness I had discovered in the city before me. How many others had stood here thinking similar thoughts?
I ran back to the car and sat there for a long while, unsure of what to make of the moment or anything that existed beyond it. I only knew that I was supposed to be there, in that city, on that night, to experience the arc of that storm. I felt grateful for the solitude, yet far from alone.
WHERE TO GO (SOLO):
Your browser is brimming with ways to make the most of your Santa Fe solocation, but these are my picks—either because I went there myself or they were recommended by locals.
WHERE TO STAY:
High-end: Inn of the Five Graces, La Fonda, Hotel Santa Fe
Maximum solitude: Look online for a privately owned casita to rent.
WHERE TO DRINK AND DINE:
(great food, wine, patio) 315santafe.com
(locals go for coffee, newsstand)
376 Garcia Street
(specialty foods and groceries; locally owned with great wines)
(must-try breads and croissants)
Santa Fe Farmer’s Market
(fine dining in historic home, sit in the courtyard)
Teahouse Santa Fe
(specialty teas, coffee, light fare)
WHERE TO SHOP:
I chose art over shopping this trip. You can find all the hot spots on santafe.org, but here’s one place you won’t want to miss: Andrea Fisher Pottery (Southwest Native American pottery; knowledgeable, friendly staff ) – andreafisherpottery.com
WHERE TO ART-GAZE:
This is like asking where the live music is in New Orleans. Art is everywhere. Here are the main arts districts and top museums.
Georgia O’Keeff e Museum – okeeffemuseum.org
Center for Contemporary Arts – ccasantafe.org
Galleries of Canyon Road – visitcanyonroad.com
Don’t miss: Globe Fine Art, Canyon Road Contemporary, GF Contemporary, and Nüart Gallery Institute of American Indian Arts – iaia.edu
Museum Hill – museumhill.net Museum of Indian Arts and Culture – indianartsandculture.org
New Mexico Museum of Art – nmartmuseum.org
Railyard Arts District – santaferailyardartsdistrict.com
WHERE TO CENTER YOURSELF:
Cross of the Martyrs (historic holy site overlooking city, A+ sunsets) – santafenm.gov
El Santuario de Chimayo (short drive north, historic holy site, chapel, grounds) – elsantuariodechimayo.us
Ten Thousand Waves (spa, lodge, dining) – tenthousandwaves.com
Jean Cocteau Cinema – jeancocteaucinema.com
Meow Wolf – meowwolf.com
Santa Fe Opera – santafeopera.org
Site Santa Fe – sitesantafe.org
The Lensic Performing Arts Center – lensic.org
santafe.org – official travel site
santafean.com – magazine for arts, culture, lifestyle
santafenewmexican.com/ pasatiempo/ – arts & culture weekly
santafenm.gov – city of Santa Fe site for schedules, maps, trails, etc.