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Travel Lessons Learned

I’ve learned from the many mishaps I and others have had traveling around the country and around the world.  Here are a few anecdotes and tips to help you avoid making the same mistakes.
Years ago, when I went with my aunt to Nigeria, though we were required to have a small pox injection prior to leaving the U.S., my aunt decided she wouldn’t. We spent two weeks in the country having a fine time. However, when it was time to leave and return home, she was stopped by the customs official. “Where is your certification proving that you’ve had a small pox injection?” the customs official asked her. “We cannot let you leave without it!”  She was dumbfounded. I’d been cleared and anxiously waited for her near the exit to the field.  Fortunately, the doctor, a friend of the family, had accompanied us to the airport to say goodbye.  When the officials took her into a room, he went with her while I waited, wondering if I’d see my aunt again. I imagined her being taken away in handcuffs to jail. The plane filled with passengers stood on the runway waiting.  After a while my aunt appeared looking a bit shaken, but grateful she was allowed to board the plane.   Tip – If told that you must have a shot before visiting a country, if you don’t want to be harassed, get it.
Another friend who is an avid photographer was on a cruise when something happened to the ship and passengers were told they must quickly disembark onto a small island in the Caribbean.   She grabbed her camera equipment and followed the other passengers getting off the ship. Only when she landed on shore did she realize she had forgotten to take along her purse that contained her medicine.  She spent several frantic hours in search of a pharmacy to replace her medicine.  Luckily, the passengers were told to return to the ship before her health was greatly affected.  Tip- always keep your medicine with you when traveling.
On my last day in Manila, Philippines, the zipper on my suitcase broke.  Unable to fix it, I searched for a store to purchase a new one.  Despite my dwindling funds, I bought a lovely expensive one.  When the plane landed at my home airport, I waited patiently for my luggage. But when my beautiful new bag arrived on the carousel, one wheel was missing. As it was late and all I wanted to do was get home, I hauled my damaged suitcase to the car and drove home figuring I’d deal with the problem the next day.  When I contacted the airport, I was told they were not responsible for damaged baggage. I didn’t pursue the matter.  Tip – Don’t buy expensive luggage unless you don’t mind the expense of replacing it.
While in the airport in Trinidad returning from a week’s vacation, I stopped in the duty free store and purchased a bottle of Rum Punch.  I put it in my carryon so it wouldn’t break and boarded the flight to Miami where I was to change planes for home.  Unfortunately, the layover in Miami was twelve hours so I decided rather than wait at the airport, I’d spend overnight in a nearby hotel. The next morning I made my way back to the airport for my flight. I checked my luggage and with my carryon, I headed for security. I was more than a little surprised when I was stopped.  “You are not allowed to carry liquids through security,” the security man told me.  “But I bought this at the airport in Trinidad at the duty free shop.”  No matter, my choice was to purchase another suitcase and check it through to my destination, toss the bottle, drink the whole bottle outside the terminal in which case I’d probably be too drunk to make my flight, or to give the bottle away.  I didn’t want to purchase a suitcase just for a bottle of rum, nor could I bring myself to toss it. There was no question about me downing the liquor.  The only alternative was to find someone to give the bottle to.  I rushed around the terminal looking for someone to whom I could give the liter bottle of Rum Punch. I saw a friendly looking man standing by the terminal door. I handed him the bottle and hurried back to security.  I wish I could have stayed to see the perplexed look on his face but I had to get to my plane.  Tip – which I’m sure you know, put any alcoholic beverages you’ve purchased in a well-padded pouch and pack them in your suitcase.     
I learned many other things in my travels such as pack light, and don’t put valuables in your checked baggage, instead put them in your carryon.  I think one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned though, is to keep an open mind, be flexible and have a good sense of humor.

An Evening at Madam L’s Soiree

I know you’re tired of reading about my Paris adventures.  This is the last one, I promise. I’d like to move on to other things.  It deals with a very interesting evening we had at the home of a Paris resident and an ingenious though not original way of surviving in the City of Lights.  To protect her identity, we’ll just call her Madam L.  An evening at Madam L’s Soiree.  Before leaving home, a friend suggested that when I got to Paris I must contact this African American woman in Paris who hosted soirees for visitors. “She hosts parties for artists of all genres at her home.”  While my friend hadn’t been to one when she visited Paris, she had heard about her from a friend.
One day during our stay, I called the number my friend had given me. Madam L told me she was having a soiree that evening at her house and gave me directions by train. Her apartment was located on the Left Bank. My sister and I took the train to her stop and followed directions to her apartment.  By that time, night had fallen, and streetlights had come on.  Few people walked along the street. This would be our first time inside an apartment in Paris and we were excited.
To enter the building we had to pass through a huge iron gate.  Once inside, we walked across the yard and into the ancient apartment building that reminded me of Harlem. A note on her mailbox indicated that visitors were to leave the Euros or francs inside her mailbox and come up. We were reluctant to do that.
When we reached her apartment on the third floor, a young woman opened the door and greeted us warmly.  In her hand she held a cigar box into which we deposited our money.  Apparently few visitors left money downstairs. Then we walked into the living room already crowded with people; it was difficult to make out the décor.  I saw three people on the sofa and someone sitting in the only comfortable chair in the room. Everyone else stood around in small groups. Several guests spoke French, a few English. A young black man with an unusually high head came over, shook our hands and told us he had lived there for years. Originally from Philly, he was a poet who had come to Paris and settled.  He found it an exciting and welcoming place. We met two English women who had come over by the Chunnel train from London for the weekend.
 Emerging from the kitchen, our host appeared carrying a large bowl of squash soup.  A harried, slightly intoxicated petite woman, honey brown complexion, she wore beige lounging pajamas and flat shoes, a gold chain around her neck. Her short brown hair was stylishly cut. She didn’t appear very friendly and smelled of whiskey.  She flittered busily around the room handing out small bowls, ladling up the squash soup and speaking French like a native.  Her helpers, two young French women, passed out hors d’oeuvres and glasses of wine.  After standing around for what seemed like hours, we managed to find seats on the sofa.  By that time I felt almost claustrophobic and awkward. The squash soup was delicious as was the wine.  Since it was a warm night, the windows were open. We were told to keep our conversations down so as not to disturb the neighbors. There had been some complaints about her gatherings. Suddenly, small white stools appeared seemingly out of thin air and everyone sat down. Madam L appeared from the kitchen once more to introduce the special guests, an author who had written several books. He read a few pages to our applause and answered questions about his books.  Glancing down at her watch, my sister suggested we take our leave as the trains would be shutting down soon and we didn’t want to get stuck walking through Paris that late. We couldn’t locate Madam L. to say our goodbyes.  
 I left my email address and for a few years received emails from her telling everyone on her email list who the guests would be, how much it costs, and where the soiree was being held. It wasn’t until I became a recipient of spam along with others judging by their hostile responses that I blocked her emails.

Paris in August Part Three

My sister and I anxiously waited in the lobby of Unk’s hotel. We would finally get to meet our cousin, Lynette (not her real name). Unk had returned upstairs to his room and said he’d be back down shortly.  The lobby was filled with crowds of men and women, dressed in business suits and a few tourists dressed in shorts, tee shirts and sunglasses. Enter Lynette with her manager/boyfriend. How did I know it was she?  In her mid thirties, Lynette is tall, over 6 ft., statuesque, and possessing an aura of “I know who I am.” She wore no make-up; short dark curls framed her smooth, heart-shaped face. She wore a short black mini skirt and a turquoise tee shirt.  On her long shapely legs, she wore black flats. Her manager, Lorenzo, 5’4, was an olive complexion, medium built Italian, his curly black hair sprinkled with gray as was his scruffy beard and mustache. He looked to be in his forties.  Hesitant, we walked over to them. Just as we reached them, Unk suddenly appeared and dispelled any doubt.  We hugged; Lynette introduced us to her companion. Unk and Lynette caught up on the last time they’d met.  Laughing, he said “Last time I was here, she walked me all over Paris.”  Lynette turned to Sis and me.  “And how are we related?” Unk explained. Sis elaborated giving examples from our youth spent visiting Lynette’s family, our first cousins. “We knew you mother….” That question was asked several times during our short visit. I got the feeling she didn’t believe us.
Lynette had come to the City of Lights a few years earlier. She’d graduated from a prestigious college in the East with a degree in Sociology and had come to Paris for vacation. She fell in love with the place and returned shortly after. She auditioned for a gig at a nightclub, was hired, and thus began her career as an entertainer.  A popular singer in Paris, Lynette had been on TV and had worked in several nightclubs around the city.  As we walked towards the exit of the hotel, Lorenzo told us the plans they had for her career. We agreed to meet at our hotel that evening, and they would take us to a Senegalese restaurant near Montmartre.
Around seven that evening, we met them in the lobby. The five of us squeezed into Lorenzo’s small Fiat and we headed towards Montmartre.  Before we were halfway up the steep hill, it became evident that the car would not make it. It began to stall.  He quickly pulled over to the curb, and told us we would have to walk the rest of the way. As it was a clear, mild, lovely evening, we didn’t mind.  The restaurant was dimly lit, a few people stood at the bar.  I followed the group as the waiter led us up narrow stairs to the second floor where several tables covered with white tablecloths were spread across the room. Because it was early evening, we were the only dinner guests. The brightly lit walls were peach with alternating brown and beige wainscoting; small abstract prints hung between the lights. In the background the soft rhythmic sounds of West African music enhanced the atmosphere. The food was delicious – rice and stew, pepper soup, fried fish and Banana Manadazi (Banana Fritters) for dessert. We enjoyed a lively conversation that ranged from life in Paris, to Lynette’s career, to explaining again how we were related.
Soon it was time to leave.  We made our way back down the narrow stairs to the first floor. The downstairs was packed, the bar was crowded as were the small tables with people talking, laughing drinking and smoking.  It reminded me of the cafes in New York’s Greenwich Village. Over the noise I heard someone reciting a poem. I would have loved to linger in this exotic atmosphere but it was getting late. One thing, however, held up our departure. Outside it was raining. Not a gentle rain but an angry storm. Lorenzo, his tee shirt pulled up over his head, told us to wait inside and he would go down to get the car. He soon returned, we jumped in and just as we reached our hotel, the rain stopped.  It had been a memorable day.

Paris in August Part Two

Unk invited my sister and me to the Foliere’s Begere for dinner and a show. He picked us up in a taxi and dressed in our finery, we rode across the city, now bathed in bright lights, for an evening of fun.  My uncle who is known for his frugality, especially when it comes to his nieces, was particularly generous that evening treating us to a seven course dinner, a stylish show, and to top it off, a bottle of champagne. The evening ended on a high note.
The next day, Sis and I decided to explore the nearby neighborhood including Place Pigalle. Coming out of our hotel, one of the first things we noticed was the gentlemen’s club right across from us.  Down the narrow block, apartment buildings and small hotels like ours were intermingled among these clubs.  Throughout the day and far into the night, women, heavily made-up, scantily clad and wearing high-heeled shoes stood in the doorways of the clubs, – young, old, shapely, and shapeless, blonds, brunettes, and redheads. They called out to male passersby, trying to entice them to enter the clubs to fulfill their fantasies.  Other tourists walked up and down the street. Some glanced curiously into the dark interiors, some stared straight ahead as they scurried past. Apartment dwellers hurried to their doors, punched in a code that allowed them to enter the buildings.
Short blocks and narrow sidewalks, fruit stands sandwiched between the buildings, gargantuan wooden doors, and streets filled with people impressed upon my memory.  Sis and I found a bakery where we bought fresh baked baguettes, and a cafeteria where we planned to eat lunch. Strolling along Place Pigalle we passed the sex shops, the pharmacy specializing in sexual enhancing products for men, the Monoplex, a department store, shops where tourist could purchase souvenirs and the ubiquitous cafes where patrons sat at small tables to drink wine or beer and watch the never-ending stream of humanity.  At the far end of Place Pigalle stood the famous Moulin Rouge.  We explored the massive lobby, reading the advertisements and noting the upcoming shows. It was closed but would open in the evening.
We rode the bus up a steep hill to Montmartre where we gazed down at the city below. We visited the Sacre-Coeur Basilica and watched artists paint lovely scenes of the cityscape. I didn’t notice the sign that read “no photographs” until I’d snapped a photo.  Finally we hiked back down to Place Pigalle.
Imagine our surprise when we bumped into our uncle strolling down Pigalle with a sheepish grin on his face.  He said that he, like us, was just exploring the area.  He said he had arranged for us to come to his hotel the next day where we would meet our cousin who had relocated to Paris and was now a “celebrity” there. Coincidentally we ran into him several times during our stay “exploring the area.”  I think he spent more time exploring the area around our hotel than he did his.

Paris in August

When one thinks of Paris, France, one thinks of all the famous places to visit, like the Le Louvre, the Eifel Tower, the Palace of Versailles, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, and other things like French wine and romance.  I looked forward to my vacation in Paris with my sister and my uncle. While this was our first trip to this celebrated city, my uncle had been in Paris during World War II and again years later and was eager to return.  
I booked reservations online choosing the hotel based on the quaint photos of the newly renovated hotel posted on the Internet – inexpensive, gorgeous looking interior, rich colors, off the beaten path, lovely spiral staircase.  My uncle, on the other hand, was booked into a well-known hotel not far from the Eifel Tower- located on the other side of town.  Our hotel was three-star, his five-star.  We met up at the airport and engaged a taxi.  The driver was none too thrilled as he jammed our luggage into the boot of his small cab. My sister and I were dropped off first at our hotel; the driver took Uncle to his.  I paid little attention to the area as we hauled our luggage out of the car and into the small lobby. The woman behind the desk spoke little English. As I had when I went to Spain, I had learned a few French words and phrases before coming, enough to make our check-in a bit easier. 
We rode the elevator up to our room and were surprised at how small it was. We could barely get our suitcases inside. A couple of steps from the door were twin beds with little room in between.  A couple of steps from the beds was a tiny bathroom. The largest thing in the room was the floor to ceiling window that looked out onto the narrow street below.  From the window we could just barely see Place Pigalle, an infamous area known for its sex shops and prostitutes.  When I chose the hotel, I didn’t know this.   About the only thing I recognized from the photos posted on the Internet was the spiral staircase with its rod iron decorated scrolled railings. However, suffering from jetlag, we retired early.
The next day after the complimentary breakfast, which consisted of a fresh baguette, strong coffee or tea and orange juice served in their quaint dining room, we decided to visit Uncle at his hotel located on the other side of town.  At the desk we asked the concierge for directions.  The Metro station was just up the block from our hotel. We purchased ten tickets for 61 French francs or ff (the Euro was not widely popular) to last at least a week. While most passengers use tickets, others jump over, crawl under, or pair up to avoid the charge, a freebee on the city, I guess. Paris has an efficient train system that carries riders all over the city.  Trains run from 5:30 AM until 1AM when the ground beneath the city streets cease to rumble like earthquake tremors. It is the heartbeat of the city.
About 35 minutes later, my sister and I arrived at Unk’s luxurious hotel.  The huge lobby contained a piano bar, a café, gift shop, and a seating area with plush couches and chairs.  Businessmen and tourists filled the lobby.  As soon as we entered Unk’s room, we marveled at its size and all the amenities he had access to.  From his window we saw the Eifel Tower and much of the city. The weather was fantastic; we were in good spirits and looked forward this new adventure. During the next two weeks, we would take in a few tourist attractions, meet a distant cousin who had become a popular singer, spend an evening at the Follies Beg ere, and have a unique experience at the home of a woman who made her living hosting parties or soirees for artists, tourists and newcomers to Paris.  

Misadventures in Costa del Sol, Spain – Part Three

My two-week vacation had come to an end. This was my last day at the resort and I had to be out by noon. My friends had gone home the day before.  My plane though, wasn’t scheduled to leave until the next day.  Knowing this, I telephoned around to hostels to find a place to spend the night.   Finally I found a place and made a reservation.   I checked out of the hotel, took the bus into Malagua. With my luggage, I wandered the streets of the city trying to locate the address asking everyone I met (in my halting Spanish) for directions.  After several wrong turns I found it. I checked into the small hotel, took the ancient elevator up to the third floor and stood before the old wooden door hesitant to insert the key. I felt as if I’d stepped back in time.  It reminded me of the tenement buildings in Harlem where I grew up except this hallway was much smaller.  Slowly, I opened the door to my room and stepped in.  I was greeted by a sea of brown – brown walls, brown carpet, brown doors – one leading to a closet, the other to the tiny bathroom, a single bed with a faded bedspread.  The forty-watt bulb dangling from the ceiling cast ominous shadows on the wall.  On a small table sat a 14 inch TV screen, with programs in Spanish, mostly featuring bull fights. The only window looked out onto an alley – quite a comedown from the luxurious apartments at the resort with large color TV’s that featured international programs.  Nonetheless, it would do for one night.
I wandered through the Lara, an interesting maze of streets, and as I was getting hungry, I decided to find a place to eat. From a guidebook I’d borrowed from my local library and copied pages, I thought about having one of Spain’s famous dishes “Malaguena.” The problem, my funds were quite low.  I could either dine out my last day in Spain, eating at one of the outdoor restaurants, or save the money to pay my hotel bill and take a taxi to the airport the next day. I decided I’d eat out.  When the waiter delivered the huge dish of fried fish, I savored the wonderful taste. But when I began to look closely at what I was eating, I saw what looked like eyeballs staring up at me – octopus or squid tentacles, I think. Despite the delicious flavors, I couldn’t finish my meal knowing I was eating octopus.
I returned to my lonely room, tried to read in the dim light until I finally fell asleep listening to voices murmuring nearby and the elevator as it rattled up and down its shaft.  The next day, I returned to my exploration of the Lara. As my checkout time from the hostel approached I felt my anxiety rise, I was deep into the Lara and lost.  Walking quickly down one street after another, I finally found one that led to the boulevard and to my hostel. I paid the hostel bill with my credit card, took a taxi to the airport, and sat around for hours waiting for my plane to take me home.  It had been a wonderful adventure; however, I was ready to put it behind me.

Misadventures in Spain – Part Two

I had been in Spain for almost a week.  At the end of the first week, my two friends joined me at the beautiful resort.  Tired of talking to myself and wandering around alone, I was looking forward to their visit. During that 2nd week we visited Mijas, a quaint, picturesque village; Seville, historic, cultural, and financial capital of Southern Spain; Gibraltar where we visited St. Michael’s Cave and the monkeys that roam freely about the area; and the Casbah, a walled city in Tangier, Morocco.   
I’d seen Casablanca, the 1940’s movie staring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid, and couldn’t wait to see that area of Tangier where such intrigue took place.  Before entering the Casbah, our guide warned us all to keep up with the group as the Casbah is made up a maze of streets and alleys where one could easily get lost.  We were also warned to watch out for pickpockets who preyed on unsuspecting tourists. He added that we would encounter many vendors trying to sell their wares and to be “careful how you open your purses or wallets.”  Armed with these warning almost put me in a state of panic.  I don’t know about the others, but I was on guard. As our guide led us through the Casbah pointing out different sights, all I could think about was his warning.  “Keep up with group and watch out for pickpockets.”  When I spotted several young men in green-stripped tee shirts moving among us, I clutched my purse even tighter. When vendors approached, while I wanted to examine their wares, I dared not stop. One vendor was offended about my refusal and asked derisively, “Why are you here if you don’t want to buy?” Despite this, there were many memorable moments even if I can’t remember them.
Back to our resort. The end of the week fast approached but not the end of our adventures. The weather was hot and humid and since our apartment had no air conditioner, we were forced to leave the windows and door to the balcony opened to catch whatever breeze happened by. One morning, one of my friends was awakened when she felt someone standing at the foot of her bed. Thinking it was me, she didn’t pay much attention at first.  But when she opened her eyes she saw a man bending over the nightstand where she had her bag. She shouted, frightening the man who headed for the balcony door.  We watched him leap from balcony to balcony carrying a basket filled with other tenants’ valuables.  Lesson learned, when traveling, don’t leave valuables lying around openly. When we reported it to the front desk, they denied knowing anything about it. Suddenly I understood why this beautiful resort had so many empty rooms.  The next day my friends flew back to the U.S. leaving me alone to spend one more day and night at the resort.

Travel Misadventures Part One – Costa del Sol

I’d booked two weeks at a resort in Costa del Sol and was looking forward to spending my vacation in Spain, a country I had never before been.  I flew from LAX to Heathrow in London, and then from Gatwick to Malagua, Spain. Being on a tight budget, I called the hotel prior to my departure to find the most economical way to get to the resort. The receptionist at the hotel desk where I’d plan to spend my vacation, told me the best way to get there was to take a taxi from the airport to Costa del Sol. “It will cost around $50,” she said. “Is there a less expensive way?” I asked. “Well,” she hesitated, “there is.” She gave me directions.  From the airport in Malagua to the resort in Costa del Sol is a distance of over thirty miles.  Piece of cake, I thought confidently. I love an adventure, or so I thought. 
Outside the Malagua airport was a line of taxicabs, each driver beckoning me. “No, gracias,” I waved them away. In my halting Spanish I managed to find the local train station.  The car I stepped into was practically empty. I sat down and as I waited for the doors to close, I looked around wondering who to pay and when. The doors closed and the train started. At each stop passengers hopped on and off before the conductor reached the car in which I was sitting.  Will I be able to do the same? Not a chance. Fortunately, I had exchanged a few dollars at the airport so when the conductor came to me, I was able to pay my fare. I think at the time it was three pesetas to Fuengirola. 
The town of Fuengirola was the last stop. Trying not to show how confused I was, I followed the crowd of people to one of several bus stops and waited. Someone told me what bus to take and where to get off. After several minutes, the local bus arrived. By now it was rush hour and with my heavy bags I managed to get a seat.  It was a long ride and especially distressing because with so many people standing in the aisle, I couldn’t see the street names. Finally I heard the driver call out the name of my stop.  I managed to push pass the passengers to get off before the bus pulled away.  On one side was a long stretch of coastline; on the other, various shops, and restaurants, and in front of me, a very steep hill. As I stood looking up at Mount Everest, I began to wish I had paid the $50 for a taxi. Gathering my remaining strength, I dragged my luggage up the hill to the resort, a distance of almost a mile.
It was almost dark when I checked in. Tired, hot and sweaty, not to mention suffering from jet lag, all I wanted was a shower and something to eat.  I had no problem checking in or finding the way to my apartment. When I surveyed the rooms, I noticed that the bathtub was filled with water. I unplugged the stopper and let the water drain out. Then I undressed, stepped into the shower and turned on the faucet. Nothing. Not a drop.  I phoned the desk. “We turn off the water for a few hours, once every week. It’ll be on again tomorrow,” the clerk explained cheerfully. “Use the water in the bathtub.”  I groaned. Too hungry and exhausted to bother, I decided to forget the shower; just let me get something to eat.  Unfortunately, the on-site restaurant was closed. The desk clerk told me where to purchase food and water – halfway down the hill I’d just climbed!  Oh well, my adventure had begun.  If this were any indication of things to come, it would be a long two weeks.

My Favorite Vacation

Not too long ago on vacation in Arizona, I went to a sales presentation for a timeshare. The reward for sitting through the ninety-minute presentation was half price off a tour of the Grand Canyon. The salesman, Tom, asked me “Of all the vacations you’ve taken, what would you say was your favorite?” I had to think a while about it. I’ve gone on vacations alone and also with family.  Each time was unique.
I thought about the time I went to a resort in Tobago. I couldn’t get anyone to go with me so, not wanting to cancel my vacation, I went alone.  However, before I could settle in, I met a family, two sisters, their daughters and granddaughter, who feeling responsible for me, took me under their wings. “How can you travel alone?” they asked. “We go everywhere together,” to Alaska, to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean.  They couldn’t imagine me traveling alone.  While I appreciated their concern, not wanting to appear standoffish, I accepted their invitation to tag along with them. But I soon found their taste differed a bit from mine. I love to swim.  I never saw them get into the pool or Jacuzzi, nor did they relax at the nearby beach.  Instead they shopped.  Lunchtime they usually went out to a restaurant to eat.  My place had a full kitchen. And since I was on a budget, I purchased food and brought it to my small apartment. Each evening they dressed up in makeup, heels, dressy outfits, and sat around the lounge watching the entertainment. I felt more comfortable in my shorts, tee shirt, and sandals.  While I was grateful they included me in their activities, whenever I could, I ventured off on my own.  
Whenever I go places with family, I’ve always enjoyed myself. Once we accompanied my uncle to Paris. Now that was fun.  That was one of my favorite trips.  There were other trips with family I found thoroughly enjoyable.  The advantages of vacationing with family and friends are that you don’t have to make critical decisions that affect everyone, it becomes a group effort; Also when you’re with others, no one looks at you strangely; you can blend in.  Traveling with family and friends, I have felt safe, more relaxed. I laugh a lot. However, on the other side, vacationing with family and friends, I usually set aside my desires and yield to the desires of others.  
Whenever I’ve gone to places alone, such as a recent trip to Sedona, I’ve enjoyed that very much as well.  It was an adventure that had me discovering not only the magnificent sites in the area, but also learning more about myself; tapping into my strengths as well as recognizing my weaknesses. There is no escaping one self when you vacation alone.  On the up side, I’ve found it easier to meet people when I’m alone than when I am with family or friends. On the down side, I’m always aware of the issue of safety. I don’t stay out late at night. I can’t be as relaxed as I am with family.  Nevertheless, I set my own schedule, eat what I want, wander wherever I please, stay as long as I want, and can change my mind without worrying about hurting others.
I appreciate vacationing with family and alone.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  To answer Tom, the salesperson’s question about my favorite vacation, I’d have to say all were special. Just getting away from time to time from my normal routine is one of my favorite activities.