The Accidental Solo Tourist
Leah Walker November 19, 2011

I’ve planned since April for the November trip to New Zealand. I’ve secured reward seats, researched, developed at least eight different itineraries, scoured TripAdvisor’s hotel reviews, booked a car, purchased ferry tickets, and reserved tours. There’s no stone left unturned. The trip to New Zealand is perfectly organized in a 1 ½ inch binder filled with dividers and color-coded tabs. Eight months of research and hard work is lovingly placed into that thing. It’s my masterpiece.

China and work finally let my husband return to Houston after having a stranglehold on him for two months. We will finally have uninterrupted time together. We will finally board flights that’ll deliver us to our latest obsession. We have saved for months to make this the most amazing trip ever. This will be AWESOME!

No matter how much planning and how much researching is put in, there is no accounting for life. Actually in our case, it’s death. There is not a line in my New Zealand spreadsheet to account for the death of a loved one. We got news two days before our trip that my husband’s grandfather passed away. Pa was a lovely man who treated me wonderfully from the first time I was introduced to him in Costa Rica. I infiltrated their family vacation, and Pa didn’t bat an eye. That’s how he treated me the next fifteen years too, and he will be dearly missed.

Sparing all the dull details, I was able to get my husband to the West Texas funeral destination, to Los Angeles, to Auckland, and finally to Blenheim for 36,000 additional miles and about $600. It’s a small price to pay for him to attend the funeral though.

New Zealand Notebook

Since there is no tabbed section in my fancy, white notebook for solo travel, I’m winging it a bit. I don’t have a problem traveling by my lonesome; I’ve gone to China, Singapore, New York, and Boston alone. It’s just more fun with a partner, especially the one I’m married to. He makes everything more fun, plus it gives me a chance to zone out. I consider myself a seasoned traveler, but no amount of planning can take the place of mental lapses. On this trip, I’ve already had two:

1. I would think that Continental would not only know what time their flights are due to arrive, but also the day. This is now something I will not take for granted. I left Houston on Thursday afternoon on Continental. I connected in LA to Auckland on Air New Zealand. Both of these legs were purchased on CO miles, thus I never even looked at Air New Zealand’s Website. My Continental flight details indicated that I would arrive at 7:15 am on Friday, November 18. I made reservations for the Blackwater Rafting Co in Waitomo, as well as a hotel. My car company thought I would be picking up the car Friday morning too.

Great, right? Not so much. Do I know about the International Date Line and the fact that it is crossed in the flight from LA to Auckland? Yep! I sure do. Did common sense make me question my Continental itinerary that said it only took one day to get to New Zealand? Nope. It’s stupid on my part and horrible on Continental’s. I will request compensation for the tour and the hotel I paid for. Fortunately I realized this mistake in the Air New Zealand lounge in LAX. I had Wi-Fi and was able to adjust my car rental for pick up on Saturday.

Continental Screen Shot

2. One of the last things I did prior to leaving was consolidate my wallet. I took credit cards, a debit card, and my medical insurance card. I looked at my driver’s license, but decided I didn’t need it since I had my passport. It wasn’t until I was standing outside Auckland’s airport waiting for my car rental van to pick me up that I thought, “I probably need my damn driver’s license.” Panic. I wasn’t counting on driving, and this is the first time I’ve ever rented a car overseas. DAMN IT!

I was right; I couldn’t rent a car without a license. I was told that a copy would do. Millions of thoughts raced through my head, finally deciding that work had a copy. Apparently when one works in a Fortune 100 company, those sorts of things are kept with HR. As the administrative assistant scrambled to track the copy down in Houston, I kept thinking. Round and round my thoughts went. Finally I remembered! When we refinanced our house a few months ago, the mortgage broker needed copies of our driver’s licenses. Thank God I’m paranoid and keep all financial emails. I got on their computer and found a scanned copy of my license! Crisis averted.

New Zealand Car Rental

I hopped in my Nissan Sunny, and pointed it in a southerly direction. Bypassing Waitomo and their glorious glowworm caves made me angry and sad, but my hotel in Rotorua was waiting. I needed a shower and a giant cup of coffee. This isn’t the way I thought my New Zealand adventure would begin, but I’m ok with it. The thing with life and travel is that you can plan and plan and plan, but in the end, some things are just out of your control. The key is to adapt, adjust, and enjoy the ride.

New Zealand Landscape

Leah Walker

Leah has a marketing management company specializing in strategy, content creation and implementation for luxury brands and destinations. She's also a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. Leah documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. She sometimes freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for four years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

9 Comments

  1. Leah, I need to learn to adapt, adjust and enjoy the ride, it does not come naturally to me, I plan, plan, plan, have routines and like schedules….must be why I now have high blood pressure. Enjoy your trip.

    1. I’m very routine driven in my everyday life. But when I travel, that goes out the window (a little anyway). Take a step back, take a deep breath, and just go with things. Now when crazy things happen to me I just think, “That’s gonna make a great blog post!” 🙂

      Thanks for reading, as always.

  2. I much prefer traveling with someone then traveling on my own. It can be so tiring. You will enjoy New Zealand though We just spent a year there and had a great time!

    1. Oh, it really is tiring, but it’s also strangely healing for me. I get lost in my thoughts and don’t have to make conversation. I’ve only been in New Zealand for two days and can’t imagine leaving. You are so fortunate to spend a year in this special place. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers!

  3. Leah, thank you for your kind words about Pa! Thank you also for finageling everything so that Matt could be with us where we needed him for a bit. I hope it didn’t ruin too much of your trip. Pa loved New Zealand so much that I’ll bet y’all can feel him when the New Zealand wind blows! I’m sure he is there and I’m sure he is smiling at you both!

    1. Several years ago, Pa told us that New Zealand was his favorite place on earth. When we told him the last time we saw him that we were headed there, he was so excited for us. He went on and on about how wonderful New Zealand is. Matt was glad we were able to work it out for him to attend. He didn’t need to be any other place.

  4. Accidental solo tourist is not bad at all. For me, that would be exciting but of course the preparations would be limited but I guess there’s a great thrill on the things you will experience. If I’m put into this situation, I’ll make sure I’ll make the most out of it to enjoy. Thanks for sharing!

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