Friday, February 10, 2017
6 Ideas For Solo Female Travelers In Connecticut
Yes, I'm breaking my Top Fives format with a list of six activities, but it's for a good reason. Back in July, CT Visit, the website of the Connecticut Office of Tourism, published an article called Connecticut for Single Female Travelers. It listed six things for lady tourists to do in the Nutmeg State. As a woman who usually travels alone, and a person who likes to imagine she knows Connecticut fairly well, this article made me laugh. Or it would have, if it wasn't formatted as a slideshow. Has anyone ever felt anything but aggravation when forced to click through a slideshow?
First of all, I hope they meant "solo" rather than "single." I am not sure what relationship status has to do with making plans for a trip, unless someone at CT Visit thinks women are traveling to Connecticut to find single, eligible men. (If so, out-of-state ladies, please don't waste your time.) Secondly, most of the suggestions they offered were more "worst nightmare" than "travel dream" fodder. I'm sure all the businesses and organizations listed in the article provide quality experiences for their clients and visitors, and that the tourism office had a good reason to promote them at that time. However, all but one of their suggestions were among the last things I'd want to do as a tourist, and as a solo traveler especially.
So I decided to create my own little list of Connecticut activities which, while acknowledging that solo travelers, female travelers, and solo female travelers can absolutely do anything that men or couples or families or groups of friends can do, would realistically appeal to women traveling alone.
The Quiet Corner (Low-Key Girly)
Unsurprisingly, CT Visit includes a retreat center (they offer labyrinth walks and "spiritual companioning") among its picks for solo ladies. I totally get it - it's the "you deserve time to yourself, treat yo' self girl, but not in a spa, that's materialistic, you are deeper than that" thing. But the whole concept sounds more like a punishment than a vacation.
If you prefer to spend your relaxing, girly alone time in an environment that does not require politely avoiding interfaith groups attending yoga classes at a quasi-religious conference center, I suggest a weekend in the Quiet Corner. Wander around small towns like Putnam, Woodstock, Pomfret, and Killingly, where serene public parks and walking trails offer solitude amid natural beauty, and country roads meandering through rolling hills all seem to lead to adorable tearooms and rambling antique stores.
The possibilities are endless. In Putnam, have some coffee and cake at Victoria Station Cafe (pictured above), then get lost in an antique store or three downtown, then take walk along the River Mills Heritage Trail, before getting dinner at 85 Main. In Woodstock, have tea at Mrs. Bridge's Pantry and browse Scranton's Shops next door, then head to Roseland Park or Roseland Cottage. In Pomfret, shop at Martha's Herbary, eat at the Vanilla Bean Cafe, and drive through the pristine town center. Check out my Windham County tag for more ideas, or just meander - you'll find something wonderful, I promise.
Route 7 (Road Trip)
For more adventurous travelers, CT Visit suggests a "sports and adventure center" where "singles are welcome to come try" the scavenger hunts and climb trees. I don't know about you, but if I wanted to do uncomfortable sporty bonding exercises, I wouldn't go on vacation - I'd just give up freelancing and start looking for a creativity-stifling job at a major corporation that forces its employees to have "fun" together on the weekends.
Here's an adventure that doesn't feel like a cross between that well-paid job everyone secretly dreams of quitting and sixth grade gym class. Get in your car and explore a well-traveled but ever-changing part of the state along the popular, yet mostly unspoiled, Route 7. Stretching from bustling Fairfield County to the scenic Litchfield Hills (and into Massachusetts and beyond, if you choose to extend the trip), this road will let you control your own fun while guiding you right to charming small towns, upscale independent shops, acclaimed restaurants, and natural splendor.
Start in South Norwalk, a.k.a SoNo, where a classy gentrification effort hasn't quite erased the character of the neighborhood. Then drive north, stopping at Orem's Diner for classic diner food in Wilton, or Tusk and Cup for a pretty cappuccino in Ridgefield. Keep going north to New Milford, a small town with a big town green and an adorable selection of independent shops like the Bank Street Book Nook. Stop for a photo op at the gorgeous Lovers Leap State Park before continuing north. The town of Kent is popular with weekending New Yorkers, lunching bikers, and Appalachian trail hikers just passing through. It's also got some stunning state parks of its own, like Kent Falls and Macedonia Brook. After that, Route 7 gets much calmer as you drive towards the Berkshires. Look out for the West Cornwall Covered Bridge, the quiet streets of Falls Village, and the hidden gems of the Canaans, like Beckley Furnace. Or just stop wherever you feel like it. If it's autumn, you'll see why this area's foliage is often called the best in the state, but it's worth seeing in any other season as well.
Connecticut State Parks (A Solo - But Not Lonely - Hike)
One persistent myth about solo travel is that people travel alone not for the freedom that exploring on one's own provides, but to seek out groups of strangers. This is presumably why CT Visit put an organization that arranges group hikes and post-hike drinks on their "single women" list. Now, as a way to find new friends or hiking partners where you live, I think this type of meet-up sounds great. For tourists, however, it sounds like whatever noise a very large question mark would make if it could talk. Why would someone seek out a meetup group designed for locals in a place they don't live? Why would someone travel some distance to participate once in an activity hosted by an "alliance" that requires a membership? And why, if someone wanted to do a non-local hike so difficult it's best done in a group, would they come to Connecticut to do it? I mean, don't get me wrong, I think Connecticut's outdoor offerings are some of the prettiest anywhere. But I've only traveled to do a group hike in places where hikers get armed guards and are advised on how to avoid scorpions curling up in their shoes while they sleep.
To me, the perfect way to hike as a lone traveler is, firstly, alone; secondly, in a place where you have room to appreciate your surroundings, but that's not so isolated that if you trip and sprain your ankle, it will be days before anyone finds you; and thirdly, on a route that can be easily done without a map - i.e. a clearly navigable straight line or loop, preferably one that leads to a concrete visual reward (not a networking happy hour) at the end.
Two that fit that bill in our state are Sleeping Giant in Hamden, a moderately steep climb to a castle where you can rest for a while before descending, and Bluff Point in Groton, an easy walk to a stunning water view with historic sites and little beaches scattered along the way. But there are many other options: look at CT DEEP's website, or my State Parks tag, and pick one that sounds good to you.
Hartford (It Has ART In It)
For the artistically-inclined traveler, CT Visit includes Weir Farm National Historic Site, the former home of painter Julian Alden Weir. Weir Farm is lovely. If you live nearby or are passing through, I highly recommend stopping there. I just don't like the idea of it as a getaway for a solo traveler. (Unless, I suppose, said traveler is obsessed with Weir. I have made far nerdier pilgrimages.) Located in a rural corner of a commuter suburb, Weir Farm is not particularly convenient to hotels, restaurants, or other activities. The NPS-managed site also has understandably strict guidelines about parking and use of art supplies, and tour hours and sizes are limited.
Instead, I advise getting a lot more artsy bang for your buck by visiting Connecticut's capital city, which happens to be packed with diverse expressions of artistic talent, museums, and galleries. You can even take the train there, and walk or bike or bus around town, eliminating the need for a car and avoiding that I'm-trapped-in-the-suburbs-and-there's-not-even-a-Dunkin-Donuts-here feeling.
There's too much art in Hartford to list it all here, so take this paragraph as initial inspiration. Right in downtown Hartford, you can find the oldest continuously-operating public art museum in the country, the Wadsworth Atheneum, which is large enough that you can lose yourself in exhibits ranging from Hudson River School to modern art, but not so large that you will seriously get lost. Also downtown, you'll find the ArtWalk in the Hartford Public Library, and smaller galleries like EBK Gallery, Clare Gallery, and the Pumphouse Gallery in Bushnell Park. In the Parkville neighborhood, where fewer tourists venture, check out Real Art Ways and the Dirt Salon. Time your visit to coincide with Open Studio Hartford and you'll find even more. (For additional art venues and happenings, and a broader list including theatre, dance, music, and film options, look at Hartford.com, and realhartford.org.) And then there's the public art, like in Heaven Skate Park, that you'll spot if you walk around. And Hartford is a surprisingly good place to just walk around. (River walk, poetry walk, long walk...I could go on.)
Stonington Borough (Nautical Escape)
For travelers who want to experience Connecticut's nautical side, CT Visit suggests a school in Stonington that provides sailing, paddle-boarding, and kayaking lessons and excursions as well as youth classes, scout programs, and team building. Most adult classes require at least two participants (the school advises signing up with friends.) Personally, just the thought of scheduling a trip around a two-day lesson that might not happen if no one else signed up - or if New England's notoriously fickle weather didn't cooperate - fills me with dread.
But the thought of travelers discovering Stonington and all it has to offer fills me with happiness, because Stonington is one of Connecticut's - nay, New England's - prettiest and most underrated coastal destinations. Solo women travelers should definitely consider Stonington, because it's a beautiful town (technically, a borough within a town) that's comfortable and easy to explore alone. But instead of limiting yourself to a class at a sailing school geared towards local families and groups, go for the full New England coastal village experience.
Stay at the Inn at Stonington and you can walk to the sweet Old Lighthouse Museum; the no-frills town docks (home to Connecticut's only remaining commercial fishing fleet); the tempting shops and restaurants and perfectly preserved historic homes on Water Street and Main Street; the humble DuBois Beach; the peaceful Dodge Paddock; and the amazing view from Stonington Point. Also nearby are Saltwater Farm Vineyard, the Captain Palmer House, the super cool Velvet Mill, and more shopping. To get out on the water, take one of those classes CT Visit likes, or look into charter boats out of nearby New London and Mystic Seaport.
Connecticut Women's Heritage Trail (Enrich Your Mind)
If you want to come to Connecticut and learn some new things in an interesting and historic location, CT Visit suggests taking a cooking class at a historic barn that also houses a museum and art gallery. The place looks pretty cool; it's even associated with the Smithsonian. But as a solo vacation destination, it leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, there are only a handful of classes each month, possibly because the venue can be rented out for weddings and other events. For another, the classes may be a little less individual-friendly than CT Visit assumes. This month, for instance, classes on the calendar include "Romantic Dinner for 2," "True Love Valentines," and "Kids Cook for Presidents Day."
Rather than learning something in a class you could take almost anywhere, I suggest expanding your knowledge in a way you can only do in Connecticut, with an added strong-single-woman (or strong-solo-woman, if you prefer) twist. The Connecticut Women's Heritage Trail is unique to the state, it's made up of a variety of interesting and historic locations, and visiting one or many of its associated sites lets you absorb information and inspiration without having to stick to someone else's schedule.
The trail consists of fourteen sites, each of which recalls the contributions of women throughout Connecticut's history. From the Old State House, in the center of downtown Hartford, to the Hill-Stead Museum, in pastoral Farmington; from the Windham Textile and History Museum, in eclectic Willimantic, to the Florence Griswold Museum, in picture-perfect Old Lyme, these attractions are spread out around the state. They recall different periods in history and offer various types of exhibits. Based on your interests and itinerary, you might want to go to one, or all.
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