Only Human with Joan Axelrod-Contrada: Solo in paradise: How to handle a group vacation as the only single person

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For the Gazette
Published: 9/7/2023 2:04:29 PM

“Vacation” by the Go-Go’s sounds like the quintessential light, frothy, end-of-summer song.

But beneath the ‘80s girl-group’s peppy, propulsive pop, lurk lyrics about longing and regret. Sadness gets transformed into pure ear candy. It’s a breezy beach song, but with punk attitude. The narrator of the song is pining for the guy she left behind. She’s on vacation but can’t stop thinking about him. She’s all alone. Yearning for her Romeo. Some vacation!

We can all relate to tales of less-than-perfect getaways. Much as we might want everything to be as idyllic as the picturesque settings of our dreams, life has a funny way of throwing some stinky seaweed our way.

This can be particularly true for single people whose closest friends happen to all be married. Whether you’re solo by choice or circumstance, you have a number of options when it comes to travel.

Stay home; traveling alone isn’t worth the trouble.

Go with couples as long as there’s at least one other single person.

Stick to getaways with other singles.

Bring your dating apps on vacation with the goal of finding someone to bring on your next vacation.

Proudly hold your head up high as a single person and delight in the company of your friends.

After signing up for a week on Cape Cod, the other single woman in our group bowed out for family reasons, leaving just three couples and me. My mind pinged between opting out and making the best of being the seventh wheel.

Tapping into my inner research geek, I found an advice column online that addressed a similar issue. A young woman wrote in wanting to know what to do after her boyfriend broke up with her right before their long-anticipated vacation with three other couples.

That poor kid!

My mind flashed back to a stretch in my 20s when all my coupled-up roommates chose to loudly and raucously express their love on Sunday mornings right as I made my way from my bedroom to the coffee maker in the kitchen. If this young woman wanted my advice, I’d surely tell her to stay home alone so she wouldn’t have to deal with all her friends moaning and groaning and rattling the bedsprings.

Instead, the columnist advised her to take stock of her feelings. If her emotions felt extremely raw from the breakup, she might want to skip this real-life version of Love Boat. But, if she felt confident about being newly single, she might have a great time.

In my own situation, I had grieved so much for my late husband, Fred, during his illness, I thought I was in a good place. Besides, I loved Wellfleet with all its sand dunes and almond croissants from PB Boulangerie. Since I didn’t have the option of going on vacation with a group of other singles, I needed to choose between options of proudly holding my head up high as a single person and bringing a dating app on vacation with the goal of finding someone to bring on the next vacation.

I decided to combine the two. I’d entertain my friends with profiles from my dating apps while getting some of my own writing done.

My cottage-mates could not have been better. One day, just the women went on an outing to an art studio. Other times, the husbands showed why they’re truly my friends, too. One pointed out horse-shoe crabs mating. Another lent me his book about jazz legend Louis Armstrong. The third passed on a fascinating article he’d read about communication in relationships.

But what turned out to be an unexpected challenge was how much I missed Fred. So, to cope, I vowed to meet someone online I could bring on my next vacation.

Big mistake!

Of course, at the time, I prided myself on being smart and practical. Only later did I see the error of my ways. Transitional times are all about trial and error, so we need to be gentle with ourselves.

During my vacation, I met a guy online who seemed smart and nice, so we started chatting via text and facetime. The last time we spoke, he took a drag on the pipe he was smoking, looked up at the screen bleary-eyed, and said, “I’m lost.” He was too stoned to be able to carry on a conversation! That was a deal-breaker for me.

Later, my friends told me they wished I had spent less time on my dating app. Like the narrator of “Vacation,” I’d let yearning get the better of me.

Overall, the trip ended up being bitter-sweet, much like the song. Fortunately, the good times buoyed me like the Go-Go’s bouncy beat.

You, too, can find ways to rock those big transitions in life. Even if you go down unexpected roads, it’s all part of the journey.

Joan Axelrod-Contrada is a writer who lives in Florence and is working on a collection of essays, “Rock On: A Baby Boomer’s Playlist for Life after Loss.” Reach her at


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