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Last fall I experienced my first bigger solo adventure in the Charleston, South Carolina area. I loved the experience and learned so much about traveling solo and discovered new things about myself as well.
When the invitation came to travel back to South Carolina and explore the sea islands just outside of Charleston, I happily accepted. There is, I found, a difference between staying in Charleston’s historic downtown area…and island life.
Here’s what I learned traveling solo on Johns Island.
Johns Island South Carolina
Shortly after I returned home from Charleston, one of the owners of Sailor’s Rest Airbnb contacted me about hosting my stay at their wonderful property. Located on Johns Island, Sailor’s Rest is situated to offer unique experiences on the sea islands while being close enough to Charleston for further explorations there. I said a grateful “Yes!”
Johns Island is the largest of the South Carolina sea islands. Located about 11 miles from Charleston, Johns Island was named after Saint John Parish in Barbados, by the first English colonial setters who arrived from there. Before the settlers, nomadic Native American tribes, such as the Kiawah, hunted and fished there.
By the late 1600s, colonists developed plantations along the banks of the Stono River. The plantations relied on enslaved people to grow crops of indigo, prized for its rich blue dye. During the Revolutionary War a small force of British troops camped on the island, with the purpose of laying siege to Charleston. British troops successfully besieged the city in 1780. Occupation lasted until 1782.
During the Civil War the island was the site of the Battle of Bloody Bridge in 1864. During a three day siege, 2,000 southern troops held off 8,000 union soldiers. After the war the island experienced a time of change and redevelopment.
Today, Johns Island offers guests lush landscapes, fun attractions and laid back vibes.
What I Learned Traveling Solo on Johns Island
Following are my six biggest “takeaways” from this solo trip.
Research Pays Off
I’m sure I’m not the only one who does extensive research before leaving on a trip. Perhaps because of traveling solo, I spend a great deal of time researching the area I’m visiting and familiarizing myself with it.
Studying maps of Johns Island and the other sea islands helped me visualize my travels and delivered my first surprises. I discovered two places I wanted to visit during my first trip to Charleston…Angel Oak Tree and Charleston Tea Garden…located within minutes of my accommodations.
Learning the roads and plotting out travel routes eased my slight anxiety about renting a car and driving in the area alone. I also developed a loose itinerary, with built in times for spontaneous explorations, so that I could make the most of my time on Johns Island.
All of this planning pays off when I arrive at my destination. I know where I am at all times, even though it’s a new to me area, and I know what I am doing so I don’t miss experiences that are important to me.
I knew from my research that a bamboo tunnel leads to the Sailor’s Rest property. When I drove through that tunnel I felt such a sense of excitement that I had arrived!
A Car is Essential
When I flew to Charleston the first time, I took a cab from the airport to Meeting Street Inn downtown. From that location, I could walk to all the places I wanted to see, or take the city’s free hop on/hop off trolley.
Taxis and ride providers such as Uber don’t go to Johns Island, or at least not without very high fees. I knew this trip I’d need to rent a car to get around.
This is where I experienced the most personal growth during my solo trip. I’ve never rented a car on my own before…or driven from a major airport through a large busy city to an island. I admit to feeling some mild anxiety and also excitement over that adventure. I made rental car arrangements before the trip and picked the car up at the Charleston International Airport.
The Mitsubishi Mirage was perfect for my needs. I loved the large screen on the dash. When I plugged in my iPhone and pulled up the maps feature, it displayed on the screen, making it so much easier for me to navigate. And I spent very little on gas during the four days I drove the car, thanks to it being a hybrid.
A car truly is essential for getting around the islands or driving back into Charleston. I’m glad staying on the island forced me to do something I might not have otherwise. I think I strutted a bit walking back into the airport terminal, after handing the car keys over to the attendant. What a sense of accomplishment. And the next time I need to rent a car, it won’t be a big deal.
Staying on the Island is the Best Way to Experience It
It is certainly possible to stay in Charleston and spend a day exploring the sea islands. However, I’m so glad I stayed on Johns Island for this trip. And while I did spend half a day in Charleston, I enjoyed the rest of my stay exploring what the island has to offer.
I highly recommend Sailor’s Rest Airbnb as the perfect accommodations for an island visit. You can read more about the features of Sailor’s Rest HERE. I loved having the whole property to myself. And I loved just as much knowing that the hosts live above the airbnb, in case I needed them or had questions. They showed me incredible kindness and graciously shared their story with me. Otherwise, they left me to enjoy the house, the beautiful grounds, the pool and the many amenities, in solitude.
Although I spent each day out exploring, I arrived back at Sailor’s Rest by late afternoon so that I could experience the property, swim, fix an evening meal and savor downtime. Island life invites reflection and practicing the art of doing nothing. There’s such a unique, slower paced vibe there and I happily aligned with it.
It’s Okay to Join a Group
I adore solo travel. I’m naturally a solitary person and alone time is never lonely for me. However, I also discovered that it’s okay to connect with others and join a group, when necessary.
At the Charleston Tea Garden, on Wadmalaw Island, I highly recommend the factory tour and the trolley tour of the tea farm. I joined a large group of lively, talkative women…and a couple of men…for both tours. On the trolley, I sat next to a woman I did not know and got acquainted as we toured the property. These ladies laughed, a lot, and made me feel like part of the group. In fact, they even invited me to join them for lunch when we got back to the gift shop. I had other plans for lunch, but I thanked them and we all wished each other well on our adventures for the day.
And here’s the thing. I almost waited for another trolley tour rather than join that boisterous group. I’m glad though that I spent 45 fun minutes with them. Had I hesitated, I might have waited much longer to board another trolley. I bought one of the last seats available with the fun group… and the next trolley tour sold out immediately as more and more visitors arrived at the tea garden.
Since I had a full kitchen at my disposal, I prepared breakfasts and suppers at the airbnb. That left lunches out, while exploring. Before the trip I picked cafés to try that offered vegan options.
And since I arrived on Johns Island late on Sunday afternoon, I selected a food market with a restaurant for carry out so I could take my meal to Sailor’s Rest.
Wouldn’t you know….the food market and restaurant wasn’t open on Sunday and every café that I selected was closed for lunch. For someone who does extensive research, I somehow didn’t check open times.
Adapting is an important part of solo travel. I carry a notebook full of my ideas and fortunately, I jotted down alternative places to eat. And you know what? They were so good. The food market in Freshfields Village not only provided groceries and my first carry out meal on the island, the trip there inspired me to return to explore the village more a couple of days later. And I enjoyed lunch there at Café Eugenia after I found that the other restaurant I’d selected on Johns Island only opens in the evening.
I revisited Brown Dog Deli in Charleston for an amazing vegan meal after I discovered my initial choice also only opens in the evening and my second choice did not have enough vegan options.
Go With the Flow
Going with the flow is a crucial life lesson I learned years ago. And it is an important aspect of solo travel for me. Even with all the planning, unexpected things happen…like closed restaurants…or opportunities appear. Resistance not only takes me out of the high level energy flow, it can also flip me into disappointment or cause me to struggle. I don’t want either…in life or on my travels.
I found other wonderful places to eat lunch. And because the restaurant/food market I intended to stop at on my way to the airbnb was closed I needed to find another place to stock up on groceries and grab a quick meal. My host recommended Freshfields Village and I’m so glad she did. Going there Sunday afternoon led to the visit later in the week.
Additionally, going with the flow secured me an ideal parking spot in Charleston. Using Google Maps, I located a parking garage in the downtown area. However, arriving in the city I felt drawn to drive by Waterfront Park first. The sight of a cruise ship docked in the bay drew my attention. I didn’t see any cruise ships last September. As I slowly drove along the street toward that cruise ship, I literally found myself coming to a stop in front of a parking lot with an attendant motioning me in. It was cheaper than the downtown parking garage and the perfect starting point for my explorations.
What Are Your Takeaways from Your Last Trip?
Do you love traveling…and the experiences you have? What about the lessons you learn?
Every time I travel, I learn and experience something new. Solo travel ramps that up, as I also discover new things about myself and what I am capable of.
Each solo adventure inspires me to go again, to another place I’ve never been.
Share with me your takeaways from your most recent adventure.
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