Wandering Woman #1 : Katie Woodward

Rambling Sketcher on Rambling Solo

This August I went on a road trip of a stretch of the California Coast. I originally hatched the idea for the vacation because I was already going to Santa Monica for a friend’s wedding. Having never been to the west coast, I decided to make more of an adventure out of it. I flew into San Francisco, rented a car, drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, went to the wedding, and drove back up inland on the last day to drop the car off and fly back. The whole thing took ten days, with overnight stays in San Francisco, Aptos, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and LA.

San Francisco

  1. What made you decide to travel solo instead of with other people? Did you make a conscious decision, or did it just happen that way?

It happened pretty naturally, I knew from the start a big part of my trip was going to involve sketching along the way, so it really works best as a solo trip! This way I could stop wherever I wanted, for as long as I wanted, without having to worry about someone else staying occupied and enjoying their trip. No guilt for pulling over to try and wait out the morning fog, and complete control over the car’s stereo. This vacation was intimidating because it was my longest independent trip to date, but I had a few shorter getaways under my belt and frequently go to events in the city alone so I felt prepared! There’s something to be said for being able to do whatever you want every moment of a vacation.

  1. What kind of response/ reactions have you gotten along the way?

Most people were actually really supportive, along the lines of “oh, how great!” No one who knows me is particularly surprised, and most people I encountered on the trip who WERE surprised seemed satisfied when I told them I was sketching the trip. Some strangers I met while traveling were clearly aghast. There was no day on the trip I went without having to answer the question “are you traveling with anyone?” Depending on the tone used and my mood, my responses ranged from fun anecdotes, to polite smiles, to complete sass (“Yes, it’s 2016 and women are allowed to travel unchaperoned!”)

  1. One story of something positive that happened because you were solo.

One of the more memorable stories from my trip happened in Big Sur. I saw this bridge coming up and as soon as I saw a place to pull over, I did. It didn’t look like there was anywhere to sketch, just heavy brush with tiny hiking trails, but I figured at worst there would be a good place for me to take some photos for future watercoloring. As I was climbing through and bemoaning my lack of machete, I saw a clearing ahead and heard singing. There was a man with a banjo, sitting on the side of the cliff. We got to talking and he ended up showing me a better view of the bridge, and I sat for a half hour and sketched while being serenaded. I doubt that would have happened if I had a companion!

Rocky Creek Bridge

  1. One story of struggle/growth (if any).

The first few days, though fun, had some rough patches. California was more gray than expected! In addition to the smoke from the fire in Big Sur at the time, there were foggy mornings to contend with, cloudy skies and not much direct sunlight. It was a bummer when you’ve been hearing your whole life how beautiful California is (to be fair, it’s still gorgeous even under gray skies)! Early on I mentioned my disappointment while talking to my Mom, and she said when she was a child she visited family in San Francisco and her initial response had been “all the Beach Boys songs are lies!” It quickly became a mantra for the trip and helped when I was tired of gray sketches (no sunlight = no shadows, which can get boring!). But the morning fog meant I pulled over early on one morning to wait it out while sketching, and I got to see pelicans in the wild! I also got some great, moody sketches and photos. So really, it all worked out.  

The only other disappointment was Hearst Castle being closed due to the fire, which was literally the only attraction I felt I absolutely had to go to when I was planning the trip. To make matters worse, I had figured I’d eat when I got there, so I arrived in late afternoon and then found that though the rest of their lower lobby was open, their food court was closed. Google then told me most local eateries were closed between lunch and dinner. I managed to find a “Big Sur Bar” (probably the most delicious granola bar I’ve ever had) at a coffee shop to tide me over and then I learned something important: it’s ok to google the nearest Panera and to not care that you aren’t having a more authentic travel experience. I later decided it’s also ok to have leftover cheesecake for breakfast the morning of your best friend’s wedding.

Other hardships of traveling alone? I realized after the fact that I never took a selfie or asked a stranger to take my photo along the way and as a result have no photos of myself on the trip. Future travel goals! Between that and Hearst Castle….I guess I’ll just have to go back to California!

  1. Anything else you would like to add.

I loved reading your article about your homestay in Vietnam! I mostly stayed at AirBnB locations and had similar feelings. Most of my hosts were incredibly welcoming, and coming home to a place with friendly faces every night definitely takes the edge off traveling unaccompanied. Plus I had some fantastic breakfasts!

photo of Katie Woodward

Katie Woodward

To check out some more stories and sketches by Katie have a look at her amazing blog: Rambling Sketcher

Thanks so much to Katie for contributing!

Check out the Wandering Women Page Here

And for anyone else who wants to partake, you can contact me below. Looking forward to reading some more stories!

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