Want a little solo time on vacation? Take a small group trip with Intrepid Travel. Last month, I went on a road trip with strangers that took us from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I signed up. Being surrounded by new people morning, noon, and night could prove to be difficult for me, a high-energy ambivert, who needs time to recharge. However, I always want to push myself to try new things and a road trip focused on the culture and cuisine of the Pacific Northwest and NorCal sounded like a great plan.
I arrived in Portland the night before the trip at The Hotel Rose, A Staypineapple Hotel. As soon as I walked in, I knew I was going to be in for a treat. The lobby was hosting their “Afternoon Delight.” Sugar cookies shaped like pineapples and covered in sugar crystals served with coffee and tea welcomed me at check-in. They even sent me upstairs with a couple of extra for later.
A pet-friendly, adorable boutique hotel, a stuffed dog with a pineapple golfer’s hat sat on my bed, welcoming me to my room. I had time to get settled in, as the group wasn’t meeting until the morning. The cleanliness of the hotel and my room overall were most inviting, turning the double duvet and comfy robes into the main act of the evening.
In the morning, I met everyone I’d be traveling with over the next six days as well as the itinerary. Intrepid Travel is more of a boutique group travel company, with most of their trips averaging about 10 people. They never cancel because of a low reservation rate. They just go with it and take whoever books. I heard about one tour that ended up being just the guide and one guest. That rarely occurs, but the fact that they made the trip happen for that one person is phenomenal in my book.
With over 1,000 adventures accessible to choose from, the other group members came from several other countries. A few of us came from the States, but there were people on the trip from the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. As I would come to learn, they all had pretty neat backstories and were fun to talk with, especially with the different accents and slang I learned from their parts of the world.
We all introduced ourselves over some famous Voodoo Doughnuts before heading off to our first activity. The group would be biking around Portland, visiting food trucks along the way. The bike guides of Around Portland Tours made us work off the calories as we biked around town. The setup was perfect. We biked a little ways, stopped and ate something. Then, we’d bike to another stop and eat some more. We had coffee at one stop. Breakfast at another. Craft beers and refreshing zero-proof drinks from another. Then, tacos. Our last stop was at a batch ice cream parlor. We sat outside and ate our ice cream, then played with the pup that came along for the ride. Back at the shop, we turned in our bikes and talked about our next steps.
We would drive back to the hotel together. Then, we could do our own thing for the rest of the evening, if we wanted. Alternatively, we could meet the group for dinner a few hours later.
I chose to meet the group and it may have been the best meal of the trip. The group went to Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine, where we were spoiled beyond belief. We ordered all kinds of perfectly plated noodles and curries, along with Instagram-worthy drinks like the cotton candy topped, Cloud 9 and their decadent group dessert platter. The staff came out singing with the dessert! It was a big event and really sweet of them to do!
Spoiler alert, I never missed a dinner with the group the entire trip. It should be noted that by the end of the first day, I was excited to travel with everyone. Even if I was still unsure of how much “me time” I would get.
The next day was check-out day and the group was going to Bend, Oregon. But, not before stopping for lunch with the Salmon Queen, Brigette McConville. She is part of the Confederated Tribes Of Warm Springs and a pillar of the community. We arrived at a river-to-table lunch of smoked salmon and cake with berries picked by the Salmon Queen. We learned about her family’s history as long-standing tribal chiefs as well as her grandmother’s advice about starting a business.
“Do one thing and do it right,” McConville explained, “So I started with fish. Wind dried salmon. Cut it thin, salt it and let it dry in the sun.” Her smooth calming voice left the group silent, their gaze fixed on her. After our dessert, we visited her store. McConville beads jewelry and makes traditional accessories for her tribe. I am now wearing a pair of her earrings almost daily.
We said our goodbyes and headed to see one of the “seven wonders of Oregon,” Smith Rock State Park. We walked around the rim of the deep gorge a bit and took in the views of the rock climbers scaling the giant cliffs. There were a plethora of trails to hike there, too, and many people came for the longer hikes in the area.
In Bend, we arrived at the Campfire Hotel & Pool Club. It was SO cute, y’all! The whole hotel design had a campground feel. Its string lights and huge campfire were welcoming. But, the heated, salt water pool was what did it for me. A little rustic luxury was right up my alley. The little bar, mirrored after the popular craft beer scene in Bend, was darling. It had the iconic garage door and everything. Apparently, the water in Bend is unique and it’s perfect for brewing beer. Dinner with the group that night was at a local brewery, of course!
The next morning we were off to kayak part of the Upper Deschutes River. By the time we finished, I felt like I could kayak on my own. It was that easy. Not to mention, the methodic rowing was also very relaxing. After kayaking, we talked about what the group wanted to do next. This happened all along our trip. Intrepid Travel group trips have main pieces of the vacation itinerary that will definitely happen. But, they also have little surprises along the way that are optional.
Our group decided we wanted to go visit the last Blockbuster Video. It was a great choice. The store is still open and people are actually still renting, and returning, DVDs and even VHS tapes. Surprisingly, it was also a museum with different types of Blockbuster memorabilia and overall movie things. The best part was watching several people coming up to return their videos. The locals are the true fans of Blockbuster.
The next day the group napped as we rode to Ashland, Oregon. This town is super cute. Each year Ashland has a Shakespeare festival that runs all summer long. Most of the town participates in one way or another. The town has a reputation for having some of the best art galleries, restaurants, and theaters of any small town in the U.S. In one part of town, all of the restaurants were named after Shakespeare characters, as were the drink names. Wait staff obviously dressed in Elizabethan Era-style clothing. Quaint and amusing, this town is worth an extended visit in the future.
After a quick overnight stay in Santa Rosa, California, and an unexpected flight of 12 different craft beers, the group made their way to San Francisco. On the way, we stopped at one of the best scenic views on the west coast. The breathtaking, panoramic view of Goat Rock just got better as we got closer and closer. The wind was roaring that day, so the waves were enormous. They repeatedly crashed against the rock, creating huge clouds of spray. Everyone kind of went in their own direction at the beach, just naturally finding a little alone time to resonate on the last days of the group trip. We got back onto the road, ready for lunch in Larkspur.
Sitting outside at Hog Island Oyster Co., the group was there to get some oysters to go because we were going to learn how to shuck them. After some delicious lunch and a stroll around the shops, we took our oysters to the water overlooking San Francisco and then learn opened them up. All fed and educated on oyster shucking, it was time for the awaited visit to the redwoods at Muir Woods. The forest of coastal redwood trees reached high into the sky. The paths were easy to walk and wandered along a small stream. So, we walked quite a way to see some of the special groves. Foliage covered the ground and it felt like Tinkerbell may be spotted at any time. It was close to magical.
We gathered for our last activity together. A stop at the overlook to the Golden Gate bridge. Another breathtaking view that day, we all gathered for our last picture together. A bittersweet moment, it was time to head to the Stanford Court Hotel.
We all said our goodbyes in the lobby and went our separate ways. I went up to my room and my jaw immediately dropped. The big, bay windows showed a virtually unending view of the city and the bay below. I took a walk around town, but spent a lot of my time in the room, taking in the views. A quiet, luxury boutique hotel, Stanford Court Hotel was definitely the right place to end this small group trip and give me a chance to quietly absorb the experience in total.
Truly, it was the intelligent conversation, the laughs from the gut, the incredible travel stories, and the exposure to different cultures within the group for me. It was the beautiful sightseeing, delicious food, and hotels perfect for that much-needed “me time” that made this trip so special. And in fact, the amount of solo time was great. The relaxation of riding with a knowledgeable tour guide and safe driver from location to location was such an unseen bonus.
Overall, the group road trip gave me enough time to recharge. Choosing how much time to spend with the group, while having the bed to myself each night was a great way to travel. Traveling solo with a group of strangers might be my new favorite way to travel.