• Corinne Kovalsky

Get Smart: Agent "99's" tips for loving the solo life (Part 1)

Updated: 4 hours ago

When I was a little girl, I had a lime green desk. On it sat a red toy phone.

A man and a woman posing for a photo in a doorway.
Photo: Don Adams and Barbara Feldon/Wikipedia

I spent many happy hours pretending I was Agent “99” of Get Smart fame. She was a role model then and still is now. Barbara Feldon, the actress who brought “99” to life, is also the author of Living Alone & Loving It: A Guide to Relishing the Solo Life. The book was published in 2003, but much of the advice is still relevant today.

She writes that “[o]ur happiness is in our own hands…. The issue isn’t living alone, it’s living fully.” As a fellow soloist, that point resonated with me. The book focuses on several topics for singles. This week, I will cover two. Her chapters on “my space my way” and “traveling solo.” Both are rich with insights.

As a newly single person, Feldon was struck by the fact that she could make her own choices about where and how to live. She began by taking inventory. She kept only what she loved. The rest was either donated or trashed. She realized that she loved homes with character. She wanted her rooms to breathe, so there were few adornments except for candles and fresh flowers. She celebrated simplicity. As her tastes evolved, she shed anything that no longer inspired her.

She was unrestrained and took the opportunity to get in touch with both her maverick side and her eccentricities. On a whim, she painted a wall apricot. She rearranged furniture in the middle of the night because she could. Her tips to anyone starting over solo include claiming your space. Where and how you live should reflect who you are and are becoming. “This is your space to do with as you please, a playground where you can create…without compromise – one of the perks of living alone.”

When it came to traveling alone, Feldon hesitated at first. Instead of venturing abroad, she started with a trip along the California coast to get her feet wet. “It would feel liberating to take detours and see sites that in the past had bored my partner.” She marveled at the fact that she wasn’t restricted by anyone else’s taste, timetable, or impressions.

To have the best experience, she recommends finding where you fit on the solo travel spectrum. What type of travel is best suited to your temperament? At one end of the spectrum, a friend of hers rented out her house for seven months and armed with only a backpack, she headed off for a trip around the world at the age of 72. At the other extreme, another friend meticulously planned her trips. Nothing was left to chance, and she was most comfortable traveling with friends or on tour groups.

Feldon falls somewhere in the middle. She prefers traveling off-season, and she likes to fully research her destinations ahead of time. She is more comfortable with a few plans in place. That said, if she gets a tip from a trusted source on the ground, she will likely change her itinerary to add the experience, and it’s often a highlight of the trip.

For a woman traveling alone, Feldon recommends that you prepare a contact list before leaving home. If you are having difficulty, it is helpful to have the names and numbers at your fingertips as well as on your phone. She also encourages travelers to practice eating alone in restaurants before heading out.

One important point she makes is that you should be in the right frame of mind before traveling. She remembers one trip that she took on a whim. She was feeling lonely and tried to escape her feelings through travel. She had no reservations. It was high season. She didn’t know the language. Basically, it was a disaster. She never made the same mistake again. Now, she travels from “an enthusiastic desire to see and experience new things.” In the end “at its best, traveling alone is a joy; at its worst it is instructive.” If you pay attention to the type of travel that suits you, the likelihood of a successful solo journey increases.

Next week’s post will look at how she banished negative thinking. We will also cover money and romance.

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