Over the past five decades, Mary Beth McCabe has visited all 50 states, six continents (all but Antarctica) and more than 25 countries. She’s written a popular guide for independent travelers and hosted a podcast that’s been downloaded tens of thousands of times.
Many of her trips have been solo while at other times she’s traveled with friends or family. And all her travel experiences can be traced back to the 1970s, when she was a frightened teenager boarding a plane by herself for her first solo adventure, a trip to New York City from Chicago, where she lived with her family.
“That fostered my interest in travel by myself,” McCabe said of the trip, during which she spent a month on her own, in the days before cell phones and high-speed internet connections.
In 1993 she published “The World’s First Guide to Independent Travel,” which has since sold more than 10,000 copies. And this year, McCabe, a Carmel Valley resident, published a new travel book, “The Five Steps to Solo Travel, Part A.” The book is geared toward women, ages 47 to 74, who may have recently undergone a major life change such as retiring, relocating, divorcing or becoming a widow.
The idea is to help these women build up their confidence and self-reliance until they are ready to step out the front door on their own adventure, whether it’s across town or across the globe, on their own or independently with a companion, McCabe said.
“It’s empowering. It can make a big difference in your life to take a trip like this,” said McCabe, whose travel books and podcast are branded with her pen name, Dr. Mary Travelbest.
While the book goes into detail with tips in such areas as packing, finding accommodations, personal health and safety, transportation, and eating and drinking, McCabe said one of the most important things a traveler can bring on the journey is a smile.
“It’s the easiest way to express a feeling. Even if you’re afraid, a smile can break down a barrier within you,” and help you connect with others you meet along the journey, she said.
McCabe suggests people acclimate themselves to independent travel through a series of five steps, beginning with the easiest and moving on to the most challenging destinations. Start with an overnight trip, by yourself, to a nearby city, she said.
Then move on to a trip for a few days to a neighboring state, before visiting a more distant and less traveled part of your own country. Finally, travel solo to a foreign country where many locals speak English, before graduating to a destination with a steep language barrier.
“You step off the plane and they don’t speak your language and you have to figure out how to get around,” she said.
McCabe admits that she’s made mistakes, and she shares them with readers to help them avoid similar pitfalls.
She recalled a trip to China when she became lost on an evening bike ride through Shanghai. As thousands of bikes whizzed by, she got creative and flashed a peace sign, hoping someone would lead her back to the Peace Hotel, where she was staying. After several misfires, a passer-by understood her clue and pointed her in the right direction.
She’s been thrown from a horse, she picked up a case of poison ivy and even showed up to the airport without her suitcase. Each time, she said, she worked through the problem and kept going.
She’s also collected wonderful memories on her journeys. One came for McCabe when she was riding a city bus in Santiago, Chile, which she recommends because it’s a good way to experience a place as the locals do. She began talking with an 11-year-old boy, who invited her home for lunch to meet his mother and grandma, who’d never met a Caucasian person before.
“They welcomed me and I felt I made a difference in their lives for a short meeting. I bridged a gap in their understanding of other people” and they did the same for me, McCabe said.
Her new book is available on Amazon, and an audio version will be coming out soon, she said. A second volume of the “Five Steps” book, dubbed Part B, focuses on travel destinations and will be published in September.
Along with her travels, she and her husband raised four children, she started and ran her own marketing agency, and she has taught marketing at most of the local universities, she said, including Point Loma Nazarene, where she’s now a professor.
A share of proceeds from her new book will be donated to the Red Nose Run, a 3- and 5k run held in December on the beach in Del Mar. The event benefits Fresh Start Surgical Gifts and Semper Fi Fund.
She’s also planning a solo, round-the-world trip over three months next summer, including stops in Europe, Asia, Africa and the South Pacific.