Travel magic: Beth McGorry finds adventure flying solo

Beth McGorry always has had the itch to travel.

The 49-year-old Director of Donor Relations at St. Mark Youth Enrichment in Dubuque, she also holds a part-time job with Kohl’s for the sole purpose of padding her travel savings account.

“My parents were from New York, and they saw the rest of the country as their backyard,” she said. “There were always a lot of road trips across the country. I always wanted to get out and see the world. When I was a kid, I would write letters to try and join an international soccer or tennis league, just so I could find a way to fund traveling abroad. I took my first trip in an airplane by myself when I was 10 to visit my uncle.”

The solo trend has continued for McGorry.

In recent years, she has taken pleasure in venturing on her own, exploring destinations from coast to coast across the United States.

Last year, she skipped the pond for the first time, traveling to Ireland.

“There is something very empowering about solo travel,” McGorry said. “For a long time, I didn’t think it was something I was worthy of or able to do. But then I realized that I was and I could. I could plan and save for a trip. I didn’t have to wait for friends to be able to go to the places I wanted to go.

“I absolutely love it. I love being in the airport and people-watching. I love being able to plan where I want to go and what I want to eat. I get to have the experience I want to have.”

Originally from Canon Falls, Minn., McGorry has lived throughout the United States, relocating to Dubuque more than two decades ago to work as a residence hall director for Loras College.

She has been in her role at St. Mark’s (and Kohl’s) for the past 10 years.

“I found my people in the Dubuque Jaycees and never left,” McGorry said. “When you find those connections, you realize the job isn’t the most important thing. But Dubuque also checked a lot of my boxes. It’s a big small town. It has the amenities I’m looking for. It offers culture and a lot of different things to do. It just feels like home.”

But, McGorry said, one of the best parts of finding the foundation of home is getting the opportunity to explore outside of it every once in awhile.

Having traveled internationally to Canada and Mexico, McGorry was ready to check venturing overseas off her list in 2020, with a trip to Greece. However, the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans.

“I was supposed to leave on March 23,” she said. “I had gotten my passport. I was going during the off-season, so it was a total budget trip.”

With those plans shelved, McGorry continued saving and, in 2023, decided to go all out with her 14-day trip to Ireland, immersing herself in the history of northern cities including Dublin, Killarney, Galway, Sligo, Derry and Belfast.

“When I travel, I pay cash and avoid using credit cards,” she said. “I pay as I go. I’ll have a few things that I want to see and do, but I don’t create an itinerary that’s super tight.”

That flexibility creates what McGorry has coined as “travel magic.”

“It’s the ability to leave room for the mistakes,” she said. “When those happen — you miss your train or your bus, you spend an extra night someplace, you move on someplace else earlier than planned or you get caught in the rain — you just go with it. It can create some of the more memorable experiences and stories to share later. It also can connect you with amazing people who are eager and proud to share their stories with you.”

While in Ireland, McGorry met with mutual friends for “the best pint of Guinness,” enjoyed the company of longtime locals within their communities, and dined on some of “the best meals of fish and chips and Irish stew” of her life.

“One of the first nights, I was sitting in a pub alone, having dinner, and this group kept staring at me,” McGorry said. “I became a little self-conscious about the fact that I was dining alone. When I got up to leave, I overheard them say, ‘She got the last bowl of stew.’ So, they weren’t talking about me at all. They were interested in what I was eating.”

The stigma of solo travel remains, particularly for women who enjoy their own company while seeing the world.

But, McGorry said, that shouldn’t deter you from putting your solo travel plans in action.

“People often don’t look at enjoying your own company as a choice,” she said. “They think you have no friends or are an introvert. But for many people, traveling alone can be an opportunity to relax, to find stillness and to have the experience you want to have, on your own terms. You get a chance to get to know yourself, and that’s not such a horrible thing.”

It takes practice, McGorry added.

“If you’ve never gone to a movie alone, taken yourself out to dinner alone or stayed in a hotel alone, you might not want to travel alone yet,” she said. “Otherwise, you’re going to end up in your hotel room alone, crying. It takes practice.”

McGorry also recommends sticking to a budget, packing sensibly so you’re not lugging around more than you can comfortable manage while on-the-go, minding your fitness level for travel that requires walking and more physical exursion, making use of travel apps, becoming familiar with public transportation and trusting your gut when it comes to taking safety precautions.

“I find that solo travel is much harder for the friends and family you’re leaving behind than it is for the solo traveler,” she said. “And so, I vlogged about my trip so people could follow it. I always enable my cell phone’s location, and check in with family and friends often. I also make a point to smile and wave at security cameras to leave my digital footprint.”

Destinations on McGorry’s wish list still include a trip to Greece, in addition to exploring more of the British Isles, such as Scotland, as well as Portugal, France, Morocco, India, Bali and Australia.

“It’s a big world,” she said. “There is a lot to see. I’m always saving ahead for that next trip.”

Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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