Category Archives: Solo Travel

How to Feel Comfortable Going Out Alone

 

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Creative Commons photo / Georgie Pauwels

 

For a while, I’ve been thinking about how to write a helpful post about being okay with traveling alone, particularly in mind for women.

Now it’s time to do so.

Recently, a trending hashtag called #metoo has highlighted how many women have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted at some point in their lives. While sadly as these incidents occur in common settings, from the workplace to any public venue, travel can also involve scenarios in which women might find themselves in uncomfortable situations involving unwanted advances from catcalling to sadly the unthinkable.

While my tips or advice might sound more general, I would like to think that they can at least ease your worries or assumptions about what others might think of you being by yourself. Whether it’s venturing out where you live or in another destination, here are some ways to help you feel more comfortable with being out alone.

Don’t make nice if it doesn’t feel right

In particular with women, there’s a common feeling that people have to maintain politeness even in circumstances we’re we might feel unease. While I’ve met some people who hesitate in being assertive or showing or speaking what they think, it’s a good reminder to remember that you don’t have to explain yourself, or be nice, to those who make you uncomfortable. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitant to leave or excuse yourself in doing so.

Go to afternoon showings

If you’re itching to see an exhibit, movie or play, but don’t want to feel awkward about being out at night, consider going in the afternoon. Matinee showings often attract different and smaller audiences where it’s easy to get into your seat and focus on what you came to see –and not worry about who’s noticing you.

Sit at the bar

Granted you might get hungry while being out, and heading into a crowded restaurant alone may make you want to loose your appetite. So do this: find a bar stool. Sitting in this part of a restaurant doesn’t mean you have to have an alcoholic drink; rather it helps make you not feel weird about being at a table. So order a meal with your beverage, and use this space to relax and maybe have some small talk with your bartender or those seated around you.

Go on a tour

One of the best ways for feeling not alone in a new location is by having a guide to go around with. Consider signing up for a visitor’s tour that gets you familiar with your location by having you walk around a certain area (and focusing on something that interests you). Once the tour is over, a good guide will ask if you need directions for what place you’re heading back to.

Read up on locations

While you would look up addresses of where you’re going, maybe delve a bit more about how to get around. Looking to use public transportation? Read up on everything from what type of tickets you need or if schedules can change (for example, New York City’s subway system can operate differently on weekends and holidays) on the day you plan to go. And if you’re driving, learn what you can do about parking; give yourself extra time in the case you might have to drive around to find a spot.

What tips would you offer to help women feel easier about traveling solo?

Why You Should (or Maybe Shouldn’t) Date a Traveler

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Photo by JD via Flickr

Recently a number of stories based on the topic of why you should date a girl who travels have been floating around the web. These pro-dating pieces are on mark but to be fair there can also be counter arguments.

Trust me: I’m all for being with someone who is all about seeing the world. I would want that for the guy I’m with and I automatically expect the same thinking from him about me. Yet the reality is that the people we’re dating might have a hard time with our long-term traveling. Or trying to be a good sport about it.

These realizations should be kept in mind too. Heck, even the best travel writers can relate to the delicate balance between maintaining relationships while being on the road.

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So here are some factors to keep in mind about why you should–or maybe shouldn’t–date a traveler:

  • We need – or feel the need – to keep going. Whether for business or for pursuit, travelers are always in motion: making sudden or long-term plans. If we see a mistake airfare sale or a travel opportunity such as conference or event that’s too good to pass up, we don’t. And like with just about any evolving career, if you work in the travel sector in some way, shape or form you have to stay current on what’s happening. And life is short, so we don’t want to dwell on “what ifs.”
  • We could be a part from you for a while. This is a biggie. From a week or two to even a month, or in between weeks, we might be heading out. Or we might be back home for a few days and then be taking off again. With professional travel writing, our assignments with publications or business agreements with companies require us to get the job done. We don’t mean to sound, well, mean but we have to shuffle off. However, we also know when it’s necessary to stay or come home (much desired rest, catching up on routines and projects or when our loved ones need us).
  • Technology can keep us connected. Just because we can’t be there with you in person doesn’t mean we can’t talk to you. As long as there is a good Wi-Fi signal, the beauty of Skype and FaceChat enable us to have conversations wherever we are. Even IMing through Facebook or Google Chat works fine. If we’re posting pictures, it’s for social media reasons along with a bit of excitement in being there.
  • Please don’t get jealous. Yes, we know it sucks to hear when we’re off to a wow destination like Italy or Australia or any place that you’ve always wanted to go (but can’t or haven’t just yet). Note that in many cases our travels involve a lot of planning (research and financial) and preparing (looking at resources, weather or even availability) on our part. My story: An ex of mine assumed I hit up my folks for the cash I would need to go to London. Nope! I did a lot of budgeting, saving, watching flight/hotel prices, and taking on odd jobs for getting extra cash. With press trips, it’s work. Fun, but still work.
  • Maybe you come join us. Depending upon our arrangements, it might be possible for you to come along on our ventures. But remember, if it’s a business arrangement we there to work. Especially with press trips, daily itineraries are made with set times for outings, departures, and arrivals. It’s not likely or even a good idea for us to blow off our work (don’t even suggest it). If all else fails, perhaps we can meet up when we get back or post-press trip in our destination. Or if timing and location are in both our favors, perhaps you can come meet us.

Be assured that we still go places together, unless you don’t like to travel.

I Got Pick Pocketed: What to Do If It Happens to You

Photo by Steven Depolo

Photo by Steven Depolo via Flickr

Recently, I handed in a story on how to avoid being pick pocketed and what to do if it happens to you. The piece also involved me: I had my wallet lifted from my purse. Inside in a cathedral. In a city I had arrived in two hours beforehand.

Usually when I travel, I’m pretty guarded about my stuff. I use a money belt, hiding in it my passport, extra cash and bank/credit cards. Sometimes I’ll do a quick pat around my waist, as a sign of reassurance that it’s still there.

This summer, I was jaunting through Germany, starting in Berlin and finishing in Munich. I was on the D-Bahn (Germany’s major railroad system) a lot, and just had gotten to Cologne (or Kohn), the third stop on my trip with my cousin. We only had planned to spend a day and a half in Cologne so when we got there we headed straight to the Cologne Cathedral, the city’s landmark.

DSCN3380Inside this massive Gothic church, you can spend a good amount of time walking around and gazing at stained glass windows, sarcophagi, and mosaic floor tiling. You can also go down into its crypt. Being the shutterbug that I am, I was constantly opening my purse and switching between my camera and iPhone to snap photos of pretty much everything.

Then, somewhere in between coming back up from the crypt and on our way out, my purse got lighter. My wallet was missing. So were my day’s worth of Euros (thankfully my passport and most of my cash was still in my money belt), and my health insurance card. My credit card was gone too (I had taken it out to show to a D-Bahn conductor and then put it back in my wallet instead). Panic ensued. Furiously dug through purse. Nope, my wallet was gone.

I chased down one of the cathedral’s priests, blurting out what had happened. His response was immediate: Pickpockets often target visitors in and outside of the cathedral. He told me to go to the police station to file a report, which was located a few blocks away.

Photo by Reina Luck via Flickr

Photo by Reina Luck via Flickr

At the station, the 20-minute wait in the lobby seemed like forever but I used the time to quickly call my credit card company and reassess what I still had. The police officer that met with me was helpful. He explained that pickpockets hovering around that area often go for wallets to get the cash. They literally toss away emptied out wallets, even in garbage cans (yes, I did peek in them). He also met with visitors who had ALL of their money on them, ALL of it stolen.

Don’t get me wrong, Cologne Cathedral is still worth visiting. It’s also good to be reminded of the fact that pickpockets can target any traveler. Even experienced ones.

They use many ploys: bumping into you and reaching into your bag or pockets, distracting you or grabbing and going with your item, among others. Or they seize upon the key moment: you’re not paying attention. They scope out well-crowded areas like public squares, street performances, and landmarks. Even public transportation is fair game.

Here are tips for safeguarding your essentials before your travel — and what to do if they get stolen.

In Advance

  • Make photocopies of your passport, driver’s license and credit card as well as the phone numbers of your bank and credit card numbers and cellphone carrier and keep them in a separate place. Also save them and email them as PDFs to yourself. If possible, give them to someone you can trust with your private information.
  • Don’t carry all your cash, cards and documents in one place. Spread out these items in different yet secure places like your hotel safe or a hidden pocket in your suitcase. Get a money belt or consider buying clothing with hidden pockets. Take out just what you’ll need for the day and/or night.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. It’s easy to get distracted in places like museums, cafes or transportation hubs but always, always, keep your stuff in check. I use a purse by PacSafe, which can be hung directly in front of me. Also ladies, don’t hang your bag on the back of your chair.
  • Consider signing up for Skype. If your phone is taken, Skype can be another way for contacting people and companies from another country.

If It Happens to You:

  • Cancel your bank/credit cards/cellphone immediately. Request for your company to overnight new bank/credit cards to your hotel or, if not possible, see if your cards can be sent to family members. Need cash stat? Contact someone you can count on to wire money to you via Western Union.
  • Go straight to the police. A police report can help with travel insurance claims and can be used as proof for companies such as your cellphone or insurance providers. If you’re in a public place when a theft happens, scout out restaurant or hotel staff, store employees or ticket agents, as they most likely can help direct you to the nearest station.
  • Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If your passport is stolen, as well as all the identification you have, get to the nearest embassy or consulate so they can help provide an emergency-only passport.
  • Stay calm. Although the initial shock fades, the after-feeling of being robbed lingers for a while. It’s easy to say to push it aside, but taking steps to deter and/or deal with theft will put eventually put your mind at ease. Enjoy the rest of your travels!

Taking a Career Break to Travel: a Q&A with Meet Plan Go

Yes, there are days when we want to quit our jobs instantly and leave our cubicles behind. But with some advance planning, would you go ahead and do it?

If you seek to find your way in this world, while fulfilling a dream of seeing it, consider taking a career break or sabbatical. Recently, I had a virtual Q & A with Sherry Ott of Meet Plan Go – a leading career break movement in North America – on planning and taking this time off and about their upcoming conference in New York City.

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How did Meet Plan Go start?
The idea for a career break resource came into my mind when I was initially planning my trip in 2006 because I struggled – a lot.  There was no information out there about how to do long-term travel or an adult gap year from the American perspective.  I found a few books from the UK but it wasn’t the same. I was really frustrated and nervous about taking the leap but felt very alone. I mainly used the only resource out there to help plan at the time – Bootsnall.com.

Meet Plan Go actually started when I met (co-founders) Michaela Potter and Michael Bontempi in New York City after they had also recently finished a three-month career break. We decided to take our passion for the benefits of a traveling break and create a website. It started as Briefcase to Backpack and launched in 2009 and has taken off since then. Via our website and events, you’ll meet like-minded, supportive people, get tools and tips to plan your career break travels, and find inspiration to go by hearing/reading other career breakers’ stories.

How does taking a career break help a person?

Career break benefits are numerous. Most importantly, getting away from of our day-to day-routines is essential for effective thinking. Combine your career break with travel and reap even more benefits. Exposure to cultures that function differently from our own – from language to social customs to public transport – awakens the brain, alerting it to a much broader range of possibilities for being, living, and creating. You will come back to the workforce with skills other peers won’t have.

What factors should a person put into planning a career break?

That’s different for every person. But one of the first things to consider and figure out is budget. Figuring out how much you have to spend or how much you want to spend sets the other decisions in motion; where to go, how long to go, what to do. Next you’ll want to consider what you hope to get out of your break. Are you looking for time away to contemplate a career change, want to knock things off your bucket list, travel before you settle down, etc. All of these things are factors.

We have articles about the various planning choices, a free online 30-day course, and an in-person workshop on September 20 in New York City. But be careful to not get too caught up in planning. We normally recommend that you plan the first third of your trip, then leave the rest open so you can take your temperature and see what it is that you want to do next. Often when people get on the road, their desires and needs change so you need to leave things open to accommodate those changes.

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The current economy might make people hesitant to leave their jobs. Why would one still consider taking a career break?

Look, there’s never going to be the perfect time to leave your job and take a risk. Never. So stop waiting for one. You either have the desire to make change and travel or you don’t. If you have that desire, then you’ll want to check out Meet Plan Go, as we are good at fueling it. But if you want warm fuzzies and security in your decision all I can say is that I’ve NEVER talked to anyone who regretted their decision to take a break and travel – NEVER.

I recently wrote an article about how a career break actually enhances your career and learned a lot by interviewing people who used their break as career defining. You can use the time to figure out a career change or focus, or simply revitalize. You will come back with additional skills and you will stand out in a crowd of applications as someone who isn’t afraid to take risks and someone who knows what they want.

What issues might someone face when taking a career break and what can they do to handle and avoid them?

The big fear is always money. But you don’t need a lot of money to travel.  Where there’s a will there’s a way. Traveling long term is actually cheaper than living day to day in our current lifestyles. And it’s certainly cheaper than taking vacations. If you don’t have much saved up, then you explore ways that you can work on the road – which can be a really rewarding cultural experience. You can teach English, consult, teach yoga, work at a farm, house sit, and even be a tour guide.  Anything is possible, and by traveling slower and more locally, you’ll keep costs down and meet a bunch of people who will connect you to opportunities to make money if that’s what you are looking for.

How to Choose A Guided Tour

Going on a guided or escorted tour can be a good thing. If you need a confident boost about being alone abroad or nervous about handling your airfare or other arrangements, a guided tour can help you feel a bit more at ease while getting you closer to seeing your destination.

While many tours often include stops at major attractions in the country you’ve heading to, these companies can differ in many ways. Based on my experiences with them, here is my advice on what to keep in mind while choosing a tour company.

155911_4615225371361_22542242_n1)  See Who’s Going
Group tours can have quite a mix of travelers in age and background: older, younger, couples, families and solo. Depending on how you feel or your approach to travel, and if it makes you feel better about fitting in, check out what types of travelers often go on the tour company you might be interested in.

For example, Contiki is more ideal for college-age/twenty somethings while Trafalgar often attracts retirees and many from the UK and Australia as well as the U.S. Tour companies also center on different travel styles. G Adventures is suited to outdoor types and offers locally-owned accommodations and physical activities. More general tour companies like Gate1Travel cover key points and often have a broad spectrum of customers.

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2)  Judge Your Free Time
A planned out itinerary can be nice but pay attention to what’s included – and particularly what’s not. Tours may cover brief visits to major museums and monuments (perhaps hour-two hours) where you have to make quick choices about what to see. Or just a quick stop for a photo opp. Some areas may be seen only through your tour bus window, often while in route from one location to another.

I often go with tours that include a reasonable amount of free time. It’s good because you can check out maybe a place not included on your schedule. In the case of a change of plans or have some solo time, you still have the opportunity to see something quickly.

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3) Judge the schedule.
Like No. 2, see about the schedule. As common as tours are to stop at must-see attractions, it’s also important to look at overall what’s included on your itinerary. I get leery of tours that seem to push places where there is a lot of shopping to do but some people might like that.

It might be good to first read up on the destination you’re looking at going first, and then do a comparison against the itinerary of a tour company you’re interested. Also, some tours will make stops and/or stays all at major cities in Italy but maybe one or two might also include time in a town like San Gimignano – which is beautiful – that is along your route.

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4) Look at Features
Tours are now offering a lot of optional side choices or experiential activities. While you don’t have to necessarily do all of them, see which ones stand out to you. I like doing ones that seem to replicate the area (like musical locations in Nashville) or may get you to a place that is off your route but definitely will get to (like a stop at a famous beach side hotel in Coronado, California).

Also consider getting airfare through your tour company. Some offer this choice, others leave getting there entirely up to you. If I’m maybe traveling in the U.S. — where I live — I might be opted more to book my own fare if I find a lower rate. If you’re going overseas, and a bit nervous about getting from the airport to the hotel on your own, in most cases your tour company can take care of that transfer for you. Or you can book your airfare through them instead of having to do it yourself.

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5) Read Their Reviews
From review sites like TripAdvisor to even Facebook, checking up on personal reviews can firm up your decision. Some may have had snags in their trip while others just have their own good things to say or general gripes about trips, but the more opinions you need can give you a better sense about what you might be getting into.

Also, consider signing up for e-newsletters, as tour companies from time to time offer special discounts or price breaks. Some even may give you a discount for everything from early booking (six months in advance). Unfortunately, solo travelers can get stuck with a single person fee (due to hotel rooms) but some companies might have a room-sharing program where if you can be paired with another single passenger then that fee is waived.

In all, enjoy your tour.

The Single Traveler’s Guide to Valentine’s Day

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Photo by Richard Elzey via Flickr

Valentine’s Day gets a lot of hype. Even in the travel sector.

Granted, it’s a holiday push. Hotels create theme packages, special deals and savvy promotions. Article topics extend dreamy destinations, hip restaurants around the world, and many sources — even uses — for quality chocolate.

Yep, travel can be romantic.

So as February 14 rolls in again, I thought about how travel can give even the most self-conscious singleton a boost on a day like this. Here it goes:

1) Many Go Solo
Although having a travel companion is great, going solo can be even better. It’s brave too. Perhaps your potential significant other might not want to go to that place you’ve dreaming about. Or due to different reasons, can’t go.

Plus, who knows who you might meet on your adventure?

During a night in Athens, I was trying to figure out what transit line to take to get to the Acropolis Museum. Anxious about making the right stop, I asked a Greek male waiting on the platform with me if I was in the right place. He confirmed it, and while on the train, he was nice to notice me checking off each stop. And then suddenly, at the right stop, he said, “I’ll go with you.”

Instead of just walking me to the museum’s front, he bought a ticket as well. We ended up having a good evening out. He not only explored the museum with me but also walked with me to the Plaka, had dinner with me, and then brought me back to my hotel.

2) Everyone Can Have Travel Issues
If it makes you feel better, couples travel is not always as pretty as a picture. Even the best of them have had to adjust to traveling together.

People have different approaches to travel, and, like traveling with friends and families, you have to make compromises. You might encounters issues beyond your control: cancelled flights, missed trains, food poisoning, you name it. From planning to budgeting, to styles and interests, couples travel can really teach you how you work well in good times and bad.

My once significant other was a good sport about going places with me, and I was in turn with him. Thanks to him, I got to see more of New Hampshire (including a great pancake place) and he met up with me in Las Vegas after my work’s conference ended. On the contrary, he had his quirks such as always having to take an interesting choice of hotel souvenir.

3) It’s Your Choice
On Valentine’s Day, go out. Look at event calendars like ones at museums to see if you can drop in a public program. One good source is Eventbrite, a ticketing website where you can see event listings in or close to your area and then directly purchase a ticket if available. Avoiding mixers? Head to a concert or a fundraiser instead. Or even a chocolate shop.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Going Solo? Why You Shouldn’t Hesitate

Yes, it sucks when you don’t have someone to go somewhere with. Yet, why let it stop you? Like most travelers, wanderers, or out-and-about people I’ve met in person or virtually, overall we don’t. Mainly, it’s all in how you perceive it.

My main argument for going solo is to avoid having what I call your “have not’s” stop you. What do I mean by that? Well, I know there can be countless reasons for letting “have not’s” hesitate or even prevent people from going alone. Probably the top one on everyone’s list is feeling weird if you’re seen there myself. True, it can be awkward when someone spots you and, for some reason, brings up that fact. Still, don’t let that make you miss out on visiting a place or going to an event.

419439_4326150384667_1439813769_nGoing back to not having someone, that’s one point I can understand. It’s hard when none of your friends can’t go, or maybe your relatives won’t, or even when you’re single at times. However, there have been some times when the opposite scenario can also make your plans a bit dicey.

With an ex-boyfriend of mine, I literally had to push him to go with me on a trip down south, even down to booking both of our plane tickets and hotel/rental car reservations on my credit card. And once we were there, he eventually seemed into it. Although our relationship ended for other reasons, I realized that it was a lot to have to push to get him to travel and that I probably would have been better of going more on my own or with my still then-single girlfriends. “Pushing” someone to go places with you can take the fun out of the experience.

And yes money can be an issue as well, yet with some advance planning and leg work, there are few ways to work with that concern. Here are some tips that to venturing out on your own a bit easier:

– Go early. Hit up festivals or museums during the day time or perhaps after they open when crowds might not be as big yet. If you’re also crowd shy, it’s a good way to get in and around your venue.

– If you haven’t heard of Meetup yet, sign up for a free account. It’s a great website where people can start groups centered on common interests by location. Many groups hold “meet ups” at events ranging from festivals to movie nights or locations such as for outdoor or culinary pursuits. With costs, they can vary depending on the group’s host.

– Group bus tours may be cheesy but if you wanted to see a certain place or area in your region at least once in your life, it’s worth giving them a try. After hearing about from friends and seeing their pictures, I booked a reasonably priced bus trip to Arthur Avenue in The Bronx, which is their version of “Little Italy.” I am not an aggressive driver, so the thought of me and my car in New York City is not really a good idea.

– Read up before going. Yes, like a trip, check out directions, location, times and special offerings since they can not only save you time but also save you money. I receive promotional emails from a theater company that give me a discount code on most Broadway productions. I also subscribe to blogs based in my region that cover the foodie scene.

– Also, consider signing up for vendor deals as now more of these companies sell discounted tickets or packages to events or day-trips. Last year, I was able to get a fair price pass to one of the New York City Food & Wine Festival activities. Yeah, I went stag but I enjoyed many chef takes on fried chicken and bumped into Whoopi Goldberg, the event’s host.

Hope you go out and do something similar. Or whatever you want!