Flying Solo

July 19, 2011

I love to travel. I enjoy experiencing different cultures and meeting new people. For the most part, I’ve traveled with family or friends, and I truly enjoy sharing the experience with them. However, there have been occasions when I really needed a vacation but the timing just didn’t work with other people’s schedule or finances. This left me with two options; wait for a friend to be able to go with me, or head out on my own.

From time to time I’ve opted to fly solo. Sure, at first I was a bit nervous, but once I got going, I found the experience quite liberating; I’ve even made a few new friends along the way. If you ever find yourself about to embark on a solo adventure, here are a few tips on making the most of traveling alone.

1. Speak the language. If traveling out of the country by yourself you might want to choose a country where you speak the language. This will help eliminate some of the culture shock. On my first truly solo trip out of the country, I chose the UK because it’s an English-speaking country, and I wanted to make things as easy on myself as possible.

2. Know where you are going. Make hotel reservations in advance and at a hotel that is easily accessible, i.e., near a train station or other public transportation. Map out your transportation in advance, so you do not feel completely out of sorts upon arrival. I made my hotel reservations for the first few nights at the Paddington Hilton Hotel because there are trains directly from the airport to the hotel (the Hilton actually sits right on top of the Paddington Train Station); also from this station I could get to most of the London attractions via the Tube.

3. Safety First. Before you depart for your trip leave a photocopy of your passport and itinerary, along with a list of your Travelers Cheques serial numbers with a family member or close friend. While traveling, always be aware of your surroundings and if anything or anyone makes you feel ill at ease immediately walk into a store or restaurant and strike up a conversation with the shopkeeper until the issue has passed. If you feel you are in real danger, ask the shopkeeper to phone the police. For more tips on travel safety, visit the Travel.State.Gov website at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html In addition, touch base with love ones back home via email or a phone call on a regular basis; this will help them feel more comfortable with your travels, and assure them that you are safe.

4. Always carry some cash. Be financially prepared by stopping at the bank or a currency exchange shop prior to leaving for your trip. Plan to have something comparable to US$100 in the local currency for your arrival and any incidentals that you may incur before you make it to your hotel. It’s also a good idea to use Travelers Cheques when traveling aboard as they are insured in case they are lost or stolen. Once you are settled into your hotel, you can exchange some of your Travelers Cheques for more local currency. You may also use your ATM at various kiosks around the city and pull out local currency as you need it. Be sure to advise your bank or credit card company that you will be traveling aboard, so there are no issues using your cards.

5. Stay connected. Temporarily change your cell phone to an international plan or purchase a prepaid local cell phone when you arrive and email your new phone number to friends and family. There are cyber cafes in most large cities, and these are usually very economical to use. I’ve been in some cyber cafes where computer use was complimentary if you purchased a drink or pastry. Email makes it very easy to stay in touch with the people back home while you are away.

6. Plan out the first few days in advance. It makes traveling solo a little less daunting if you know what you would like to see, and how you will get to those destinations. Most travel guidebooks have maps of the area and include public transportation schedules and maps. Use a highlighter pen and map out your journey.

7. Take a guided city tour. Taking a guided city tour, especially on one of those hop on/hop off tour buses, is a great way to familiarize yourself with the city before heading off on my own.

8. Don’t dine alone. I find that if I sit at the restaurant counter or a community table instead of taking a table by myself that I meet new people and end up having a lot of fun. I have met locals as well as people who are on holiday. The other important part in this is – don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and start a conversation with others sitting at the table. People are generally friendly in these situations, and you might even get some great “locals” tips and recommendations. In addition, if you frequent a cafe or restaurant near your hotel a few times while in town, you are sure to meet some of the same people again and again. You can strike up a conversation and soon you may have a few new friends.

9. Leave some space in your itinerary for options. I find that once I have met some locals or people who have been traveling, and I ask for their recommendations on must see attractions or locations, that there are some great things to see or do that I didn’t know about or plan for. So I leave a couple of days in my itinerary unplanned, so that I can fit in these treasures.

10. Friends of Friends. Before you leave for your trip, ask your family and friends if they know anyone who lives in the cities where you will traveling; and if so, ask if they will make an introduction via email or telephone. Many times these friends of friends will welcome you to their city by sharing a meal with you or taking you sightseeing one afternoon. They may even introduce you to other locals while you are visiting. Don’t wear out your welcome by asking for too much of their time; and be sure to return the hospitality by inviting them to visit you in your city.

11. Take lots of pictures! You will want to document your trip by taking photographs of the sights you see and the people you meet along the way. After returning home, follow-up with the people you met on your journey by sending them a note or email and include a few snapshots from the trip that has both you and the other person in the shot. When traveling alone it’s nice if your camera has a timer, that way you can prop it up on something, aim it at the scene you are trying to capture, set the timer and have enough time so that you can be in the shot. Of course, you can also ask a bystander if they would take the picture with your camera so you can be in the photo.

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What a Ride!

June 10, 2010

Dating is like the Log Ride at an amusement park. At times it’s an uphill climb, but you eagerly anticipate what excitement lies ahead. There are parts when you’re just coasting along, things are peaceful, you feel relaxed. Then all of a sudden the bottom drops out and you’re rushing down a huge waterfall, arms up in the air, screaming in delight. What a thrill!

At the end of the ride you emerge from the “waterfall” into a body of water, and depending on how your boat lands, and where you were sitting, sometimes you come out exhilarated and ready to get back in line and ride again. Other times you land wrong and end up soaked, looking like a drowned cat.

Sure, it can be an entertaining way to get wet and cool off on a hot summer day, but if the weather turns or becomes breezy, you can end up with quite a chill.

Lately I seem to be sitting right in the splash zone. I’m riding along thinking, “this is so much fun. I really like this. I bet I found the right seat this time.” But then, the bottom drops out, I hit the water and end up all wet. Right on cue, a breeze kicks up and I’m left shivering; wondering why I keep getting back in line to ride this ride.

But even though I can’t stand being cold, and dislike be cold and wet even more; I do love excitement, and the thrill and adventure of the ride. So I’ll clean up my running mascara and apply waterproof this time; hey maybe I’ll even bring a change of clothes. Who knows, perhaps next time I’ll land just right.

Relationships between women are important. We learn a lot from each other, support each other during difficult times, and are there to toast each others accomplishments. Boyfriends can come and go in our lives, but I have bonds with women that have lasted for decades. And I can picture us still friends when we are old and gray, reminiscing about our lives, laughing about the good times we have had over the years… and we’ll still be sipping champagne!

Each month I host a Dinner and Movie Night with a group of girlfriends. I started it back in August ’09 after a conversation with a couple of friends about how we are all so busy that months go by and we barely have a conversation, let alone see each other.

It seems like as we get older, our lives become so jam-packed with jobs, travel, husbands/relationships, children, and just day-to-day living that we can get caught up and neglect ourselves and our friendships. I didn’t want this to happen. I wanted to make sure that we set some time aside each month for us.

I started with my core group of girl friends. I called or emailed each of them and asked which day of the week would work best on a consistent monthly basis. Once we figured out the day, we choose a movie and a theme for the food, and I sent out an email with all the details to everyone. The first month was terrific. We did it again in September. And by the third month we were in full swing, so I switched to an online evite and I invited a few more women to join the group.

One of the things I love about our dinner and movie night is that we have women in many different stages in life. Some of us are married, others single/divorced, some have never been married but are in relationships that they hope will lead to marriage.  Some have kids, others do not. Some are self-employed, others have full-time jobs, others stay home with children. But we can all come together and speak openly about what’s happening in our lives.  Whether it be work, marriage, relationships (or lack there of), travel, literature, challenges or accomplishments – we get on a topic and somehow we can all relate, no matter what stage of life we are in.

We all respect each other and give feedback from many different perspectives when asked, or just give a listening ear when needed. Every month has a slightly different tone, depending on who is in attendance, and what’s happening in each of our lives. Sometimes we get to talking so much that we don’t make it to the movie; or through the entire movie without hitting the pause button a few times to discuss some “very important issue” that came up in the movie. But that seems to be ok.

Our dinner/movie night is the same night and time each month to make it easier for people to plan ahead and schedule for it. It’s also pot luck which makes it simple and fun for everyone, plus it seems to have become a recipe exchange, with all the amazing treats people bring. And of course we always have wine or some other signature cocktail to go along with the month’s theme… it wouldn’t be “girls night” without that, now would it?

Some of the Movies we’ve watched are “He’s Just Not That Into You”; Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and “Vertigo”; “When Harry Met Sally”; “Scent of a Women”; and “Chocolat”.

Movie for this month…”Fried Green Tomatoes”.

One of our favorite cocktail recipes from our Harvest themed movie night was the Pumpkin Pie Martini, brought to us by movie night participant and good friend Christian…

Pumpkin Pie Martini:
Ice cubes
1/4 cup vanilla vodka (2 ounces)
1/4 cup crème de cacao (2 ounces)
1/4 cup heavy cream or milk
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Whipped cream, for garnish
Cinnamon stick, for garnish
 
Directions:
Fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice cubes. Add the vanilla vodka, crème de cacao, heavy cream and pumpkin pie spice and shake well.
 
Dip the rims of martini glasses into whipped cream. Strain the cocktail into the glasses, add Cinnamon stick as garnish.
 
Serves 2
Enjoy!