The magic of solo travel

Although many of us choose to travel solo, it’s a concept that can be difficult for some people to understand. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve been asked if I’m afraid to travel on my own. Several female friends and acquaintances have come to me with different queries simply out of interest or because they are looking to embark on a solo adventure themselves.

Solo travel is something that I think everyone should do at some point in their lives. You learn so much when you only have yourself to rely on and you develop a sense of confidence that makes you feel like you’re capable of anything (and you are)! One apprehension that many people have is that traveling solo might be lonely. Traveling on your own doesn’t mean you will be alone the entire time. You will notice that there are many other people doing the same thing as you. It’s been inspiring to see how many other solo female travelers there are out there. Over the years, I’ve met some amazing people and made lifelong friends this way.

I used to be incredibly shy; traveling to foreign countries on my own would have never crossed my mind years ago. Even if it had, I would have never believed that I was capable of doing it. Living and working in Australia completely changed me. I realized that I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to. If I could move that far from home, find a job, make friends and create a life there all on my own – what couldn’t I do? I have now traveled to 10 countries solo. I’m by no means an expert on the subject but I do think that I’ve learnt a few valuable lessons over the past few years. Through trial and error, I’ve learnt what works, what doesn’t and how to get the most out of your solo experience. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy having travel companions and I’ve had some great ones over the years; but there is something really special about doing it all on your own. Plus, if you have to wait for someone to go with you, you might never go. Many of my friends are married, have children, careers and other commitments that understandably, do not allow them to pick up and go on a whim.

Here are some of the tips and tricks that I’ve learnt over the years. Some of these can apply to travel and life in general. Any other questions/comments or things to add, please feel free to get in touch.

  1. Start off small. Try a weekend getaway close to home for your first solo adventure. This way you won’t feel too overwhelmed and it will give you a taste of how it would be to travel on your own. This won’t be for everyone but for some of you; it will be a life changer.
  2. Keep going. It’s inevitable – at some point, you’re going to panic. All solo travelers have been there (myself included of course) but it’s important to remember that the feeling is temporary. So many questions can race through your mind…what if I get lost? What if no one speaks my language? What if I get lonely?…Take a few deep breaths, sit down at a coffee shop and take a few moments (or as many moments as it takes) to collect yourself. Everything is going to be okay and this feeling is going to pass. Bring a notebook with you (I always carry one wherever I go) and jot down how you’re feeling. Grab a map from your hotel and make a plan of action. Do one thing at a time and don’t feel that you have to fit too much in. I always ask myself – what’s the worst thing that can happen? I get on the wrong train. I get lost. Big deal. You can always ask someone for help and Google Maps is always there to help guide you, should your map fail you. Just regroup and keep moving – you’ve got this! As the wonderful Carrie Fisher said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
  3. Do your research. I find that I’m more at ease when I’ve done a bit of research before I take off on my adventure. It doesn’t mean that you have to stick to a rigid itinerary but it’s nice to have a rough idea of what you’d like to see before arriving at your destination. When it comes to museums and art galleries for example, they might be closed on certain days. It’s good to know that ahead of time, so you don’t miss out. I also like to find out the best way to get from the airport to my accommodation just so I have a plan when I arrive. This is especially a good idea for first time solo travelers. It will be one less thing to worry about. When in doubt, you can always ask someone for help.
  4. Pack light. Don’t bring too much with you. It can be a pain lugging a heavy suitcase around. I recommend investing in a travel backpack from your local outdoor retailer (MEC, Patagonia). Have the staff help you find something to suit your needs regarding weight and size. This will all depend on what kind of trip you will be taking and in which climate. For example, if you’re a hiker/climber, you’re going to need a larger pack for your gear. If you’re heading to a colder climate, you will also require more room for additional layers of clothing. In all cases, it’s best to bring only the necessities.
  5. Stay safe. The most common myth about solo travel, especially for females is that it’s dangerous. Some countries require more caution than others of course, but this would be true regardless of who you were traveling with. Always trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your intuition. Ask the locals for advice and don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do back home (ie: going out to a bar on your own and drinking too much). Always let someone know where you’ll be, especially if you’re going on an extended trip. I usually send my itinerary to my mom so that someone always knows my schedule and where I’ll be on any given day. Just use common sense and pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t worry – you won’t end up like Claire Danes in Brokedown Palace!
  6. Live in the moment. Take the time to “stop and smell the roses.” Sit in a coffee shop and watch the world go by. Listen to music, write in a journal, read a book – do whatever makes you feel content. Travel teaches you about different cultures, it opens your eyes to different ways of life and it provides you with a sense of adventure. It can also teach you to live in the moment and appreciate what’s going on around you…if you let it ❤

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Explore Amsterdam

I’m currently sitting on the train heading to Cologne, Germany. It has been quite a stressful morning but I am now sitting comfortably listening to music and reflecting on the past few days. Amsterdam is wild! I absolutely loved it there. Not only is it very different to any city that I’ve visited before (the Red Light District is something else), it is also stunningly beautiful. When most people think of Amsterdam, the first thing that comes to mind is usually the Red Light District and marijuana – but I assure you, there is much more to this city! See for yourself 🙂

  1. Moco MuseumExcellent museum with current exhibitions by street art legend Banksy and pop art master Roy Lichtenstein. It’s in a great location, just in the middle of Museumplein which is right near the famous ‘I amsterdam‘ letters and the Van Gogh Museum

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2. Van Gogh MuseumAs an art lover, I did not hesitate to visit the Van Gogh Museum. It really was incredible. It houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings; including The Potato Eaters (1885) and Almond Blossoms (1890). They are open daily from 9am – 5pm (Fridays until 10pm) and 1 adult ticket costs €17. I suggest purchasing your ticket in advance so you don’t have to wait in line. Click on the link to book your ticket online https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/plan-your-visit/tickets-and-webstore.

3. Day trip to Zaanse SchansConsidered by many to be “one of the most beautiful places in the Netherlands” – I would have to agree! There is plenty to do here; marvel at the windmills, check out one of the several museums and shops or rent a bike and tour around at your leisure. Make sure to treat yourself in the Chocolate Factory; you won’t be able to resist once the smell of cacoa hits you! It’s very easy to get to and well worth the trip – the train from Amsterdam Centraal Station only takes 17 minutes.

4. Anne Frank HouseI had so many emotions during my visit to the Anne Frank House, the annex where Anne and 7 others hid during the Second World War. It was hard to imagine 8 people living in such a small environment and in constant fear that they could be discovered at any moment…I’ve read her diary several times; trying to imagine what it would have been like to be in her shoes. Actually being present in that environment was very humbling. Although heartbreaking, it was inspiring to see how such a young girl could be so brave during such a horrible time in history. For anyone visiting Amsterdam, I highly recommend visiting the Anne Frank House (online booking is essential http://www.annefrank.org/en/Museum/Practical-information/Online-ticket-sales/).

“We’re all searching for happiness; we’re all leading lives that are different and yet the same.” – Anne Frank, 6 July 1944

5. MarketsDecember is one of the best times of the year to visit Amsterdam. It can be cold (being Canadian, the cold doesn’t bother me as much) but it’s well worth it. The city is truly magical during winter – the lights, the smells, the atmosphere in general…everyone seems to be in the Christmas spirit. In addition to the Christmas markets, make sure to check out the Albert Cuyp street market and the indoor market De Hallen.

6. Vintage ShoppingI’m not a big shopper but I love a good bargain! Vintage shopping is one of my favourite activities, especially in other countries. I spotted some colourful granny sweaters in the window and I just had to go in. I didn’t end up buying anything because my suitcase is heavy enough but if that wasn’t the case, I would have been in trouble! Kiloshop is located at Waterlooplein 189, 1011 PG Amsterdam.

7. Morning strollsOne of my favourite things to do in a new city is to take a long walk in the early morning. It’s usually quiet and very peaceful; you can get a good sense of the city without a lot of people around. I was heading to the Van Gogh Museum and decided to take the long way, grab a coffee and take in my surroundings. It’s important to take a moment to “stop and smell the roses” now and again.

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8. Delicious foodPancakes! I usually don’t like pancakes (I know, I’m crazy) but these are more like crepes and boy, are they delicious. I had one with nutella (see below) and another one with ham and cheese when I was in Zaanse Schans. They are massive but very thin so you can eat a whole one to yourself. If you want something a little lighter and fluffier, try Poffertjes – they are basically a mini version, usually topped with powdered sugar and butter. If you’re visiting in December like I am, head to one of several Christmas markets – there you will find an array of delicious and inexpensive bites. Also try: stroopwafels (or ‘syrup waffle’) which is a type of cookie, haring (traditional Dutch food) and rookworst (sausage).

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Until next time, Amsterdam!

Barcelona, Spain

Lately, I haven’t had much time to sit down and gather my thoughts. I finally have some down time so I thought I’d post about my latest trip before heading off on my last adventure of the year. Tomorrow, I leave for Amsterdam and then I continue on to Germany, Poland and Denmark before heading back to Canada just in time for Christmas. Back in October, I visited Barcelona for some rest and relaxation in the sunshine (I’ve never been so happy to see the sun)! Barcelona is such a great city to explore; there is so much to see and do and it’s easy to get from one attraction to the next either by walking or using the metro. If you’re visiting for a few days, it’s worth purchasing a T10 card that will allow you to take 10 journeys, saving you a few euros. Here are some of my favourite things about Barcelona…

  1. Sagrada FamíliaThis stunning Roman Catholic church was designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Work began on the church in 1882 and it continues to this day. It is expected to be completed by 2026.

2. Mercado de la BoqueriaLocated just off La Ramba, this market has every kind of food you can think of…and much more! I visited the Mercado daily; marveling at all the colourful and unique displays (I may have purchased a few items as well – who could resist all those sweet treats?) 🤤

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3. Park GüellThis is a public park designed by none other than Antoni Gaudí. It is located on Carmel Hill and is filled with sculptures, buildings and a museum dedicated to Gaudí himself. I had seen many photos of Gaudí’s work but in person it is another story; I really felt like I was in a Tim Burton movie!

4. Montserrat – One of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. From Barcelona city, you can take the train part of the way and then a train or cable car up to the top part of the mountain. I chose the train because I’m not great with confined spaces. It was a little scary at times as there is no railing separating the train from the cliffs below but don’t worry – it’s perfectly safe! It really was a spectacular ride up – the sun was peaking through the clouds; providing a surreal view of the mountain range in the distance.

Many people make the journey to this mountain top monastery to see the Black Madonna. Religious retreats also take place here, as visitors participate in overnight hikes in order to see the sunrise from atop the mountain. Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen; the architecture is breathtaking. Currently, there are approximately 70 monks residing at the monastery. I’ve learnt that you do not have to be religious to appreciate the beauty of a place such as this; I will never forget how peaceful it made me feel.

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5. Museu PicassoI am an art lover so to see a collection this extensive of Picasso’s work was really incredible. The museum houses over 4,000 works by Picasso; including The First Communion and Science and Charity.

6. Palau de la Música Catalana This UNESCO World Heritage Site and concert hall was built in the early 1900’s by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The exterior of the building is incredibly beautiful, especially at night. Guided tours of its interior are offered every 30 minutes daily in a variety of languages.

7. Casa Vicens & Casa BatllóCasa Vicens is Gaudí’s first masterpiece. It was his first commissioned work; paving the way for his future architectural success. It is currently a museum and cultural space that allows visitors from far and wide to see just how talented and creative Gaudí was. Casa Batlló was another masterpiece built by Gaudí in 1904. The details of his work are really something to see in person; photos could not possibly do them justice.

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Casa Vicens, Carrer de les Carolines, 20, 08012 Barcelona.

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Casa Batlló, Passeig de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona.

8. Tapas!Barcelona has some of the best food (and drinks – mojitos here are to die for) that I’ve ever had. Patatas bravas, tacos, nachos, ceviche, churros…my mouth is watering just thinking about these delicious bites. Food is very cheap and because the portions are smaller, you never feel too full after a meal. Spanish people tend to eat dinner much later than I’m used to so I was often one of few people dining at my usual dinnertime of around 6-7pm. Barcelona is well worth a visit just for the food alone 😉

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Muchas gracias Barcelona ❤