Tag Archives: Solo Travel

First World Problems

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I’ve been back in France for a little under one month now, and I feel like I have completely readjusted to being back. I have a routine once again: I am teaching in the classroom, I am teaching somewhat regularly online, and I am going to the gym. I also make some time to go out with my friends, but I’ve really been trying to focus on reestablishing some normalcy in my life. With this goal in mind, I am on vacation for just over two weeks right now. Before I even returned to France, I made the decision that I would not be traveling anywhere during this break.

Then reality struck. Spending two weeks with no solid travel plans because to cause a great deal of anxiety. My original plan was to teach as much as possible online, so as to rebuild my bank account from my summer of travels. Then one night, my curiosity got the best of me. I decided to just do some quick research to see how much short trips would be during this break. It was my hope that the prices would be so outrageous that the idea quickly passed. However, that was not the case. There were many very affordable destinations for me to visit. However, of all of the places I have left to visit in Europe, I have very specific times that I want to visit. Here are some examples:

  • Amsterdam, the Netherlands: during the spring to see the fields of tulips
  • Brussels, Belgium: during August to see the Begonia carpet in town square
  • Munich, Germany: in the winter to visit the Christmas markets

I also had previously ruled out returning to places I have visited within the last year, as I want to try and see as much of Europe as possible. However, I began to question this decision for a few destinations (Poland and Portugal, to name a few). I’ve also reconsidered visiting some of the places I visited on my very first trip to Europe, in 1999 (Madrid is currently at the top of this list). As I was sitting here pondering all of my possibilities, and even looking at destinations outside of Europe, I realized how fortunate I am to be in this current predicament. At the age of 30, when I look at a map, I feel very satisfied with my travels so far. I am by no means done exploring the world, but I feel at peace with my accomplishments so far. How is it possible that I do not have a strong desire to visit anywhere specific right now???

Over the years, many people have questioned my style of travel, which is one of the reasons that I prefer traveling alone. However, as I was researching popular destinations and monuments in cities around the world, I can say with complete honesty that I very vividly remember all of the places I have been and seen. I am also quite impressed as I read travel articles about different destinations how much of the world I have already seen. Each location and experience is very distinct in my memory. I am happy constantly experiencing different cultures and seeing as much as possible. I have always been of the mindset that I can sleep on the plane or when I get home. When I am in a new place, I should utilize my time to gather memories and experiences. If someone does not agree with me, that is fine, but please don’t tell me that I am wrong. This is something I have been pondering quite a bit recently and I finally came to the conclusion that I don’t care what other people think. Traveling and seeing the world makes me happy. I have found a style of travel that fits my personality, and if it doesn’t seem right to you, the solution is simple: don’t travel with me. However, do not judge or criticize my choices, as they are MY choices.

With all of this in mind, I am still not sure if I will go anywhere during this break, but it is still a possibility. If I do not go anywhere, I will be taking several long weekend trips to different countries and cities. Does anyone have any must see destinations they would recommend, especially in Europe? I am always looking for new ideas and suggestions and would really appreciate hearing about your travel experiences.

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Travel is the Only Thing You Buy that Makes You Richer

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This past year has been one of great adventure for me. I’ve visited so many wonderful places, learned a great deal about the world and myself, and done a lot of solo traveling. As much as I love to travel and see the world, it is also difficult for me to spend my money. I am a very logical thinker and I know what my daily/weekly/monthly budgets are, and I adhere to them. Always. I sometimes get so focused on working and making money that I forget to enjoy life (especially the fact that I am living my dream in France). 2d47eeffb96a1b600d0d10e2d17c2c44While I am really good at budgeting and saving, it always stresses me out to see my bank accounts decreasing, rather than increasing. I’ve made it through some pretty difficult financial times this year, and finally feel like I am financially stable again. I don’t want to feel like I did at the beginning of last school year ever again. When I was presented with the possibility of several visitors this summer I had mixed feelings. I was of course excited about the possibility of having people visit, but also a little hesitant, as I wouldn’t be able to do my Freelance job while people were visiting me. In the end, I decided to do as much of my freelance work as possible before people started to arrive. This meant consolidating one month’s work into about two weeks. As stressful as this might sound, it helps me to feel more financially stable and secure, so that I can focus on having a good time and enjoying the company of the people around me.

After my adventures with Chris, I had a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. While I would have preferred to have returned to France and picked up with my freelance work, I didn’t have a choice. My visa to stay in France expired at the end of May, so I had to leave the Schengen Zone and return to France as a tourist for the summer. If I didn’t leave the Schengen, a massive administrative nightmare would ensure, on both the French and the American sides. In order to try and prevent this catastrophe, I decided to willingly leave the Schengen. However, most of the countries which are not a part of the Schengen are very expensive countries to visit. The last couple of times I’ve had to leave the Schengen, I went to London. As awesome as London is, I was ready for a change. I began researching other countries that are not part of the Schengen. Many countries were possibilities at the beginning, but there were a few characteristics that set Edinburgh, Scotland apart from the others:

  • There is a zoo with pandas
  • There are several acclaimed vegetarian restaurants
  • There are castles
  • There are beautiful landscapes

Coming at the end of a week long adventure throughout Europe I was not feeling my best. The night before my flight to Edinburgh I tripped on a curb, twisted my ankle, and scraped my knee pretty badly. I felt like I was falling apart! I decided to push through the pain and tiredness and make the best of this new journey. Going through customs in the UK was a nightmare, as always. They asked me questions I had never been asked before–what are the credit limits on my credit cards, what are ALL of the places I’ll be visiting while in Edinburgh, and then the usual questions. While I understand being cautious, it was quite a different (more intense) experience than I’ve had while going through border patrol in any other country.

DSCF5495When I finally made it to Edinburgh, the first thing I noticed was how friendly and helpful everyone was being. I don’t know if living in France has jaded my perspective, but the people in Scotland seemed genuinely happy and willing to help in any way they could. I was able to take the tram from the airport to my hotel, which was very convenient. I arrived mid-afternoon in downtown Edinburgh and promptly checked into my hotel. I really just wanted to drop off my bags and begin exploring the city. My hotel was perfectly located–at the end of the tram line, next to Calton Hill. The hotel was very clean and modern with average-sized rooms (by European standards). It was perfect for me. I dropped all my things off in my room and set off to find the Scott Monument in the Princes Street Gardens. The monument was impressive from the ground, but it was possible to climb to the top. This was a major accomplishment for me, as it was a very windy day, so at the top of the monument I felt like I was going to be blown away. The views were spectacular and made me very eager to continue exploring this city.

After walking through the gardens I decided to just walk around the city for a bit. Just walking around was a relaxing DSCF5515experience. I decided I would try to find a cocktail bar before dinner. After some initial searching I found a bar called “Panda & Sons.” After reading a little bit more about this bar and a few reviews it was clear that I had to visit it. Unfortunately, I was almost two miles away. However, the walk to get to the bar took me through some interesting neighborhoods and near some cool looking gardens. This bar is designed to look like a speakeasy and is perfectly executed. Speakeasy-style bars have become one of my favorite types in recent years. Panda & Sons was the best executed speakeasy bar I’ve ever visited. You enter through a bookcase and walk into what feels like someone’s living room. The drinks are perfectly made, and relatively reasonably priced (considering it’s Edinburgh). Everything in the bar was panda themed (!!) which was an added bonus for me. After a few drinks I set off in search of dinner. I found a restaurant that claimed to have veggie burgers, and since I’ve yet to find a true veggie burger in Europe, decided to give it a shot. It was one of the most delicious veggie burgers I’ve had in a really long time. It was an actual veggie burger!

The next day was hiking day. In my research I discovered that there is some excellent hiking to be done in Edinburgh. Initially, I DSCF5550wasn’t sure if I was going to give it a shot or not. Hiking is one of those activities that I feel is best done with a buddy (especially when one is accident prone). After scoping out the situation and reading reviews/tips, I decided that I could handle it. However, with my still twisted ankle, hiking to Arthur’s Seat proved to be a more challenging task than I had anticipated. I didn’t end up making it all the way to the top, but I made it almost to the top. I encountered another American while hiking and she told me that the path got really narrow, rocky, and steep just a bit ahead. As I was already hurting, I decided not to attempt the last stretch, but rather to take a moment and enjoy the scenery.

After my morning of hiking, I spent the afternoon enjoying the architecture and visiting various museums. I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable the museums were to visit (most were free!). I have a weakness for art museums and could spend days exploring the lesser known museums of the world. As much as I love and appreciate the major and well-known museums, I think there is a lot to be said for the independent, local museums. I called it an early night after visiting many museums, as the next day was my zoo day (pandas!).

I awoke very early, as my scheduled panda visitation was with the first group of the day. Compared to the other zoos I’ve DSCF5784visited, this zoo was not one of my favorites. It was very confusing to navigate, with either no signs or misleading signs. Also, the animals were not very active, so I was a bit disappointed. Of the two pandas, I was only able to see the male. It was nice to see a panda, but I think my experience at Zoo Parc Beauval in France has ruined all future panda visits. Last December my best friend, Jeannette, and I were lucky enough to have the panda exhibit to ourselves for nearly an hour and the pandas were incredibly active. While I don’t regret visiting the Edinburgh Zoo, I don’t think I will be making a return visit anytime soon.

To conclude my weekend in Edinburgh, I spent the next day exploring Stirling. Several of my friends highly recommended visiting Stirling Castle, and now that I have, I can see why. It was definitely worth the train adventure, even in the terrible weather. I’m used to the romantic styles of castles, which are very different from the castles in Scotland. It was also at the Stirling Castle where I received a real history lesson about Scotland. I love learning about the history of different countries and cities I visit. It was also here that I learned about the significance of the unicorn to Scotland, and who wouldn’t love a country where the unicorn is a very important symbol.

OverDSC06950all, it was a wonderful getaway to Edinburgh. It helped me to realize that I would love to return to Scotland to explore other cities. While Edinburgh was lovely, I think there are many more equally lovely cities I need to explore. After returning to France I had about 10 days of normalcy before Jeannette arrived in France. I embraced those 10 days by trying to relax and regain my energy, while also working at my freelance job as much as possible, as this was going to be my last opportunity to earn money for the rest of the summer. Stay tuned for the next adventure: two redheads take on France, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco!

Buda and Pest

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Everyone tells me how brave I am and how much they admire me for following my dreams, but I don’t see it in the same way. I could not imagine doing anything other than what I am doing. As scary as it is to travel alone, I think it would be scarier regretting never having taken the opportunity to see the world. There are so many incredible places to visit that I have a difficult time deciding where to visit first. I’ve stopped making a list of the places I would like to visit and have just accepted that I am going to be travelling for as long as possible. Since moving to France I’ve learned a lot about myself and my friends and family. Maintaining friendships isn’t always easy, especially with the 6 hour time difference, but I’m doing the best that I can. Whenever I feel down and defeated, I FaceTime Nana and she is always able to give me the exact advice that I need at the time. During out past couple of conversations she has been so incredibly supportive of my desire to travel and see the world. It’s interesting because she and my late grandpa are the people who instilled a love of travel in me from a very young age.

Of everyone I know, Nana is the person I listen to most seriously. While I love my mother, I feel like Nana is able to give me unbiased advice, even if she would rather have me in Michigan with her. Our past couple of conversations have focused on two ideas:

1. I will not be young forever and I must seize every opportunity that I have to travel while I am young, healthy, and able bodied. (This was great advice as I am going to become a senior citizen in less than five months…)

2. Don’t worry about the money. It will always work out. If it were always easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. Focus on the memories and experiences and everything else will sort itself out.

So, Nana and I have had many conversations about my life and life decisions, and whenever I am doubtful or fearful, she is able to talk some sense into me. Thus, my trip to Budapest. Originally, I had a different destination in mind, but after researching, learned that it will be better to visit this other country in April. As I mentioned, I no longer have a list of places I want to visit, I just want to see the world. My new strategy for deciding where to travel is based on the affordability at the time. Because I am living in Europe, so many countries are only a few hours and a few hundred euro away. Budapest happened to be one of the most affordable places to visit at this time of year. So, I bought my ticket and didn’t look back.

I decided to spend four days in Budapest, which tends to be the maximum amount of time I can spend visiting one place. Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, that are divided by the Danube River. I was able to get a really good deal on a hotel on the Pest side, right near the Danube Riverwalk. What’s nice about Budapest is that there is an airport shuttle directly to most of the hotels, for considerably less than the cost of a taxi. My roundtrip ticket was 20 euro, which is impossible to beat.

My hotel was in a perfect location. A two minute walk to the river, and bus stops and metro stations within a five minute walk. The public transit was super reliable and super easy to navigate. In the city centre the metro arrived every 90-seconds, so it was never a long wait. It was a similar system to that in Copenhagen or Prague, where you bought one ticket, validated it, and could freely use all of the public transit. However, even though the public transit system was super easy to navigate, when someone is as directionally challenged as I am, a lot of time is wasted trying to determine the direction to head after exiting the transportation.

I spent most of my time out and about, trying to see and do as much as possible. The one thing that I was really hoping to do, but wasn’t able to make happen was visit the Mini Bar. Apparently, there were special hours for the January through March. I was really bummed at first, but then I realized that this was a perfect reason for another trip. Additionally, I was only able to visit two of the bath houses, so I’d like to visit many more. While I saw and did many different things in Budapest, there were a few things that stood out, and others that were not very memorable.

One of the not so memorable things I did was visit Buda Castle. Don’t get me wrong, it was an awesome adventure/experience trying to get here (see directionally challenged commentary above), it just wasn’t what I was expecting. It might be because living in France has left me jaded when it comes to castles, or it might be that it simply wasn’t anything too special. The zoo was a cool experience, but it was also a little depressing. Compared to some of my favorite zoos (Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago,Illinois), Cleveland Zoo (Cleveland, Ohio), National Zoo (Washington D.C.), and Memphis Zoo (Memphis, Tennessee), and Beauval ZooParc (Beauval, France) to name a few) this one was much smaller and didn’t give the animals as much space to play. However, there were several baby animals in the zoo (elephant, giraffe, kangaroos).

Also, the architecture (especially the roofs) was stunning. I am falling in love with Eastern Europe. Another reason I would love to visit Budapest again is to spend more time discovering the architecture. I didn’t realize how comfortable and at home I felt in Eastern Europe until this year. Prior to moving to France, I had only visited Western Europe. This was a nice change of pace and is helping me to want to understand my own heritage in a new and deeper way.

Overall, I had a wonderful experience in Budapest and hope to visit again in the ‘near’ future. Below is a collage of the highlights of my trip. It is difficult for me to remember (and more importantly, accept) that I cannot see and do everything a city has to offer in one trip.

La Toussaint Vacation

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Life in France is all about living in the moment and enjoying everything. I began my assistantship at the beginning of this month. So far, I have worked a total of eight days. Remember that I only work 12-hours each week, over the course of four days. This means that every week I have at least one day off, in addition to my regular weekend. I was just starting to get into the swing of things and develop a routine in both of my schools.

Last Friday was my final day of work for the next two weeks, due to All Saint’s Day (la Toussaint). It’s difficult for me to comprehend how it is possible for me to already be on vacation, when I have worked a total of eight days! I decided that for this vacation I wanted to visit somewhere in Europe I have not visited. After much research and changing my destination many times, I have finally selected my destination and purchased my tickets.

This coming weekend I will be in Paris. The husband of one of my college roommates is currently working in Dublin and has always wanted to visit Paris. However, he does not speak French and really doesn’t know what to see/do in Paris other than the major tourist destinations. I will spend 2.5 days exploring Paris and then I will continue my vacation by heading to a different destination.

After Paris I will be heading to Prague for 4 days. I have never been to Prague, so am super excited about this new adventure. It is also the first time that I have traveled to a foreign country alone. My biggest concern is not being able to speak the language. When traveling within France I am okay because I can speak the language.

So far on my list of things to do and see in Prague are:

-Charles Bridge

-Prague Castle

-Petrin Hall

-David Cerny’s public sculptures

-Church of Our Lady Tyn

-The Dancing House

-Old Town Square (Astronomical Clock, St. Nicholas Church)

Does anyone have any other suggestions for what I should see/do while in Prague? I’m always looking for additional ideas! I’m super excited for these new adventures!