Tag: Vacation Planning

The Down Side of Solo Travel

The Down Side of Solo Travel

Last month, I took my first ever solo trip. I flew to Paris by myself, stayed in an Airbnb by myself, saw the sights by myself, and flew home by myself. In some ways it was an ideal trip. After all, I only saw the things that I wanted to see, spent as much time in each location as I wanted to, and made 100% of the decisions 100% my way. However, there were a few things that I didn’t like about traveling alone. And it doesn’t seem like anyone ever talks about the down side of solo travel. So here’s the ugly truth. Or at least, my ugly truth. Your mileage may vary.

1. You may spend a lot of time feeling self-conscious.

1a. Selfies

I have posted a selfie on the TravelAsMuch Instagram account exactly three times in as many years. There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is I feel very conspicuous when I’m trying to take a selfie.

For millennials and those who are even younger, sticking that phone/camera up in the air as far as your arm will stretch is almost second nature. For me… not so much. I want to hurry up and get it over with before anyone catches me doing it. I hover somewhere between embarrassment that someone will think I’m vain and worry about inconveniencing others who want a photo without me in it.

1b. Restaurants

If you cringe at the thought of having to sit in a restaurant at a table for one, welcome to my world. Guess who ended up not eating a fabulous meal in a city known as one of the best in the world for great cuisine? This girl!

I just couldn’t bear the thought of eating a sit down meal by myself. I went to two restaurants to get dinner by myself on that trip, and while I managed to survive the ordeal, I definitely did not enjoy it. For the remainder of my meals in Paris, I went to Chez McDonalds (Lame, I know!) or bought groceries and fixed my own meals.

1c. Romantic Places

I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower by myself. Everywhere I turned, couples were kissing and taking their own pictures from that oh-so-romantic vantage point above the city. They even had a poster proclaiming it as the “Place to Kiss” with a special hashtag, #eiffellove.

And there was I, without Hubs, missing him dearly, and unable to express my love. I did, however, take a selfie and sent it to him later when I had access to Wifi.

The down side of solo travel: taking a selfie in a romantic place can be daunting.
Selfies in romantic places are just one reason why solo travel can be less than glamorous.

2. If you are an introvert, you will struggle.

I am an introvert. Which is not to say that I can’t talk to people I don’t know… just that it doesn’t come naturally. When I host women’s activities at my church, I think I do a god job of greeting everyone and being a good mistress of ceremonies. But being outgoing & friendly without an agenda takes so much energy out of me and causes me so much anxiety that I tend to avoid it if possible. If you are the type of person who never met a stranger, please know that I am in absolute awe of you. How I wish I could just strike up a casual conversation without feeling like a total dork!

So if, like me, you’re an introvert (with or without shyness), solo travel might be really hard for you. And doubly so if you go to a destination where you don’t speak the language well enough to have a conversation. As a non-French speaking introvert, I felt incredibly isolated on my Paris trip.

Sure, the first few days alone in Paris were great (well, once I finally got my luggage and recovered from the jet lag!), but after that… I didn’t feel like an independent woman on a spectacular journey of self-discovery and adventure. I just felt… dare I say it?… lonely.

I’ve considered whether I might have met more people if I had stayed at a hotel rather than in an Airbnb. Probably, but I absolutely loved the place I stayed. It offered amazing sunset views of the Eiffel Tower and Saint Sulpice church:

(Click here for a link that will get you up to $55 off when booking on Airbnb!)

3. If you’re indecisive, you will struggle.

I didn’t realize until I went on this trip how much I rely on the preferences, advice, and opinions of others. From the mundane to the monumental, I find it difficult to make a decision without consulting someone else.

The down side of solo travel includes not having someone to help you make up your mind.
Decisions, decisions…

Traveling alone means you have to make all of the decisions yourself. Without help or feedback from anyone.

In situations that are not clear cut, I can seldom make a decision without verbalizing the pros and cons of each side, running through possible scenarios, and checking in with others to make sure I’m not the only one who has considered these things. I like to use other people as a sounding board because:

  • Sometimes I overlook important details (like the fact that the subway will be closed when we get out of a particular venue and we will have to get an Uber instead)
  • I unwittingly let external factors influence my mood & decisions (hungry, angry, frustrated, tired – I make all of my worst decisions when I am in one of these states)
  • Sometimes I don’t think things all the way through to the end (yes, Julie, that wall mirror that’s 3.5 feet across is a perfect gift for Aunt Marjorie… but how are you going to get it home?)
  • And then there are occasions when I just don’t have a preference. I can’t decide because there isn’t any factor to sway me one way or the other. In those instances, I really just want someone else to choose for me.

So, while calling all the shots has a certain appeal, you might find it a little unsettling after a while. I really missed being able to get other people’s opinions.

4. You may worry about your safety.

I want to start off by saying that I did not once feel like I was in imminent danger when I went to Paris.

However! I do believe that the only reason I didn’t feel like I was in danger was because I was almost constantly fretting over it. As a woman traveling alone in a city with which I am not at all familiar, I had to think about my personal safety in all sorts of situations. Situations that, if I had been with other people, would not have given me a moment’s hesitation. Some of the precautions I took included:

  • Taking Uber instead of the subway at night. I didn’t think it would be in my best interest to be walking home alone from the subway station after dark, no matter how well-lit the streets were.
  • Making sure the Uber car’s license plate matched what the app said it would be. And even then, still asking the driver who he was there to pick up.
  • Not looking like a clueless tourist. In all honesty, I probably didn’t nail this one, but I did at least try. Rather than constantly referring to a map, I used my phone’s Google Maps app for directions.
  • Not using headphones in both ears. When I was using my earbuds, I only inserted one so that I could still hear what was going on around me. I did not want to be caught off guard or otherwise endanger myself.

So, Is Solo Travel Worth It?

There is a definite down side of solo travel, as I’ve outlined here. But as with most experiences, you are more apt to enjoy it if you don’t have unrealistically high expectations from the outset. Regardless of whether you travel by yourself or with others, you will maximize your satisfaction with the experience by doing adequate planning and preparation before hand.

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Goodbye, FOMO: How to Experience the JOY of Missing Out

Goodbye, FOMO: How to Experience the JOY of Missing Out

No More FOMO!

Euromonitor International recently released a new report “Megatrends Shaping the Future of Travel” at World Travel Market (WTM) London. One of the emerging trends cited in the report is JOMO, or the Joy of Missing Out. Contrary to FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out), the Joy of Missing Out stems from a desire to unplug and enjoy face-to-face, live experiences.

Why JOMO?

Recent studies have found that most smartphone users are spending over five hours per day looking at their devices. Other statistics include the fact that most people will check their phone 200 times per day – that’s every six and a half minutes! Our addiction to our smartphones has gotten so bad that there is a name for the anxiety we experience when we are separated from them. Nomophobia is the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use your phone for some reason, such as the absence of a signal or running out of minutes or battery power.

When I went to Machu Picchu last May, I was astonished at how many people were looking at their phones. All around me, people were gazing at a screen instead of the historic and architectural wonder of the Incan city. Whether taking selfies, playing Pokemon Go, or texting family back home, everyone seemed to have a phone in their hand.  I was no exception:

(In my defense, this is a still shot from a Mother’s Day greeting I recorded for my mom – after all, it was Mother’s Day and I was in a different hemisphere of the world. And notice that Hubs, goofing off behind me, is holding his phone as well.)

How Do We Unplug?

The very first step is to decide that you want to experience your destination with undivided attention and no distractions. Yes, you will feel anxious. You may find that your hand inadvertently pats the pocket where your phone would normally be. You may experience momentary panic when you realize it isn’t there. But, despite those negative emotions, you will end your travel with a richer experience and abundant memories of all the things you saw and experienced.

Need ideas on how to experience your own Joy of Missing Out vacation? Here are some tips to help you make it happen.

  1. Travel to a destination that offers a variety of experiences, but not too many. Think Cornwall instead of London, Monte Isola instead of Rome, Watkins Glen State Park instead of New York City. In other words, go where the majority of tourists don’t go. The ideal destinations will have things for you to do, but not so many that you are constantly on the go and not relaxing.
  2. Choose a destination with an abundance of natural beauty and/or outdoor activities. Frankly, technology and nature are opposites. Surround yourself with one and you won’t think as much about the other.
  3. Consider a spa, or all inclusive resort. Those places are designed to offer everything you need, often with a focus on relaxation and pampering, without you ever having to leave the site. If you have ever said, “I need a vacation from my vacation,” a relaxing spa stay may be just what you need.
  4. Go remote. At the very edges of the civilized world, it may be difficult to find a cell signal, and wifi may be limited. Some of the best locations for a Joy of Missing Out experience are islands, national parks, and small towns where the internet access is limited.
  5. Remove the temptation. It’s okay if you lack the self-control to not glance at the phone. You are not alone, my friends! But there are simple steps you can take to remove the temptation. In order to truly experience Joy of Missing Out travel, your phones need to be left in the hotel room. Better yet, leave them at home! If you need to take pictures, get a point & shoot camera. They are small, inexpensive, and don’t come with push notifications or other distractions.
  6. Evaluate your JOMO experience.  I recommend keeping a handwritten journal about your Joy of Missing Out experience. Track how you are feeling each day in as much detail as possible. Use your notes to evaluate what the experience was like and to remind yourself about how it differed from other travels you have had.

And Finally, Some Encouragement

Taking a vacation with the intent of experiencing the Joy of Missing Out will seem difficult at first. It may even seem impossible. But with the right mindset, you may just find it to be your most rewarding vacation ever!

 

Forget the fear of missing out… here’s how you can experience the JOY of missing out when you travel! #jomo #unplug #digitaldetox

 

My Travel Planning Process

My Travel Planning Process

How to Plan for an Amazing Trip (My Way)

I recently found a great airfare deal and booked myself a ticket to Paris. Just me. No one else. This is my first ever solo trip, and I’m a little nervous but also very excited. Okay, considering that I don’t really speak French, I’ma lot nervous. But in the words of Dr. Sheldon Cooper, “If there were a list of things that make me more comfortable, lists would be on the top of that list.” So I’m making a lot of lists in preparation for my trip.

Travel Planning Process: How I'm planning my first ever solo trip to Paris.

As I dive into doing this trip 100% my way for 100% me, I thought it might be helpful to show you what my travel planning process looks like.  But first, a disclaimer: I am a highly structured, type A, over-planning kind of person, even on vacation. If you prefer to be a little less organized more spontaneous than me, you might want to follow this guide loosely and omit anything that seems like it might be too much effort.

Step 1: Have No Destination or Date in Mind

travel planning process - if possible, and to save money, start out being flexible on destination or dates

Yes, you heard it here first. The best plan starts by having no plan. Amazing vacations often present themselves as unanticipated opportunities in the form of cheap airfare. When you choose your destination or dates first, you lose a lot of flexibility in how much you will need to spend. My family and I have flown from Baltimore to both Peru and Iceland for around $200 per person round trip. It can be done. And since we want to travel as much as we can, it only follows that we need to do it as cheaply as we can.  After all, money saved on this trip means more money for the next trip!

Step 2: Start Putting Together a Destination List

travel planning process - make lists of where you want to go

One of the first places I look once I’ve booked my tickets is Pinterest, which I have written about before. Pinterest is great because not only is it a place to find destination ideas, it’s also a place to keep destination ideas. As soon as I’ve booked a trip, I create a board for my new destination and start pinning away. At first I pin everything that looks even vaguely interesting. For instance, my trip is to Paris but I’m pretty much pinning everything in France that I find of interest. I’ll be able to go through later and scale down, but if I find 3+ points of interest relatively close together outside of the city, that might make for a good day trip.

Depending on how anal organized I want to be, I might then set up a different board for each day of the trip with the activities for that day. I realize that it sounds over the top, but when you’re in an unfamiliar place, it actually makes sense to plan a day’s activities according to where they are located. Less time in transit between points makes for more time to see the sights.

The only caution I have to offer about using Pinterest as part of your travel planning process is to not allow your board to become oversaturated with images. You only need one pin with helpful information about visiting, for example, the Eiffel Tower. You do not need eight to twelve pins about the Eiffel Tower because they all have stunning images to go with them. The more you look at pictures, the less impressed you will be when you stand before it in person.

Other sites I like to peruse for things to see at a particular destination are Roadside America (US travel only) and Atlas Obscura. Both of these sites offer tips for seeing things that are off the beaten path and not likely to be on every tourist’s must-see list. They also usually have some history attached to them, which you know I love.

Corollary to Step 2: Accept That You Can’t See it All

travel planning process: to stay sane, set limits as to what you can reasonably hope to see/do on your trip

Unless you are visiting your destination for a very long time, you will have to prioritize what things you want to see and do on your trip. You cannot realistically expect to see every great architectural wonder, museum, monument, cathedral, park, and restaurant in one week’s time.

If you compile a massive list of all the places you want to see, and add to it all the places someone (friends/family/blogger/travel guidebook) recommended that you see, you are going to end up with a very long list. And when you find that you only have time to do about 20% of the things on that list, you will probably be disappointed and/or feel like your trip has been a failure.

I prioritize my destinations into three distinct lists:  Must See (I will not forgive myself if I don’t do this), Should See (important in order for me to consider the trip a success), and If There’s Time (everything else). The Must See List should be reserved only for iconic sights and experiences – things that, if you don’t do them, you won’t feel like you really even went to that location. In the case of Paris, it would be visiting the Eiffel Tower and seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. The Should See list will have a reasonable amount of attractions/activities – between one and four per day. The If There’s Time list, if you’ve kept track of all those recommendations, should be the largest list.

Step 3: Finding Lodging

Travel Planning Process: Things to consider when booking lodging on your trip

A lot goes into finding the perfect place to stay. Here are just a few of the things you must consider:

  • Expense – How much can you afford for this portion of your trip?
  • Area – What sort of neighborhood do you want to stay in? Hip and trendy, or residential and quiet? How safe is the neighborhood you’re considering? Do you want to have a room with a view?
  • Type of accommodations – Do you want complete privacy? Do you want to be able to fix some of your own meals? Do you want to stay someplace that provides you with breakfast each day? Will you need local staff to provide you with recommendations on where to go?
  • Convenience to public transport – If you aren’t renting a vehicle, you may want to make sure that you are within walking distance of a subway station or bus route

As for when to book, I’ve found that you want to do it far enough in advance that you have plenty of options (particularly if you plan to stay in an Airbnb or private home), but not too far in advance in case your itinerary changes. There is nothing worse than booking a place for an entire week, only to decide later that you want to spend part of the time elsewhere. I’d say three months ahead is probably a good window, but you can go with less advance booking if you’re staying in a hotel.

Step 4: Buying Tickets in Advance

travel planning process: consider buying tickets for attractions in advance online so you won't have to wait in line when you arrive

I will admit, this step is riskier than the others. The potential benefits of buying your admission tickets in advance are:

  • Little to no time spent waiting in line when you arrive at the attraction.
  • Allows you to start paying for your vacation expenses before you go
  • No need to worry about an event being sold out; your admission is guaranteed
  • Some venues offer a cheaper admission rate when booking online.

The potential drawbacks of buying your tickets in advance are:

  • Your plans change and you cannot go on the day for which you purchased admission
  • You forget to take your tickets with you when you go (or lose them, or they get stolen, etc.)

Now, as you can see, there are more pros than cons here. Also, in many cases, venues who offer online admission sales either are not date specific or will honor your ticket on a different date if you cannot use it on the date you originally booked. These days, you will most likely have an email or other electronic record of your ticket, which should suffice if the printed version got lost.

Step 5: Keep it Together, Girl!

travel planning process: keep your information color coded and organized in a binder or folder

This is where my type A super-efficient personality makes most people roll their eyes and groan. I color code all of the information I’ve assembled (green for financial, blue for nighttime activities, orange for daytime, hot pink for anything in the Must See category, etc). Then I make a folder or three ring binder with all of the information I will need for my trip.

I keep everything that I need together and sort it by day. Typically, each day’s packet will include:

  • a list of activities for the day
  • maps and/or directions on how to get from A to B
  • printed admission tickets if purchased online
  • brochures or other information about what I will be doing (opening and closing times, special significance, etc.)

It might be important to note that I do not carry the entire binder around with me – just that day’s pertinent documents. Apps are great, but I’m old school enough that I like paper. Using paper doesn’t have me at the mercy of finding a wifi connection.

YMMV

I cannot stress enough that this is the process that works for me. Following these steps is what gives me peace of mind so that I can relax and enjoy my trip. If you prefer to be impetuous and plan as you go, that’s great. You do you! The point is to be prepared for your trip, know what you want, and not spend valuable vacation time under stress.  Bon Voyage!

The travel planning process - practical tips to get the most out of your trip.

 

 

 

How to Become a World Traveler Without Going Into Debt

How to Become a World Traveler Without Going Into Debt

DEBT SUCKS.

That was a bumper sticker that I had on my filing cabinet for years. Big red letters on a black background. It was a reminder to me that once I finally got out of debt, I didn’t ever want to go back. The advantage of changing my lifestyle from being a carrier of large amounts of consumer debt to being virtually debt free is that I can travel now. Of course, I could have traveled then, too, but after the trip was over, there would be guilt and stress and, let’s be honest, arguments with my husband over money. I thought I would share how to travel debt free. If you’re committed to making it happen, it’s not that hard.

How to Travel Debt Free *

How to travel debt-free

* NOTE: When I use the term debt in this post, I am not referring to home mortgages.

Step 1 – Be a Gazelle

Your first step is to make a commitment to yourself and anyone you share finances/travel with that you are not going to incur more debt. And by commitment, I mean an iron-clad, no going back, tattooed on your forehead level of commitment.

Financial guru and author Dave Ramsey says in his Financial Peace University course that you have to have gazelle-like intensity. That may seem strange, but Dave explains that if you’ve ever seen a video of wildlife in Africa, you may have seen a cheetah or other predator trying to take down a gazelle. That gazelle runs away from the cheetah as fast as he can – practically flying! – as if his life depends upon it. (Because it does!)

How to travel debt free - gazelle-like intensity

In order to travel debt free, you need to be just as intense in your desire to put your debt-incurring lifestyle behind you. Total commitment, 24/7, 365 days per year. Nothing less will do.

Step 2 – Start Saving

Now, it may seem silly to start saving while you’re still in debt, but it’s important. And the sooner you establish the habit of saving, the better. I have found that setting a percentage to save (5%, 10%, 15%, etc) usually works better for me than determining a specific amount. Do what works for you.

How to travel debt free - set aside money for an emergency fund, even while you're paying off debts.
Photo via Flickr by 401(K) 2012

Why save? Well, all it takes is one emergency to plunge you back into debt. The heater in your house needs to be replaced, your pet needs emergency surgery, you’re in a car accident and you have a $500 deductible for repairs. Whatever the emergency may be, you will be better equipped to handle it if you have an untouchable emergency fund already set up.

Step 3 – Work Towards Paying Off Existing Debt

Do you know what debt is most often compared to? Slavery. Andrew Jackson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ezra Pound, Ambrose Bierce, and many other notable people have said that being in debt is like being a slave. It is also in the Bible’s book of Proverbs.

How to Travel Debt-Free: First you need to make a commitment to paying off your existing debts.

The analogy is a legitimate one. Think about it: You are working, but you don’t get to keep anything that you earn. Instead, you are handing it all over to your creditors. You work and work but never seem to make any headway. You never get to enjoy the fruits of your labors.

Gazelle-like intensity is your path out of slavery to debt. Keep track of every dollar you earn. Pay your necessities, cut out everything that isn’t a necessity, and commit any leftover funds to paying off your existing debts.

Step 4 – Increase Your Income

This step isn’t a necessity unless you want to reach your goals a bit faster. You can increase your income by taking on a part time job to supplement your regular income, or you can do it by selling things that you already own.

How to travel debt free - sell your unwanted/unused items for extra money.
Photo via Flickr by r.nial.bradshaw

Whenever I need a little extra cash, I look for items taking up space in the house that might be more enjoyed and appreciated by someone else. I list items that aren’t high value or high demand on Facebook. Items that may sell better to a wider audience, I list on eBay. And if I’m looking to get rid of a lot of stuff in a short amount of time, I have a yard sale.

Regardless of how you choose to bring in extra money, this is the important part: do not use the cash to treat yourself to a meal out, new clothes, or whatever splurge item is your weakness. That money should go to either savings, or paying off debt, or both.

Remember, be a gazelle!

Step 5 – Once Your Debt is Gone, Set a Travel Budget

If you’ve followed the steps above, you are now debt-free. Congratulations! it’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

And, if you’ve followed the steps above, you also have some savings set aside. Don’t stop saving now! You will still want to have a healthy amount of money set aside for any big ticket emergencies that may pop up. But start a secondary savings for travel. It’s the whole reason you embarked on this journey, right?

Do your research and try to estimate what the following items will cost on your trip:

  • Transportation to and from your destination (air fare, train tickets, gasoline)
  • Transportation at your destination (rental car, gasoline, Uber/Lyft/taxi)
  • Lodging for each night you will be away (hotel, Airbnb, etc.)
  • Boarding for your pets, if applicable.
  • Meals & snacks/treats, alcohol if you like to party on vacation
  • Admission to museums, concerts, festivals, etc.
  • Special equipment – anything that you need to purchase in order to take the vacation, such as snow boots for Scandinavia or scuba gear for the Caribbean.
  • Souvenirs (if you always get a souvenir sweatshirt when you go on vacation, for instance).

Total it all up and that is how much you want to save before you go on your trip. If it seems unachievable, look at ways to reduce your costs (drive instead of fly, have a friend look after pets, shorten the length of your trip, etc.). If you find that it’s taking too long to come up with the total you need, revisit Step 4 above to speed up the process.

Then, when you’re on vacation, you will be able to enjoy it so much more knowing that it’s already paid for! Bon voyage!

 

How to travel debt free, regardless of your income and where you're going.