Go, Go, Go Your Boat

The husband and I are currently traveling from Copenhagen, where we started our latest adventure, to Stockholm, where we hope to explore all 24,000 of the archipelago’s islands (kidding- sort of).  In between stares out the window to enjoy the lovely scenery that is the Swedish countryside, I wanted to write my first Scandinavian post about the coolest thing we found in Copenhagen.  Copenhagen is a pretty cool city, so the bar was high, but this definitely takes the cake.

A beautiful row of homes in Christianshawn

The husband loves boats.  When he lived in Minneapolis, before we were married, he had a boat named Deb.  Now, he’d tell you she was a beautiful yacht, and the prettiest boat you’d ever seen.  In reality, Deb was an aluminum fishing boat with a few comfy fishing chairs he installed himself, and an electric motor.  He used to take her around the Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun, listening to music and drinking beers with friends (and on my very rare summer visits to MSP, me).  She did save a life once, though, when some tourists who didn’t know how to swim fell into the lake.  Deb was there to rescue them.  She’s a real star, and the husband definitely shed a tear or two (likely more) when he sold her to a friend before moving to water-less Columbus to be with me.  Anyway, I tell you this story to set the stage for how excited the husband was to find out that we could rent our own boats in Copenhagen, and take them through the canals and Copenhagen Harbour via an awesome company called Go Boat.

  So excited to be captaining his own boat

On our first full day in CPH, we took a canal tour with Copenhagen Canal Tours.  The best part of it, by far, was our discovery of Go Boat, which we never would have known about otherwise (I’m looking at you, Lonely Planet Scandinavia).  Tucked away in a quiet little area of the city called Islands Brygge is the Go Boat rental area.  Also in that area is a very nice lifeguard staffed “pool” that’s integrated into the harbour and even has a high dive (exciting for us Americans, since the lawyers have pretty much done away with everything fun related to pools (read: high dives).  The area is definitely worth checking out—I digress.

 
Boats moored at the shop, charging

Go Boats are just as the name implies- you rent a boat, and you go.  You need no experience with boats, only to be 18, and not intoxicated.  The process is so streamlined and simple that the entire thing takes less than 5 minutes.  The design of the entire operation is ingenious, and not at all surprising after witnessing how the Danish design every last detail, even of the most mundane objects.  Walking into the shop, you feel more like you are entering into a high-end design store than a place to rent a boat.

 
The Go Boat rental shop in Islands Brygge, note the solar panels on the roof

The boats are simple, and of Danish design.  They are “picnic boats” with a literal picnic table in the center, and seats surrounding.  The boat is large enough to seat eight people comfortably.  Given 36 hours notice, the shop will even arrange a picnic of your choosing for you.  They also have basic food items such as fruit and chips, beers, and various non-alcoholic drinks available for purchase in the front of the shop.  We didn’t have 36 hours notice to give, since we took them the day after we found out about them, so we shared a sandwich from the Italian pizza and sandwich place a block away from the shop.  There are plenty of places nearby to grab a picnic to go, so don’t fret if you aren’t able to have the shop make one for you.  They will even let you borrow a bottle opener if you’ve forgotten one, like we did.  Like I said, the place is the best.

 
Enjoying our delicious picnic.

One of the coolest parts of the Go Boats are their sustainability.  The boats are powered by very quiet electric motors which use rechargeable batteries.  These batteries are charged using the solar panels on the top of the shop.  To add even more to the eco-friendly vibe of the brand, they have fishing nets that they give out to children.  I asked the worker if any kids actually caught fish with those (very small) nets,  when he kindly explained that they are for the children to use to fish trash out of the harbour and canals.  If the children bring back any trash, they are then given a prize by the Go Boat operators.

 
Kids trying to fish trash out of the canal water

Renting the boat cost about $75 USD an hour.  They charge you for every 15 minutes over 1 hour that you have the boat, and there is more of a discount the longer you rent.  If you have more than 2 people renting, it’s arguably the cheapest thing to do in Copenhagen, and even with just the two of us, it was on the cheaper end of all the things we did while there, and totally worth it.


A nice relaxing afternoon in the canals of Copenhagen

They give you a map before you head out with estimated times from various points to get back to the shop. The map is well-marked, making it very easy to navigate.  I was a little nervous, at first, being in the harbour with much larger ships, but only once did the boat rock even a little, and even that was minimal.  The boats are as easy to navigate as they appear (or so the husband says- he did all the navigating).

 
Getting ready to go under one of the bridges- some of them are very low

If you find yourself in Copenhagen and want to get out onto the water, I’d skip the guidebook recommended Canal Tours and rent yourself a Go Boat instead.  You don’t learn too much on the Canal Tours, and the water is much more serene and enjoyable with just you and your friends/family than with 50 other people you don’t know.

Side Trip To Sintra

On the Sunday of our weekend trip to Portugal, the husband I and decided to get a bit outside of Lisbon and head to Sintra.  We woke up a bit late, again, so decided to take an Uber to get there to save some time. Everyone that we’d talked to that had been to Portugal said that Sintra was a must-see.  It’s located about 30 minutes northwest of Lisbon, making it an easy half-day, day, or weekend trip.  Sintra itself is both a town and municipality and there is a LOT to explore in the area.

 
View out to the Ocean from the Moorish Castle in Sintra

We were dropped off by our super nice Uber driver in the center of the city right outside the Sintra National Palace.  Whilst beautiful, and I’m sure very interesting, we were short on time and had two other stops on our list, so decided to skip it.  We walked 1.5 blocks to a bus stop and hopped on a bus to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), which stands on top of a hill above Sintra.  You can walk to the Castle from the town, but it’s about 45 minutes straight uphill. We were lazy short on time, so we hopped on the bus.

 
Exploring the Moorish Castle

I didn’t do a ton of research into the castle before going, and needless to say I was a bit unprepared for the terrain. I always used to laugh at the people who visit a tourist site in the completely wrong attire. To the people at Machu Picchu wearing high heels, I’m sorry I judged you for your inappropriate choice in shoes. I´ve since felt your pain.  You see, the castle is not really a castle, but ruins. This means lots of cobblestone, dirt pathways, and uneven walking surfaces. As we arrived, it became clear that nearly everyone except us was in hiking gear. I had read that it was in a National Park, but clearly didn’t put two and two together enough to not wear skinny jeans and booties. Hiking is, quite literally, the only form of exercise that I love. I was more than a little bummed that we were going to have to miss out on the beautiful hiking/picnicking in the National Park just because I chose 10 more minutes of sleep over doing proper research into what exactly these sites we planned on visiting entailed.  I eventually got over it and had a lovely time exploring the grounds of the castle, even if it did take a toll on my shoes (and my ankles).

 
Not pictured: my horrible choice in footwear.  Pictured: the only coat I brought to Europe and thus my awkward look for hiking

Located in the Sintra National Park, the Castelo dos Mouros was built by the Moors in the 10th century to defend the city of Sintra during the reconquest.  It’s been in various hands, including Ferdinand I, since that time, and suffered significant damage from an earthquake in the 18th century.  It ended up overgrown and in need of TLC.  Thankfully, it was cleaned up and is now a lovely spot to explore for an hour or so before hiking through the park in which it resides and enjoying the views of the sea from the vistas.  Admission is only 8 euros and well worth the cost.

 
A little better than the topography of Columbus, Ohio, I’d say

After the castle, we walked to arguably the most famous site in Sintra, and definitely the one that appears on the front of all of the postcards, the Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace).  It, like the Moorish Castle, stands on top of a hill, and can be seen from Lisbon on a clear day.  It’s brightly colored to say the least, and is one of the major expressions of 19th century Romanticism in the world.  It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and, as if that’s not enough to get me to want to go there, one of the seven wonders of Portugal (we’d already seen two of the wonders–Bélem Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery).

 

After grabbing a quick snack in the little cafe in the palace, and enjoying the views for a few minutes, we explored the Palace.  It started off as a chapel constructed in the middle ages after an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and later a monastery was constructed on the site.  It, like the moorish castle ,was damaged in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, and remained in ruins until King Ferdinand II came around in the 1830s.  From the ruins of the monastery, he created a palace to be used as the Portuguese royal family’s summer home.  The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amelia, lived there until her exile, after which point it became a popular monument.

 

A rare non-selfie

I must admit, the outside was quite impressive and beautiful.  There are clearly islamic influences, among others, in the design, and I found its bright colors beautiful and not at all garish.  The inside is worth a quick walk through, but not as impressive as other palaces I’ve visited.  (Perhaps that’s because the two that come to mind are Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, both of which serve as homes for real-live royal families to this day.)

 
This reminded me of the tiles decorating Mosques in Turkey

  

An inner courtyard again with lots of islamic influences

After Sintra, we took a 45 minute train back into the heart of Lisbon.  We explored the Praça do Comércio for a bit, popped in a very strange but also cool free (at least the first floor was free) art museum, the Museu do Design, and then headed down the street to our lunch spot, where we ate, arguably, the best burgers we’ve ever had.

 

My sensible hiking attire

  

How pretty is this street?  All the sidewalks and pedestrian zones are this beautiful cobblestone laid in a pattern

We had an awesome trip to Lisbon and Sintra.  It didn’t hurt that we found the Portuguese to be among some of the nicest people we’ve encountered while traveling.  We also loved low-key, ocean side vibe of Lisbon.  It’s a lot smaller than the other popular tourist destinations in Europe, but has a very distinct culture and authentic feel to it that can’t be beat.  We tend to enjoy the places that don’t feel as though half the population is tourists, and Lisbon feels more local than most.  I could stare at the washed out tile facades of the buildings with a nice glass of vinho verde and a book all day long.  The husband and I definitely want to make it back to explore more of Portugal, indulging in all the delicious food along the way.  Maybe I’ll even get super adventurous and try some fish.  Let’s be honest, probably not.

  

Love this guy and loved Lisbon

 

Portuguese Eats

If you like food, and good food at that, Lisbon will not disappoint.  I love trying new food when traveling, and some of my favorite dishes are those that I’ve tried on my international travels.  (Ecuador’s jugo de mora, Peru’s lomo saltado, or England’s Sunday Lunch, anyone?!?)  I will try anything that wasn’t once a living animal, but pretty much the only meats that I eat are chicken, turkey, pork, and beef, and I don’t go anywhere near seafood.  For some reason I feel too bad for those little guys swimming under the sea to eat them.  I know, pigs and cows are much cuter and it makes no rational sense whatsoever.  All I can say is that bacon is delicious and I just can’t help myself sometimes.  All of my food recommendations will obviously also subscribe to that illogical logic.  I think we managed to eat some pretty delicious food while in Lisbon, anyway, even if they do specialize in seafood.

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Very close to the Mosterio dos Jerónimos, which we visited on our first day in Lisbon, is Pastéis de Belem, which many say has the best pastel de nata in Lisbon.  Naturally, we headed over to the pastelaria for a late morning snack to try a few ourselves.  The pastel de nata is an egg tart pastry topped with cinnamon and icing sugar, which gives an effect and taste much like the top of creme brulee (read: delicious).  I’ve since had them at a few other places, namely, at the Borough Market in London, and I can’t lie, the Pastéis de Belem was the best.  They sell so quickly that it’s nearly impossible not to get a fresh, warm one, which makes a huge difference.

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About  to enjoy a delicious pastel de nata

If you’re in the market for a place to sit, relax, and people watch for a while, the Mercado da Ribera is the place to be.  It’s great for lunch, a very casual dinner, or a snack and a beer anytime.  It, like most things in Lisbon, has been around a long time (aka the 13th century).  It used to be Europe’s most famous fish market, and still holds a more traditional food market, but since 2010 has also had a market featuring some of the city’s favorite food stores and restaurants.

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Traditional Part of the Mercado da Ribera

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One of  the Kiosks

There are a total of 35 kiosks (read: lots of options for picky eaters).  It’s definitely worth a visit while in Lisbon.  The selections are a bit overwhelming, however, and we ended up at a place that wasn’t my favorite.  I definitely had food envy of people around us, though, so do your research about what’s good before you go.  We didn’t and I wish that we had.  We didn’t eat lunch at the market, but the husband had a beer, and we snacked on some bread and cheese before heading to our actual (late) lunch stop.

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Looks better than it tasted

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Such a cool spot

Given our new obsession with Nando’s and piri piri chicken, we had to try some authentic piri piri for ourselves while in Portugal (yes, I realize that Nando’s is South African).  Roughly 2 hours of time went into finding the best place for piri piri chicken in Lisbon, and my researched landed me right where I started, Bon Jardim.  If you’re looking for luxury, this is not your place.  It’s no frills and the decor is a little worn, but it’s filled with locals and delicious food…in my opinion, it’s the best kind of place to eat.  Our favorite way to eat piri piri chicken is on a sandwich; you can’t order sandwiches there, but all the meals come with rolls and a delicious spreadable cheese, so we made our own.  Luckily, it’s the sort of place where making  your own sandwich at the table is totally okay.  Honestly, though, even if it weren’t, I’m pretty sure I would have done it anyway.  If you’re not a vegetarian, you really must go to Bon Jardim next time you are in Lisbon.  The food, and the empty fish tank that is one of the front windows of the restaurant, will not disappoint.  Sadly, I did not snap a photo of the fish tank, but I assure you, it’s there.

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I’d do anything for one of these sandwiches right now

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Making his sandwich

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All smiles and ready to eat!

When we travel, we never go for expensive restaurants.  We prefer to try smaller, family owned, local spots and avoid the super swanky places, especially for dinner.  For our only dinner in Lisbon, we found the perfect place that fit the bill.  There was a long wait outside the Taberna da Rua Das Flores, even though we’d arrived early.  We were in no hurry, and they let us wander the streets around the restaurant while we waited.  The place was super cute and quaint, and we were confident that a great meal was to come when an expat we met while waiting outside assured it that it’s the best place in Lisbon.  His only regret was that it was starting to become very popular, which meant frequent waits for a table.  One of the tables was actually on a small set of stairs going nowhere, with a wine box as a table.  I really wanted to eat there, the husband did not.  He won (it was available to sit at without a wait when we arrived).

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Taberna da rua das Flores

We ordered tapas style foods, and shared everything.  Lisbon is filled with seafood, and at least 50% of the dishes were fish, which really limited our choices.  Nevertheless, the food was delicious and reasonably priced.  Better yet, I washed it all down with some delicious Vinho Verde.  Don’t skip dessert- I don’t eat it usually, but the chocolate cake can’t be missed.

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So excited to eat the amazing chocolate cake

It’s a tradition for the husband and me to eat a burger in every city we visit.  I have a strict no american food policy while traveling, but this is the one exception that I make.  We do a lot of research on the best burger places, as we only have one shot to get it right in each city.  The husband is usually the researcher, and I’m not going to lie, he knocked it out of the park on this one.  It just may be my favorite burger I’ve ever eaten.  That’s not a statement I make lightly, and I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my lifetime.

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The very cute  Hamburgueria do Bairro

While google maps rarely disappoints, it led us astray on our walk to Hamburgueria do Bairro and I was a bit of a brat (I was hangry), complaining every 5 steps about how he got us lost, and that I was so hungry I was going to eat my arm.  Luckily, the husband ignored me and forced me to keep walking rather than ditch our plans and grab the first thing we saw that qualified as food.

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Probably smiling mostly because our food had arrived which had meant I had stopped complaining about how hungry I was

Located in a less touristy, more neighborhood-y area of Lisbon, the Hamburgueria do Bairro was packed, and the only people out in the streets surrounding the restaurant were those waiting to eat.  We both had our usual- burger with cheese and onion, the simpler the better.  Why ruin a good thing with too many toppings?  The burger was delicious, as were the fries and aioli on the side.  I love aioli so much I could drink it, and this was one of the best.

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Ready to eat- make sure you try a Brisa next time you’re in Portugal.  So Good

We were totally called out for our burger eating ways when the Swedish travelers next to us laughed when they realized that we were from the US.  They told us that they always thought that the idea that all americans love burgers was just a stereotype, but since we were americans eating burgers in Lisbon, it must be true.  Isn’t that just how stereotypes start- thinking that, because a few people from a certain culture do something, that means all of them do?

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A closeup of the fries and aioli in case you weren’t hungry enough after reading the rest of this post

After a lovely weekend in Lisbon our bellies were full and we were ready to head back to London.  My stomach is growling just thinking of the delicious food we ate.  If you’re ever in Libson, make sure to hit up at least a few of these spots and wash down the delicious food with some Vinho Verde.  I promise you won’t regret it.

Amar Lisboa, part 1


Life has been more than a little hectic in central Ohio.  Between the dog’s weekly (except one) vet visits since coming home in February,  our crazy travel schedules (4 out of the last 5 weekends plus the husband’s weekly travel), getting used to two new jobs in two different cities, and the other parts of life that seem to rear their ugly heads at just the wrong times, I’ve not had much time to do anything but work.

One of the few trips outside the UK that the husband and I took was to Portugal for a weekend to celebrate my (belated) birthday.  I hesitate to write about how much I loved it because then others will discover the amazing secret that is Lisbon, but chances are I won’t get back there anytime soon, so here goes.  I started to include all of the amazing food that we ate while in Lisbon, but the post became massive, so I’ve decided to do a Lisbon post, and a Lisbon food post.  It was just that good.  Warning: be prepared for lots of photos.

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Random Square in Lisbon.  Even the streets are beautiful.

We didn’t rent a car in Lisbon, and I wouldn’t if you are planning a trip.  The public transit system is pretty good, and what it doesn’t cover (Sintra) you can get to via Uber.  We took an Uber to our hotel after a late arrival in Lisbon.  Our hotel, The Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa, is located in the tallest building in Lisbon, so we headed to the rooftop bar/restaurant for a quick bite and beautiful views of the city before heading to bed.

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View over Lisbon from our hotel room

Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early late and grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel before heading out to explore the city.  We started the morning off at Torre de Belém (Tower of Bethlehem), a UNESCO world heritage site.  It was built in the early 16th century after being commissioned by King John II of Portugal to be a part of the defense system of the Tagus river, as well as to serve as a ceremonial gateway into Lisbon.  History aside, the tower is beautiful and definitely worth a visit.

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The husband and I at the Torre de Belém

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The tower sits in the Tagus River, as you can see

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View looking West from the tower

I’m not a huge meal eater, and eat more like a toddler, snacking my way through the day.  Given that it had been roughly 2 hours since our last meal, I was starving after our tower visit.  We were very close to one of the pastelarias that sells the famous Portuguese pastel de nata, so we grabbed a few before heading to our next stop (more on the deliciousness that is the pastel de nata later).

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Enjoying my delicious snack

After enjoying the pastéis de nata in a park across the street from the pastelaria, we headed to Mosterio dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastary) to explore a little more of Portugal’s history.  I was super excited to see it because, well, it’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the hubs was excited because, as I learned on this trip, he has a secret love for Vasco da Gama, who just so happens to be buried in the monastery.  We skipped the museum portion of the site and opted to marvel at the beautiful architecture and enjoy a little sunshine instead.

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The husband and his buddy, Vasco da Gama, per his request(am I the only one that finds this a touch creepy?)

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Could the skies be any more blue? #nofilter

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Outside of the Mosterio dos Jerónimos, the courtyard was much more impressive

After an hour or so, it was time for lunch, so we began meandering through the streets towards our pre-lunch-snack spot.  Wandering through the streets and taking in the different colors of ceramic tiles on the buildings was one of my favorite parts of our trip.  Each building seemed to be different, and prettier, than the last.  The bright, slightly worn colors of the buildings reminded me a bit of San Juan’s streets, but prettier.  After a snack at the Mercado de Ribera, we headed to Bon Jardim for lunch.

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Don’t you just feel like you’re in a painting?

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Think people would think I was weird if I covered my current house in these tiles?

With full stomachs, we continued to meander through the streets, making our way over to my favorite stop of our trip, the Castelo de São Jorge.  The site is an old Moorish castle, located on a hilltop overlooking the centre of Lisbon and the Tagus river.  It was a citadel used in the medieval times in Portugal, and is now a major tourist attraction for the city.  The first fortifications were built on the site in 48 BC, and were rebuilt in the 10th century by Muslim Berber forces.  The castle was dedicated to St. George in the 14th century, and a royal palace was built on the site in the 15th century.  It was the setting for the reception of Vasco da Gama by King Manuel I of Portugal after da Gama returned from discovering a maritime route to India in 1498.

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The Castle Ruins

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View of Lisbon from the Castle

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Castle Grounds 

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You’d never know that it was pouring 5 minutes before this

The views of the city and river from the castle are gorgeous.  The site is mostly ruins, which allows you to walk around the enjoying both the architecture and the views.  While we were there, the Wine With a View wine cart was selling Vinho Verde, my favorite wine, in unbreakable keepsake wine glasses.  I highly recommend getting yourself a glass if you go- it’s still the best Vinho Verde I’ve had (the beautiful setting may have made the wine taste better than it actually was, but I promise, it’s still good).

 

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 Views from the castle looking East

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Again, #nofilter

By this time, it was nearing dusk (I know, we managed a lot in one day, right?) so we meandered through more streets in the Alfama neighborhood surrounding the castle, and hopped on the 28 Tram towards dinner.

IMG_5885One of Lisbon’s famous trams

Day Tripping

London is expensive, and with me not working, I took many solo day trips, but tried not to stay overnight (save a trip to Germany, where I stayed with friends), in order to save money.  I found that a day was long enough for me to see most of the things that I wanted to see in the smaller towns of England.  I even managed to fit in many sites during my whirlwind day trip to Paris.  After much trial and error, and revisions of my practices, I became quite adept at taking a successful day trip by the end of our time in London.  Here are some tips and tricks (and a rant or two) that, hopefully, you will find helpful when planning your own trips.

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Canterbury Cathedral on my day trip there

Tips for Taking a Day Trip:

1. Pack Light. You are going to be lugging things around on your own all day, so there is no need to carry the world with you.  I bring a purse and put my camera in said purse (I sometimes even bring my SLR with a 50mm lens attached).  I am the girl that brings 25 shirts and 10 pairs of shoes on a 7-day trip, so if I can do it, you can do it too.

2. Keep the guidebook small.  I love the Lonely Planet Pocket Guides.  It is all in the name—pocket.  It has just enough stuff to keep you busy, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed with information, and it’s size allows it to fit right into your (yep, you guessed it), pocket.  It is perfect for one-city trips.  The husband and I even used the London guide to find new, different things to do in London.

3. Bring a portable charger for your mobile.  When you are traveling, using maps, looking up lunch spots, and taking photos, the battery on your mobile phone tends to drain quickly.  I have found that this is especially a problem in the winter, which I swear cuts battery life in half from the get-go.  To avoid being stuck in a city without access to the train schedule to find the next train home, invest in a portable battery.  I use this one from Anker that I got on Amazon, and love it.  It allows me to charge my phone twice over, essentially guaranteeing that I will not be stuck with a dead phone when out in a new place.  The husband uses this one, also from Anker.  It only gives one charge but is slightly larger than a tube of lipstick, allowing it to fit easily in his pocket.  I also pre-ordered this one which is set to ship this summer.  It is considerably more pricey, but uses your kinetic energy to charge your phone.  The husband and I were even able to help out a fellow traveler at a pub in Bruges who had his phone die while trying to coordinate a meet up with a friend thanks to our both carrying portable chargers.

4. Leave the iPad at home.  I am consistently baffled at how many people lug their iPads around all day while traveling, using them to take photos.  The husband and I have a running joke regarding tourists that carry their iPads and take photos with them.  I could write a whole blog post on why I find this ridiculous, but I will spare you and just share a few reasons.

First, the camera sucks.  I love apple products, but the iPad camera is horrible (because its designed to be used with FaceTime, not to take photos!!).  My iPhone 6, on the other hand, takes great photos.  The iPad is not a cheap device, and I would venture to guess that if you can afford one, you also have a smart phone that takes equally good, if not better photos and is 1/8th the size.

Second, the thing is massive.  Have you heard of a camera?  It is this thing that is smaller, takes better photos, and is generally cheaper than a tablet.  Try it, I promise you will like it better.  Why, oh why, would you lug that giant thing around all day?  If you’ve got back pain at the end of the day, I can assure you, the culprit is the iPad.

Third, is there a better way to be robbed than by taking your iPad on a tour of a city, pulling it out of your bag every 30 seconds to snap a photo?  I think not.  If I were a pickpocket (which I am not), I would pick the tourists silly enough to carry iPads around all day and follow them, stealing their devices when they were not looking.

Fourth, you are ruining everyone else’s shots.  There is nothing worse than trying to take a picture at a crowded site and having some tourist in front of you whip out their massive tablet.  What is worse, for some reason, those who take pictures with their iPads have equally massive cases that double the size of the device, making it even more obnoxious than it already is. Stop blocking the view for everyone else and leave the darn thing home.  I have an old iPhone I will send you if you just want some internet while traveling (I’m not even kidding).

Fifth, you just look silly. I guarantee that there are other people just like the husband and me looking at you and wondering what you were thinking bringing that thing out as your main source for photo taking.  We are probably also automatically taking 30 IQ points off of your estimated intelligence just because you’re lugging that thing around.  No, having the latest technology isn’t making you look cool, it’s just irritating the people around you.

This post from Thrillst hilariously outlines all the reasons you should stop carrying your iPad around with you while sightseeing, and really resonates with me.

5. Research payment options ahead of time if you are an American (aka, your credit card does not have a chip). When I arrived in Paris, I realized that you must have Euros in coins in order to get a metro ticket at the Gare du Nord train station if your credit card is not chip and pin.  This was not apparent until I got to the front of the 30-minute line to get a ticket (the ineffectiveness of the Paris metro is a whole different story).  Luckily, I had the change, but it could have been a very annoying oversight had I not.  Until the US gets it sh&t together and its credit card technology into this century, you may run into some issues using your credit card at automated machines.  You have to go to the counter to buy a train ticket in England using your card, though 95% of the time it works just fine to top up your Oyster card on the underground.  In Paris, some of the metro machines only accept chip and pin cards or coins. Out of about 10-15 ticket stations in the Gare du Nord metro, only one was working while I was there, and there was no ticket booth open to speak with an actual human.  This lead to long lines and annoyance from many travelers who did not realize these restrictions until they got to the front of a very long line.

6.  Choose wisely and stop to enjoy the culture.  If there is a lot that you want to do, get up early and prioritize the things that you “must see”.  Do not race around from site to site, not actually enjoying anything, just to say that you saw it all.

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Take your time to stop and enjoy the culture (which in Paris means eating one of these beautiful meringues)

7.  Look into what is open, and when, before you go.  I booked my ticket to Paris on a Tuesday, before I realized that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.  Luckily, I happened to have wanted to visit the Musée D’Orsay instead, anyway, but would have been very disappointed had I not been to the Louvre previously, and missed it due to my poor planning.

8.  Get yourself some internet.  Most service providers allow you to purchase internet for a day.  It typically costs around $10 to $15 and really increases your efficiency when traveling.  I loved being able to reload google maps when I took a wrong turn, rather than having to either ask someone for directions or find a cafe to use some internet and get directions to my next stop.

9. Dress Smart.  I love to shop for vacation, looking for cute outfits to wear while traveling.  I don’t want to be the stereotypical tourist in an ugly sun hat, brand new white tennis shoes, unfashionable jeans, and a fanny pack.  I also don’t want to be that girl who’s freezing her butt off or limping around because she didn’t bring enough layers, or forgot to bring sensible shoes.  My favorite traveling outfit fail was when I saw girls in high-heels at Machu Picchu. As if they didn’t know that its being an ancient site on a mountainside, where it happens to rain a lot, would render those shoes useless.  When you are taking a day trip you can’t just pop into your hotel to change if you’ve made the wrong outfit decision, so the choices you make are that much more important.  Research the weather ahead of time and dress accordingly.  It’s possible to look fashionable and also be able to handle 10 miles of city walking, or a downpour in the middle of the day.  If you’re traveling in England, just wear your wellies, and there’s a 70% chance you’ll have made the right choice.  Otherwise, find yourself a pair of cute shoes that don’t make you want to be pushed around in a wheelchair by the end of the day.


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That time I forgot to do my research and didn’t realize that visiting the sites in Sintra would require a lot of hiking…I was wearing booties.  It was hell and I was that girl that I usually laugh at while traveling.

10. Have fun, obviously.

Hopefully these tips help you to have a more enjoyable and successful day trip.  I can say that I’ve failed to do pretty much all of these things at one point in time, so hopefully my mistakes can help you to not make the same ones in the future (except for the iPad thing, clearly).  I would never do that.

 

 

 

Une Journée à Paris (A Day in Paris)

When we embarked on our London adventure, I told the husband that my one traveling priority was to take a weekend trip to Paris.  Only a 2.5 hour ride on the Eurostar , it’s an easy trip from London.  Fast forward a month, and we both fell so in love with our  pub-hopping, show-catching, and Sunday-roast-eating weekend ritual in London that we significantly pared down our travel plans.  The husband kind of hated Paris when he visited with a friend after college, so it fell from being a priority, to being off our weekend travel list altogether.

Though I’d visited Paris in high school on a trip with my mom, I still wanted to go again while living so close.  Enter cheap, middle of the week train specials.  Tickets on the Eurostar can be expensive, sometimes even more than an airline ticket to the same destination.  However, if you’re on vacation, or have flexible travel plans, you can get really cheap tickets during the middle of the week.  I grabbed a winter weekday special, and for £59, secured a round trip ticket to Paris from London’s St. Pancras train station.  I considered staying the night, but the idea of taking a trip to Paris just for the day was, for some reason, very appealing, not to mention cheaper, so a day trip it was.

I headed out on the earliest train of the day and was in Paris before 10am.  Using the Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Paris, I planned my day on the train (amidst some napping).  Having been to Paris before, and knowing that I was traveling alone, I had a general idea of where I wanted to go before hopping on the train, but no formal plans.  After waiting in line to get a ticket on the metro for a really long time, I was on my way to my first destination, the Sacre Coeur.

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The Eurostar just after arriving in Paris

Like London, many of the most famous sites in London are free, which is a welcome treat for an American like me, who is used to paying to enter every place I visit.  The Sacre Coeur is located on the summit of the butte Montmartre, the tallest point in the city, and offers some of the best views of the city.  It’s a fair number of steps to get up to the top and it’s not for the faint-hearted, or for those who don’t want to be approached by people selling things.

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Avoiding the hecklers

I took the steps up on the right side of the church and avoided the heckling from vendors selling items that one neither needs nor should want.  There is supposedly a funicular for those with limited mobility, but I can’t say that I saw it.  After a quick tour of the inside, I headed to the front steps to sit and enjoy the views, both of the city and the basilica itself.  The stones used to construct the basilica are made of stones from Château-Landon, and when it rains, the stones react with the water and secrete calcite, which acts to bleach the stones.  This leaves the church a beautiful white color, providing beautiful contrast against the (hopefully) blue skies behind it.  Otherwise, I’m pretty sure it would be black, since I found Paris to be number one on the list of most polluted cities I’ve visited list (no, I’ve never been to LA).

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View over Paris from the Sacre Coeur

The next stop on my whirlwind tour of the city was the Champs-Élysées, more specifically, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, set on the Western end of the famous street.  The arch honors those who died during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.  I can’t say that this is my favorite site in Paris, and is probably one that I would skip next time.

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I risked my life by standing in the middle of the street for a crappy photo!

Up next was Paris’s most iconic site, the Tour Eiffel.  I approached it from an odd angle, and I have to admit that, when I saw it for the second time in my life, my reaction was, “oh, that’s it?’  It could have been the 80’s style building in the foreground, or the fact that all the clouds seemed to roll in at that moment, but I can’t say that I was super impressed by its beauty (I know, who am I?).  Given that I’m afraid of heights, and that the husband, who makes me suck it up when we travel together, was back in London working, I skipped the visit to the top.  Plus, it was pretty freezing at ground level, , so I could only image how cold it would be at the top.

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No caption needed

I next headed into the heart of the tourist-y area of the city to the Notre Dame Cathedral.  After wandering the streets for a bit, soaking in the local culture, and looking for a vibrant side street I’d loved on my first trip, but not finding it, I went into the cathedral for a quick tour.

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In my opinion, the prettiest view of the Notre Dame Cathedral

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No, I did not add a lock to the bridge

After more walking through the city streets, enjoying the smells of the food from the street vendors, and marveling at all of the macaroons and their flavors, I headed over to the Louvre, just to take a look (it’s closed Tuesdays, the day I visited).

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Not pictured: freezing cold and strong wind gusts

Finally, I headed over to my most-anticipated, longest, and final stop of the day, the Musée D’Orsay.  The museum is located in an old train station (the former Gare D’Orsay, hence the name).  The building itself is beautiful.  While definitely not free, it’s still worth a visit.  It’s most famous for its impressionist gallery, and if you like Monet, Manet, Renoir, or basically any impressionist artist, it’s a must-see.

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See what I mean, isn’t it gorgeous?!?

I attempted to take an introductory tour, but in the end, the cashier refused to sell me a ticket.  She said that there were no more English tours for the day (despite one of the guides, as well as multiple signs telling me that there was, in fact, an English tour starting at 2pm).  There are a number of dining options in the museum, and I opted for the cafe on the top floor with beautiful windows for lunch.  There’s also a small cafeteria on the main floor and a nicer dining room a few floors up.  I spent about 3 hours in the museum and don’t think I even got through half of it before it was time to head back to the Gare du Nord and home to London.

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Beautiful clock in the Musée D’Orsay

All in all, I have to say that I was a little disappointed on my second trip to Paris.  I remembered loving the city when visiting with my mom, and didn’t have the same reaction this time around.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great city, it’s just not my favorite among those I have visited in Europe.  I reflected a lot on why I loved it the first time, but not the second, and these are a few of the reasons I’ve come up with.

1. It’s a little rougher around the edges than other European cities (read: dirty).  It reminded me a lot of Montreal in this aspect, but, compared to London and other cities in Europe, it just wasn’t as clean.  Everyone seemed to smoke, too, and I got more than a little sick of walking through those puffs of smoke when passing someone on the street. When I first visited Paris I hadn’t traveled nearly as much, but now that I have, there are lots of places that I like better.

2. I just didn’t love the famous sites like I did the first time.  Maybe it was that I visited in January (I first visited Paris in sunny, warm July).  It might also have a little to do with the fact that I’m now much more well-traveled than I was the first time around, so what was beautiful to me then just wasn’t as cool in comparison to other places I’ve been now.  Given my love of the city the first time around, it’s also likely that I had too high of expectations due to my, likely romanticized, memories from my trip with my mom.

3. I was alone.  Paris is one of those cities that I think is best visited with someone else.  Much of the culture revolves around food, and I just don’t enjoy dining alone in a new place as much as I do with someone else.

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Taking selfies is the worst!

4. I was only there for a day.  It’s hard to really soak up the culture of a place when you are only there for a few short hours.

5. I couldn’t find the place where my favorite memories of Paris happened the first time around.  My favorite part of my visit with my mom all those years ago was when we stumbled upon a vibrant district full of cafés and locals selling local goods.  Fifteen years later, I had no idea where said area of the city was located.  The January streets were neither as full nor as vibrant as I remembered, leaving it feeling cold and impersonal.

6. The metro is gross.  I encountered more broken ticket machines than functioning ones, and more than once had to go far out of my way when the exits were broken and would only accept Paris metro cards, not tickets.  It’s harder to navigate, dirtier, and not as efficient as the underground in London in my opinion.

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See what I mean?

7. I happened to encounter the people who give Parisians the stereotype of being rude during my second, but not first, visit.  After my first visit, I thought people were crazy when people said that Parisians weren’t nice.  This time, I understood what they meant that Parisians are rude.  From the people who refused to speak to me in French even when I tried, to the lady who told me that there wasn’t an English tour at the museum when all signs (and the person giving the tour) pointed to the fact that there was, to the man who yelled at me in French for photographing a random building, to the people running into me on the streets, I finally understood where the stereotype comes from.  I’m not so naive to think that this means that all Parisians are rude, but I can confidently say that 80% of those that I encountered during my day trip were, in fact, rude.  If only I had known that the worker who told me that he loved me as I got off the train in Paris would be the nicest anyone would be all day, I might have appreciated it more.

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The photo I was yelled at for taking

If you’ve never been to Paris, I would still recommend going, just set your expectations accordingly.  I set mine too high, and was in turn, disappointed.  I really should have listened to the husband and set my expectations low—it doesn’t leave room for disappointment.

Thoughts on Traveling Solo

Prior to being in London, I hadn’t done much any solo traveling.  I’d taken the odd international flight alone to meet the husband for vacation, but the solo part ended at the airport; we had always done the traveling part together.  With the husband working long hours and me not working, waiting for him to be around to explore just wasn’t feasible.  Luckily, I’ve always been someone who needed my alone time, so I was excited about the prospect of exploring places on my own.

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Selfie after my tour of the UK Parliament

Having done the majority of my travel and exploring on my own over the past few months, I’d say I have a love/hate relationship with solo travel.  Given the option of staying home or traveling solo, I would choose traveling solo 100% of the time.  I have to admit, however, that if given the option to have a traveling partner or travel alone, I’d choose a partner every time, especially if that partner is the husband.  That being said, these are the good and bad parts of solo travel as I see it, and a few tips to make your time more enjoyable.

The Good:

1. The first, and most obvious benefit of traveling solo is that your itinerary is your own.  You can plan things to the minute, or go without a single plan, and no one cares.  Your day is yours and yours alone, allowing you to maximize seeing and doing the things that you want to do in the littlest amount of time possible.  I’ve found that I can see a lot of sites in a little time when it’s just me.  There’s no discussion, I just go!

2. You learn a lot about yourself when you are the only one you have to rely on.  It’s both an educational and eye opening experience.  You really figure out what you like and dislike when you are the one deciding what to do and when.

3. You can make plans and scrap them at the last minute and no one cares.  I love to just walk around a city and pop into any store that looks interesting from the street.  This drives the husband, who likes to keep on schedule, and doesn’t like aimlessly wandering around, a little crazy.  To keep us both happy, I did a LOT of wandering streets while alone, saving the plans for while we were together.

4. Navigating a city on your own, while daunting, is super satisfying when it goes well.  The sense of accomplishment I feel from finding my way through an unknown place alone is much greater than that I feel when navigating with others around to help.  That sense of accomplishment increases exponentially when traveling solo in a place where I don’t speak or read more than a few words of the language (Germany, I’m referring to you).

5. When you get lost, there is no one to blame but you.  The husband and I get along famously while traveling, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that we get frustrated with one another when lost.  When you are traveling alone, you can walk in circles for hours if you are too stubborn to ask for directions and no one will say a word.

6. You can stop to take photos whenever you want.  I’m sure you’ve all been in the situation when, while traveling in a group, you have to stop every (what seems like) 30 seconds to take a picture.  I’ve been both the annoyed person waiting for the photos to stop and the annoying person taking the photos.  The husband always gets irritated at how many photos I like to take, so I take as many as I want while traveling alone.

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At the Sacre Coeur in Paris

The Bad

1. The biggest thing that you miss out on when traveling solo (other than the obvious company )is the food.  Sure, you can totally go sit at a restaurant alone and order a delicious meal.  What you can’t do is order a bunch of different things to taste and share, which is my favorite way to eat, especially when traveling.  There are usually so many things I want to try when visiting a new destination, and being limited to ordering just one thing when traveling solo is a bit of a bummer.  I guess I could theoretically order a few things and not eat everything, but that is both expensive and wasteful, so I tend not to do that.

2. Another food related observation, I also miss the cultural part of dining when traveling solo.  I prefer to do many things alone (shopping being a huge one of them), but eating isn’t one of them.  Culturally, eating is a social experience, and doing it alone is just not the same for me.  I find that food always tastes better with good company and conversation, which is harder to find when traveling solo. I usually grab quick bites and head back out to explore when traveling alone.  This is the exact opposite of what happens when the husband and I travel–we sit and enjoy a meal and drinks, soaking up the food and culture alike.

3. Some things just aren’t as fun when you are alone.  I went to the musical Made in Dagenham by myself in London’s West End and absolutely loved the show.  I did notice myself feeling envious of those around me, however, as they shared the laughs with friends and family.  There was no one to ask when I didn’t catch what they said during the show, and no one to laugh with while they spent an entire scene making fun of the stereotypical American.  I’m still irrationally certain that I was the only American in the theater that day.

4. Taking pictures.  Yes, I also mentioned this in the good parts of traveling solo, but I think it has its place on both lists.  While I love having the freedom to take photos whenever I want, I also hate that I have no one to take photos with.  I’m not a huge fan of taking selfies, but also get bored looking at photos of buildings without people in them, so find it important to appear in pictures from time to time.  This usually ended in me feeling super awkward but taking a selfie anyway.

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Canterbury Cathedral as seen after my guided tour

Tips for successful solo travel:

1. Pick things that you don’t need a partner in crime to do.  If you’re choosing between a museum and an amusement park, pick the museum.

2.  Keeping #1 in mind, don’t avoid doing something you really want to do just because you have to do it alone.  I make a list of my must-do or must-see items in a particular destination and make sure to do/see those.  If I have extra time, I look through the other activities and choose one that I wouldn’t mind doing alone.

3. Take a tour.  No, it’s not likely that you are going to meet a fellow solo traveler on the train, totally hit it off, and travel with them the whole time rather than travel alone.  It can be hard to meet people while traveling, especially if it’s a short trip.  Taking a tour is a great way for some fellow-human interaction, and also a way to meet people, if that’s your goal.

4. Be safe and plan your travel accordingly.  As a not-very-strong woman, I always keep safety in mind when traveling solo.  While being home before dark isn’t feasible in the winter in England (the sun sets at about 4:30pm), being smart is.  I make sure to stay in a well populated area after dark, saving the more off-the-beaten-path areas for daytime. Make sure that you research hotels ahead of time and book ones in a safe area of a city.  Spending a little extra for safety is worth it when traveling alone.

5. Try not to look like a tourist.  Going along with the safety thing, I try my best not to look like a tourist.  I take photos of the relevant pages in my guidebook on my phone and use the photos as a reference rather than the actual guidebook.  It also saves me from lugging around a guidebook all day.  I also use google maps rather than a physical map.  Everyone looks at their phones, only tourists carry guidebooks and maps.  I also don’t tell people I’m traveling alone—you never know who is just trying to be nice and who is the next Robert Durst.

6. Make sure to let someone know where you are going, you know, just in case.  Register your trip with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) with the US State Department if you’re from the US, or similar program if you aren’t.  I register all of my trips with STEP.  You input all of your travel information and contact information to the state department website, indicating where you will be and when.  This allows you to receive safety updates from the US embassy in the place you are traveling.  I’ve gotten information on protests in Turkey, unrest in Israel, and demonstrations that may have affected travel in Peru, to name a few.  It also helps the US Embassy to contact you in an emergency (whether a natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency).  If something happens, and the government doesn’t know you are in a particular country, they can’t help, but if they do, they can.

7. Eat at the bar in restaurants that have one.  I’ve found that people will sometimes give you looks when eating solo, even if it’s your favorite thing in the world to do.  You will get less looks, and less pressure to eat quickly and head out, if you eat at the bar.  That being said, don’t avoid a restaurant that you really want to visit if you have to sit at a table alone.  Who cares what other people think.

8. Bring a book (or do as I do and read one on a kindle app from your phone).  Sitting on a train for a few hours can be boring alone, but if you have a book to read, time goes by much faster.  I typically read a book on the way to a destination, and write out postcards on my way home

9. Pack light.  You are the one that’s going to be lugging your stuff around all day, or during your whole trip, so keep it light.  It’ll make navigating unknown cities, invariably with lots of cobblestones, if you are in Europe, much easier.

10. Don’t avoid traveling alone because you are scared.  Be smart, safe, and do your homework and you’ll be fine.

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Overall, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences while traveling alone.  It may not be my first choice if given the option to travel with the husband, but it’s definitely preferable to not traveling at all.  I find that I’m much more present in a particular destination, and more aware of what’s going on around me, when it’s just me.  You really do learn a lot about yourself in the process.  I’m confident that I could navigate any city alone if need be and feel so much more confident in unfamiliar situations now that I’ve done a little solo travel.  It’s something that I think everyone should experience at least a few times in their lifetime.