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.

 

 

 

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.