Life has been pretty full on lately; I just turned 30, I’ve done a few inaugural festivals to mark the start of summer, I’ve played host to my immediate and extended family on separate occasions in Dublin, and all the while my travels and ‘7 continents by 30’ goal have sat on the back burner.
Busy-ness is partially why I haven’t added to my global adventures, but perhaps a bigger set back is that I have been waiting on a new passport – my old one wasn’t to expire until next year, but as first world problems go, I had filled it up with stamps. No more pages = no more travels. My solution to my full passport WAS to book travel though. Makes total sense, right? Hear me out.
If applying overseas, the passport office will expedite your application if you have travel booked in the near future, sans the additional fees or questions asked. So, I hopped on Skyscanner, found a €10, one way flight to the East Midlands in the UK, and made my merry way to the Canadian Embassy in Dublin. They warned me I may not have my passport back in time for my move to Nottingham the following week, but I really wasn’t sold on it anyway, and then there’s that pesky work permit hurdle, so I told them it wouldn’t be THAT MUCH of a problem if I didn’t have it by then.
After a few ‘Time to Check In’ emails from Ryanair, I missed my flight, but did get my new passport back in a quasi-timely fashion. Problem solved.
I now am the proud owner of a crisp new 5 year passport. Hooray! There’s a 10 year option as well, but realistically I will fill up this one too so no point in splurging on the 10 year bad boy. You cannot get pages added to the Canadian passports just FYI.
So now the new passport is burning a hole in my pocket – I am hoping to get away on a weekend jaunt before I head to Canada in a few weeks for a friend’s wedding, but in the meantime I have been scratching my 30 year old head about what travel-related topics I can pen about. So as exciting or non-exciting as it may be, I thought I’d dry your eyes with tips about the three wonderful ways one can travel – Solo, as a group, and as a couple.
Buckle your seat belts guys.
Alrighty then…Solo travel; the most beautifully exciting and equally terrifying way to travel, especially as a blonde white chick. But traveling all on your lonesome can be the most rewarding experience; you can be whoever the heck you want to be, do whatever the heck you want to do, and open your eyes and heart to whomever and whatever you want. Solo travel is all about self indulgence, self reflection, and learning opportunities. And while you do inevitably face the shitty realities of safety concerns, that annoying ‘single supplement’ some places may charge, and cringe-worthy selfies or horribly self-timed photos, solo travel is something everyone should embrace at least once in their lives.
Hostels are at the heart of solo travel, especially for younger globetrotters. You always meet the token ‘young at heart’ guest at hostels too though, who typically are way fucking cooler (or creepier) than anyone else staying, so don’t be discouraged if you are like myself and are now considered ancient to some people you may make pals with in these places. Hostel demographics can be as varying as hostels themselves; when booking (especially in major cities or backpacker hot spots), there are so many types of hostels that attract so many types of people. Each has their own pros and cons.
Party hostels are fun. End of. I’ve stayed in a few (The Mad House in Prague is EXCEPTIONAL), but have also purposely ran far far away from them at the same time. The Mad House deserves a shout out as even though it advertises as a party hostel, it doesn’t give off the sweaty, dirty, used-condom laden feel that so many other party hostels do. The Mad House was clean, cleaner than some ‘non-party’ hostels I have stayed at, and has a strict ‘no group’ booking policy. It attracts solo travelers and as a result encourages an inclusive atmosphere that is conducive to blossoming new friendships. I met my kindred spirit friend Kaytlyn here, and spent the majority of our time together drinking wine, synopsing movie plots, laughing until we cried, and confusing other guests by the fact that we had just met. This crazy lady also has her own travel blog that has annoyingly beautiful photos, Married to the Globe, so give it some love!
I journeyed to Portugal a few years back on my own too, and weighed up the infamous ‘Rising Cock’ party hostel to other more low-key ones in the same area. I could happily research travels all day, so do enjoy reading reviews and give them a lot of weight, and the reviews were the deciding factor for when I chose my Lagos accommodation.
I ran away from the Rising Cock. Get your dirty minds out of the gutter you sickos, I ran away from the hostel – THE HOSTEL! 😛 In places where hostels are in such close proximity to one another, it’s easy to join in on the festivities of the party hostels, but still have a clean and quiet place to retreat back to and nurse the inevitable hangover.
Enter the ‘Gold Coast Hostel‘ in Lagos. They pride themselves on being laid back and fun, but not a loony bin. It was perfect. There too I instantly made friends, but instead of making new friends by playing beer pong with Martin Garrix ‘Animals’ blaring in the background, we bonded by chilling out on the sun deck, cooking together and jamming around an acoustic guitar. Dream result.
On the other end of the spectrum there are hostels that enforce curfews. Why anyone would want to resort back to being a 13 year old in your parents house is beyond me, so I unfortunately cannot comment on these types of hostels as I have never stayed in one. They are not unicorns though – they do exist, and that’s all I think you need to know.
If budget conscious, solo adventures also practically force you to take public transport, which is a great way to get your bearings and really get the feel for a city. Taxis are easy, but riding with the locals is so much more authentic. You’re probably going to get lost, or at least have to ask for directions, but back to the whole learning experience thingy. You may get pick pocketed, like I did in Paris and Nairobi, and you may have zero personal space, but these are all character building events.
So if you are brave enough to be the best ‘Billy No Mates’ you can be…here are ‘The Tips’ for solo travel:
- Know yourself. Do a bit of self refection and budget planning before embarking on a solo adventure, and plan your travels and accommodation accordingly. If everyone else tells you how great the party scene is in Dubrovnik ,but all you really want to visit museums and relax, don’t book a party hostel because it’s the popular way to go. No one likes being the Debbie Downer who complains about noise at night in accomo geared for sessions, but in the same breath no one wants to be the dickhead who pukes jäger all over the kitchen floor and yells ‘Alan’ at the top of their lungs all night in a quieter place. And if you are one for creature comforts, go for the hotel with a spa. It’s your holiday, after all.
- Keep a level head. Send a copy of your loose itinerary to friends or family, or at least let the front desk know approximately when they should be expecting you. Safety first. I used to go surfing alone when I lived in New Zealand, and each time I would go out I made a point to make friends, or at least have the chats with someone. It was a safe guard should something have happened to me. You’re never too old to check in!!
- Use your street smarts. Dark alleys are not your friend. I arrived in Marrakesh, Morocco on my own, but was on my way to meet up with friends at a hostel. I took a taxi to the Medina, but then had to walk through the twisty passages of the bazaar to our location. Being a strong, confident, independent, stubborn woman, I refused to pay these random children the equivalent of €5 to escort me there. It was 11pm, I got lost, and came across a sixteen-ish year under an arch who dropped his pants and helicopter his willy at me when I walked (Usain Bolt quickly) by. My mom was less than impressed by my solo, ‘I can do anything’ antics, and said next time she’d pay the measly €5 for a slight increase in safety. Funny story now, but wasn’t smart.
- Be confident, or at least fake it til you make it. You know how they say dogs can smell fear…well people can do the same, but only they can see it. You are an easy target if you look nervous or lost. I always say you need to ‘act crazier than the crazies’. You can get a lot of attention, both wanted and unwanted, while traveling alone, and it can become a little intense at times. Try and learn the local customs before you arrive, especially when it comes to clothing, and make yourself look ‘less touristy’. You might as well have a bulls-eye on your back with that North Face rain jacket, Ugg boots, Lululemon yoga pants,and New York Yankees snap back (unless you are traveling in North America that is).
- Trust everyone and no one. Don’t be so uptight and fearful that you don’t say ‘yes’ to anything or anyone; you could miss out on an amazing experience by doing so. But use your calculated judgement when making decisions. Gut instinct is the best guide you can have. If it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. Just like that e-mail you replied to with all your bank details from our Nigerian prince friend.
- Pack a journal and a book. Don’t be one of those people who sits behind their Kindle all day, but also don’t be someone who cannot appreciate their own company. Alone time is fab, and having something to keep you occupied, sans WiFi, is a God sent and therapeutic.
- Solo dining isn’t as depressing as it sounds, and people probably aren’t looking at you with pity. Don’t let traveling alone hold you back from eating at that Michelin star restaurant you have dreamed of, or watching that play you have always wanted to see.
- If you are hard-pressed for WiFi, McDonald’s is your best friend. Most, if not all, will have it around the world, and you can also indulge on a cheeky and familiar meal. Smiles are also free there if you are feeling down and lonely.
- Explore Ex Pat locations. If you start feeling a bet overwhelmed by the new culture you are immersed in, take time to locate an Australian/Canadian/Irish (this one is very easy)/etc pub. You’ll likely meet someone there who knows a friend of a friend of a friend of yours, and home will no longer feel so far away.
If you’re still here…I’ve decided this entry is already WAY too freakin long to continue with the group and couples travel, so I’ll pick up where I left off another day.