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Traveling Fearlessly

Blog, Prep, Travel

I Have a Secret to Tell You

March 27, 2017

Travel SecretI have been keeping a secret from you all! It is something I mentioned to my Mom the other day, and she says she tells her friends all the time about it, so it is about time I share it with you.

For the first three and a half years of my life, I was an only child, and for most of my childhood, my Mother worked from home. It meant I could depend on Mom to be there whenever I needed her. If I got ill at school, she would come. If I forgot my homework, she would come. I knew that many kids didn’t have this great mom benefit as both their parents worked! Dad played a part in this dependency too! One time I had to have minor surgery on an ingrown toenail and I wouldn’t let the doctor do it until my Dad arrived. Although this was mainly because my Mom can’t stand the sight of blood and I didn’t want her to pass out on me!

The Impact

At this point, I am sure you are thinking, what does this have to do with travel? Well, all the dependency led to me having anxiety about sleeping away from home and homesickness. It probably wasn’t the only cause, but it certainly contributed. I remember being at a sleepover in elementary school and making my parents get me in the middle of the night. I don’t remember sleeping over at friend’s houses much after that. The event that really made it an issue though was I was at church camp one summer a few hours away from my house, and I had so much anxiety I made myself sick. This also resulted in my parents driving several hours in the middle of the night to come get me (after much begging on my part!)

Fast forward a few years and I decide to go to college that was a six-hour drive away from my parents. Now that I am older, I can handle being away from my parents, but the phone bills in college were epic. This is pre-cell phone days, so I easily had a $100 or more phone bill a month. While I remember it differently, my parents said the first semester was really hard on me. I think I am blocking it out of my mind.

A few years later, I moved to New York City. The phone calls continued, but now I had a cell phone and nights and weekends were free! But by then I only saw my parents twice a year at most, and I seemed to be fine.

More years pass, and I moved to a small Caribbean island for three months. I didn’t have a cell phone, and the internet was spotty. I didn’t talk to my parents every day, and occasionally I would get emails asking me to check in with them.

Do you see a pattern here?

And Now

Obviously now this doesn’t bother me much at all as I live over 8000 miles away from my parents. The phone calls continue and thank goodness for the internet! I talk to one parent or both almost every day, though.

I travel all over the world without any issues, and I am rarely homesick. I have no plans to move back to the United States anytime soon, and I love living abroad. Of course, I still have the moments of wishing I could be home, but that is mainly because I feel like I am missing out on things back home.

Some would say my parents did me a disservice by coming and getting me when I want to come home. However, I would disagree. My parents and I are extremely close as a result. The phone calls home are not quick 5-minute talks but can be an hour or more. It also means my parents never have to worry about where I am and if I am okay. I call when I get to an airport or when I arrive at my hotel. Even while sailing Greece last year, I managed to call them every other day or so. It also gives me peace of mind as my parents, like all of us, are only getting older. It is reassuring to me to hear their voices and know they are doing okay.

Why

Why am I telling you this story, it’s embarrassing, right? I am telling you to encourage you to travel. Fears can be overcome even if they take time. I now manage to live far away from family and travel everywhere I want to go. It has been a lifelong process, but here I sit in my apartment in Qatar telling you this story and planning my next vacation. My advice is always to start with a small trip and gain your confidence, then go on a bigger trip. Not only will you feel better about travel, but you will also learn your limits. There is nothing wrong with having personal limits, but you never know what you can overcome till you try!

Hotel/Accommodation, Prep, Travel

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly: Picking your Accommodation on a Solo Trip

May 27, 2016

Picking Your Accommodation on a Solo Trip Picking where to stay on your trip is probably the most daunting task when booking travel outside of deciding where to go. This is not just a solo traveler issue either, but it becomes more pronounced when you are traveling alone. There are many things you may want to consider when picking a place. Hotels are not your only option! Here are my tips for picking the type of accommodation you want and what other factors you should consider when booking.

What Kind Of Accommodation?

What is most important to you when picking the kind of place you stay in? This sometimes varies depending on your location and the time of year you are traveling.

Hotels –  Good for shorter trips when you don’t have lots of time and need to be close to the attractions or public transportation. Hotels are also great since you can ask staff for advice or the maybe even the concierge to book things for you. Also, they are good if you have mobility issues as most will have an elevator and or have ground floor rooms. Don’t think you can’t book a hotel because it will be expensive! Not all hotels are expensive.

Hostels – Hostels are good if you are watching your budget, which doesn’t always mean they are cheap and uncomfortable! Hostels are slowly changing their image and many have private rooms at a fraction of what a hotel would be. It just may mean you have a communal bathroom or a small room, but who cares you aren’t living there forever right! Hostels are also great if you want to meet people as they usually have communal areas and sometimes free tours or happy hours. Several other travel bloggers I follow on Snapchat have been staying at hostels and I have been amazed at how nice they are and they have some amazing art on the walls! The Hostel Girl reviews hostels all over the world and is a great resource if you are looking for a hostel.

Apartment or Airbnb – If you want to live like a local, then I highly recommend that you stay in an apartment or Airbnb rental. The apartment gives you a feel for what living in that city is truly like. If you stay with someone in an Airbnb then they can give you the local’s insight into the city. In many cities, Airbnb is cheaper than a hotel. The other advantage is that you may have access to a kitchen allowing you to cook for yourself and save money. If you are traveling for a longer period of time then cooking for yourself is very helpful to the budget. Also, you may have access to laundry facilities in an apartment or Airbnb.

House sitting –   Another great option if you are staying longer in a location. If you are not familiar with house sitting, basically you look after someone’s home for an extended length of time. Usually, there are chores involved, such as taking care of pets or garden. The upside is that this is usually an exchange of services and you don’t pay any money to stay at their house. You will also get to experience living like a local and have access to a kitchen.

Couchsurfing – While Couchsurfing sounds similar to Airbnb, it differs in a huge way in that you are not paying to stay at the person’s apartment or house. However, you may actually be sleeping on a couch! This is definitely not for everyone and you need to check other’s reviews for safety factors.

How Do I Chose Where I Want to Be?

Once you have decided what kind of accommodation you want to stay in, then you can research where you want to stay. Here is what I look for in a place to lay my head.

Reviews! – My first stop is TripAdvisor for hotel reviews. I know lots of people discount them since some people have claimed that negative reviews have been deleted, but not all of them are and I have found it is a good place to start. I especially like that they tell you the most popular places in town and the map view. Keep in mind that one negative review does not outweigh all the positive reviews or vice versa. One person could be incredibly picky or have unrealistic expectations of a place. Pay attention to what negative things people are talking about because it could be about things that don’t bother you. I frequently see complaints about small rooms in Europe and I know that small hotel rooms in Europe are normal and I don’t care! Some people complain about outside noise, but I know that some people like outside noise as it helps them sleep. Airbnb and Couchsurfing also have reviews.

Location, Location, Location – Next to finding out the scoop on the places on reviews, is to look at their location. Do you want to be close to the attractions or do you want to be away from them? The convenience of being near them may mean higher prices and more noise. If I am only going somewhere for a short period of time then, I tend to stay near the sights so I don’t waste time getting there and that is worth paying more to me. You also want to consider safety along with the location. Reviews may have information regarding safety, but you may have to dig deeper into blog reviews or other sites to find this out. Also, is the hotel safe itself? Are there deadbolts and key cards? If after the first night, you don’t feel safe, change accommodation. This may cost you money, but your safety is worth more!

Amenities – Is there a pool? Do you want to have spa treatments? Think about what you want in a place. Some Airbnb places will rent you the room, but may not let you have access to the kitchen, which if you were planning on cooking then you’re in trouble. Last summer, I was looking for a place in Verona, Italy that had parking available for my rental car. Each type of accommodation will have different amenities available, so check out the place’s website and don’t rely on reviews for what is offered as they may be out of date. I have also emailed hotels and gotten great responses and most of them respond in less than 24 hours.

Comfort – Just because you are on vacation and not sleeping in your own bed does not mean you shouldn’t be comfortable. My biggest thing is to look for reviews stating that the bed was uncomfortable. I hate soft beds as they make my back hurt, but again you have to look at more than one review as each person has their own preferences. The next thing I look for is noise in my hotel. The worst experience I had in a hotel was because the walls were so thin and each night I could hear the people in them and each night was a new set of people, including a crying baby. I didn’t get much sleep that week and was attending a conference, not a good combination.

Most of this you may already know, but it can be hard to remember all these things when looking for a place to stay. Hopefully, you can use these tips will help you pick an excellent space on your next trip!

Need a place to stay in Venice, Verona, Bangkok, Doha or Goa. Click on the links to see my reviews of hotels I have stayed in. What do you look for in a hotel?

Travel, Travel Tips

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly: Going Where You Don’t Speak the Language

April 29, 2016

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly

Brussels was my first real international trip to a country where I didn’t know a lick of the language or languages. I only really know how to say hello and thank you in French, knew no Dutch and definitely do not know any Flemish. I was terrified to speak to anyone. I am not really sure why. The first day, I might have spoken 50 words! Later in the trip, I met some English women that were attending the same conference as me, and it was so nice to have a conversation with someone. My next trip was to Italy and by the end of the trip, I was trying out more and more Italian. Part of the reason was that I was better prepared in Italy than in Brussels, so I am going to share my tips on successfully navigating another country in a foreign language with you.

Learn Key Phrases – Say hello, thank you and you’re welcome! A few more like please and where is, will get you far with the locals and will help you feel more comfortable practicing the language. Also, learn “I do not speak …” in the language that way you can at least respond when the cop starts speaking to you on the street in Paris! (I was so sad I couldn’t because he was cute!)

Download a Translation App – Not only will you be able to decipher signs and menus, but it could help in a bind if you need to ask someone a question in an emergency, like where is the bathroom?! Here is an article with 5 translation app suggestions. Some require you to have a data connection, so be prepared.

Carry a Phrasebook – This will be handy if you don’t have a data connection or just prefer a book. I also used mine in Italy to decipher menus, and it gave me a way to practice with locals without having my phone out. The phrase book I took to Italy was divided into sections like basics, social and food. It was also small making it easy to carry around.

Download Maps to Your Phone – This way you have a map and won’t have to ask for directions. I have learned that if you ask for directions in the local language, you may get directions in the local language, which doesn’t always help. Just keep in mind that Google Maps requires a data connection to get the map going at first, as I discovered in Slovenia leaving the airport recently!

Ask Your Hotel – Someone at your hotel might speak your native language, especially if it is a large chain. This way they can write down what you need in the local language with an explanation that you don’t speak the language.

Learn Public Transportation Stops in the Language  – This is helpful in countries that do not use a Roman alphabet like Japan or China. You could have photos of it taken on your phone for reference as well. Ask your hotel what the station name sounds like as well so you can listen for it on the announcements.

Just Try – Locals usually appreciate the effort and will help you. No one should expect you to speak perfect Italian, French, Arabic or any other language just because you are there on vacation! But giving it a try will add to your travel experience. I met some Italians in Slovenia, and they were so excited with the little Italian I have been practicing for my month in Italy.

How do you communicate in foreign countries? Share with us your tips in the comments!

Travel

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly: Eating Alone

March 25, 2016

Eating AloneEating alone is probably the second biggest excuse I hear from people as to why they do not like to travel alone. It is the one thing that most countries have in common; most humans are brought up eating with family and friends and eating alone is foreign. There are benefits to eating with others, but there are benefits to eating alone as well. In some ways, it is like traveling alone. You can eat where you want and what you want when you want. Some studies state that eating alone is healthier because you won’t be pressured into eating things you don’t want, like dessert. It gives you time to savor the food, and that is especially important when trying to understand a culture. But eating alone can be daunting for some people and may keep someone from traveling solo or going out to eat while traveling solo. Some of the fears that were mentioned to me when I asked about eating alone included boredom, being ignored by staff, upsetting staff, being targeted by thieves, unwanted attention or visitors and being pitied. If this describes you or just want to enjoy eating alone more, here are some things to help you confront your fear and maybe become some who loves eating alone, like me!

1. Overcoming Boredom – You know that you will be eating alone on a solo trip, so come prepared. Bringing a book to read is one of my favorite things to do while eating alone. I get to catch up on the reading I have been putting off for so long. If you bring your guidebook, you can plan your next day of sightseeing. People watching is another one of my favorite activities while eating alone, especially in a big tourist city! I love hearing all the languages and watching their interactions with their traveling companions. Sitting at the bar is another way I like to help stop boredom. This is especially helpful if you prefer to speak to someone during your meal. Usually, the bartender will chat with you while you are eating. Chat to your neighbors if you are brave enough. I do this occasionally, especially if the restaurant isn’t crowded. Sometimes people talk and sometimes they don’t, but it is worth a try.

2. Being ignored – I have been ignored while eating alone but also ignored when with people, so I am not sure if this is just because you are alone. In some countries, waitstaff are paid well and don’t rely on tips, and they may not be as attentive as you are used to. This is especially true for Americans as we are used to waitstaff being attentive for tips. The waitstaff in foreign countries aren’t being rude; they just aren’t rushing you out. However, being ignored does happen. Be friendly with the waitstaff. Being on your feet is tiring, and not everyone is nice to them. Say please and thank you in the local language. Hopefully, this will entice them to return to your table.  Order an adult beverage, if you drink. Alcohol is a restaurants biggest profit driver, and they are more likely to return to your table if they want to sell you another drink. You don’t have to drink more than one, but they will keep checking. Don’t let them sit you in a corner. A few times, I have been placed in a corner while dining alone. I think they thought they were doing me a favor, but in reality, the waiter forgets about you and you can’t people watch.

3. Staying safe – Several people mentioned they felt like they were being targeted while eating solo and while I haven’t, it is definitely something to be aware of.  Keep valuables in sight. Don’t place your handbag on the back of the chair and men should place their wallets in their front pockets. If you place your jacket on your chair, remove cell phones and wallets. Read up on local scamsRecently, I was doing this, and it is common in this country for people to come to your table with a sign or paper and ask you for money. The sign or paper gets placed over your cell phone, and while you are talking to them, they steal your phone! Get the staff involved if needed. If someone is bothering you, tell the staff so they can help, especially if don’t speak the local language. In my experience, the annoying person is known to them, and the staff will get them to leave. Don’t leave your belongings to go to the restroom. I have been guilty of this because I didn’t want the waiter to think I had run off without paying. Just tell them where you are going. If you are choking, know how to do the Heimlich maneuver on yourself and try to get assistance by making a scene.

4. Enjoying the experience – One person said they were worried about what to order, so I suggest asking the waiter. They will recommend what they like and usually try to make sure it is something you would like. Trust me; they want you to enjoy your experience so you will spread the word.  Bring a phrasebook; the phrasebook does two things for you. First, you can communicate better with the waiter and second; you can look up menu items. When I was in Italy the first time alone, I went to several restaurants that were not in tourist areas, and the menus were not in English. I had a phrasebook that had food translations in the back. I was able to order without any help and was confident I would enjoy what I had ordered. Take your time when eating alone. Don’t eat fast and get out. Food should be savored, and that cannot be done in a hurry. Practice eating solo in your hometown. Eating by yourself in your hometown allows you to practice without the fear of the language barrier or wondering what to order. You will feel better about doing it again after you do it in a comfortable setting.

What tips do you have for eating alone while traveling solo? Share with us in the comments!

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