Browsing Tag

solo travel

Egypt, Europe, Greece, Italy, Middle East, Packing, Travel

My 2016 Year in Review

December 19, 2016

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I know the general consensus from the world is that they would like 2016 to be over. While I agree some awful things are happening in the world, I would like to focus on the good things of 2016. This year I am going to tell you all the good things, not just the travel things. Here is my 2016 year in review!

January

As usual, I was looking to plan a trip right when I returned from my trip home. I quickly decided, with the help of my Mom, to head to Egypt in February! Not sure why it took me so long to decide to go there as I had wanted to go for a long time.

February

My trip to Egypt was the second week of the month, and I loved every minute of it. Seeing the pyramids was an experience I will never forget. It just baffles me that humans made them. Sailing up the Nile was another experience that I truly enjoyed. I can sit and watch the water go by for hours and not get bored. Not only that I got to see the sun set and rise over the Nile. Here is the video from that day.

 

I started working out with a personal trainer. This set me up to lose four clothing sizes over the next several months! If you follow me on Snapchat, you probably saw lots of snaps of me on the treadmill and pictures of the sunrise over Doha.

March

One of my friends invited me on a Dhow boat cruise, which I had only done once before. It was a warm day with great company. I met new people and watched the lights come on in Doha as the sun went down. I also took one of my favorite photos of the year that day!

 

April

A paper I wrote was accepted to be presented at a conference, and the conference just happened to be in Slovenia! Slovenia is by far the most beautiful country I have been to so far. I got to see much of its beauty because I drove from Ljubljana to Radenci, where the conference was being held. Not only was it beautiful, but the food was also amazing. Most of it was local, and you could taste how fresh it was.

I treated myself to a staycation at the W Doha. Staycations may become my new obsession! I felt totally relaxed after the stay, and there was no stress of having to travel anywhere.

SONY DSC

May

May was a month of prepping. By now I had lost all the weight and desperately needed new clothes. I was heading to Italy for a month at the end of May and had nothing to wear! Not that I am complaining. A good friend went with me to try on clothes, and it was a good thing she did as I would have left with clothes slightly too big because I wasn’t convinced yet that I had lost so much weight.

At the very end of May, I left for a month in Italy. Believe it or not, this was for work. I was taking a course on bookbinding and bookbinding restoration. The first weekend though was spent with my friends in Italy. They just happen to live close to the course and it was great to start of my trip with them. They live in a small village and when I arrived the Infiorata was happening.  Such a neat experience.

7 Unique Italian Things to do During a Summer Visit to Italy

June

June stands out as one of the best months as I finally discovered Florence! The second weekend in Italy, I headed to Florence for the first time despite having been to Italy twice before. I fell in love right away. So much so that I went back the next weekend. I enjoyed just walking around and looking at all the amazing architecture. It was like walking through an outdoor museum.

GPSMyCity

The fourth weekend I was in Italy, I spent it exploring more of Umbria. This was when I discovered the lovely towns of Assisi and Gubbio. I recommend you drive to these towns to see the wonderful Umbrian countryside.

July

Right when I returned from Italy there was a holiday in Qatar and headed to Oman. Every summer Oman has a monsoon season which, as you can imagine, is rare in the Middle East. For three days I didn’t see the sun!

 

August

In August, I need to attend a conference in the United States. I decide to combine the work trip with a visit home. This time I decided not to take a direct flight from Doha to Dallas. I wanted to fly business and the only way I could afford it was to fly American Airlines with a stop in London. Even though I prefer to go direct, the layover was short and it was nice to get a break from the plane.

I spent about a week with my family. I did my usual see doctors and get a haircut routine. It is always great to spend time with my family even though it was short.

The conference I attended was in Atlanta, and one of my good friends lives within driving distance. I hadn’t seen her in 3 years, and she volunteered to drive down for the day to see me! We spent a day catching up at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens seeing the Chihuly Exhibit.

 

September

The sailing trip up the Nile in February inspired me to find a sailing cruise for later in the year. So I headed to Greece the first week of September to sail the Greek Islands for two weeks.  I know you may be wondering, why haven’t I seen a post on Greece yet!? They are coming, I promise. I took several blogging breaks this year and happy to say I think it has improved the blog post quality and I am motivated again.

 

October

I hadn’t planned on going anywhere in October, but I found a conference I wanted to attend. The conference just happened to be in Florence! I was thrilled. The conference was being held in the Uffizi Gallery Library. While most of the time was spent at the conference, I got to stay in my favorite Florence hotel. I also got to wake up in Florence on my birthday!

November

While I didn’t travel anywhere in November, I had three Thanksgivings! It was great to catch up with old friends and make new ones. One of these Thanksgiving was an invite to the Four Seasons Doha to taste their Thanksgiving buffet. It was a beautiful meal offered at their Italian restaurant, El Teatro.

December

The first weekend in December, I was invited by the Intercontinental Doha the City to enjoy a staycation! The room offered a stunning view of downtown Doha. I really enjoyed watching the lights come on as the sun went down from the couch.

InterContinental Doha the City

Now I am back home again enjoying time with family. We are having the usual crazy Texas weather where it is 70 during the day and then drops 50 degrees in one day. My parents have a fireplace and I am loving the fire. Christmas celebrations at our house include getting presents and stockings from Santa. Our Christmas tree has a train around it and elves climbing the side.

This will be the last official blog post of 2016 as I will take the rest of the year off to enjoy being with my family before heading back to Doha.

What was your best memory of 2016? Share with us in the comments.

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.

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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?

Driving, Europe, Travel

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

May 6, 2016

 

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Dropped into a Fairy Tale in SloveniaThere is only one way to describe Slovenia, like a fairy tale! From the minute I stepped out of the airport and was presented with an amazing view of a snowcapped mountain to the fields of dandelions along the highway, Slovenia never disappointed. Even though I was there for a work conference, I would have been happy just to stare at Slovenia if I didn’t get time to sightsee. Lucky me, though, as I had one day to do some sightseeing outside of the conference.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

The conference was in a small town called Radenci. Radenci is a spa town located on the eastern side of Slovenia near the Austrian border. While the hotel was not great, the surrounding area was beautiful. There is a park outside the hotel, which I am still not 100% on the official name of, but if you google Radenci Park, it comes up. The park seems to be the old town center with the old spa hotels located in the park. In the summer, there are restaurants in the park and a waterpark. Winter had just left Slovenia, and the flowers and trees in the park knew it!

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

I have really come to love driving in a foreign country. I see small towns and get a feel for how the locals drive. Unfortunately, on this trip, I didn’t have a data connection so I couldn’t take any side trips. Each adorable town had at least one tall church steeple that I could see from the highway that made me want to exit every few minutes. Many of these towns were on the tops of hills and mountains. Slovenia was dotted with small farms and cows throughout. Next time I go to Slovenia, I will be taking a road trip with GPS!

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

After spending two days in Radenci at the conference and walking most of the small town, I started my drive back across the country towards Ljubljana, the country’s capital to make my way to Lake Bled. Lake Bled is the country’s most well-known sightseeing spot and is highly photogenic as is the surrounding countryside. The lake itself is a stunning shade of green turquoise with a bright green forest surrounding it. The day I was there it was sunny with a slight breeze, and it was perfect.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

There is an island in the lake that houses a church, The Church of the Assumption of Mary. Due to several earthquakes, it has been rebuilt several times, and the current church was built in the 17th century. There is also a bell tower on the island that you can climb to the top of to see the inner workings of the bell and to get a higher view of the surrounding area. First, though, you have to get out there! To get to Bled Island, you can either row yourself out in a rented rowboat or take a traditional plenta rowboat to the island. The plenta is a small shallow boat that is rowed by one person and could hold about 20 people. The plenta oarsman is a coveted position in Bled and is handed down in generations in families. The boat seemed a bit unstable as I got in, but once we were under weigh it was more stable. The ride over took about 15 minutes and the boats wait for you for 50 minutes, which is plenty of time to see everything on the island and have coffee at the shop. Of course, you have to climb 99 steps to get to the church, but it is worth every stair.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

The church is very small and unfortunately, was undergoing some restoration work when I was there, so I could not see the frescos that it is known for. However, I did ring the wishing bell! Legend has it that if you ring the bell three times, you will receive your wish. The sound was so beautiful; I wanted to keep ringing it. It was even better when I went outside and heard others ring it. Right outside the church is the bell tower, in which you will have to climb another set of stairs to reach the top. After all, that stair climbing you can have a rest in the coffee shop or wander around the island to take photos of the surrounding Julian Alps.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

A short drive around the lake takes you to Bled Castle, which was built in 1011! The castle now showcases the history of Slovenia in the museum, print works, forge, chapel and a restaurant. There is a replica of a Gutenberg printing press and a copy of the first book ever printed in Slovenian. The location of the castle on a steep cliff gives you excellent views of the lake and valley. The museum is simple but gives you a thorough understanding of the history of Slovenia. The highlights for me were a visit to the chapel and the restaurant. I don’t think I have ever seen a chapel with painted frescos in this salmon hue. The walls were also painted in this color. The restaurant also offered an outstanding view of the lake from its full glass window in the dining room. I know Slovenia has excellent wine, so I ordered a Slovenian wine and stuffed chicken in a king prawn sauce that was melt in your mouth good. All of it was very simple but had great flavor. I owe this to the fact that it was all probably grown within 50 miles or less of Bled.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Sadly, I didn’t have time for much else at this point and decided to drive to my hotel for the night. Since my flight was early the next morning, I opted to stay close to the airport instead of in Ljubljana. While the evening was quiet, the scenery was worth it. The tiny village that the hotel was located in was basically a large farm. The house across the street had a barn with cows in it that I could hear. The view from my room was of the breathtaking Julian Alps and even had a small balcony. I spent the evening walking through the town to admire the views and enjoying the fresh air.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Getting there: Flights to Slovenia will fly into the Ljubljana airport, which is outside the city by about 25 miles. If you want to go to Lake Bled, there is a shuttle from the airport that can also take you into Ljubljana. If you want to go to the eastern side of the country, you can take a train, but I recommend renting a car as the timings are your own and you can see more.

On this short trip of four days, I took over 200 photos. I will post more of them on my Instagram account. Please go have a look for more Slovenia pictures that I have already started to share! 

This park was located right outside my hotel in Radenci, Slovenia. Such a quiet beautiful place! #slovenia

A photo posted by Tiffany (@agirlandherpassport) on

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Travel, Travel Tips

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

April 29, 2016

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

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!