Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes and General Mental Mayhem


How to Travel By Yourself

How to Travel By YourselfAs you read this, I’m actually galavanting around the UK and Ireland with my friend, Rachel, for the next two weeks. This trip is a #bucketlist item, and since we didn’t merit an invite from Harry and Meghan for the wedding, we planned our own jaunt across the pond. (Follow the adventure on Instagram!)

However, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you may already know that most of my travel is on my own. And I answered the question of how to travel by yourself a few days ago for someone, so thought I’d also share my tips here as well.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone travels solo because so many people in my circles do. As I’ve said before on this blog (many times!), I LOVE to travel. Whether I’m going an hour away from home, or to the other side of the world, it just fills me up the way few, other things do.

Different foods, different culture, different sites and sounds. It’s always a beautiful experience, and shows you that while the little space you occupy in the world is important, it’s not everything. Travel is a big source of inspiration for me, and I know that many others feel the same.

I’ve traveled to many states here in the U.S. by myself, either for a personal vacation or work purposes. And for my 40th birthday, I checked off one of my top bucket list items when I traveled to Spain. And, yes, I went by myself. That trip was sort of planned spur of the moment because I saw a great deal on a flight. I didn’t even take the time to ask anyone to go with me because I booked the ticket within 10 minutes of seeing the deal! I just knew I wanted to wake up in Barcelona for my 40th birthday, and this was my opportunity.

By now, most of my friends are married with kids, and I am single. So, understandably, it’s much more difficult for them to travel with a friend and not with their family. But my philosophy is that I want to see as much of the world as possible, and if I have to do it on my own to make that dream come true, so be it!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve also become an amateur travel hacker, which has allowed me to travel cheaply. Putting the time into learning these tricks has been well worth it to be able to do something I love…with as little money as possible. 🙂

So, if you’re thinking about setting out on a solo adventure, here are my best tips for how to travel by yourself:

  • I love attending conferences, and this really kicked off my solo travel experiences. I think it’s a great place to get started because you’ll already be in a room with people who have similar jobs, interests, or passions. That makes it easier to strike up a conversation, especially for us introverts. And I realize people have limited vacation time or budgets for professional development at work, but I wouldn’t let that stop you. For example, I’m involved in the anti-trafficking and social justice community, so a number of those conferences were taken on vacation time and self-funded. But I made friends at those events that I look forward to seeing every year at the next event, or even making a special trip to see them in their hometown.
  • If you’re on a solo vacation, book tours. I really love Viator and TravelZoo, as well as free walking tours. As I mentioned, I’m an introvert, so I made sure I had these kinds of things scheduled on my solo trip to Barcelona to ensure I’d be around people and having conversations with others. On one day trip, I met some lovely women from Australia, who were also traveling solo, and we had dinner together after the excursion had finished. You can, of course, do the same kinds of things in your home country.
  • I’m “directionally challenged” to say the least, so if you want to see a number of things, but aren’t sure how to get around and don’t have a rental car, buy a hop on hop off pass for at least the first day. Do this on your first, full day to help you get your bearings while someone else does the driving. Honestly, I kinda cringed at doing this in Barcelona because I didn’t want to put a big “tourist” label across my forehead, but it worked out wonderfully. I sat on the whole two-hour ride to see the city at a glimpse and figure out where things are, and how close they were to each other, and then I hopped off to see my top priorities. I only did this for one day out of the five I was there, but of course, it’s an easy method of transportation should you want to continue for a couple of days. And depending on the city, public transportation or ride sharing are other great options.
  • In Barcelona, I also booked a “tapas tour” on the first night. This was not only an effort to meet people and not eat alone, but it gave me a crash course on the local fare so I knew how and what to order going forward.
  • I’m sure no one likes to eat out alone, and I only do it when traveling solo, but it honestly just takes practice. I still don’t like to do it, and feel like everyone is staring at me, but I have to just remind myself that I’m in this wonderful place and this is part of the experience. Bring a book or something to occupy yourself, and you’ll get through it.
  • I love staying in hotels by myself, and I love room service! Just for your own protection, lock your doors, of course, and keep your eyes open, especially if you’re coming back late. 

Additionally, let me bring up one other thing that’s been super helpful for me over the past year or so: Facebook groups and social media.

I’ll soon be traveling to San Diego for a work conference by myself. Outside of hoping to meet people there, we have a Facebook group for everyone in the coaching program that is hosting the event. So, people have been in there making connections, setting up appointments, and even finding people to split hotels with.

I will also have several days on the back end to hang out in the area. I’ve been to San Diego a couple of times before, so I want to use this extra time for networking. So, I jumped into several of the Facebook groups I’m a part of, and asked them who might already be in that area or who I should meet while there. Because I work with nonprofits and social enterprises, these are potential clients. But, of course, it never hurts to just expand my network regardless. I’ve already had several responses from people who had recommendations or would like to meet up, so that’ll be another great way to fill my time—and get a tax deduction. 😉 

Obviously, we women should be careful when traveling solo, so I’m cautious not to include specific locations or dates in public spaces. But posting on personal or business social media accounts, or in Facebook groups can be a very easy way to find new friends or clients.

Pretty much of this just takes some time, practice, planning, and patience. But if you love to travel, don’t let anything stop you. Empower yourself, and go for it!

And if you have other tips, or want to tell me how these worked out for you, I’d love to hear!

Happy travels!

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain



My Barcelona Itinerary

At Park Guell, overlooking Barcelona

Celebrating my 40th birthday had to be done in style. In fact, I thought it should fulfill a Bucket List item. I mean, it’s a milestone after all! So, I gave myself a trip to Spain! I’ve wanted to visit that country since I started taking Spanish in high school, and fell in love with the culture. Most of my time was spent in Barcelona, and it did not disappoint!

This was also my first solo international trip. I bought the ticket as an error fare, meaning the airline made a mistake on the price, and I had to book it quickly before they realized the mistake. So, I ended up with a ticket from New York to Barcelona for $250! This meant I could see friends in NYC on my way out of the country, and use miles to get to NYC and home from Barcelona. Not too bad!

The downside of booking a ticket in 10 minutes is that I really didn’t have time to invite anyone else. And if you’ve traveled by yourself at all, you know that there are both pros and cons. The plus side is that I got to travel at my own pace (fast and furious) and do what I wanted. Unfortunately, there was no one to share the trip with, and it’s more expensive. In the end, though, I’m so glad I did it. Big check marks in the Bucket List and birthday categories!

Here’s a quick look at my trip, in case you’re interested, or plan to visit Barcelona one day. (I definitely recommend it!)

Friday, September 2nd:

  • Arrived in New York! I was staying with some friends in Queens, and they have a beautiful new baby. So we just went to Astoria Park, and hung out on a beautiful afternoon. That evening, we went to one of their favorite neighborhoods by their house. A lovely, low-key day.

Saturday, September 3rd:

  • We headed to Smorgasburg for lunch! This is almost like a food festival, but it happens on a weekly basis. There were food stalls from over 100 vendors, and had pretty much everything you could think of. We had a sensational dark chocolate, caramel donut concoction as an appetizer, split three ways, and then I settled on Shanghai street food for my meal. Both were fantastic!
  • After this, we took the ferry to Long Island City, Queens, and walked along the water. They have built it up to be really beautiful, and of course, great views of Manhattan. Then we met up with some of their friends, and headed over to Long Island City Flea (LIC Flea), which some of you may have seen on the Flea Market Flip TV show. However, we got there mid-afternoon or so, and the crowd (and vendors) was pretty much gone. Still, a nice to place to sit and chat for a bit.
  • Side note: This was my first trip to New York City, and I’ve been many times, without visiting Manhattan. Who knew there was so much to do otherwise! It was a different kind of trip, but a great stop. And so nice to spend time with friends I don’t see often. A great start to my birthday week.
  • Then it was time for me to head to the airport for my overnight flight! One of the really interesting things about TAP Portugal airlines is that they allow you to bid on business class seats. So, I bid pretty low, and still ended up winning! This afforded me not only a business class seat on the plane (which was fantastic and had all the amenities), but it also came with lounge access. So, I waited for my plane in style. Probably the only time I’ll get to fly like that, but it was a fun way to begin my tip!

Sunday, September 4th:

  • Arrived late afternoon in Barcelona. I was staying near a major train stations, Sants, and was exhausted from all the travel. So, I just grabbed dinner in one of the train station restaurants, walked around for a little bit, and went to bed early—after catching some home improvement show dubbed in Spanish.

Monday, September 5th:

  • For my first full day in Barcelona, I did a half day guided panoramic bus and walking tour. We got a super quick overview of Barcelona and some of the major sites. Then we went on a cable car ride, which overlooked the city. After that, we stopped in the Spanish Village for about an hour to take in some of the history of Spain and see artisans in action. Finally, we took a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter, which was super old and interesting.
  • That evening, I a tapas evening walking tour of Barcelona. This was one of my highlights! The guide, Paloma, was very fun, and it was just a cool experience. I wanted to do this at the beginning of my trip because they teach you about the food culture, how to order, popular items, what to look for, how to navigate the markets, etc. And, of course, you get to taste different foods along the way, as well as have two sit-down meals. This tour was awesome.

Tuesday, September 6th:

  • Morning and afternoon were spent on a hop-on hop-off bus tour. I had debated doing this on the first day, but the timing with the tapas tour worked better this way. It almost pained me to do this in an old, elegant, European city like Barcelona, where I wouldn’t think twice about it in the U.S. But this was really the best way to get an overview of the city, as well as the lay of the land. I rode two of their three routes, so I went all over the city from top to bottom. And, of course, you have the headsets to get the history of the sites while you ride. This tour bus was also really nice because there was free wifi, and you also received a coupon book.
  • My late afternoon and early evening were occupied with a free Gaudi architecture walking tour. Gaudi is a favored son of Barcelona, and there are numerous tours that include his work (as well as the Gothic Quarter). I was not familiar with him before leaving, but everyone said his buildings would be some of the highlights. They weren’t wrong! His style was/is radical in so many ways, and it is heavily inspired by nature. It’s all very fun and whimsical, and he incorporates such amazing techniques for structure and stability that I’m surprised are not copied more. His most famous work, La Sagrada Familia, is a basilica that he had only started before he died, and is still under construction. He left plans for completion, and there is still MUCH work to be done. They hope to finish by 2026, the 100th anniversary of his death, but no one thinks it’ll actually happen. This was another terrific tour.

Wednesday, September 7th:

  • This day I’d set aside for a “three countries in one day” trip I found online. Only in Europe can you do something so wonderful! We took a small bus to a medieval town in Spain, called Baga, for breakfast. It was so charming! There we took a walk around, learned the history of the town, grabbed pastries and coffee, and took a million photos. From there we headed to France. We hit a bit of a snag with a breakdown that cost us about an hour. But the weather was amazing, and everyone was a good sport, so we just enjoyed getting to know each other. There were only about 20 of us on the day trip. Our guide, Carmello, was very stressed out, but we assured him it was fine. He was funny and helpful, and everyone just loved him. We finally made it to Ax-les-Thermes, France, which is known for their hot springs (note the name). Unfortunately, we only had about an hour here, so we barely had time for lunch and to see the hot springs before getting back on the road. Not the best lunch, even though I do love French food, but the company was good. Our final stop was the country of Andorra, and it’s capital city, Andorra la Vella. This was probably the biggest surprise. Evidently, Andorra is mostly a country of ski resorts and modern shopping, because that’s about all we saw. It was a bit of a let-down from that standpoint, since I was expecting more historic architecture, but the drive through the mountains was picturesque, and it was nice to see somewhere besides Barcelona on my trip. And hey, another stamp in my passport!
  • I ended up eating dinner with two of the ladies from the trip, who were both from Australia, but didn’t know each other. I’d received restaurant recommendations from my tapas tour guide, so we checked out one of her suggestions, Casa Lolea. It was marvelous, and fun to hear about Australia, which I hope to see one day as well.

Thursday, September 8th: (My birthday!)

  • This was my last full day, so I packed this one as much as I could. First, I went to La Sagrada Familia. I’d been past it twice now on different tours, but this was the first time I went inside. It was massive! And colorful! And just so darn interesting. I did the audio tour since I booked too late to get a guided tour. But this place is just jaw-dropping. It looks like a hot mess from the outside in photos because the sides all have different styles of architecture, and there is still so much construction. But it is really quite majestic to see in person. And the interior is as overwhelming in detail as the outside. It’s a really amazing place. Glad I took the time to go inside.
  • Next, the Picasso museum. He is not originally from Barcelona, but called it home for a while, and they definitely claim him as one of their own. He also claimed them. Again, I did the audio tour here since I didn’t make the guided tour. I always try and do the tours in some capacity. I like art, and can appreciate a lot of it, but it’s so much more interesting to me when someone’s explaining it. And that was again the case here. I think more people would enjoy art museums if they did the tours. Anyway, it was also fascinating to see the different styles he evolved into. Quite a genius.
  • I took a quick break for lunch here. I’m usually quite the foodie when I travel, but I had so much to cram into my trip that, often, food was more about convenience. I ate lots of local delicacies and at some great, little places, but they were always nearby or on the way. The food everywhere is pretty fantastic, though. (Except for US fast food, which I saw here and there, and it pained me. Not one of our best influences on the world.)
  • Third, I went to the Palau de la Musica (Music Palace). I had been really looking forward to this one, and it was also one that all the locals talked about and were proud of. I don’t know what to tell you here. Stunning. Just stunning. Click the link above and see for yourself! I really wish I’d had time to see a performance. The entire building was so gorgeous, and I could’ve stopped to take pictures here for hours. But…I didn’t have time.
  • That night, I went to a flamenco show. It was on Las Ramblas, the busiest and most famous street and Barcelona, and in the oldest theatre in the city. Sadly, I didn’t get to see a lot of the theater because there are several performance spaces in the building, and the one I was in was immediately downstairs. Unfortunately, my tapas were a little sub-par as well. But, the show itself was terrific! It was very low-key, just the dancers, singers and their instruments, but really fabulous. We were all on our feet at the end. And I couldn’t visit Spain without catching a flamenco show!

Friday, September 9th:

  • I’d originally planned on sleeping it, eating a leisurely breakfast, and heading to the airport. But there was just so much to see! I’ve easily covered cities in four days before, but this just wasn’t one of them. And, by now, I was as in love with Gaudi as everyone else. So, that morning I got up early to hit Park Guell before I left. As I mentioned before, Gaudi was largely inspired by nature. And this is the only park he designed, I believe. It was originally meant to be sort of what we in the US would consider a country club type of grounds, where the wealthy would live, with large open spaces and an outdoor market. It was also very different and modern, so the US “park” is used in the spelling instead of the traditional “parc.” However, that vision never really materialized. Good thing for us! It’s beautiful to walk around, and like his other stuff, very whimsical and charming. And it’s at a high point in the city, so the sun was just rising over Barcelona when I was there. It was a grand way to end my trip.

As you can see, I covered a lot of ground. I walked about 50,000 steps over the course of the eight days—and boy, did my feet feel every step! But I’m really glad I was able to fit in so much. I got to see most everything I wanted to see, but would’ve been really happy with a few more days—and a few hundred more dollars!

But there you go, Barcelona for my birthday! How I’ll top that moving forward, I don’t know. But I love a good challenge. 😉

You can view all pictures here, or just catch the highlights on Instagram. You can even read my 40th Birthday Reverse Bucket List to see all of the things I celebrated.

Finally, a few Barcelona fun facts:

  • Sangria is only for tourists. It’s their version of Two Buck Chuck, the $2 wine from Trader Joe’s. But lost of restaurants have it because the tourists will pay more for it!
  • Barcelona is the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, and the locals are FIERCELY proud of it. In fact, you’ll see Spanish flags with a blue triangle and star around town that represent the people who think Catalonia should be independent from Spain. Reminded me a bit of Texas…
  • Catalonia means “castle,” you’ll see that adorning things as well. The seats of the Music Palace, for example, have little castles all over them.
  • Again, the locals are very proud of their city. So, if you get in a cab, no matter where you say you’re going, they’ll get excited and say, “Oh, you’ll love it!” Because they genuinely believe everyone should be as enthralled with their hometown as they are. And, okay, I was.
  • The irony of Barcelona is that you need to reserve all your tickets online to skip the lines and stay close to your desired day and time. But, lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and all meals are meant to be savored. So, my “quick” sandwich break on Thursday took 45 minutes, and I was clearly rushing him. For the cheapest/best lunch option, that’s a 3-course “menu de la dia.” Restaurants there are actually required by law to offer it. But you need AT LEAST an hour and a half to have time for all three courses. So, keeping to your reserved ticket time can be tricky. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.