Ridin’ Solo: 5 Pros and Cons of Solo Travel

solotravelWhen I lived in Paris, one of the most important life lessons I came away with was a love and respect for solo travel. I learned that whom you’re with has just as strong an impact on your experience as where you go and what you see. To illustrate, let me tell two short stories.

oktoberfestFor Halloween weekend, I went to Prague with a classmate (whom I knew from Boston, as well). She’s a wonderfully nice girl, and had figured out a hostel and how to get to and from said hostel—for which I was immensely grateful. But once we were settled, she had no opinion about how we spend our first night, priorities about what to see, etc. And she had a limiting budget. In essence, I ended up being a tour guide. And when I once suggested that we spend an afternoon on our own, she looked at me in a way that said “please, no.” That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Prague—I did—but I would have gotten much more out of the experience with a more involved travel buddy. Or alone.

Now onto Dijon… I bought an impromptu ticket to Dijon one weekend in France. Then I missed my train. I had no one to blame but myself, and yet, I just read until the next train, got to Dijon an hour late, and explored nonetheless. Walking through the town’s streets, I heard a band playing in the courtyard of a gorgeous building, so I stopped and listened. I sat in the most beautiful church, I stopped to stroll through a market selling antiques and old French books. I stopped to sit in a park and watch a man talk to his dog in French. And I still went to museums and explored the city. I bought mustard. But I was free to change my plans on a whim. And I love Dijon—I’ll definitely be back.

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Given those stories, one might think that I inherently like solo travel better. And that’s not necessarily true. But I think it’s a safe bet. When I travel solo, I know the trip—for better or for worse—is all mine. But when I travel with someone else, there’s a lot up in the air. Traveling with someone can be immensely rewarding. You just have to pick the right person(s).

And now to delve a little deeper, I thought I’d share what I consider the five main pros and cons of solo travel. Let me know what you think! Continue reading

Slideshow: Reflections on Paris, one year later

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Inspiration from mom…

This one’s another mom-inspired post (What can I say—she knows me so well?). But it also seemed like a good prompt/opportunity to reflect. One year ago, I was living in Paris, traveling every opportunity I could. Ever since I read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and learned about Santorini, I was a travel junkie. Later fueled by Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love, I made a commitment to myself that traveling would forever be a priority. And it has: I went to college 3,000 miles from home, went on a (mostly) self-funded tryst throughout western Europe, moved alone to a new city for my first co-op, and studied abroad. I can pack a mean suitcase, navigate the French consulate, and eat anything. But I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I learned in Paris, specifically, that still ring true one year later.

I prefer to travel alone. This is the most valuable thing I think I learned. Just like I’m not the biggest fan of group projects, I don’t like traveling with others. Think about it—traveling is like one massive 24-hours-a-day, group project, complete with language issues. But mostly it’s about clashing travel styles. I can travel with my mom easily: we both want to wake up early, mozey through museums, picnic in pretty parks, and splurge on great food. But other people muggy up my travel zen. With all due love and respect, I don’t want to hear about how tired/hungry/poor/bored you are. Nor do I want to plan my day around your eating/bathroom schedule. And I especially, especially do not want to be your tour guide. Pick up a guide book and figure it out. ‘Tis not my job, homeboy.

Traveling costs. The above traveling alone stuff being said, I do know that travel costs. It costs time, money, energy, patience. I get it. I just try to ignore it when I’m traveling. Because museums and picnics and the druggie-like dreams when I pass out after a day of walking around are totally worth the exhaustion. And the food?—TOTALLY worth it. But when I’m literally living in a travel-ish, foreign environment, it’s overwhelming. There were days (dare I say weekends?!)  I never left my apartment, because I was sleeping 16+ hours a day. AND I WAS IN PARIS, arguably the most beloved and beautiful city in Europe. I never picnic-ed on the Pont Neuf, never left a lock on the Pont des Arts (I love Paris’ ponts, or bridges), never saw the catacombs. Again. Traveling is costly, and sometimes I just can’t afford it.

I can always go back. This is the most incredible thing about traveling. Too often, I witness people glued to their cameras, stocking up on cheap China-made souvenirs, trying to commemorate their trip without actually enjoying it while they’re there. That isn’t to say I don’t like trinkets here and there, but they’re small; I like postcards, which I stick in my journal and which boast better pictures than I’d ever be able to capture. Knowing there are postcards for cheapcheapcheap in the store frees me up to see the beauty of some new place without peering though a camera lens. But in some cases, appreciating the beauty isn’t enough, so I confort myself with a tiny little promise: I will come back. I don’t make make this promise lightly, because I have neither the time nor means to travel much in the near future but some places are worth it.

Paris, itself, was the perfect example of one of those little promises. When I first visited Paris in May 2010, I promised myself I’d come back. And in my hotel in the 14th arr. one night, I switched my fall courses and changed my study abroad plans from South America to France. On that note, I decided to compile a mini slideshow (I’m working on the whole multi-media thing) of places I visited last fall that I promise I will return to.

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Poetry: “Shades of You”

For some reason, I was writing last night and the phrase “shades of you” came to mind. I liked it, so I ran with it. Twice.

Shades of You (v.1)

Shades of you,

Lackluster faux-mances without the inside jokes and comfortable silences.

Poor perfects don’t stand a chance against your unkempt mess of a personality.

The way you try to use your psych talk to analyze me.

You kept quiet but I had to brain barf all over Tyler’s shoes.

Sorry.

I can hide 3,000 miles away,

But my 2am insomnia misses you.

Me too.

Shades of You (v.2)

You loved me,

Once.

I caught on a little late.

I told you you were smarter than I.

As usual, time wasn’t on my side.

Impromptu drivebys turned to awkward mornings.

Life’s not a romantic comedy…

No climactic music and kissing scenes.

Oops.

I used to think that putting “us” off,

Meant that I was in control.

I’m such a control freak.

Now,

I’m trying for “hopeful” romantic,

Even if it’s a challenge

(It is).

He’s great, you know.

He gives me a headache.

And his hair…

And he kisses my head like I know you would.

If you would.

But…

(Gosh, I hate that word)

But shades of you,

Will never shine quite as bright.

For what it’s worth,

I still love you.

I Love You, Boston

Minimal posts lately… I’m on vacation!

I wiggled my way into my dad’s east coast trip. We spent a day in San Francisco then jet off to Connecticut to pick my baby brother up from school.

Thennnnnn we drove up to beautiful Boston, to kill some time and see some WONDERFUL people. And I’ve fallen in love all over again. This place is such an integral part of me; I don’t even see the gum splattered cement. I don’t smell the subway perfume. I don’t mind to hustling commuters or the bikers who don’t stop. How could I focus on that half-empty stuff when I’m too busy jumping into (multiple) public fountains, catching up with the best girlfriends I’ve ever had, and walking the streets that saw me transition from small-minded freshman Californian to comfort-oriented, Bostonian journalist. I love this place.

Ideas for writing: Road trips

You may have noticed from my Bucket List post that I’m a little behind on my driving… stuff. Technically, I was taught to drive by a boyfriend when I was 14. But I never really got around to getting my license (for a variety of reasons, all somewhere rooted in lack of communication with my parents). Now that I’ve been driving a little bit more, I love the freedom. The car is probably one of the only places in the world (except maybe a rock concert) where I can’t hear my own thoughts. And that’s really a blessing. I’m schizophrenic sometimes (all the time), I swear. There’s always some music playing. Oftentimes, two different songs in different ears. I have full fledged conversations with myself. I’m psycho.. I know.

Moving on, driving is a wonderful feeling and lately I’ve been feeling the urge to steal my daddy’s car and take off on a road trip with a girlfriend. Turns out Sears auto center is actually hosting a program where they select 20-something teams to go on 9 predetermined routes all over the U.S. and write/record/photograph their experiences.

In some cruel twist of fate, I don’t qualify for the competition. But my mom does, and she’s auditioning with an old colleague to drive any of the nine routes. I’d be very envious if she got the opportunity but excited, too. Here’s the link to Sears’ site: http://www.exploringmyamerica.com/

Great opportunity, right?

A little (more) background on me… I initially wanted to be a travel writer ala Elizabeth Gilbert. Don’t know how practical that is now, but the love of travel still stuck with me. And while there are thousands of places across the globe that I want to see in my lifetime, I’ve only ever visited about 30 of the states. How cool would it be for some winter vacation to just pack up a sleeping bag, Christmas money and all of Taylor Swift’s music and just jet off on an adventure? My head would finally be quiet for a whole week 🙂