Make Your Own Story

One way to avoid feeling lonely when traveling is to create a story to tell or follow on your trip.  Both can add a lot of fun and can help you connect with others.  The story doesn’t have to be detailed or documented, but doing so can help keep your memories alive.  It’s something to add some pleasure and engagement with your trip.  It can also fill up time when you’re alone in your lodging at night.

Telling a story is easy when the trip is to trace your heritage.  Trace the family tree.  Make a map.  Use pictures to show connections.  Do photo comparisons between then and now.

Some stories slip up on you without being planned.  On a trip to France, I realized I kept stumbling on to places associated with Joan of Arc.   Keeping track of them made the trip more of an adventure and gave it a running joke.

A great way to create a story is to bring something with you to photograph along the way.  Flat Stanley, the original photo bomber, has been around the world many times.  A friend takes his toy Gumby with him everywhere.  My favorite is to take some kind of inflatable toy and shoot it having my vacation.  This has special benefits.  You never have to worry about finding someone to take your picture somewhere.  You also attract attention and get to meet people.  The first time I did this, it surprised me how many people wanted to have their picture taken with my big, blow up cow.

elsie 3  elsie 2

In those days, the only way I had to document it was to put my prints on paper.  With today’s digital tools, it’s easy to create a photo book to tell your stories.  My personal favorite is the tool offered by Shutterfly.  You can even create a book for you iPad.  Photo books make a great way to share you photos and their story.

However you create or tell your story, whether it’s just for your own enjoyment or to share with others, I’m sure you’ll find it enjoyable.  I’m getting ready to pack an inflatable dolphin for my next trip.  If you’ve ever created a trip story, please share it with us.

Alone But Not

 

A view likely missed alone

A view likely missed alone

One of my favorite travel experiences happened in Florence after visiting an out-of-the way church up on a hill.  On exiting the church, I came across an elderly man who was trying to talk to a young woman who clearly did not speak any Italian or understand how to read hand gestures.  Despite my miserable Italian, I was able to translate and earned the gratitude of both sides.  When I asked the man for directions to my next stop, instead of pointing me to the right road, he took my arm and lead me down a hidden footpath.  Had he been a younger man, I would have been quite nervous.  His age and frailty made that a non-issue and the views were outstanding, much better than from the road.  At one point, he looked at the old cities walls and said, “Old walls are beautiful.  Old men are not.”  How wrong he was!

When traveling alone, one never has to be alone.  If you want to travel alone, but be assured of avoiding loneliness, there are several good choices with various degrees of private time and independence.

Group tours are probably the most obvious alternatives and have a wide range of intensity of togetherness.  Some keep you with a group most of the time.  While this can give a sense of security, it has downsides.  Just one bad apple can ruin the whole barrel.  Also, as part of a group, you may be less open to  opportunities to meet locals.  Specialty tours such as those focused on history or photography can be great choices as you already have something in common with your fellow travelers beyond just interest in the destination.  Eco tourism and volunteer programs can provide both this benefit and that of knowing you are doing good while having fun.

Some people don’t like cruises because they feel trapped on the boat.  How about being trapped on a boat with hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers.  If you’re outgoing, this can be a good deal of fun.  Many ships assign people to tables and, under the right circumstances, this can be the beginning of beautiful friendships.

Many B&Bs (bed and breakfast) foster interaction among both owners and guests.  This is one of the things I love about them (in addition to the prices).  I’ll have a separate post on the joys of B&Bs, but for now suffice it to say they’re a great way to get expert advice and swap stories.  In one case, people I met at one B&B turned up in a later part of my itinerary.  We already had a common bond which made the time together feel like being with old friends.  Owners of these properties tend to enjoy talking with people and sharing their local expertise.  Take the time to talk with them beyond just picking up your key.

Full service resorts, including those focused on honeymooners, may seem like an odd inclusion for this topic, but they can be great for those traveling alone.  Staff that are at all outgoing will enjoy having someone to talk to who isn’t completely wound up in their partner.  Classes and other activities keep you busy while bringing you into contact with others.  I’ll go into detail on a couple examples of this kind of place, Pueblo Bonita Pacifica in Cabo San Lucas and Lalati in Fiji, in later entries.

What ever form of travel you choose, the key is to keep an open heart and an open mind.  Be as outgoing you can and keep receptive to when others reach out to you.  Not only will you avoid loneliness, but your travel experiences will be greatly enriched.

Solo Friendly Destinations

Some places are more welcoming to women traveling alone than are others.  A few are down-right hostile.  For example, the last I heard Saudi Arabia does not let women travel there without their husband or father.  Even in generally benign or pleasant places, singles can find themselves shunted to the least desirable tables and tiny, single-bedded hotel rooms.  While most places generally treat single travelers well, here are a few I’ve found that are exceptionally welcoming.

New Orleans

Combine true southern hospitality with gratitude for the return of tourist dollars and you get one of the most welcoming cities in the US.  All travelers are treated well, but those who are alone are truly cared for. I once arrive to find that my luggage had been lost.  People kept wanting to take me home and feed me!  The city also has one of the best Convention and Tourism Bureaus anywhere.

Famous for it’s “Laissez les bons temp rouler” (let the good times roll) spirit, New Orleans has much more to recommend itself than congeniality.  The French Quarter is filled with great shops, jazz clubs, bars and restaurants.  The National Park Service has a great visitor’s center that in addition to having lots of information offers free walking tours of the waterfront.  A visit to the Garden District, easily accessible by the St. Charles Streetcar, will show you the more gentile side of New Orleans life.

New Orleans does have more than its share of poverty and this results in a fairly high crime rate.  Watch your belongings at all times.  Use extreme caution when out at night.

Enjoy all the city offers and come home knowing how to correctly say its name.

Toronto

All Canadian cities are very civilized, but Toronto is one of the friendliest cities I’ve ever visited.  Once a shopping mecca for US tourists when the conversion rate was favorable, it’s still a fun city where a single woman is more than merely accepted.

Toronto is foodie heaven.  Great food can be had both in fine dining restaurants and a variety of little ethnic eateries.  Don’t expect to be stuck in a corner near the restrooms here.  A woman traveling alone is more likely to find herself sitting by the window with an attentive, but not pushy, waiter.

Public transportation is exceptionally good in Toronto.  You won’t need to rent a car or pay for taxis.  The subway and buses can get you anywhere you want to go.

Australia

The land down under is truly a land of wonders.  You’ll soon find a full post on the country in the Destinations category.  My fondness of the country is too great, though, for just one post.

I went to Australia for the critters and fell in love with the people.  They are warm, welcoming, and proud of their country while admitting its faults.  They have a quirky sense of humor and you may find yourself part of the joke.  Go along for the ride and you’re sure to make friends.

One interesting thing about Australia is that your fellow travelers are as likely to be Aussies as any other nationality.  Since it is such a large continent and far from others, many Australians travel within their own country.  This has a double benefit.  First, you are get to meet more of the wonderful people of Oz, but you also get to pick their brains about their own travel experiences.  Many of those you meet can help you make the most of your visit.

Other than the risks involved with driving on the left side of the road, Australia is about as safe as it gets.  As anywhere, one needs to use caution when out alone at night.  Even then, though, it’s much safer than in most destinations.

Restaurant staff are generally very friendly, especially to single travelers.  In several restaurants, waiters sat down to chat with me.  This wasn’t the kind of flirtation one might experience elsewhere.  This was just friendly talk and hospitality.  The one form of discrimination a woman traveling alone might experience is being denied a choice outdoor table by being told they are for larger parties only.  Depending on your mood and personality, you may or may not choose to challenge this.  If you do decide to, just the mention of discrimination should be enough to get you seated.

Fiji

There is no more welcoming culture than Fijian.  It is built into the country’s DNA.  Everyone is treated well, singles, couples, kids, and groups.  Whereas staff at fine resorts can be expected to know your name, those at any resort in Fiji also expect you to know theirs so you can ask for help.

Much tourism in Fiji is based on resorts, from tiny establishments on outer islands to large ones on the main island of Viti Levu and everything in between.  One never needs to leave the resort or its care to enjoy all that Fiji has to offer.  Even visits to local villages are likely to be led by one of the family.  Most offer diving (scuba and/or snorkeling) and hiking.  Most resorts include meals and many activities, so you don’t even need to worry about where to eat or spending extra money to have fun.

One activity you’re likely to be invited to join in on is drinking kava.  Kava is a drink common in the south Pacific under many names.  It is slightly intoxicating.  Small doses are rather relaxing.  Higher consumption levels can make you rather drunk and leave you with a bit of a hangover.  Drinking kava is part of sharing with the people of Fiji and comes with a bit of a ritual.  Although the drink is somewhat bitter, it is a sweet experience not to be missed.  Don’t worry about having a chance to try it.  You will be offered kava in many places, including some gift shops.

Fijians are just beginning to learn about tipping and that can lead to some clumsiness.  Resort staff, who are not supposed to be individually tipped may hint at how welcome a gift would be.  Store personnel who would not be tipped elsewhere may ask for a few dollars for their help.  Never allow yourself to feel pressured by these requests, but do feel free to tip for exceptional service.

This list is far from comprehensive.  I’d love to hear where you’ve been that you think would be a great place for women on the road alone.