Sunday, 27 January 2013

Your First Time!

MikeW in awe at the Orsay!  One of the best art galleries in Paris!

A newly single friend of mine asked me the other week for ideas for a trip she could take by herself; the first one abroad since her break up.  It got me thinking...where and what makes a good destination for first time solo travel.  I know this topic has been covered umpteen times on travel forums and I am not here to reinvent the wheel, but I feel that there are certain things that can make your trip as brilliant as you might hope and without any of the fears you might think such a trip will bring.

Now, my friend has travelled solo before, but not for a few, for her a few reminders and for any solo travel virgins here are my top tips for that first time:

1. Destination...
Choosing the right place to visit can make or break your trip.  I probably, should say 'appropriate place to visit' as the key element of a successful solo trip is keeping myself occupied.  Opting to visit rural Italy, although lovely, may leave you feeling rather lonely and a bit bored.  I would say start off with a city.

(I am going to stick to Europe for this post - even though I have readers from all over the world, but the same principles apply wherever you are on Earth!)

Cities offer the solo traveller with a whole host of sights and different activities that will easily fill their time there.  For example, Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Rome and Berlin are cities filled with world class museums, art galleries, historical sights, superb parks, great food, a brilliant and varied nightlife as well as a really distinctive metropolis feel that you just cannot help but get swallowed up by.  You will not be bored by these places!

On top of this, certain cities offer options for great day trips too.  Paris, for example, could see you catching the RER train and head out to the magnificent Palace of Versailles, the chateaux of the Loire Valley or to Giverny, the home of impressionist painter Monet.

2. Stay in a hostel...
You might not like the thought of a hostel for your stay, but I feel the hostel offers the solo travel one of the best ways to meet fellow travellers and find yourself someone to share some of your first solo trip with.  The hostel is a multicultural melting pot of different nationalities - though, you can ALWAYS guarantee at least an Aussie, a Yank and two Irish friends being there!  Choose your hostel carefully (following the ratings is often your best bet on and and you could end up in somewhere pretty swish.  When I travelled to Lisbon, I had a choice of top quality hostels to choose from and was thrilled with my decision to stay here...  The beautiful communal 8 Euro meal, laid back nature of the place and fun activities the hostel laid on for its guests, both during the day and at night, made this a perfect place to stay for the solo traveller.

3. Take the free tour...
I have said it before - (The Glorious Free Tour) get on the free tour!  I ALWAYS do the free a way to get my bearings and as a way to meet potential travel friends.  You are likely to be trudging round with many people in a similar boat to you and human nature dictates you are going to be drawn to the people who find the tour guide's crazy fashion sense, poor jokes or frighteningly in depth knowledge of the Ottoman Invasion of the city you are visiting strangely amusing.  The tour will also give you a chance to get to know a local who will be keen to show off their city at its best, so you can ask them about where is best to visit during the day and in the evening.

The Solo Traveller Toolkit:
- A good book for those down time moments or for when you are sitting in a cafe soaking in the atmosphere and hubbub of the city over a gloopy Continental coffee.
- An iPod/MP3 player.  It is just nice to hear a familiar voice from time to time and what better than a favourite song or energising tune to get you marching to that next tourist attraction.
- A Moleskine notebook.  Any notebook will do, but I like the Moleskine range as they are so luxuriously lovely!  I write down things I have seen that I do not want to forget, my thoughts, doodles, ideas for future art projects and for things I would like to do in the future.  Travelling to places away from home, is a privilege and I love being inspired by and learning from the places that I see often triggers ideas in my head for future experiences I want to enjoy.

Finally, be bold!  It is your first trip alone...just get out there and enjoy it.  There is no point wallowing in self pity or thinking 'I wish someone was here with me'.  Make the most of your trip, stride out there with confidence and savour what your destination has to offer you.  You won't regret it!  Oh...and if all of this advice has done nothing to inspire and you need someone to join know where I live!

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