Stuck at home with a vile cold, and the rain is never ending . . .

Being sick has derailed me! After months of travel feeling completely energized, I’m now home with zero physical energy.  Also, the island is experiencing winter storms (snow on Mauna Kea!), and the rain has kept me inside.  But I do have a nice keyboard, a big monitor and lots of thoughts weaving around, so I wrote this. Sorry – lots of words, no photos.

Table for One, Please, or Why I Travel Alone

One thing I know to be true: I am a travel addict. I am most alive in a place I’ve never been before, grinning at architecture, sampling local food, being surprised by flora and fauna I never knew existed: these activities toss my confetti. I crave the new and am thrilled by discovery. On the road, I’m drinking in the world, my preferred form of intoxication. (Okay, I admit to drinking lots of local wine, too.)

This experience-the-new addiction is precisely why I choose my preferred method of travel: taking off by myself; a travel companion requires attention, distracting me from my surroundings.

Ouch! may be your first response. Perhaps you are a person who thinks, “I need to be able to turn to my partner and say, ‘Isn’t this a beautiful sunset?’” You may feel that you need someone by your side to confirm the world’s specialness. For me, not so much: the satisfaction I gain from beauty never requires a second opinion. I can embrace an experience all by myself. You should try traveling alone, too, I believe, if not for the same reasons. Why? It allows for a richer travel experience. You’ll be experiencing something new every second of the day, with none of the pull of the ordinary. I predict you will feel fully awake and alive.

So far, I have visited 29 distinct areas (I don’t use the word ‘country’ because then I couldn’t count Antarctica!). The majority of my travels have been taken with just me, myself, and I. I once traveled solo for 13 straight months, around the world and to every continent: it was fantastic! Before the trip, a friend nicknamed me “Danger Girl” – he couldn’t believe I would do such a thing. Other people have called me brave, but I don’t think of myself that way: eager is a better description. I want to go when and wherever catches my fancy. I don’t like to be slowed down.

Traveling alone, I am free to change my mind and plans at the drop of the hat, upsetting no one.  I have been witness to countless squabbles between travel mates over a day’s schedule. Traveling alone keeps things fresh and simple, with zero – count ‘em! – squabbles.

I should probably mention that I am not a kid. I am full-grown, and I caught the travel urge very early. It has only increased as the years have passed; I jump on a plane, train, or ferry every chance I get. I would travel non-stop if I could. By myself.

Some say it is dangerous to travel as a woman alone. To be sure, I avoid war-torn areas and countries known to tolerate subjugation or mistreatment of woman. Actually, I have discovered that people tend to look after women traveling alone. When dining solo, sometimes I’m invited to join others, even if there’s a language barrier. Sometimes I’m offered a nicer hotel room or steered towards trusted cabbies or guides because I am alone. Sometimes people want to take me under their wing. Although I don’t feel a need for protection, I always say yes to their invitations, or rather I say si or oui!

Plus, fellow wanderers relish meeting folks from other places, eager to share tips and travel plans of their own. When I started that long trip, I only had the first three months sorted out; I made up the rest on recommendations and invitations.

Maybe you are not convinced it’s a good idea to travel alone yet. I suggest this: spend some time writing down in great detail your dream trip. Then see if you can find anyone who shares the exact same idea. If you do, wow! If not, consider trying a solo trip. It doesn’t have to be far from home or for more than a few days. Just try it once and see what you think.

To get started:

  1. Subscribe to travel newsletters, like Afar or Lonely Planet; sign up for emails from Rick Steves, Backyard Travel, G Adventures, Intrepid or other fancier or more budget-minded companies. Plumb these resources for their recommendations. This will generate ideas for you and raise excitement. You may not know you want to do something until you see enticing photos or a great write-up of a place. Articles can also help you figure out what you don’t want to do. I’ve wanted to behold the Northern Lights for as long as I can remember, but after reading about the super cold conditions at the best spots, my enthusiasm waned.
  2. Get a credit card that gives you travel bonuses; I almost always fly with accumulated points. Check out The Points Guy for tips.
  3. Go to your library and peruse the travel section (the 910s in the Dewey Decimal System).
  4. Revisit that list you made: do you want to visit museums or the great outdoors? Swimming or hiking? Are you a foodie or wine lover? Get specific, and let those choices guide you to your destination. Example: Google “countries with best free museums.” Boom! There you go! Or simply check out Fodor’s Go List.
  5. Consider staying in one place for the duration; transportation eats up time and money. Going here and there lets you see more, but staying in one location fosters intimacy.
  6. Instead of staying in hotels, considering staying in alternate accommodations, like monasteries, which is a favorite of mine. Maybe that sounds awful to you, but that’s the point: explore alternatives, then go where YOU want to go.
  7. Start close by if that’s best for you. Pretend you are a Parisian visiting your area, buy a local guide book, and play tourist, with or without a fake French accent.
  8. Use travel rating systems with great caution; I learned this lesson the hard way. In user-driven platforms, examine the specific reasons people like or dislike a place as opposed to just considering the number of stars a place receives. Personally, I avoid travel sites that wish to advise or book me (hint, hint).
  9. Watch movies/documentaries and read novels/non-fiction set in your desired locale. Learning the history of a place vastly enhances time spent there.
  10. When you’re ready to go, the most important thing is travel light! Pack your stuff and then carry all of it around your house, especially up and down stairs; how does that feel? This exercise will greatly help with the elimination process. I only ever travel with a carryon suitcase and small bag, even on that 13-month trip. This allows me to move faster through airports and avoid baggage fees, and I never lose my luggage. Hand wash your intimate apparel when you shower and hang it to dry, reducing the amount you need to take. Wear dark clothes made of stain- and odor-resistant fibers (wool is a great choice, even in warm weather). Buy clothes at your destination if you need to, and then when you are home and someone comments on your gorgeous shirt, you can casually reply, “Oh, I picked this up in Rome . . .”

To be sure, my travels are not all happy happy joy joy. I experience down days. Places are not as I imagined them to be; marketing is deceptive; my expectations have been unrealistic. I get nervous, frustrated, and flustered, but I just keep going, and it is easier to alter outlook when there are many distractions right outside the door! If I find myself a foul mood, I go for a walk. Body movement can do wonders for a sour POV, and who knows what you’ll discover out in your new environs. As for travel hiccups, it is my experience that “challenges” often uncover treasures I would otherwise have missed out on.

I once read something that has deeply affected my approach to life: no one is better suited to make me happy than myself. I fully embrace that sentiment and therefore travel alone. So far it has been extremely rewarding. Anyway, the world expects us to go around in twos – be a rebel: try going as a one.

Enjoy your explorations, real, online, or in books. Feel free to ask me questions – I’ll answer as best I can.

Just don’t ask if you can come with me on my next trip. . .

Happy travels and bon voyage!

 

Miami Beach Art!

I checked off two more bucket list items today – visits to the Bass and Wolfsonian museums – and I also took a trip into my past.

The Bass has been closed for a long time, and when I planned this trip, its website mentioned October 9 as the grand reopening, but it turned out it was actually today. I worried that with the free admission perk and long time closure, it would mean entry lines snaking around the block, and you know I hate crowds, but today was my only chance. As it happened, there was no line, and I was actually the first person through the door, and gee, did that give me a thrill!

The museum is not large, but the modern collections are eccentric and exceptional. One huge room consisted of dozens of life-like clown mannequins. Another featured mimes recreating famous (but not materially present!) sculpture! I LOVE MODERN ART.

Next I visited a building I briefly lived in in the very early Eighties. It is now a luxury hotel. I talked my way into a visit of a suite and the rooftop, and got a discount for a future booking to boot!

Lastly, I visited the Wolfsonian museum. Its mission is to “illustrate the persuasive power of art and design” which does not at all capture the sexiness of its Art Deco works and exploration into how objects act as both agents and expressions of change. It’s a wonderful place.

And speaking of sexy, I did not visit the other kind of sexy museum, the one dedicated to Erotic Art, although I snapped a photo of its entryway.

Here are some photos:

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Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Sunrise, Vizcaya, and some serious rain

While I was waiting to check in at the hostel yesterday, enthusiastic staff were encouraging everyone in line in front of me to join in on their ‘VIP’ party plans for the night, promising famous DJs! multiple bars! (including transportation to and from, because of the) unlimited alcohol and bar snacks! only $15 for women, $25 for men! They did so, that is, until I stepped up to the counter. This is very much not like the European hostels I have enjoyed, but rather party, alcohol, sleep-all-day central, and they rightly figured I would not fit in. When I first went to my room midday, the bunks were full of immobile, snoring young women. Later, as I was readying for sleep, my rowdy roomies were just prepping for their night out; similarly, drunken revelers were staggering bleary-eyed in the common areas and last chance hookups were forming as I was starting my day – at my early morning visit to the 24-hour Walgreens, condoms were popular items. All night long I heard gleeful shouting and high heels clicking along the hallways. No chance for a jet-lagged, time-change sleep catchup, as along with all the noise, these bunks shake anytime anyone moves in or out. I’ve sagely booked another place for my next two nights.

Out walking the beach early morning, I got to enjoy the thing I love best about South Florida: warm night breezes coming off the ocean. Ahhhhhhhhh . . . A flashy sunrise on a nearly-empty beach was a special treat. Plus, a herd of dressed-up runners soon converged on the boardwalk. Cool!

My first priority of the day was to visit Vizcaya, a 100-year-old estate set right on Biscayne Bay. I first heard of this place many decades ago from my maternal grandmother, who moved from the North East to Miami in the 1950s. I’ve wished to visit for years, and today I finally made it. But poor Vizcaya, she’s been battered for years by the tropics, and the recent hurricane damage is still very much in evidence. I was there only a few hours before an intense storm suddenly unleashed heavy drenching rain and wind, and I can fully understand how she is down at the heels. I had to walk a few miles in this downpour to return to the metro station, trudging through water several inches above my ankles – I don’t know if my Clarks will survive this outing.

Here are some photos:

The u

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Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

South Beach!

Goodbye, Europe. Hello, Miami Beach.

I’ve arrived in South Florida, just a little tired after the long, but smooth flight and the time change. I’m staying in a six-bed hostel room with a group of lively Latinas here in advance of a salsa cruise! If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what does.

Here are some photos:

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Sintra still

A wind has picked up, clouds are starting to fill the sky, the temperature has dropped: must be time to leave Portugal. Today is my last day of leisure on the continent; tomorrow I return to Lisbon and a hotel near the aeroporto in preparation for my early Friday flight to North America. My time in Europe has passed all too quickly, but what a fine time it’s been.

I spent today at Monserrate, a splendid and nearly-tourist-free former palace. (Said to be praised by Byron in “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”.) The grounds are comfortably large (about 82 acres) and full of sensual pleasures: smell (roses!), scenery (fantastical trees and gardens!), and sound (wind rustling leaves, sweet birdsong!). And perhaps best of all, I don’t need to be anywhere else but here, which is so nice. So relaxing. So cool.

For a while after arriving I was on the same path as a French family of five, the three children quite young. Each time we turned a corner the kids exclaimed, “Oh wow! Oh wow!” My sentiments exactly.

The property has abundant sobreiro cork oak trees; I’ll remember this place every time I open a bottle of wine.

I learned a new Portuguese word today: escorregadio.

Fun fact: that’s a fake ruined chapel on the grounds!

Here are some photos:

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Sintra, wow extended

With my intense dislike of crowds, and visions of the packed train station from yesterday, I set off as early as I could this morning. I had two places on the visit list, both high above town and near to each other, Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. When the bus to go up the hill arrived at my stop, it was packed, and I had to stand at the very front next to the driver as he carefully drove up the winding, narrow, hairpin-turns road, sometimes having to do little back-up, go forward, back-up, go forward maneuvers at the tightest turns. And this is a normal large-sized bus! On a two way road! Impressive.

Being at the front of the bus meant not only did I have a perfect view of the drive there, I was also first off, first to the ticket stand, and almost first inside the palace grounds – such good luck!

The palace is situated atop a hill on about 500 steep acres, land that was formerly dry and barren, cultivated over the centuries into a gorgeous green utopia. I spent about seven hours here, but could easily stayed many more were it not for the other place on my list (and for which I had already bought a ticket!). Throughout the day I asked Palace employees for their advice on where I should go, and I got tips that proved wonderful.

After the Palace, I hiked over to the Castle, along its ramparts and up and down its towers, giving both my calves and fear of heights something to munch on.

The weather was perfect again. In some places I had a 360 degree view to the Atlantic, the surrounding countryside, and even back to Lisbon.

Lastly, I hiked back into town down a steep six-mile path – this is cliff-climbing country – which sometimes consisted of stone-pavement, and sometimes mud, rocks, too-high steps, and sometimes creeped under overhanging boulders. Ah. May. Zing. I certainly felt sorry for the ill-informed heading up the hill late in the day, in sandals no less.

A wonderful day.

Oh, and I rescued a lost little boy, too.

Here are some photos:

kml

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Sintra. Wow.

I took the train to from Lisbon to Sintra today. My visit didn’t start well. The train was crowded cheek by jowl. Very unpleasant. When it arrived in Sintra, it took about 30 minutes just to exit the station because of the logjam. My B&B, however, was lovely, easy to reach, and staffed by friendly, helpful people, so yea, and I learned that Sintra is hectic on Mondays because many places in Lisbon are closed that day and visitors compensate by day-tripping here, so I’m hopeful for tomorrow. Sintra is very pretty, and the weather continues to be perfect, so that’s helpful.

Anyway, it was too early to check in, so I set off to explore, and things started to get interesting. The sole reason I chose to come to Sintra is because of a photo I saw of a spiral stone structure in a Lonely Planet Sintra story. That beautiful photo, with the byline, “Portuguese fairy tale” did it for me. So, to make a short story long, the very first place I visited in Sintra is where that structure is! But I didn’t expect that – it was a merely a coincidence that I went there first. Cool!

I did not have the perfect lighting/human free experience the original photographer had, but I got in some happy shots in. The place, Quinta da Regaleira, is a green fantasyland created by rich people with a lot of time on their hands, and we benefit. It’s about ten acres, although it seemed larger to me, set on a hillside, with all kinds of paths, water features, labyrinths, grottos, chapels, and many deep, long caves, some lit, some not, and it was so cool to hang out in the pitch dark with only the cold air and the drip, drip of water. To sum up the place, think: stone, water, greenery, myth. What fun! But I’m gonna stop here, because I think these words are failing. Hopefully, the photos tell the story.

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.