Sunday, December 21, 2008

I took this photo while traveling alone and it ended up in the Schmap guide :)

For those who don't know, gives you free .PDF maps of destinations. They use photos from fellow travelers. In this case, my pic of St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto was selected :)
I also had one of Stonehenge selected for their Salisbury guide.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pictures For One

Unless you can find someone around to take your picture, traveling alone makes you very good at self-portraiture :) Here are some of mine from Morocco.

The Importance of Telling People Where You Are

There's no doubt that traveling alone has the asset that you can REALLY get away from it all. You can leave your cell phone at home and there's no way for anyone to know what time you've left your hotel room (or if you even checked in), where you went or where you're going. That in itself can be a freeing experience, depending on what goes on in your personal life at home. BUT BUT But, there should be some precautions you should take. I think at least one trust-worthy person back home should have an idea of your itinerary and even possibly a way to contact you in an emergency.

Smart Tip #1:

If you don't do this already (and you really should be!), take photocopies of your passport before you leave. Leave one copy at home with someone you trust. Take one with you in your luggage. Take an extra with you for when you're walking around town in the foreign country. This is because in some places, authorities have the right to stop people on the street and ask for identification. Understandably, you may not want to carry your passport with you at all times (leave it locked at the hotel). You can provide the photocopy and if they have further questions, they can follow you back to your hotel.

Or, if you lose your real passport, a photocopy *may* help you get out of the country or help you at your country's consulate. Having a copy at home means that a friend can possibly fax you a copy (if you lose everything) and also provide identification to authorities in the event of a disaster and you go missing. Sounds horrible? I know, but plan for the worse, I say.

Smart Tip #2:

Leave a copy of your itinerary with a trusted friend. These usually have confirmation numbers and they may be required to board a train or plane. In the event you lose your papers, you don't want to have to guess what time your plane leaves! A quick phone call will get you the info you need. Also keep copies of departure times and confirmation numbers in your email.

Smart Tip #3:

Agree to email or call your trusted friend at agreed times or dates, just to let people know you're alive. It's nice to go where the wind takes you and to email from a different location everyday saying, "oh, I'm in Egypt now!" but people do worry and it's nice to make sure they don't worry too much. It's for you and your friends and family to work out what works best for everyone's comfort and feelings of freedom.

While I was traveling, I discovered two things:

1) I actually wanted to communicate with the people who worry about me most, more than I valued the idea of freedom/independence. My mother, who is usually over-bearing, respected my desire to be left alone and DID NOT call me this time. It did the opposite and worried me. At the same time, I realized I like hearing from her and it was nice to chat on my cell phone with her while wandering around alone.

2) I had a few vulnerable moments (lost in the dark, feeling ill) where I realized how alone I was and if I fell and died on the street at that moment, NO ONE would know where I was or even WHO I was. It would be days before I would be found or reported missing...who knows? It was at those moments that I realized how important it was for people back home to know I was alright and where I was. Obviously, you can't tell them every minute, but at the very least, the name and address of where you plan to sleep at night and the next plane/train/bus you plan to take.

For my own comfort, I bought a cell phone at my destination so that I could call people and they could call me. I also made a point to email daily. Do what works for you and do it responsibly.

How To Pack Light and Stay Healthy

I got back from a solo trip to Morocco just over two weeks ago, so I have lots of fresh advice to offer from my experiences.

1) Half the clothes, TRIPLE the money!

You've probably heard of the travel advice: spread out all the stuff you want to take with you, half the clothes and double the money. Well, I'm changing that to half the clothes, triple the money.
I bought so many clothes, I had to buy a new suitcase! (Yes, I was trying to "rough" it and backpack, but I had to cave. So many great deals!)

Clothes can often be part of your souvenir collection from a trip and they're often cheaper in developing countries, making them enticing. For me, I really wanted to fit in with the locals and their clothes were suited to the climate.

Also, when it comes to packing, leave home with a few choice shirts and one pair of pants. NO MORE! Honestly, the clothes I wore the most were the ones I spent the most on - tops and socks I invested in that were easily washable and fast-wicking. They were all made from merino wool - very thin, yet can keep you very warm or very cool, depending on the situation. For a two-week trip I had two pairs of the good socks and two good tops. I brought some cheaper socks and tops with me and left them in places along the way to decrease my load. Next time, I will go with four good tops and maybe two or three pairs of good socks AND THAT'S IT! I found it very easy to get my washing done in sinks and baths. Add to that the local clothes I bought and I had enough clothes to last my trip. I only did two "loads" of laundry.

2) When it comes to medication, always take more than you think you'll need.

Before I left, I thought I might be being a little paranoid. I truly planned for the worst. Here's what I took with me:

-one pack of travel-sized Aspirin
-one small bottle of Dramamine
-about 20 Pepto-Bismol tablets
-4 sachets of Gastrolyte
-one round of Cipro (prescribed by my doctor in case of traveler's diarrhea, UTI or other infection)
-my regular daily vitamins (B100 complex)
-three hypodermic needles
-a small first-aid kit
-sleeping pills
-one Diflucan pill
-my regular daily prescription medications.

I did not actually follow my own advice and travel with a Plan B this time. Out of all that, what did I actually use? The Dramamine, the daily vitamins/prescription and the Gastrolyte. But I'm glad I was prepared.
I did actually catch an intestinal virus while in Morocco, which made me exceptionally happy to have the Gastrolyte, an electrolyte-replacement drink. It comes in a sachet, in powder form, making it very easy to carry around. You just have to add fresh drinking water and drink it. It did not taste great, even though I had the "fruit punch" flavor. However, after having been glued to the toilet bowl and the bed all morning, it definately helped wonders. I was happy I was "paranoid" enough to have brought it. I still felt sick and weak, but because of it, I felt that I would be strong enough to leave the safety of the guesthouse I was at and head out for real food.

What do I now think I should have brought with me that I didn't? Laxatives.
After getting rid of the virus, I was left with the opposite issue :(
You can't win.

I also had to buy more adhesive bandages because I got blisters (all those new shoes I bought!)

Just goes to show, each trip is different and you never know what will happen or what you'll actually need. Because of that, I think you should always prepare for the worst. Besides, medical supplies don't take up very much room. It's always nice to come home and unpack it all, thinking, "gee, I'm so glad I didn't have to use those needles or something worse."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

5 Benefits of Traveling Alone

Not that you needed any reasons to go it alone, but here are some reminders or insights that might give you the push you need!

Think of the open road, the wind in your hair. You get such a wonderful sense of freedom when you travel alone.
You can't hear the phone ring or the kids crying. Hopefully, work can't track you down and bother you. If you take a vacation alone, there should be no ties, chains or tethers to stop you. Enjoy the freedom.

2) Confidence Boost!
Traveling alone really helps to boost your confidence and I think women need this a lot more than men do. Often we (as well as society) tell ourselves we're too small or not strong enough, not smart enough or any number of negative things.
When you have to rely on yourself, you can see just how capable and resourceful you are. Even if you're the type of person who is always prepared, fearless and in control, travel will always push you that little bit more to remind you how amazing you really are.
If you're a little scared before leaving and think you might not be able to handle it, sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other is a challenge, but go slowly and the confidence will build. Remember that life doesn't put anything in front of you that you're unable to handle. Keep your thoughts in the present moment and trust that you can handle anything that comes your way.

The last time I went off by myself, I was reminded of a quote by Goethe - "the sooner you trust yourself, the sooner you know how to live." I felt I needed to remember that always, so I got it tattooed to my wrist. Remembering to trust myself got me through the times I was scared and in doubt. I came back with more confidence than ever.

3) Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
We're all creatures of habit and travel takes us through all sorts of new and different climates, cultures, timezones, food and schedules - we have no choice but to take a few chances here and there and try something new. The benefit of getting out of your comfort zone is that you, as above, gain more confidence and new skills. It helps you understand what you really like and what you hate. From there you can learn what you want and don't want, in general.
You have to give up control and old habits and learn a new way sometimes. In the end, it will make you more flexible and adaptable in life. Great skills to put on a curriculum vitae! Don't ever underestimate the value of travel for your career and education.

4) Meet More People
A great benefit to travel is meeting new people, especially locals. Often they have tips for the best restaurants and places to see. They can also help you avoid scams. (Just be careful who you become friends with.)
As a loner, it's easier to meet other lone travelers or couples. Often people take pity on us (they don't have to!) and think we're lonely, so they'll invite us solo chickies to join them. (There are also times when you will truly be lonely and be more than happy to join others!)
If you take a tour as a singleton, you may be matched up with other singles for seating arrangements and such. No matter which way you meet people, I simply find it's easier to do it when you're not already with a group of friends (people tend to get cliquish and exclusionary) because it's less intimidating for the other person you're meeting.

Also, if you think you're the shy type at home, you might be surprised how you open up when you travel. I'm not the social butterfly type at home, but when I travel I become Ms. Friendly and talk to everyone. I just find it fun to get all sorts of info and perspectives on where I'm

The other benefit of meeting travel friends is that you can dump/avoid them the minute you want to be alone again. I know that sounds mean, but it's true. You don't owe them anything and you don't have to keep in contact or ever see them again if you don't want to.
On the upside, you might meet someone great and have a free place to stay the next time you visit ;)

5) No Compromising!
This one is probably the best - you don't have to compromise with anyone. You have an excuse to be selfish and do only what YOU want to do.
You can go at your own pace or change plans on a whim. Want to sleep in your hotel room all day? No one will make you feel guilty for "wasting" the day or not enjoying the sites.
You don't have to fight with anyone to choose a restaurant; you can eat when, where and what you want.
You don't have to go see sights you get care to see or pay entrance fees for things you're not really interested in.
If you want to buy a strange and overpriced souvenir, no one can talk you out of it.
You don't have any travel partners you have to worry about slowing you down or getting sick or injured.
If you want to sing loudly in your car or walk around naked in your hotel room, you can.

Traveling alone is a time of complete indulgence, hedonism and selfishness, but for balance in our lives, we need that every once and a while :)

So go take on the world alone! Relax, unwind, unplug and have fun!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tips for the Naughty Bits

I'm usually an advocate in traveling light and buying what you need when you arrive, but there's an aspect to solo female travel that I always want to be prepared for - keeping the reproductive organs happy and healthy.

These tips depend largely on where you're going, but for the most part, when it comes to girly parts, I say you can never be too prepared. This post isn't for the squeamish, as I'm going to talk frankly here, but as a woman, you should put some thought into at least some of my tips to do the best for your health and sanity while traveling.

If you have moral issues concerning emergency contraception, please skip the next paragraph. However, I put this point first because I feel it is a very important consideration to take and not everyone thinks of it.

1) Before you leave, consider getting a prescription filled for Plan B - the "morning after pill" (or other emergency contraceptive).
The laws concerning this pill at your destination may not be the same as where you live now. Also, prescriptions are always cheaper to get at home. Keep in mind that those pills may be illegal at your destination. I suggest bringing emergency contraceptive in the unfortunate event that you are raped, or perhaps the condom breaks or you forgot your diaphragm -whatever it is goes wrong. It will be one less stress to think about during your trip and after your return.

2) Also consider getting a prescription of fluconazole, which is a single dose antifungal pill. In other words, it kills a nasty yeast infection quickly and easily - without messy creams or suppositories. If you can't get your hands on that (or it simply is contraindicated for you) you could just bring a one-day over the counter treatment with you. Once again, though I'm all about adventure, sometimes it's best to stick to what you know works. You don't want to spend your whole vacation wandering around, looking for a pharmacy, then looking for a yeast infection cure in some other language. Also keep in mind that the quality of products in some other countries can be lower (cheaper or toxic ingredients, improper storage, or just expired).

3) Bring your own contraception!
I can't stress this enough. Even if you "don't think anything will happen", you might be surprised by who you meet while traveling and how the rules you usually follow might slide a bit. Do not assume condoms are easy to find in other countries. Do not trust the condoms of your partner - you don't know how they have been stored. Make sure you store yours well (in a cool, dry place, not a pant pocket) and try to keep them in your carry-on (I really don't know if condoms can withstand the cold of an aircraft baggage compartment). I keep mine protected in a cute black pencil case. It's discrete, stops them from getting punctures and is cute enough to walk into a bar with as a purse. (Believe it or not, I also manage to fit a small travel toothbrush and paste, a pair of disposable undies and a panty liner. You never know! Despite all this, I have to admit, I've never managed to hook up with someone in a foreign place, though I know many who have.)

4) Bring your own menstrual gear.
Bring pads, panty liners, tampons, or even better, a reusable cup like the Keeper or the Diva Cup. Bring them even if you aren't expecting your period. The stress of travel and time changes can change your cycle, so you never know. Once again, it's also about not having to waste time wandering around looking for these things when you could be out having fun and exploring.

4b) Probably stating the obvious, but if you take a contraceptive pill, remember to bring it, too! Bring enough for an extra month, just in case you somehow lose your set. Or maybe you'll want to extend your stay.

5) Change your underwear and try to wash daily!
If you don't already, make a habit of it when you travel. It's important to keep things fresh and clean down there, especially in hot, humid climates where there's a lot more bacteria and fungi around. Or you might not have access to clean running water for bathing. If you can't get a shower, try to do a wipe with a face cloth, some soap and clean water.
Just keep in mind that you will probably sweat more while traveling because of things like nervousness and stress, more physical exertion (carrying heavy luggage and walking/hiking) and sitting for long periods in buses, trains and planes.

6) Keep soap samples.
Sometimes you get little single load samples of laundry detergent, right? Keep those for when you travel. They are the perfect size and can be used to do a quick wash of your undies/bras in a hotel sink.Bold

7) Bring disposable undies.
This is more of a "packing light" tip, but I figured I'd add it here. You can get disposable underwear from spas or, in my case, my local Chinatown. They are surprisingly comfortable and breathable. They're fantastic because they come rolled up very small, so they don't take up much space and you can wear them and throw them away after. They're also very light.
Alternatively, you could also buy some cheap undies and throw them away before coming home, but disposables are really the lightest and cheapest out there. I'll admit, they're not very sexy. Maybe that's why I haven't hooked up on my travels....

Comment if you think of others to add and Bon Voyage!

Countries I Have Traveled To

-The Bahamas (New Providence Island and Paradise Island)
-Canada (my home! Quebec, Ontario, BC)
-England (London, Salisbury)
-France (Paris)
-Germany (Frankfurt-am-Main, Berlin)
-Ireland (Dublin, Killiney Beach, New Grange, Howth)
-Morocco (Agadir, Essaouira, Marrakesh, Ourika Valley)
-Sweden (Nykopping, Stockholm, Gamla Stan)
-The United States of America (VT, NH, NY, NV, AZ, PA, MA, NJ, FL)
-Yemen (Sana'a)