Tips for Solo Travel

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I travel alone most of the time, mainly because I like to go to far-flung places and spend a bit of money on it, which isn’t the kind of travel a lot of people want to do. But I’m cool with that – ever since I studied in Japan I’ve been able to cope in new places alone and have picked up the skills that means I don’t feel sad or lonely when I’m traveling…not most of the time, anyway!

Here are some of my tips for people wanting or needing to travel alone.

1. No one is pitying you when you eat alone.

Here’s a hard truth. 99% of the time, no one is even noticing you. No one cares. Unless, of course, there is something obvious making you stand out. Something like being the only white person in a restaurant full of, say, Indian people. Or you wearing something very revealing in a country known for conservative dress codes.

Not once – not even once – in my history of eating alone, has anyone bothered me or said anything that made me feel like a loner for wanting to eat alone.

The only trouble with eating by oneself is that you need to entertain yourself. Always come armed with reading material or perhaps a games console or your laptop, so that you are kept occupied and even IF someone looks your way and wonders what’s up, you look like the fabulously busy reader/writer/blogger/business person/gamer.

2. Plan things that are easy to do alone.

I much prefer city trips when I’m alone because there are so many more things to do there. Like when I went to the spice plantation in India last year, it was nice and I did enjoy myself but it’s the kind of place that really is better enjoyed as a group.

You also have to think of safety. If you’re at the beach and want to take a dip, it’s much harder to find someone/some place to guard your stuff while you’re in the water.

On city trips it’s much easier to go to museums, do sightseeing etc while you’re by yourself.

3. It’s possible to meet people there.

But even though you go on your trip alone there are still ways you can find people out there. In India (which has been my most challenging solo trip to date) I found it easy to make friends when I went out diving, and in Dublin it was easy to pick up new friends from the walking tour.

If you’re in a place where there aren’t many group activities around then you could always try Be Welcome, which is similar to Couchsurfing but is more of a community and less money grabbing, so the people are much nicer. I used Couchsurfing a lot when I was in Paris and met up with some great people also visiting at the same time as me.

4. Plan some quiet time.

When you’re traveling with other people, there are times when you’re out sightseeing and then there are times when you’re just relaxing and chatting, right? When you’re by yourself it’s easy to just DO ALL THE THINGS 100% of the time. Unless this is how you like it, I recommend planning some downtime each day. Whether it’s planning to visit a cool shop you heard about, or finding a cafe to chill out in or even going to the cinema, I think it’s good to have a little “me” time, even when you’re alone.

5. Keep your mind busy.

When I was in Paris I bought something amazing – this travel journal. Inside there are loads of things to do while you’re traveling, from asking random people what they eat for breakfast, to space to draw and describe people you meet. In mine I have a drawing of an old woman who smelled of wee who sat next to me and told me about her grandchildren, a map of the Anjuna area drawn for me by a great guy I met through Couchsurfing and a drawing of an aircon machine with “onida” written on the side. Onida in Japanese would mean “it’s a demon!”

I think that keeping this on me all the time not only gives me a reason to speak to people around me and to make new friends, but also is a great way to remember those bits of my trips that I would have forgotten otherwise.

Do you enjoy traveling alone? What are your solo travel tips?

Tropical Spice Plantation

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By far my favourite thing that I did in Goa was visit the Tropical Spice Plantation. I wanted to go because I have no idea what spices and fruit look like when they are actually plants. And that made me sad. It was really amazing and our tour guide was so funny. I’d go there again, for sure.

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Though this looks so fresh and green, this is actually one of the hottest peppers on earth!

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This man was rolling some kind of cigarette that the British men behind me bought up like crazy.

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Ginger!

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This man is able to climb trees…

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With this on his feet!
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There he goes!
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Afterwards there was a delicious buffet.
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There were lots of natural remedies to buy afterwards – you can see the slimming one was very popular! I bought some neem oil which seems to be how Indian women keep their skin so clear. I’m testing it out now, and will report my findings at a later date!

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Afterwards, I had a ride on this lovely elephant called Mala. I wouldn’t normally do this but I had heard more than a few reports of this plantation treating their elephants particularly well and so I went for it. If you are going somewhere to ride an elephant then please do make sure that the elephants are treated well before you support their business.

This was SO much fun and really eye opening. And this whole day of fun cost me less than 10 euros in total.

Notes on Being a Woman

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German Bakery, Anjuna #placesiwishiwasatrightnow

So last night my friend Gemma cornered me and demanded that I tell her about my bad massage in India and also demanded that she gets a shout out on this blog. Gemma, as always, your wish is my command.

The reason why I hadn’t spoken about it until now is that there’s a lot to go into this. India was a trip that allowed me to understand a lot of about how I feel about various things. One of those was how I feel about unknown men.

This all started a few months ago when I read a post by the wonderful Cranky Giraffe in which she says how she fears men in various situations and I hadn’t even realised that I do the same things. When I went for my lady check up, I waited over a month for it just so that I could be seen by the only English speaking female doctor. I guess that’s normal. All this hollaback stuff really connects with me too because I get really upset when a guy feels the need to judge me as I go by on the street. Sure, no one has ever attacked me, but just a guy saying “not bad” as I go by, or come up to me asking if I’ll go somewhere with them will set me off and make me really upset. I often am grateful for my lack of German so I am kept in the dark about what exactly guys are saying about me.

My family have been to India many times. I have two gorgeous sisters and although they all say that they got hassled in Morocco and Turkey, in India it was pretty quiet on that front. However, when I went onto Couchsurfing and posted in the Goa forum to find people to hang out with there, for every one post I wrote, I’d get 10 messages from random Indian guys there offering me a place to stay (which I did not ask for), or to show me the “real India” or just a random “You are so pretty let’s hang out!” message.

Now, maybe I’m being too harsh. We’ve all been there. You see someone on facebook/twitter/whatever who you fancy and you send them a sneaky message. But here’s the thing 1. It’s probably not a good idea to hit on solo female travellers if you are going to do this. They are (probably) going to be a bit nervous about their trip to an unknown place and if they are savvy about the area then they are going to be savvy to your game as well. 2. If you come to me like “HI PRETTY LET ME SHOW YOU THE REAL INDIA BABE” I will not even reply. If you actually like the look of me and want to hang out, a normal message would probably be enough to get me to hang out with you. I met with one local guy in Goa – he is a very nice guy and sent me a normal message telling me about local restaurants to eat at and offered to show me some. We hung out a fair bit in the week. So it’s not that I’m batting away any message from a guy.

So before I got there I had an idea of what I could expect. I arrived in Mumbai at 2am scared because I had a 10 hour wait in a place that looked pretty dodgy (Mumbai airport – not my favourite place) and on top of this there is the thing that if you let anyone help you, they will expect money. When I stepped out of the airport men wanted to “help” me with my bags at every step. Maybe I’m being a bitch, I mean, they were just trying to earn money. But come on, a 20 something girl, alone in an airport at 2am, with guys who are trying to get money from her bugging her constantly… I think my scowl was pretty natural. I found that I was snapping back at pretty much any man there. At Goa airport when I was waiting for my suitcase the staff there were pretty upbeat and were welcoming me as they went by. My scowl remained, mainly because I was scared. Why were they being so nice to me? Did they want money? I feel really bad about how I felt this way even though there was nothing at all to suggest that they were a threat to me. It’s a kind of discrimination that I feel really ashamed about having.

Anjuna was a lot better. I had calmed down a lot, and though there are guys asking if you want a ride in their taxis all the time, I didn’t feel vulnerable at all. Then I went for a massage.

I chose to have my massage at the back of the German Bakery because the restaurant is pretty famous and also it is now probably my favourite place in the world. A man served me, and I was a little nervous about him also being the person to give me this massage. But I went with it. It’s his job, right? And so when I was lying face down with just my bikini bottoms, he came into the room and starts this really long prayer. I didn’t understand what it was about, of course, but I imagine it was something like “please forgive me for rubbing this fat white chick who isn’t my wife”. Well, if he’s praying about touching me, it means he won’t rape me… right? I relaxed a little. So the massage starts and it’s ok – nothing to write home a blog post about… but then he does this thing where he puts a towel over my lower half, tucks it into my bikini bottoms and then pulls the towel down, pulling down my bottoms. I am clenching my thighs so hard so that it doesn’t reveal more than my buttocks and he keeps telling me to relax.

Then he starts to massage those very buttocks. I was not a happy bunny. He knew it, and when I wouldn’t relax, he got his wife to come and complete the rest. I still didn’t want anyone to go anywhere near my buttocks, but somehow it wasn’t so offensive when the woman did it. Since coming back and talking to people about it, I have found that it is pretty unheard of for a guy to give a woman a massage in India. Yeah, another way in which I was naive.

On the whole, though, it wasn’t as bad there as it could be. I didn’t feel that I was oggled a lot, though I dressed conservatively (I suck for saying that since women’s clothes should not be the catalyst in men’s actions but you know what I mean). The other encounters I had were pretty… cute, actually. When walking on the beach, teenage boys would ask for photos with me, I guess to tell their friends back home that they “hung out” with a westerner. The taxi driver who was assigned to me seemed to have a crush on me, and on the way to the airport he was telling me how he would have loved to take me on a date, or get to know me better. And as we arrived at the airport he grabbed and squeeze my hand in a very awkward fashion and made me promise our paths would cross again. I didn’t feel this was scary at all… though it was undoubtedly inappropriate, he was a skinny runt around my age who was all too happy to tell me about how his mum was spending time to find his future bride and how he wasn’t so enthusiastic about it. Sure, he could have pulled a knife on me and attacked me, but I knew he wasn’t the type to do this.

So… conclusion. I feel really bad that I am unreasonably hostile to certain guys who probably just want to be friendly. But I feel that when I let go and go with the flow, like I did with the massage, I just get into trouble. I learnt a lot… next time I will be less grumpy with men just trying to be friendly, and learn to understand when a situation isn’t good. Considering my wanting to go to Morocco and Egypt next, I think these are things I really need to get sorted in my head.

 

Back Home – Thoughts on Solo Travelling

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So I’m back home in Germany now, where my sunburn stings under my layers of clothes against the cold snowy air. I didn’t blog in the last few days, even though I could have, because I felt really rotten about the whole trip. I was in a real funk and not even blogging could have brought me out of it.

So, what went wrong? India is an amazing country, and Goa is a lovely area, but I think the key thing wrong with my trip was that I went alone. Most of the unpleasant things that I experienced could have been avoided had there been someone with me, for example, someone saying “hey, sleepyhead, don’t brush your teeth with tap water” or “do you think you should be eating that?” I had a massage from a shop (as opposed to on the beach) and it was a guy doing the massage. I’ll speak more about it later, but it got a little inappropriate and I think had there been someone (or a guy) with me, he would not have felt able to do that to me.

I met some really great people there, so I didn’t feel lonely, I just felt vulnerable. I would still travel alone again, and I love travelling alone, but I think for an “level: difficult” country like India, it is best to have someone there to look over your shoulder and to take care of each other.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time in India – I really did. In fact, I was just in Rewe and I got a pang of sadness when I was picking out a morning fruit juice for the week and I thought that a little over 24 hours ago I had the choice of all the juices in the world available to me for no more than a euro. And I miss the local people who came to speak with me just because they were interested in me – the taxi driver at the hotel who (I think) almost proposed to me, the rare market women who were speaking with me not just because they wanted me to buy something, the kind friend who took me to an Indian wedding.

Before I went away, when people asked if I was going to India for business or for fun I would reply that it was for neither – that I was going for an adventure. India certainly gave me that; it pushed me to my limits, took me out of my comfort zone and made me think about things like how I cope around things like a drug scene. I’m sure I will post about these things in the coming days, but for the time being, I am shattered after 24 hours of travelling (there was a delay on my flight to London, so I had to stay put there overnight as well).

But as they say – it’s all good stuff for the memoirs.

Diving

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I LOVE diving. I did my first dive in Malaysia a few years ago (above, with my brother) and it was love at first sight. So when I found that there were diving schools here in India, I knew I had to try it out.

Back then I did the discovery course, which gives you a few basic skills then an instructor will take you by the hand and lead you round the course. It was pretty scary the first time, but after ten minutes of me freaking out and trying to breathe normally through the mouth piece, it was pretty awesome from there.

I decided to take the discovery course again this time. Why? Because – and I know you all know me well enough by now to know this is true – I suck at everything. If something is to go wrong, it will do. Scuba diving has a lot of dangers attached, and this scares me a lot. However, there is a sunken ancient city in the south of Japan that I really, really want to see before I die. So I have to take my license sooner or later.

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This time, I went with Barracuda diving school, who were very professional and I really trusted them. It’s important that you make a good connection with your instructors since you are pretty much putting your life in their hands. Mine was the rather dashing fellow on the left, and though he was a mere whippersnapper, he knows his stuff and didn’t laugh at me when I couldn’t get one of the skills he was teaching me first time round.

The course here was a little different to the one I took in Malaysia. Back there, we had a short course on land then were out at sea. This time round I watched a video about safety, then I was taken to the pool to practise skills like taking the mouth piece out underwater (not as easy as it looks!) and how to let water out of my mask while also underwater. Then on the second day (the day after I was sick…) I went out to sea for two dives.

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I was a little worried that this would be pretty lonely, but there were two amazing Finnish girls with me, one of whom was a very experienced diver. She made me want to take my license even more, she was so cool. The instructor was also really friendly too, so I guess my worries were all for nothing as I wasn’t lonely in the slightest.

The first dive was pretty easy. We went around some rocks and then came back round again. It wasn’t very deep and the instructor was holding my hand the whole way round so there was little room for error. I got to see some scorpionfish which was pretty cool because they are very dangerous. Hehe. Other than that, there were lots of little brightly coloured fish – including a fish that I forgot the name of with gorgeous neon blue piping on it.

The second dive was a little harder – a sunken ship. It was harder because it was much deeper, and navigating yourself around such an object can be a little scary. However, I did feel a little bit like Ariel the Little Mermaid…

 

Yeah, that’s what was going on in my head the whole time. Dammit, why can’t I be Ariel…

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On a side note, I’d like to talk a little about one certain nationality who are very common here in Goa – Russians. I was pretty surprised to find a) how many of them visiting and b) how much negativity there is towards them. Most of the Russians I have met are very polite and kind and I couldn’t pick out a single sweeping generalisation about them in particular as a people. However, the ones I have encountered here have been, I must admit, pretty rude and adamant on doing whatever they wish to be doing. For example, smoking on the boat. Two Russians were with us on the trip and I was pretty disgusted at how blatant they were in ignoring the no smoking rule, even after being told that it’s because we have oxygen on board and this could cause an explosion. When I went to the night market, too, stall women complained to me that Russian customers never stop to talk with them, only ask the price and then go.

Of course, you could say the same with Brits – we are good people most of the time, but put us in some cheap, warm European country and marinade with cheap alcohol and we can turn into the lowest forms of life available. Knowing the lovely Russian people I’m friends with, I was just a little sad that their image is being tarred by people like this.

My Trip Takes a Turn for the Worse

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Delhi belly, traveler’s sickness… call it what you want, I have it. And I’m sad.

In my tiredness on my first night, I brushed my teeth in the local tap water in my room. BIG mistake. The next night I was up and to the toilet throughout, with the worst migrane I’d ever had to go with it. Luckily, by morning I was ok, and went on my scuba dive. But last night as I got home, it took a turn for the worse and I was vomiting all night.

This morning, when the vomiting didn’t stop, I asked the hotel boy to go get some medicine for me, with some full-fat cola. When I was in my first year of uni I had food poisoning from the state my flatmates kept the kitchen in all the time (why do I attract this type of flatmate???) and the doctor told me that when you have an upset stomach the best thing to do is to drink as much cola as you can handle. It’s always worked for me. The boy came back with some for me, along with some powder that turns water into Pocari Sweat, basically, and some anti vomiting tablets.

So how did I get this way?

I had done my reading on the topic, but hadn’t thought much about it since my family have been to India so many times now and have never been ill. However, I am the type who always gets ill, no matter what. Once when we were in Belize I caught the 24 hour vomiting and sickness bug (norovirus) but I managed to keep everything inside for most of the day until I got back to the ship. I should have known I’d get ill whilst in India.

The first tip is to avoid consuming any local water. Like I said, I brushed my teeth with tap water which was a mistake but other areas to think about include juices which may be watered down with tap water (I think I may have been victim to this), ice in the drinks and raw fruit and salad that has been washed in local water. On my first day I had some porridge with strawberries and grapes in it. So yes, I have been really stupid. I was thinking that since Goa is full of tourists, places would understand that they need to be careful with us. But as I’m increasingly learning, people here may not put health over getting a quick buck out of a pasty tourist like myself.

Another tip is to avoid meat. It’s generally unwise to eat beef here anyway – I mean, India is a country that worships the cow so they will probably not be up to date on how to store and cook it safely. Besides this, cows are left to roam free here – eating mainly burning garbage by the sides of the road. Fish is super yummy here, as are most tofu dishes so it’s not a hard one to follow.

This blogger has written a really great piece on the same topic, and she appears to be much more informed than I am in my sorry ass state. I just hope I can get back to normal in the next few hours so I can go out!

Hello from India!

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So, because I felt I just wasn’t traveling enough, I am now here in Goa, India. As I type, I am in a cafe called Cafe Mango Shade. Two tables along from me a young Japanese boy is sifting out some kind of herbal drug, and puts it away when the waiter (who told him off) comes by. Just joined me at my table is a long haired man who may still be high, who is smoking under a big “No Smoking” sign. Welcome to Goa.

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This is by far my most advanced trip yet. I am here alone, it was really a trek to get here, and the culture is of course not what I’m used to.

I woke up at 4am on Wednesday, took a trip to Heathrow (where I had just enough time to buy a Cornish pasty and as many magazines as I could carry before I had to go board my flight to Mumbai. Despite my best efforts with the German guy at Frankfurt airport who checked me in, I had not scored an upgrade (“Uhm… is the flight pretty full?” “Let me print your tickets and I will check. Yes, it is pretty full.”) But as luck would have it, my tv didn’t work properly and the nice air hostess took me to the next section along, with lovely wide seats and enough room to lay back and sleep. The section which would usually seat 40-50 people was seating 4 at most. Thanks, German man.

Mumbai airport was my biggest challenge. I arrived there at 1am and my next flight was at 12 noon. It takes a good hour to get to the city by taxi, and it’s the middle of the night anyway, but they won’t let you through to the middle of the airport until 4 hours before your flight. And you cannot sleep in the airport.

I must admit, I was scared to death of this part of the journey. Luckily, I met two American guys who were in similar situations to me, and we set up shop in a restaurant for a few hours before going inside the airport and waiting the rest out They had free wifi in the airport, which was nice. Though I was getting so tired, no amount of fashion blogs could keep me amused. By the time I got through to the middle of the airport, I was so sleepy I felt ill.

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But I arrived safely into Goa, fought through all the people to collect my suitcase and found the driver who would take me on the hour long trip north to Anjuna.

As the car went further north we went from wide (ish) main roads to smaller roads with women washing their clothes in the sea to the side, to wider dirt tracks next to cows grazing on dumped rubbish to, lastly, a narrow dirt track that leads to my hotel.

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After a shower I headed over to the beach which is a 10 minute walk. Sadly the famous market which is next to my hotel was shut for the day – I’ll have to wait until next Thursday now.

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I had a nice meal, and a walk on the beach where three boys wanted to take a photo with me – which I said ok to, as long as I could take their photo too.

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To be honest, I’m too tired and beat from the journey over here to be able to take everything in. Locals here bug me constantly for custom for their motorbike taxis, and the long term foreigners are cool cucumbers, with their tattoos and their dreadlocks and their Harley bikes. A bunch of these types have just come into the cafe and have set up shop at the back, like the popular table in the school canteen only more tanned, and with more skin on show. I wonder what life here must be like. As it stands, I would still take German and Japanese efficiency over a relaxing life like this, where things may or may not happen. Though this may change – I have no makeup on, there is no hairdryer at the hotel and I am just wearing baggy trousers and a t-shirt. I may get used to this.