Tips for Solo Travel

SAM_5425

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?

Mc Donald’s in Common?

SAM_1387

While watching some British show the other week, I came across the UK’s new (?) Mc Donald’s advert. The concept is that no matter who you are, we all have Mc Donald’s.

It’s interesting because Mc Donald’s is considered a comfort when abroad – whether you are in Beijing or Rome, you can find something that will taste and look familiar. And yet, Mc Donald’s culture is so different in different countries.

In the UK I’d say that Mc Donald’s is considered very much inferior to Burger King. In fact, I think that I’ve not eaten a British Mc Donald’s since I was in my early teens. But Burger King’s chips and burgers are pretty awesome. They don’t have Burger Kings in Japan (well, they didn’t when I lived there) and I remember being in Singapore airport once and turning the corner to find one. I think my excitement at having found a Burger King after such a long time shocked the people around me…

The Mc Donald’s in Japan actually was pretty yummy. I’d eat their shaka shaka chicken from time to time as a snack. And when they did their American range of burgers, I was first in line (like with the Miami burger above).

The thing with Mc Donald’s in Japan is that it’s a place to be. It’s a place to kill time, buy a coffee and just hang out. Especially in the cities, you’ll find rows of Japanese teenagers chilling there, doing their makeup, studying and just using it as an extension of their bedroom. They also have lots of solo seats so you don’t have to feel pressured to be sociable there – just be as if you are on your own in your room. When I was a student in Japan I used the local Denny’s as a place to study simply because I work better when I’m not in my room and I could soak up their free heating/air con at no more than the price of an all you can drink drinks bar offer.

When I was in Paris at Christmas I was very excited to try their Mc Donald’s as well. I’d mentioned to some French friends that Burger King is better than Mc Donald’s and they all pulled faces at me and said that Ronald is king in France. There weren’t as many Maccy D’s in Paris as in, say, London, so I did go out of my way a little to find one. And boy, was I glad I did. That burger was one of the best I’ve tasted. It was frickin’ awesome.

Then cut to Germany. When I got here, I’d not eaten at a Mc Donald’s in a while, but late one night on the way home from some 90′s party, I was hungry and the only place open was the Mc Donald’s on Hauptwache. I ordered what looked like a nice burger but it was covered in nasty tasting pink sauce. As I took my second bite, a mouse ran over my foot. That burger headed straight for the bin and I have never been there since.

That same “restaurant” has many more undesirable customers than the Mc Donald’s in Japan. If I walk by the front of that place, there are always small groups of young men who quite often feel the need to comment on my looks (or apparent lack thereof) and when you go inside it’s little different. It may be just that one restaurant and not a thing with the whole of Germany but I get the feeling it’s not a place you want to be seen in around here. Certainly not the place to be chilling out at for hours on end.

How are Mc Donald’s where you live/are from? What kind of people go there, and what kind of culture does it have? I’m interested to share stories!

Ladurée Paris

20130128-103810.jpg

So when I was in Paris I was invited to brunch at Ladurée, which is a very famous tea shop in Paris. They’re famous for their macaroons and are apparently listed in every Japanese guidebook because in the 10 minutes I spent waiting for my brunch buddy, I watched a constant stream of Japanese people taking photos outside the shop (but only a few going in to buy something).

20130128-103828.jpg

Brunch was around 30 euros, and included breads, pastries, macaroons, sandwiches and eggs. I had scrambled eggs, which were nice but a little bland. I loved everything else in the meal, though. The breads were really great and the pastries were sugar-coated-nom-ness. I especially enjoyed watching the Japanese father at the next table take a bite out of the stick of butter, thinking it was some kind of sweet.

20130128-103820.jpg

The tea was awesome, too. I had the Marie Antoinette tea, which I loved. I may even buy a tub of it some time so I can enjoy it whenever.

It’s a little on the pricey side, and apparently not everyone got the same nice experience I did there, so I guess it’s not for everyone, but I’d go back there for sure. It’s right up my street with the quaint low ceiling, the antique furniture and the tiny tables full of yummy food to eat.

There are various locations for Ladurée, and even some that are not in France! Check their website to find the one closest to you!

Parisian Train Stations

SONY DSC

When I was in Paris (yeah, more Paris spam – I have so much more!) I used the Paris Metro to get around. The Paris Metro is a strange thing. Firstly, it’s HARD to go about on it with luggage. I have no idea what a person in a wheelchair would do. I’d heard multiple accounts of people jumping over the ticket barriers and riding for free – you only have the wicket at the start of your journey so it’s easy to skip paying if you can jump high enough.

But along the way, I found (with the help if my Paris guide book, which I will blog about later) some really interesting stations. I thought I would share them with you!

First off is Concorde (above) which has excerpts from France’s declaration of human rights on the walls. It has no punctuation at all, so it’s pretty tricky to read… But still pretty cool!

SONY DSC

This crudely taken photo is at Palais Royal, near the Comédie Française and was made in 2000. Isn’t it pretty?!
SAM_5401

At Montparnasse-Bienvenüe there is the fastest moving walkway in the world at 12 kilometres an hour.

Lastly, Metro station Madeline gets a special mention for being quite possible the STINKIEST station ever. Probably the stinkiest place I have ever had the misfortune to be in. Seriously.

See?! Why go to museums when Paris’ Metro stations are cool enough!!

A Handfull of Bookshops

SAM_5389

While in Paris I came across two amazing bookshops and just had to share them with you. The first was a Japanese bookshop called Junku, a Japanese bookshop. Walking into that shop was like walking through a dokodemo door to Japan. There were all the fashion magazines I loved. There were the stacks of books by that author I like. There were the Japanese study books I’d been browsing online. Heaven.

SAM_5390

I found one book I wanted to buy, a translation book that looked really useful. It was ¥900 normally but over 20 euros in that shop. I decided against buying it – not because I couldn’t afford it, but because I flat out disagree with them pricing it over double what it would normally cost. If they had more reasonable prices I would have spent a whole lot of money in there.

If you are in Paris and are ok with overpriced Japanese books (or want to have a look around like I did!!) then you can find Junku bookshop at 18 rue de Pyramides 75001 Paris France.

SAM_5391

Walking a bit further from Junku, I came across an “American” bookshop called Brentano’s. This place was HEAVEN. There were SO many books I wanted to buy there that I had to limit myself and take photos of the others I wanted to buy, so I could pick them up at another time. I got an amazing travel guide for Goa, a really funny travel diary and many other little trinkets I found in the shop.

It starts off as a normal bookshop, then as you wander through it takes you through art, diaries, postcards, ornaments and lots of other little things at the back. As I paid for my stash, I told the woman I could become very poor in her shop, to which she replied “Good! It’s good business for us!”

I really highly recommend this bookshop – Find it at 37 Avenue de l’Opéra  75002 Paris

SAM_5398

The last bookshop was a place that I almost didn’t go to. Shakespeare and Company was recommended to me by my friend, but I wasn’t really in that part of town (just opposite Notre Dame) to be able to visit. On the first floor, the bookshop has books crammed into every little space. It was a shame it was also crammed with people in every little space, because I could have spent a LONG time in there.

SAM_5399

Upstairs there is a piano (when I was there it was being played by a handsome young man) and two typewriters for people to use. Little scraps of paper with messages on are pinned all over the walls and ceiling; I’d liked to have stopped to read them a little more but I was being dragged around by my tour guide (who was a minor French celeb – a guy from a reality tv show! Get me!)

SAM_5400

Shakespeare and Company is well worth a visit (though probably in the morning when I guess it would be much quieter) and can be found at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie  75005 Paris.

My First Sephora Experience

SAM_5300

About a year ago, I noticed bloggers from other countries talking about this place called “Sephora”. I didn’t get it… I even asked one blogger to explain what it was. Sephora is a (high end) beauty shop – like the cosmetics part of the department store… minus the department store.

Sephora apparently tried opening in Britain, but didn’t do so well for some reason (well, with Boots and Superdrug around I guess everyone is sorted on the beauty front…) so I’d never seen one before. I knew they had stores in Paris so I was SO excited to go check it out!

As I entered, there were two rows of staff welcoming me. I found in general the staff are pretty annoying there; I can’t take 2 steps without them asking if I need help. I just wanted to look around for a while and take it all in – I had no idea what I wanted to buy. And there was a LOT to take in…

SAM_5301

Look at all those lipsticks!! That’s only Sephora’s own brand ones, as well!

I saw some brands I’d not come across in the flesh before, like Bumble & Bumble haircare, so I splashed out on a hairspray from them. I was really shocked at how expensive their stuff is – 25 euros just for a shampoo? And the same again for a matching conditioner?! I know it’s a common rant of mine but I have no idea how the beauty blogger girls do it – that’s just way too much!

I also ended up treating myself to the Urban Decay Naked Palate as well, as a little Christmas present to myself.

All in all I was a little disappointed with Sephora… the staff’s constant questions made it hard for me to just relax and look around, but the things there were all really high end stuff… It would have been nice if they had a wider range of things, and some cheaper brands too. I think I’ll stick with my favourite Douglas!

Paris on Christmas Day

SONY DSC

One of the things that drew me to Paris over Christmas was that I was quite excited for the “challenge” of doing things in Paris on Christmas day. The night before my friend and I made a plan so that we could still manage with left over bananas or things stolen from the hotel’s breakfast if the local restaurants weren’t open.

We needn’t have made those plans.

As soon as I exited my hotel on Christmas morning, my nose caught the most delicious smell, and I found an open bakery. I was pretty sad that my quest for food had been so easy… And with that we set out to find things to do. We took a walk around the Louvre, and into Cité – where there were a surprising amount of shops still open. Not just bakeries and cake shops but also regular shops too. Looking in the windows of the gorgeous antique shops was also pretty fun.

I was surprised at how many people were out and about – I’d wanted to take a photo of a Parisian street with no people on it, but it was just as busy as on any other day. Not just Asian tourists, too – Western tourists and even locals were milling around, eating, drinking and just relaxing on Christmas Day.

The area around St Michel was all alive and kicking and there were endless opportunities for dinner. All in all, it was quite a let down on how easy the whole day was!

If you are planning to visit Paris over Christmas in the future, I’d say go for it – as you can see, there were no problems at all. And I certainly had an amazing time there during the festive period! In my research before I went I saw a lot of websites saying that nothing would be open and that I had to book a table at an expensive restaurant in order to eat – that’s all crazy talk. I booked nothing and managed – and you can too!

Thoughts on 2012

SONY DSC

As the sun sets on 2012 here in Frankfurt, I thought I should just think over the past year. It’s been a crazy one, but one that I think will still shape me in the months to come.

The highlights of my year were when I went to see my Japanese students graduate – surprising the whole school with my visit, and when my first game came out and I went to see children play with it in the shop.

It’s been a really tough year in a number of ways, too, with the loss of my uncle only a month or so ago still playing on my mind all the time. I think 2012 was a year that made me grow up a little bit more, become a little stronger and find out who I am just that little bit more, as well.

My new years resolutions will be -

1. Travel more. I enjoyed my time in Paris SO much, I need to do it more often. I will start by going to more German towns and then working my way out from there.

2. Chill out and enjoy life. I should stop worrying about what I’m doing and what I think should happen and just enjoy the now.

3. BE BETTER AT GERMAN. Seriously. I need to get this down. I want to be able to have a proper conversation by June. That is my goal.

What are your new years resolutions? And I wish you all a good night and a happy 2013!