5 Things I Love About Traveling Solo

I like a lot of things. I like to cook. I like to create things. I like puppy kisses and rolling in the snow. I like lightning storms. I really like stomping in puddles and stepping on exceptionally crunchy looking leaves, but traveling is, by far, my favorite thing. If I won the lottery and had a gazillion dollars, I would spend my life (for a few years, at least) on the move, staying in cheap hostels, eating questionable street food, hoarding hand sanitizer and Pepto Bismol and living life in the company of the coolest strangers. That previous statement is the living nightmare of most people, my family included.

The overall experience of going to a strange place alone and exploring is a mass of juxtaposing pieces. It makes you be brave and cautious, curious and knowledgeable, independent and unafraid to ask for help, aware of what you know and what you don’t.

People, especially Americans, don’t like the idea of a young woman traveling alone. We’re fragile, with our doubling of X chromosomes. We should always travel in pairs… if not in a group escorted by at least one sturdy, capable man. If we must leave the borders of the ole U S of A, can’t we just go on a cruise?? That is, if we can’t just go to some walled-in resort where there is no chance of us interacting with an actual local.

There are just scores of people lining up outside the frame waiting to harm her.

There are just scores of people lining up outside the frame waiting to harm her.

Traveling alone isn’t for everyone, but (if you asked me) it is something everyone should do at least once. I’d like to tell you what my 5 favorite things about traveling solo are and why they completely changed my life.

  1. I learned just how much I was capable of as an INDIVIDUAL.
    -It is an amazing experience to show up in a new country and go on an organized tour. You don’t have to think, plan or organize… You just get to show up and have your mind blown by stuff. It’s really well worth the experience if that is the only way you will explore. Three years ago, when I took my first trip out of the country that’s exactly what I did, and with my best friend too.  If you had asked me then, “Why don’t you just do it yourself?”, I would have laughed at you. I wouldn’t have even known where to start. Being able to pick flights, the best hostels, research and read the history of places and then show up and navigate a foreign place… that’s pretty cool.
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  2. Though there were times that I am lonely, I meet exponentially more people than I do when I travel with a companion.
    -I am an incredibly social person. Hands down. I don’t even like to go to the grocery solo. If having someone to talk to whilst I find the firmest apples is an option, that is what I’m going to pick. Problem is: if you go on a trip with someone, human nature is not to step out of your comfort zone and meet people until you really feel at ease. When Ash (my aforementioned bestie) and I went to tour Great Britain and Ireland, it took us almost half of our trip to start making friends with the other young women on our trip. Once we did, we were thick as thieves and the fun increased EXPONENTIALLY. If we had jumped right in the first night, we wouldn’t have missed so many possible memories. I’ve gotten pretty good at walking into a place and meeting EVERYONE.
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  3. I did more.
    -I don’t generally make precise plans when I go somewhere. I make sure I have enough things to do each day to stay pretty busy. If I get hungry, I eat. If I get tired, I rest. If I am on my way to a museum and find a network of alleys with amazing graffiti, I get to do whatever I want and not worry about ‘the plan’. I don’t have to wait for everyone else to get back to the coach, or finish their dinner. I don’t have to leave a city because only one day is allotted on the dossier. I can do whatever I want!
  4. I got lost.
    -So so so so lost. I’ve gotten lost in 4 different countries in the past 12 months and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Lost in Berlin, I made two new friends looking for a night club, that turned out to be closed for a private event. Lost in Prague, I found some kind of pecan pastry and an amazing pair of earrings in a boutique off the beaten path… way better than the stuff in the tourist areas. Lost in Toronto, I found a pretty cool person to spend an evening with. Lost in Philadelphia, I found an alley full of mosaics, an amazing vintage reclamation shop and the best cheese steak I’ve ever tasted.
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  5. I faced my fears, and walked away more experienced, confident and ready for the next challenge.
    -I am from a relatively small city. No real mass transit to speak of. Taking the tube literally froze me in my tracks in London. Ash and I walked somewhere between 20 and 150 miles the day we had free to explore the city. Why? Because yours truly was too scared to risk getting lost on the subway. When you’re alone, you’ve just got to suck it up. Cabs can be insanely expensive and 10 mile walks are not nearly as pleasant alone.
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    I enjoy traveling, especially solo, because every time I get to know myself a little bit better. I actually like new foods… which surprised me. I cry in museums sometimes. I am particularly susceptible to gypsies and pick pockets. I enjoy eating alone and observing other people. Old ladies touch my hair, no matter which country I’m in. I get jittery and nervous every single time I have to take public transit. I have a tendency to adopt this weird, semi-neutral chameleon accent so that people don’t associate me with Honey BooBoo.
    .Traveling solo is not always a bed of roses. Save your worries! I’m going to write out my least favorite things about traveling solo, because sometimes its nice to have someone by your side. Either way, traveling is so much more worth your money than laser hair removal, new furniture or a shiny new car. I don’t think I’m something so cool because I spend every penny of available income on something that is intangible in the long term. Whether or not you have someone to go with you, pack up and go to ONE PLACE. One place you’ve dreamed of. One place where a movie was set, that you couldn’t stop imaging. One place that you may never have the chance to see again. Just go!What are your favorite things about traveling? Do you like to strike out on your own or do you prefer having someone attached to your hip?

Of Brotherly Love: A Weekend in Philadelphia

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend last weekend in Philadelphia following the completion of my second half marathon in 2 weeks. I’ve been on the hunt for bigger cities to which I might have the interest of moving in the next few years. The reason? My sister has fled the Ohio valley for the lovely plains of Dallas. My parents are retiring to Florida in a few years and have already purchased their retirement property. So where does that leave me? It leaves me hating the heat of Texas and ill-equipped (being a ginger) for the beaches of Florida. I’ve been looking for cities with good public transit, temperate climates and bustling city centers. Enter Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the states, and boasts subway/local train system that is simple enough that even I can navigate it. With a population of just over 1.5 million people, it’s a big city without being over whelming. The City of Brotherly Love holds a never-ending flow of things to do: the trifecta of professional sports teams (76ers, Phillies, Eagles), also other professional sports teams (MLS:Union and NHL:Flyers), a steady stream of major concerts as well as more independent acts, and loads of history to learn in the many museums and galleries. Philadelphia is also easy to travel to and from: major international airport, Amtrak and Greyhound (bleh, I know). Enough knowledge! Let me tell you what I did while I was there!

See? I'm a big girl!

See? I’m a big girl!

I got in on Thursday afternoon and took the train into the city. Coming from a girl who has grown up in a city without actual public transit: I killed it. Yep, didn’t even get turned around! I must confess, not having Martha around to steer me intimidated me to death, but we kids have to grow up eventually. I arrived at the Apple Hostel on Bank St. in Old Town to be checked in by the receptionist. This guy was super cool in a beard growing, music following hipster kind of way. I actually felt that way about all of the staff that I encountered, right up to the owner. (As an aside: if you are in Philadelphia, you NEED to spend at least one night here. The place is swell and the staff know all sorts of cool places for you to go explore!)

Yep. Stole this image from the website.

Yep. Stole this image from the website.

The hostel was hosting a pub crawl that night, so we all met in the lobby at 8 for drinks and to get to know each other. Our group was filled with Brits, Aussies, Germans and a few Yanks (such as myself). We headed out to the standard pub crawl shenanigans, and danced well into the night. I camped out in the alley where the hostel is located, eating from the food services table of the movie set next door, and waited for Richard Gere to walk past. Which he did. And he waved. I was forbidden to take any photos, but I was pleased as punch, regardless.

This photo pretty much sums up the evening.

This photo pretty much sums up the evening.

I forgot to pack any kind of sleepwear, so I was reduced to walking around in my unders in a dorm room with about a million other girls. God bless them all for  tolerating my frighteningly white tush parading around like it was my house.

Friday, November 15, 2013

After a bit of a slow morning, I headed out solo to the Mütter Museum. This establishment is associated with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and is quite the educational (if a bit shock and awe) experience if you aren’t squeamish. I’d share my photos with you, but photography was not permitted in the museum. When I was leaving the museum I got a text from Greg, whom I had met while on Contiki in the summer, saying that he had arrived at the hostel. Greg is from Boston and happened to be free for the weekend, so he ventured down for a reunion. I walked back to the hostel (a quick 20 blocks) to meet him and do a bit of exploring. I did sneak a peek at town hall and Independence Hall on the way back:

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Feeling independent?

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The biggest city hall in the country!

 I dropped off my coat in my dorm and Greg and I took off to see some stuff: Washington Square, Franklin Square, the Federal Reserve, Liberty Bell, Independence Hall 2.0, Friendship Gate at Chinatown, the statues outside the municipal building, and the Love Statue at JFK Plaza. Street falafel topped off the evening of exploring followed by wine and a movie (where we both couldn’t stay awake) at the hostel.

My favorite shot from that afternoon.

My favorite shot from that afternoon.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Since we both passed out pretty early during movie night, we got a pretty good start to the morning. We headed out to the museum area that is centered around the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Greg and I headed to the Please Touch Museum to start. I was thinking it would be more like an interactive science museum. In actuality, it’s a super cool children’s museum, intended for people with families. Didn’t stop us from being children!

The piano is regular sized... Greg is just exceptionally tall.

The piano is regular sized… Greg is just exceptionally tall.

I am also exceptionally tall.

I am also exceptionally tall.

Next stop, some picture time at the Rocky steps and checking out the start and finish setup for the 20th anniversary Philadelphia Marathon, set to take place the next day. I think it made Greg uncomfortable that I was walking around in an area where we most likely weren’t supposed to be, and touching all of the metals… doing the sorts of things that I do. I won’t call it YOLO, because I think that is stupid. I prefer to think that the amount of confidence you exude when doing things, even if you’re not supposed to be doing them, greatly reduces the amount of people who question your actions. Also, clipboards and glasses convince everyone that you’re important.

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WInners! (Read: participants)

WInners! (Read: participants)

We went to the Franklin Institute when we left the marathon start. The museum itself is really cool and had a lot of opportunities to interact with stuff but we were a bit limited on time. If I went back to Philadelphia anytime soon, I would definitely go back and spend more time there. I got electrocuted by everything that I touched and used my body to conduct a current and operate machines. We walked through a giant heart and lung and even did some mildly interesting physiological testing. Annnnd: there was a photo booth.  >.<

That last one is for contiki... Hashtag: No Regrets!

That last one is for contiki… Hashtag: No Regrets!

When we left the Franklin Museum, we went straight back to the hostel, since Greg had to drive all the way back to Boston to work… bummer, right? I won’t complain because it was not only great to have a friend to explore with for a day, but also to have another Contiki reunion. It was sad to see him go, but it was great while it lasted!

I decided to have a poke around the city and visit some of the neighborhoods around the hostel. Found some really lovely homes in Society Hill also the historical street Elfreth’s Alley. Elfreth’s Alley is the street in the city that has been continuously inhabited  for the most years and the brownstones there are so charming, you want to sit and eat a picnic there. I did a bit of shopping in some thrift stores and then headed back to the hostel for a slice of pizza and movie night. Hostels are always reliable for meeting the coolest people.

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The top floor of one of the homes was for lease and I came home ready to pack up and move there!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On Sunday, my plan was to go out to the South St neighborhood to see Philadephia’s Magic Garden. PMG is a massive mosaic art work of Isaiah Zagar. The inside of the building (which is COMPLETELY mosaic-ed, floor to ceiling) serves as a sort of museum and gallery for upcoming local artists with no formal training. I loved PMG, which I can only describe as a pottery store, a glass factory, a cement truck and a book of poetry vomiting onto a vacant lot, but my favorite part of the morning was the walk to South St. The thing is, it took Isaiah 14 years to complete PMG, which means that he lived in the area for a good bit of time. The result is  random mosaics that are just littered around the entire area, waiting to pop out of some random alley and make your day. If I were to move to Philly, this is the neighborhood I would be likely to choose.

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1470314_10100645457227447_1501524891_nThe rest of my day was spent wandering around this incredible area: picking through thrift stores, checking out boutiques, getting some fresh breakfast from the farmer’s market.

If you find yourself in Philadelphia and love cool stuff, awesome people and not wasting your money, check out Scout Salvage and Vintage Rescue on N 3rd. Amazing finds for 1/3 of the price you would pay anywhere else. I rented a moving truck and cleaned them out(I also may be exaggerating. I bought one bag, but I was limited on room to bring stuff back), but I’m sure they’ve restocked by now!

Next Trip? Austin in January! Adios!