Category Archives: Travel
Some people love to travel solo. They enjoy the freedom of answering to no one but themselves and the luxury of being fully in charge of where they go, what they do, and how much they spend. Going solo can even make some things easier (grabbing a single ticket to Milan’s La Scala is much easier than getting two). But some of us aren’t quite there yet. We like the idea of a solo trip but then the fear sets in. Will I be lonely? Will it be awkward? What, exactly, will I do all day, and how will I fill my nights when I’d normally go out to eat of have a drink with my traveling companion?
Taking that first solo trip can be daunting, so why not ease into it with a shorter trip that better lends itself to solo travel? Before you set off on a six month solo trip through Southeast Asia, for example, start with a long weekend alone in a destination closer to you. With that in mind, we’ve come up with a few ideas to help you plan a low-stress solo adventure, whether it be your first, fifth, or fiftieth time going alone.
- Pick places and activities that won’t be overrun with couples. Some places are known for being romantic. An adults-only Caribbean all-inclusive, an over-water bungalow in the South Pacific, or a luxury hotel in Paris might not be the best options for your first solo trip. Instead pick places that aren’t as popular with the honeymoon set. In France, skip the vineyards of Provence (and the couples gazing into each other’s eyes as they sip their Sauvignon. Instead, perhaps opt for Normandy, where among other things to do, you can visit Omaha Beach, see Mont Saint Michele, or try the regional food and drink, like cider, fresh seafood, and locally-made cheese.
- Avoid party destinations. Just as some places seem custom-made for lovers, others are perfect for the party people. Skip these if you’re flying solo, or just get creative when seeking out activities that don’t involve hitting the bar. In Vegas, for example, you can skip the casinos and pool parties and visit some of the city’s not-so-wild attractions like the Pinball Hall of Fame or the Neon Boneyard, where old neon signs are retired.
- Take a class. Take a cooking class in Spain, learn to sail in Australia, take a tango class in Argentina or learn to surf in Hawaii. Not only will you pick up a new skill, but you’ll get to meet other travelers and make some new friends. While there are countless options for day-long classes, in many places you can also do longer classes and retreats. Build a trip around daily yoga sessions, a week-long cooking class, or a three-month language study class.
- Volunteer. Volunteering for a portion of your trip is another way to get your feet wet as a solo traveler without being completely on your own. Pick a voluntourism programs that relates to a cause you are passionate about and you can make a difference while meeting new people who share your interests.
- Pick a “safe” country. While most experienced travelers will tell you that the vast majority of the world is very safe for solo travelers, many first timers (particularly females) let warnings of worried friends and family get to them. To ease their (and your) nerves, it’s probably wise not to jump right into solo travel to, say, Russia. Instead pick a relatively safe and stable country. Iceland is one of the safest countries for solo travel and it’s an easy country for first timers as it’s only five hours from the US and most people there speak English.
- Take a tour. Even the most independent traveler may find himself or herself a little apprehensive at the idea of taking off on a long trip alone. If that’s you, consider taking a tour for just the first few days of your trip. This will help you acclimate to the country or region while you still have a bit of a “safety net.” If you’re off to Tokyo for the first time, hire a guide for the first two days of your trip. Or if you’re starting a month of backpacking in Europe, join a small group tour in Italy, which can not only help you get your feet wet in the country, but also help you cut the line at many popular attractions.
What was your first solo trip?
Photo by roberto la forgia
I think I suffer from some kind of seasonal amnesia, made worse, I think, by the fact that I live in Chicago where the summers are scorching and the winters are enough to make me want hibernate from January until May. When I’m dealing with the excess of one season, I tend to forgive the faults of the other.
In winter, I reminisce about the glorious days of summer (forgetting about that time it was 110 °F and I would have killed for a snowstorm). In summer, I complain about the sticky heat and dream of wrapping myself up in a cozy sweater (neglecting to remember that feeling of freezing to my bones while walking to the bus stop in a blizzard). While this may mean I have some deeper issues, it also means that for me, summer is a perfect time to start thinking about planning cold weather trips.
- Skiing is, of course, the first thing that comes to mind in terms of winter activities. You can ski year round virtually anywhere in the world, from hitting the the ski resorts of Greece to snowboarding in New Zealand, there are ski travel deals to be found all over. To try something a little different, why not ski down one of the most active volcanoes in the world (and the largest active volcano in Europe), Italy’s Mt. Etna? Or go all out and stay at one of the most luxurious ski resorts in the world (and one of the top places for skiing in France), Val d’Isère in the French Alps. If that’s a bit out of your budget, you could choose to work in one of the most beautiful places in Australia, the Snowy Mountains, where you can earn some money for your travels while you hit the slopes. For the ultimate ski bragging rights, hitch a ride up Hawaii’s Mauna Kea and then ski down this volcano on the Big Island. Skiing is definitely something few visitors to Hawaii can say they have done.
- Put your body to the test in the coldest places on earth. While some of us prefer to snuggle up to a fire when the temperatures drop, there’s something to be said for seeing just how much cold you can withstand. And telling your friends that you survived Verkhoyansk, Russia - the coldest place in Asia – and its average temperatures of -50 F , may have a certain appeal for the more daring travelers. I prefer a more comfortable way to challenge myself, so I’d love to stay in one of the ice hotels around the world.
- Get off the beaten path…way off, by going to Antarctica. It won’t be cheap, but exploring this final frozen frontier is a bucket list item for many travelers. No matter which Antarctic cruise you choose, your Antarctica adventure into the land of penguins, seals and icebergs will be worth every penny.
- Wildlife sightings are just one of the reasons to visit Antarctica, and they provide inspiration to visit other remote areas as well. Many visitors come to Churchill, Manitoba, just to see the local polar bears (from the safety of a special vehicle), but you don’t have to travel too far to see wild animals out in winter weather. Many US resorts that are popular in summer stay open in colder months and shift their focus to winter activities, including searching for moose, wolves,and bears in the snow. Several National Parks are also ideal for wildlife viewing all year round. I think a weekend at Montana’s Paws Up resort – horseback riding and dogsledding in the snow – sounds magical.
- Take in a light show. During the winter months, the Northern Lights become visible in the Northern Hemisphere in Iceland, Alaska (and sometimes other northerly parts of the US like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), Russia, Scandinavia, and northern Canada. The times for best sightings vary by location, and you’ll need a very clear night for the best views.
- When you’ve had all the cold you can take, head for the hot springs to warm up. There are great hot springs all around the world, including the US and Canada. While I’m partial to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, a soak in one of Japan’s onsen also sounds heavenly.
Where do you like to go for a cold weather adventure?
Photo by: obloum
For most travelers, it’s impossible to put a specific label on their travel style. On the same trip at times I may travel like a backpacker, opting for cheap and basic hostel accommodation, while at others I am the quintessential tourist, lining up with everyone else to see the city’s most famous and crowded monument.
Sometimes I run at a frenetic pace; sometimes I’m all about slow, thoughtful travel, immersing myself in the local culture and getting off the beaten path. Sometimes I like to be active, exploring hiking trails and jungle paths, and other times I want to do nothing except sit by the pool with a frozen drink. And sometimes, in the midst of a small-budget trip, I like to splurge on one all-out luxury experience.
According to Miriam-Webster, the word luxury is defined as:
something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary or an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease
Well, who doesn’t like that? Luxury doesn’t have to equal expensive (though it often does); luxury can be any little thing that adds an element of indulgence to your trip. It’s all about what makes you happy. No matter what your budget or travel style, here are five ways to add a bit of luxury to your next trip.
- Take the train. No, we’re not talking about the third-class cattle car. Make the journey the destination by riding the rails in style on an epic train journey like the Trans-Siberian or South Africa’s Blue Train. You get the experience and the accommodation all in one, and many routes allow you to get out for “layovers” along the way. There are so many great Canada train trips that are much closer as well. Who’s up for a trip through the mountains on the Rocky Mountaineer?
- Indulge your foodie fantasies. If you love exploring a place through its food, opt for a few spectacular meals. Though you can easily experience some great food without spending much, if there’s a particular restaurant you’ve always wanted to try or a certain food you just can’t get for less, save up for one big meal you’ll never forget. Try some Icelandic delicacies like whale or puffin. Eat at one of Chicago’s best (and priciest) restaurants. Opt for the foie gras or champagne in France, or sit down for high tea in London. The memories will last far longer than the meal.
What’s your favorite luxury item to splurge on when you travel?
Photo by: jadam
There’s just something intriguing about islands – there’s an element of isolation, of “getting away from it all,” (unless you pick one of these most crowded islands on earth!) and of romance in visiting an island. When many of us think of an island vacation, a few images come to mind: white sand beaches and blue waves, boats bobbing out at sea, palm trees waving in the breeze, the bright sun above and a cold drink in our hand.
But of course, this idyllic scene only applies to tropical islands. Sure, when it comes to warm weather vacations (especially during the Northern Hemisphere’s cold winters) a tropical island vacation may be ideal. But there are countless other islands – each with its own special appeal – that don’t conform to this stereotype.
They may all be surrounded by water, many (though not all) might have been formed by volcanic activity, and several have retained strong cultural traditions thanks to a long history of isolation, but it when it comes to the thousands of islands scattered around the world, the similarities end there. Some islands have extreme temperatures and some are temperate all your round. Some are remote and unspoiled, others are urban and accessible. Some are arid, some have jungles, some are filled with farmland and some are still quite wild. With so many islands and such diversity, there’s no one size fits all, but if you are looking for islands that will allow you to get up close to the local wildlife, we have a few ideas. Here are some unique archipelagos, atolls, cays, keys, isles, islets, and island nations ideal for nature-lovers.
- A island continent full of native creatures of its own, Australia is also home to several islands that are great for getting close to nature. On Kangaroo island you can watch sea lions, go wine tasting and yes, interact with the island’s namesake animal. There’s also the crystal clear water and wild dingoes of Fraser Island, the nature reserve of Rottnest Island and the jungles and cuddly koala bears of Magnetic Island.
- 300 miles from South America, the Falkland Islands are a nature-lover’s dream, an archipelago of more than 700 individual islands where visitors can see whales, dolphins, elephant seals, sea lions, and 27 species of birds, including five species of penguins. In fact, with the “largest concentration of rockhopper penguins in the world,” the Falklands are one of the best places in the world to view penguins in the wild.
- The entire island country of Iceland will challenge your ideas of a typical island and allow you to see some of the country’s native animals including whales and seabirds, but to get even further off he beaten path, head to the Westman Islands. Here you’ll find the youngest landmass on earth, Surtesy Island, which was only formed in 1967. Though you can’t visit Surtsey, you can spend a day exploring Heimaey, home to 400 people and, during the summer months, millions of puffins who take up residence on the island’s jagged cliffs.
- Scotland contains over 800 islands, only 90 of which are permanently inhabited. Many are wild and remote, small and rural, with ample opportunities for wildlife spotting, hiking, climbing, and immersing yourself in traditional Scottish culture. A 12 hour trip from mainland Scotland, the Shetland Islands lure intrepid travelers with promises of puffins, whales, seals, a unique culture and local music, and spectacular scenery that ranges from rugged cliffs to sheltered beaches of pristine sand.
- Situated in the North Atlantic, in the middle of a triangle formed by Iceland, Norway and Scotland, the eighteen islands of the Faroe Islands, are somehow not quite either European or Scandinavia. Wild and unspoiled, the islands are inhabited by less than 50,000 people and are home to the smallest capital city in the world. Puffins, whales, and the ubiquitous sheep are among the animals found here.
- The Galapagos Islands are one of the most famous archipelagos for wildlife watching, but they are also one of the most expensive to visit. Still the cost might be worth it to see animals found nowhere else on earth – like the marine iguana, Galapagos tortoise or the lava lizard – as well as hawks, sea lions and hammerhead sharks.
- Of the very southern coast of Africa, Madagascar is the only place in the world to find lemurs in the wild. Due 70 million years of isolation, the 150,000 of the 200,000 or so species found on the island can be found no where else. Rainforest hikes and jungle treks allow you to get up close to the land animals; you can also watch whales off the coast.
If you’d prefer the typical island vacation – laying on the beach and enjoying tropical drinks – you’ll have even more options, though the “wildlife” you see may be of a different sort. From the less-discovered (compared to neighbors Fiji and Tahiti anyways) Cook Islands to the diverse group that makes up the Virgin Islands there’s an island destination for nearly every travel style and budget. And with new islands always forming (over 650 new islands were discovered in the last decade), your choices are increasing all the time, and many are closer than you think.
Not only are there many great islands within the US (other than Hawaii), you’ll also find them around some of the most popular countries in Europe. Italy offers Sicily and Sardinia, each with a culture unique from the mainland, while Spain has its popular islands of Ibiza, Mallorca, and the Canary Islands. And in countries like Croatia and Greece, the islands are the main attractions.
Read more about islands around the world:
Photo by: Styg Nygaard , DavidDennisPhotos.com
Travel isn’t always perfect. Your plane is delayed, you can’t speak the language, you get lost, it rains all day. A million little things can go wrong at any given time. But sometimes, everything is perfect. The cosmos seems to smile upon you and everything comes together just so. When that happens, all the minor inconveniences of travel are completely worth it. You can’t imagine being anywhere else in that moment, and no matter what else happened that day, it gets tucked into your memories as one of the Best. Days. Ever.
To celebrate those moments, we asked the BootsnAll writers to contribute a photo and a memory of one of their best travel days. Here’s what they shared.
This is the day I swam with wild dolphins off the coast of Rockingham in Western Australia. When you start your morning off by boarding a boat in beautiful weather, and follow it up by hanging out with gorgeous dolphins in the wild, it just doesn’t get much better than that.
- Brooke Schoenman, WhyGo Australia
This was taken at a local beer festival. It was a beautiful day, free music, great drinks down by Lake Las Vegas. My husband, Cory, took the picture.
JoAnna Haugen – WhyGo Las Vegas
The nest was about to empty. We headed in Tofino on the far West Coast of Canada to mark the last official summer vacation as a family. I have never been happier than on this particular afternoon, as I walked–mostly in silence–with my two children
along Long Beach, in Pacific Rim National Park.
Julie Ovenell-Carter – WhyGo Canada
About halfway into my RTW trip in 2008, I found myself in a tiny bungalow on Don Khon, a tiny island at the Southernmost tip of Laos. It was a welcome breather from the main backpacker trail, and I came to enjoy being forced to relax, recharge, and just get in touch with a slower pace of life. I spent my days reading, exploring the tiny island, and relaxing in this lovely hammock right outside my door. It was heaven on earth!
Malia Yoshioka - WhyGo Hawaii
During a killer heat wave in Rome, my friends and I escaped and headed to the beach in Sperlonga. We played in the surf, made sand castles, tried synchronized swimming and ate softball-sized balls of mozzarella from a roadside stand. It was one of the most carefree days I’ve had since I was a kid. Bliss.
Christine Cantera – WhyGo France
One Saturday morning in Milan, some friends and I rented a car and drove into the Emilia-Romagna countryside in search of a prosciutto festival. We toured a prosciutto factory, watched artists render “still life with ham” from various angles, and lunched on the only thing around – platefuls of prosciutto, hunks of parmigiano-reggiano cheese, hard white rolls, and bunches of grapes (washed down with copious amounts of water and a chilled bottle of local wine). We returned the car back in Milan with two minutes to spare before being charged for an extra day, squeezing every last drop of road-trippy goodness out of it.
Jessica Spiegel - WhyGo Italy
On our first day in Porto, Portugal, my husband and I stepped out of our amazing hotel overlooking the city to find that there was a port house directly across the street. We toasted our arrival and tasted two types of port and then made our way to another port house, and another, and another, stopping in between tastes to share a light lunch of heavenly Portuguese custard tarts. By the time we made it down the hill to the rivefront, the sun was setting and we were quite tipsy and giggly. This photo was taken just after it rained as the sky turned a beautiful yellow-pink, and I was absolutely thrilled to be in Porto.
Katie Hammel – BootsnAll editor
After a quick “hike” to see the Iao needle, while visiting Maui this spring, we wandered along the river, and ended up hiking up an unofficial path near the river until we found this little spot to wade in. An hour later we were still hiking and found a natural infinity pool to swim in. Everyone jumped in, and it was perfect to be completely in the moment out exploring Maui and not thinking about what was next on our vacation agenda.
Olivia Raymer – BootsnAll marketing coordinator
What’s been one of your favorite “best day ever” moments?
Here’s what the Travel Blog Mob had to say about summer and memories:
- More Bootsnall Articles