How to Travel Solo

So you want to travel solo?  

Paris

I’m not immune to being wildly uncomfortable. At 12, my family and I moved to Atlanta  from a small city in Central Illinois. At 22, I moved to New York City, only knowing my grandma and a couple of acquaintances. Then at 24, I took a cross-country road trip to begin an adventure in Los Angeles. But as much as I live for change, I’m not the best when it comes to being alone. Being around people energizes and inspires me. Which is why I was worried to take my first solo trip to a country (France) I had never traveled to, knew no one and couldn’t speak the language.

Traveling alone was not in the initial plan. I found an airline ticket to Paris from Los Angeles for under $500, and went for it. I’d figure out my travel companion later…because Paris. I was going and that’s what mattered most. But after asking friends and family, and not getting anywhere, I’d realized this trip would be a solo one. And initially, that was scary. And then it became exciting.

If you’re debating taking a trip because you might not have a partner or a friend to go with…do it. Do it now. Even if you’re going across the country, across state lines or traveling an hour away from home. Not all experiences are meant to be in the company of others. Get out of your comfort zone. The following tips helped me get out of mine.

1) Have a Plan

I’ll be honest, I planned the sh*t out of this trip. I’m talking spreadsheets. A spreadsheet containing restaurants and bars I wanted to eat and drink at, museums I wanted to see and shops I wanted to visit, all categorized by Arrondissement (neighborhood). I even mapped out my days. My natural inclination is to plan (solo trip or not), but even if it isn’t yours, I think there’s merit in having a plan of action. What do I want to do? What do I want to see? Where do I want to eat?  Answer these questions so you can spend time exploring, and not twirling your thumbs overwhelmed by the amount of activities you could do. Give yourself a free day to take things as they come if you’re worried that planning will kill spontaneity. It won’t. Instead, it will keep you sane.

2) You’re Not Too Old for a Hostel, and Not Too Bourgeois for an Airbnb

First off, kudos if you can afford a couple of nights at a hotel by yourself. However, this is not the time to flex those adult muscles. You’ll want to be around people, and hotels rarely give you that connection. For my trip, I opted to book a room through Airbnb, which was only $10 more than the hostels I looked at. The trick is to book a room, and not an apartment or a house, which gives you the opportunity to interact with your host. The guy who owned the apartment I was staying in, was super engaging and personable, something that I had specifically sought out when reading reviews. Of course, this might not always be the case, depending on your host. Hostels though, will always give you the opportunity to meet new people.

3) Purchase an International Mobile Plan

If you’re traveling abroad, you don’t want to be stuck in a foreign city without cell service. I don’t know how people traveled before cellphones, but since we have this luxury, use it. Having an international plan allowed me to keep in touch with my parents, prevented me from getting lost and overall, gave me some piece of mind. My plan with Verizon cost $10 a day for talk, text and data.

4) Book a Class/Workshop/Tour

One of the peaks of my trip was taking a cooking class at Le Foodist. Four hours of cooking a three course meal, engaging in great conversation with my peers and drinking wine during the course of it. I was the only person not paired up, and I didn’t feel excluded or alone the entire time. Look into booking a class of some sort, a walking tour or a museum tour. You’ll meet people and learn something new along the way.

5) Meet up with Friends of Friends of Friends

As mentioned, I knew no one in Paris – not a long lost second cousin twice removed or an acquaintance from college. But I did know friends who had friends who lived there. One friend, who I had not seen in three years, connected me with a woman who was attending graduate school in Paris. Ditto, a couple of days earlier, when I met another friend of a friend for drinks near the Seine. Friends might not think to connect you with people they know, so be bold and ask around.

6) Be Open

You gotta be open. There’s no way around it. The one thing I was worried about during this trip was eating alone. But when you’re traveling solo, that’s inevitable, so I sucked it up on my first night and went to a restaurant on my list. Waiting in line, I noticed a woman behind me alone and speaking English to someone on her phone. After she hung up, I introduced myself. We made conversation as we waited to be seated, and ended up dining together. It was a great start to my trip, and I wouldn’t have had that experience if I kept to myself. You have to take the initiative and start conversations with people, and most importantly, be open to new experiences.

Have you traveled alone? If so, what was your experience like? 

 

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How to Spend a Day in Mexico City

Dia de los Muertos

When I decided to take a trip to Mexico City, I wanted to immerse myself into the culture, the arts, the history and most importantly, the food. Living in Southern California has allowed me to sample a wide variety of Mexican dishes, from tacos al pastor to Oaxacan mole. 

But damnit, I wanted to go straight to the source. The motherland.

Vacationing in Cancun has never appealed to me, nor has Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta. As a kid, I loved learning about ancient civilizations, and sought out history on the Aztecs and Mesoamericans that resided in and around present-day Mexico City.

I knew I wanted to go during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), so as soon as I got the go-ahead from work, I started planning. Round trip airline tickets cost less than $300, Airbnb accommodations in the colonia Roma Norte, were around $250 and Uber rides never cost more than $5 a ride. My trip lasted a week, but if you had only three days to experience the best of the city, it would be doable. Below is a sample itinerary on how to spend a day in Mexico City. 

Morning

Wake up and grab a green juice at Elixir Juice House to balance out the pastries and churros you’ll be eating later on. Juice #3 (Healthy Greens), with apple, celery, cucumber and collard greens was my favorite. Locations in Condesa, Roma Norte and Lomas. 

Afterwards, head to Panadería Rosettaa bakery owned by Mexican chef Elena Reygadas, for a breakfast of croissants (try it with ham and cheese), cardamom buns, vanilla conchas – a traditional Mexican sweet bread and coffee. Locations in Roma Norte and Juarez. 

Get an Uber, and head over to Museo Frida Kahlo in Coyoacán. The museum is dedicated to Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, and is housed in her former family home, La Casa Azul. If you’re interested in the life of Frida and Mexican folk art, this museum is a must-see. Buy your tickets ahead of time to avoid the line that wraps around the block. Tickets are around $10 USD, including a fee to photograph inside the museum.

Afternoon 

Mercado de Coyoacán
Mercado de Coyoacán

After visiting Frida’s house, walk two blocks and explore the market, Mercado de Coyoacán. Get lost in this maze of vendors who sell everything from meat, fish and produce, to spices, Mexican candy, Day of the Dead porcelain skulls and piñatas. You want souvenirs? This is the place to purchase. Stay and eat at one of the inexpensive fondas (family-run diners) that serve up home-style food with a prix-fix menu. I went to La Cocina De Mi Mamá, where I started off with a glass of the agua del día (water of the day) made with cucumber, pineapple and mint. Next, was a vegetable soup accompanied with fried corn tortillas and various salsas. For my entree, I chose a grilled flat-iron steak which came with a side salad and refried beans. 

After exploring and eating at the market, walk a block over to Café El Jarocho for a hot chocolate or a cup of coffee – the best in the city.    

Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes seen from Torre Latinoamericana.

Catch another Uber and head uptown to Centro Histórico, Mexico City’s central neighborhood and home to the second-largest public square in the world, the Zócalo. Have your Uber drop you off at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a stunning architectural landmark that hosts art exhibitions and theatrical performances. Take pics in and outside the palace, but skip the museum. Afterwards, walk across the street to Torre Latinoamericana, a skyscraper that allows visitors to go up to the observation deck on the 44th floor for 360 degree views of Mexico City. Tickets are around $5 USD.  

Next, head over to the Zócalo, where you’ll find the Catedral Metropolitana, Latin America’s oldest and largest cathedral, which still hosts regular mass. Walk in and prepare to be astonished by the level of architecture, decor and detail. Admission is free. Adjacent to the cathedral are the ruins of Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple once dedicated to the god of war and the god of rain and architecture. If you have the time, the Museo del Templo Mayor houses the archaeological finds from the ruins. Admission is around $3. Don’t forget to take a picture of the Palacio Nacional on your way out, which holds the offices of Mexico’s President and the Federal Treasury. 

Evening  

Roma Mercado
Pozole and tostadas at José Guadalupe.

By now it’s dinner time. If you’re looking for upscale – but still affordable – dining, make reservations days in advance at the Italian-influenced Rosetta in Roma Norte, the sister establishment to Panadería Rosetta. If you’re up for anything, head to Mercado Roma, a gourmet food hall in Roma with tons of choices like tortas and “upscale” tacos, to burgers and pizza. I ate the best pozole, a meat and hominy soup, at the stall, José Guadalupe. Don’t leave without trying churros at Churrería El Moro. For an extra treat, order a(nother) hot chocolate to dip your churros in. 

Late Evening

Cap off your night with a mezcal flight or cocktail at La Clandestina in Condesa or El Bósforo in Barrio Chino. If you get hungry, hit up a crowded street stall for a taco or tostada. If you’re worried about cleanliness, squeeze a lime wedge over your food and pay after you’ve finished your meal. 

Go to sleep happy and full.

Buenas noches.