Traveling abroad alone for the first time and getting over my fear of the unknown.
Traveling alone abroad for the first time? Even after marriage, I still encourage my wife to travel alone. Most of my family and friends are puzzled by this, but the perspective we gain from the experience of solo travel is quite unique. You're on your own. You're on your own to generate your adventure, friendships, time to process your life, et. al. without the filter of someone else to cloud your alone time. My wife plays guest writer for this blog from her experience on the road in Barcelona, by herself.
Barcelona By Herself
By J.R. Lee
Could I really do it? Travel to a foreign country on my own, as a single woman?
I had just broken off a relationship at the worst possible time (is there any other?). We had made plans to go on vacation to Barcelona, Spain for ten days. The flight and hotels were booked, the travel guides purchased and the excitement was….zero. We knew we were in a bad place in our relationship and ultimately decided to end things before the trip. I was left with an airline ticket and a dream. Did I dare go by myself?
Sure, I had traveled on my own before but always to easy places: Boston, Seattle and Austin. American places, where I understood the culture and language and could always call home if I needed help. This was Barcelona. This was across the ocean, in a place where English was a second language if I was lucky. No one would be there to bail me out if I got into trouble. Was it worth it?
You’re darn right it was. I had already done so much research, I knew where I wanted to visit and quickly booked another hotel that was centrally located. For reference, it was the Hotel Picasso and it turned out to be a gem. Not only was it within walking distance of a subway station, it was in a charming clean neighborhood (the El Born district) and I never once felt unsafe.
I knew I had to be on top of my game. I had been living in San Francisco for quite some time so felt a little more “street savvy” than I did living when in a quiet suburb of St Louis, but this would require a new level of concentration and self awareness. If I got robbed, and my passport stolen I would be in a world of hurt, so I was determined to be as organized as possible.
I googled “women traveling alone” and was rewarded with a flood of information and inspiring stories of gals packing up and exploring the world on their own. No men needed here, thank you! I was fairly confident, after all Barcelona was hardly a third world country. It had an outstanding metro system that went all over the city, and it was world renowned for architecture, food and style. And even though Catalan is the official language, Spanish was understood enough to get by. My Spanish was rough to say the least but I brushed up on it by using language apps, DuoLingo being my favorite.
I wrote down everything. Directions from the airport to my hotel, from the hotel to the major bus and metro stops and I planned a sensible itinerary. I have never been one to plan on the fly and this would be no different. I tried not to cram too much into one day. I would pick one main attraction to visit and would branch off from there and explore the area around it on foot. Although I don’t usually take guided tours, I signed up for the Gaudi and Sagrada Familia tours just to beat the long lines. I ended up enjoying those tours so much, I also went on a day trip to Montserrat that was amazing and something I never would have done on my own. The main things I concentrated on when I planned my days were that I needed to know exactly where to go, how to get there and how to get back to my hotel, all without relying on my travel guides or whipping out a map. Nothing screams tourist like stopping in the middle of the road to check out a map and I would go to great lengths to avoid this. A few tricks I used were to fold up the map of the area I would be in and place it in a novel, so that it looked like I was just sitting on a park bench reading. Another trick was take screen shot photos of the maps on my phone so that I could just scroll through the photos without having to rely on wifi which was not always available. A final trick I read online and used was to go shopping at a neighborhood grocery or convenience store on the first day and keep the shopping bag to carry things around in, the idea being that you would look more like a local.
Now, I’m pretty cautious to begin with but one thing I did not do was stay out at night. I made it a point to be back in my hotel every evening, not because I ever felt unsafe but why press my luck. I wasn’t much of a nightlife type of girl anyway and didn’t feel like I was missing out.
In the end, I had no problems. I walked or took the train everywhere and never felt uncomfortable, unsafe or got lost. Barcelona is a wonderful city, full of friendly people, beautiful architecture and amazing food. I would highly recommend any girl looking to travel on her own to visit. You will be glad you did. And having done it once, I would not hesitate to travel on my own again and in fact, went to London solo the very next year. It’s a great confidence booster. Go out and seize the day, ladies!