Free walking tours are hands down the best way to get an understanding of a city when travelling. Especially for solo travellers you will meet other travellers who you maybe able to plan some tours with.
When I am planning to visit a city I always Google free walking tours in _______________ (insert name of the city). There are usually worth the 2-3 hours set aside for them. I have experienced walking tours in Bogota, Jerusalem, Prague, Rome and a few other places.
The Pros of Free Walking tours
Travellers get an overview of a city for cheap. Always tip the guide, it’s polite and ensures the service will continue for others to enjoy.
You have a native to ask questions and get tips about things to see, do and places to eat among other things.
You see and experience things that you would otherwise be ignorant of. Built into these tours are usually stops at select shops and eateries. These are sometimes gems.
You can know where to find things that interests you and return later to explore in more depth.
You learn how to get around without getting lost if you are prone to doing so, like me. LOL!
You get some exercise in.
The Cons of Free Walking tours
You may stop at some crappy places because the guide has some kind of deal to expose visitors to certain shops and vendors.
There might be a big group of people so you may have a hard time hearing what the guide is saying.
You don’t get quality information about some places because the guide may not be as knowledgeable as a trained guide.
The advantages outweigh the disadvantages especially because you can tip the guide on a free walking tour what you think he or she deserves. I have found that the guides are passionate about their cities and quite knowledgeable as well. Their enthusiasm is a great introduction and a nice welcome for me.
With this in mind I highly recommend do a free walking tour in any city you visit that has one. Go ahead, Google it and try it.
Turkey is a captivating country with much to do for all kinds of travellers. A few years ago I visited Istanbul and Cappadocia for a few days each. I was on one of my solo travel jaunts to soak up what I could in these cities.
How did I prepare for my solo travel adventure in Turkey?
It all started a year prior to flying over there. I started reading more about Istanbul and Cappadocia, the two places I was intent of visiting. I read blogs about other people’s experiences in these places. I researched the cost of accommodations, food and transport on the ground to decide how much to budget for the trip.
Since I wanted to be there for a week and use my time efficiently, I opted to fly from Istanbul to Cappadocia on Turkish Air. It was a good decision and I am happy I did that. Sometimes it’s worth spending a little more to travel fast in order to maximize your time.
Some of what I saw in Cappadocia and Istanbul
The outdoor natural rock formations in Cappadocia are captivating and much fodder for the creative mind. Look at some of these images to get a taste of this.
The centre of Cappadocia is a walkable place and lovely to explore. Stay in a rock hotel to experience something unique to that town. Do a few local tours and go see the sights in the desert like area and or take a ride in a hot air balloon.
As a woman travelling alone I felt safe and of course stayed on guard to look out for my best interest. Ahhh… Cappadocia is so picturesque and a great place to go slow for a few days.
Istanbul is a thriving city with one side falling in Asia and the other in Europe. It is lovely to explore and enjoy the old and new sides of the city. A great way to get a feel for it is to do a hop on hop off bus tour.
I like the liveliness of the city and it’s friendly people. There are those men though who think that a single woman travelling alone is looking for a quick lay. Be alert ladies.
The food is fantastic and the coffee is wonderful. Explore The Grand Bazaar and other markets. The colours, the sights, the sounds are an amalgamation of everything that is splendiferous.
The Hagia Sofia was my first stop because I had been wanting to see it for a while. Remember to dress modestly when visiting.
Both places are affordable and have nice boutique type hotels for less than 100 USD per night. This is a destination where your money goes a long way.
I have wonderful thoughts about my trip there and enjoyed my solo travel adventures in both places in Turkey.
Europe has oh so many sites to soak up and immerse yourself in. Solo travel is great, what with the many hostels in countries in Europe where you can make friends or just cut down on costs. Also, there are many low cost airlines to help you zip from place to place and not break the bank.
Let’s explore 8 cities again through my memory of visiting them one summer for a month. I travelled alone and had a great time. I flew into Rome and out of Paris via Helsinki. I got to other cities by high speed trains, a bus and a flight. Here is my itinerary:
Three Cities in Italy:Rome, Florence and Venice (Day trip from Florence to Siena and Pisa)
Rome is a city etched in time and lovely to explore. I made the right choice to stay in the city centre where I could walk to all the attractions. I was not a fan of where I stayed though. Colour me shocked to find out that air conditioning in Europe isn’t the norm! I saw all the usual sites and sat in piazzas to people watch and enjoy being there. One day I took the train to the Vatican City and joined the throngs gazing up and away at all the artistic wonders. Though I was there solo, I met a Japanese lady and we ended up sightseeing all day. That was a great experience.
Siena is lovely and worth spending some time in this more laid back town. I enjoying playing around trying to get a good picture at The Falling Tower of Pisa, alas it was not to be. I spent much time walking around Florence enjoying its beautiful architecture. The Uffizi is worth exploring for a few hours even though the wait may be great and it gets crazily crowded. This is a joy of travelling solo, you can go at your own pace and wait in line until you get to feast your eyes on all manner of lovely artistic wonders.
Venice of course was picture perfect. Though it is under pressure from the number of tourists it gets, it’s a lovely place, hence its draw.
I love how compact the city was. I was helped by the kindest woman it was my pleasure to encounter. She directed me well to my hostel. I enjoyed the service offered in restaurants and the absolute beauty of the architecture and nature there. Another highlight was taking the train to explore Lake Bled. It is so picturesque.
That was a long train ride and I had a transfer to get there. It was scenic in places though the train was sweltering. Bratislava was very nice though and I especially liked the town square. I happened upon a festival there with people dancing in traditional garb. That was a treat. This is why I travel, to experience different cultures first hand. There were also stalls selling handcrafted items and I bought myself some quirky earrings which I still wear. This sculpture brings back memory of that city square.
Prague, Czech Republic
I made the most of my 24 hours stopover in Helsinki and checked out the sites in town. There are a number of beautifully crafted churches. It was nippy in August though. Despite this, I had the most succulent salmon sitting by the seaside and chatting with an older Finnish gentleman. It was a great way to end my first jaunt through Europe.
To Sum Up…
I crafted my itinerary to include countries that were expensive and others that were reasonable. This means I could stretch my budget and travel debt free which is my preference. I also opted to stay in hostels in Prague, Ljubljana, Budapest and Bratislava to help with this. They hostels I found in these countries suited me well, so I could afford to stay in hotels in the other cities.
I really enjoyed the Eastern European cities because they were not as popular as the others, so sites weren’t overrun with people.
One tip I would give to someone planning a similar trip is to stay in the city centre of places you visit. It helps to cut costs when you can walk to many places or take the train around.
There is rich history in countries across Europe and it is the continent that offers the most convenient and affordable means to go from country to country.
On my next solo travel jaunt to Europe I would love to explore some of the Baltic countries and get to a few places in Spain and Portugal too.
The quickest way to get to Nagasaki is to fly there. It can be pricey at times but if booked ahead deals can be had. It takes way too long to go their by shinkansen. Another cost effect way to get there is to fly to Fukuoka and then go to Nagasaki by train from there.
Nagasaki is unique and a Japanese city like no other because of its history as a port city. It had a range of foreign influences and this is present in its sites and foods.
So, you are thinking, going back and forth about venturing off on your first solo trip. You plan, almost book a ticket, second guess yourself because what if…?
Safety is a big issue, especially for the solo female traveller. This is understandable. Be smart about travelling alone and explore your options.
Here are some tips that might help you take the plunge and maybe even become a dedicated solo traveller.
Take a Solo Trip somewhere Local
See this as a trial run. You are still in your home country and you are familiar with the money, time zone, food, language and so on. Venture out alone in the comfort of the things you know. This will empower you and teach you much about yourself as a solo traveller. For example, are you a boss at finding your way around an unfamiliar area? Do you get frustrated and throw in the towel? How do you handle this?
Do solo local trips a few times and get used to going it alone. Taking the first solo trip abroad doesn’t work for everyone.
Solo travel Abroad to Countries on the Beaten Path
Countries that have mature tourism industries are good for first time solo travellers. Much is written in the way of reviews by both male and female bloggers. Read, educate yourself and plan where to venture off to. I didn’t go to countries where English isn’t spoken widely in the early years of my solo travels. This is something to consider.
Stay at Well Secured Lodgings
It may be worth splurging on lodgings with good security so you feel at peace. Nothing spoils a trip like worrying and not sleeping well at nights. Also do some local trips that are officially recommended by people at your accommodations. Use common sense in this as well.
Take Short Trips to build your Confidence as a Solo Traveller
Some people might want to take a short trip before going on a six month solo jaunt around South East Asia. Travelling can be tiring for some people after a few weeks. Reflect on short trips and plan accordingly. Each short trip will teach you something about how to travel alone and enjoy it fully. The truth is that, travelling alone to different places is a diverse experience.
Plan, Save, Research and take the Plunge
Just do it. Start somewhere and go from there. The perfect trip is what you make of it. Be open to having your own experiences and do not try to anticipate having what others blog about. Research and use the knowledge you gain to prepare well to enrich your journey. Solo travel is rewarding. Women can travel alone and enjoy themselves immensely. We live in the information age so it’s quite easy to know where women are treated poorly. There are many wonderful places where we can travel well, focus on these.
If you feel the urge to travel alone, don’t keep putting it off. You will grow for sure and be empowered.
I like having everything in order before I leave on a trip. I can’t get away from the fact that every now and then I hear of people booking lodgings on AirBnB to turn up and be turned away. I am just not comfortable taking that chance especially in a brand new place where I know no one.
I enjoy using Booking.com to search for and reserve hotels or hostels. (This is not sponsored for sure.) I like the fact that there are lodgings that do not require prepayment and allow for free cancellation for quite a while in some cases. I also like the fact that you can pay some places in cash, my currency of choice to stay on budget. I like that I get Genius discounts, a perk of using it so much.
I like being greeted by someone at hotels. This isn’t always the case with AirBnB lodgings. I do like interacting with staff and having someone to give me tips about the area. I especially love that many hostels have a travel desk with budget friendly options.
Why am I writing this now?
Well, reality smacked me in the face earlier today. I am gifting my father and one of my sisters a trip for his retirement. I want them to have fun travelling together. It’s quite far from home and seeing as they are not seasoned travellers, they will gain more from travelling together.
I reached out to a host about accommodating them because people spoke so highly of her. To my surprise, she responded with concerns that my father wouldn’t be able to speak effectively in English since I am booking their stay and he is travelling with my sister. She insisted on this even after I highlighted the fact that English is our native tongue. It’s her home so her right to do what she sees best. I, of course withdrew my request, logged out of the AirBnB site and went to Booking.com and got on with my business.
You may say that shouldn’t be enough to sway me from using AirBnB. Well, recently I travelled with a friend who is a big fan of theirs. I was most annoyed at the fact that we had to do a self-checkin procedure at 3 different properties. One involved going to a machine, taking pictures of our IDs and typing up a bunch of stuff before being able to access the key. We had to do this to checkout as well. It’s exhausting. I don’t think it’s worth the trouble, for me.
Who knows, I may change my mind with time. As it is now, hotels and hostels will do.
Solo travel is my norm because those in my life who can afford to travel are not necessarily interested in the places that call out to me. Others want to go but either don’t have time or money. This means much of my adventures have been solo. I enjoy exploring different nooks and crannies across the world by myself.
Isn’t it Scary to Travel alone as a woman?
This is a question that is on repeat. When someone finds out I travel alone or I am planning to do so, this comes up. Of course, I know that for many people it comes from a place of love and concern. A healthy dose of caution sprinkled liberally with common sense helps to solo travel safely, for everyone. The world is not necessarily more dangerous than where I live. I take the same precautions I use everyday when I travel alone.
These have served me well in my travels from 8 cities in Europe to India and other parts of Asia, a few places in the Middle East, smatterings of the African continent and South America.
Solo travel for me is liberating. I enjoy going at my own pace, meeting other people and just being in new environments.
Solo travel isn’t for Everyone
To me, if the first thing that comes to mind, at the prospect of solo travelling is fear, then it should be put on the back burner. Nothing is wrong with travelling with others. I do that from time to time but my lone wolf mentality means this isn’t my go to.
Don’t be Pressured to Travel Alone
It seems to be a challenge that some are taking up to go it alone. Again, no one should push himself or herself to go off travelling alone if that isn’t his or her thing. Travelling alone as a woman in some places is a big headache even when you take all the precautions. Also for people who do not like being alone it may cause their travels to be mundane. Yes, we meet others when we travel alone but we don’t always connect in the same way we would with a well known friend or family member. No one embarks on their travels to be miserable. So, if you know you don’t like being alone, don’t force yourself to join the trend of travelling solo.
The Perks of Solo Travel
You can sit and people watch to your heat’s content. There is something to seeing people in a new environment going about their lives. I learn quite a bit about where I am by doing this.
You can go at your own pace. If you wake up one day and feel like going, going, then you can do so. On the other hand, if you want to take it easy, that’s ok too since there is no one else to consider.
You are open to meeting others. When I am alone, I am more aware of my surroundings and take the time to connect with more people meaningfully.
I spend more time researching before I visit somewhere, I travel to alone. This inherently means, I am more prepared and know some key facts about where I am travelling.
I can do what I want to do and not have to compromise. This is major when you spend big bucks travelling halfway around the world to experience a destination. This also includes things like staying in a cheap hostel to save money. Not everyone is into roughing it.
Essentially, I find solo travel to be liberating. I like the freedom I have to go at my own pace, make connections and go with my flow.
If you enjoy your own company, use common sense to stay safe in your daily life and have access to Google, give solo travel a try. You might like it or you might discover you enjoy travelling with others far more. It’s best to do what works for us.