Tips for traveling alone

What if we love travel,  but we wouldn’t dare to leave home by ourselves? It can be daunting to even think of going somewhere you’ve never been without a friend or family member with you. All I ever read in travel blogs are ‘must-dos’ before you settle down, and they often include a bullet for traveling alone. So why is that no one seems to do it?

Here are five tips to build up the courage to travel alone and to make it worth while.

1. Start your adventure in your own town.

Be a tourist in your hometown for a day. Take yourself on a date, don’t go to your typical spots and walk around without looking at your phone. See your hometown as if you’ve never been there before. Remember though, don’t look at your phone while you walk… take a look around and see how it feels to wander by yourself.

2. Find a place you’ve wanted to go for a long time.

There’s got to be somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Pick out a place that you would feel safe if you were there alone. For some, it’s Charleston, South Carolina, for others it’s Dubai. Don’t put limits on yourself!

3. Plan specific places to go.

Once you’ve chosen a destination, find some of the best spots to hit while you’re there. Whether it be certain beaches, museums, restaurants or hikes, find them and write them down. Don’t stop there though, investigate and document all the intricate ways to get there. Keep the directions in a journal so you can take it with you. (Use pictures and maps as well!)

4. Plan for problems.

Bringing extra money with you while you travel alone will help you relax in tense situations. If you lose your train ticket, you need a late night bite in a decent area, or you want to upgrade to a better hotel room to feel comfortable, allow yourself that luxury. Traveling alone can be stressful enough, so keep yourself packed with financial support. (Not with cash, but money in credit cards.)

5. Don’t be afraid to make friends when you get there.

Yes, being safe when meeting strangers is imperative. But there are so many incredible people who embrace lone travelers as if they were family. Find a cafe that matches your style, bring your laptop and get some work done. I’ve found that working in a bustling place encourages new friends to inquire about what you do. From there, you’re able to share who you really are with them and potentially create new relationships that could last a lifetime. Or – perhaps sit at a wine bar before the dinner crowd arrives and befriend the bartender. Bartenders seem to know all the ins and outs of a town. Start there!

Traveling alone is definitely for the brave. Luckily, you’re brave… so don’t wait for someone else to find interest in places you’ve always wanted to visit. Get out there and make life what you want it to be.

Light me up

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One of the hardest parts of saying goodbye to an adventure that has defined my character indefinitely, is to remember of a quote from my favorite song. It says, “when one door closes, open a window.”

That is the best way to think of my journey living in Europe. As I sit here at the airport, nearly tearing up, I have to think of a few things. If we never end the happiest moments of our lives, we can’t truly understand the value of the experience. These may be cliché notions but I am having to reach into my pocket and take them out because I don’t want to let go. We have such a huge planet that is so vast; we can spend an entire lifetime traveling around it. Though I haven’t left Europe during the course of this trip, I am to be forever restless to discover whatever else there is out there.

To be me. To travel. To be a traveler. To be a wanderer. To be a nomad. To see a train and want to get on it. To not care where the destination is, as long as it is somewhere new. To love public transportation. To plan the next trip in the middle of the current one.  To find the greatest peace in the simplest of things. To find a few minutes to sit and watch. To buy too many travel books. To feel the most comfortable in the airport. To talk to everyone you see. To walk long distances. To love the modest lifestyle. To feel lit on fire…all the time.

I’ve learned to be comfortable in the most uncomfortable situations. My biggest joys are new mountains, rivers, new colors and new people.. I am obsessed with soaking up new cultures. Small annoyances and mishaps become funny anecdotes. Whatever problems bubble up pass so easily. My biggest fears have slowly diminished.

What is life…to be genuinely happy and to realize that people and experiences mean more than anything else out there. Joy is the sun that shines through airplane windows. Joy is a bus ticket. Joy is witnessing two separate tables of people strike up conversation with one another, despite a language barrier. Living four months traveling the world teaches the truth about life and what it should be like. All of the people out there country-hopping know exactly what I am talking about. It is the priceless education of travel.

For those of us who know what I mean, trying to “find yourself” takes a while. We all think we know what we want, what we want to do, who we want, where we want to end up and what each day means. But how can we know any of that if we don’t step out of our own backyards. I don’t mean our physical locations, I mean the comfort of our limits. We can travel the world, sure. But to be a tourist and to be immersed in a culture are so different and produce completely contrasting results. One is a photo album of all the beautiful places we’ve been. The other is a photo album of all of the nights we spent playing guitar with locals until 3 a.m., of moments we lost our passports on the train, of the tiny hostel rooms we had to cram ourselves in, of the ferries we missed, of the protein bars we had to eat because we can’t afford anything else, of the best friends we made in the most uncommon of circumstances. I love getting uncomfortable, feeling dirty and walking so much my shoes break.

And so it continues, a life of always chasing a new sunrise. Here I come, Portugal.

T.

To bake with the Parisians

 

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About a week ago, I had the pleasure of walking to the back of a pâtisserie called Leloup Gourmand on 129 rue du Temple in Paris. This was such an amazing treat, literally. Imagine learning how to make authentic French croissants in the heart of Paris. I can honestly say that this was an experience I will never forget.

The adorable chef, Bernard Leloup, was genuinely passionate about his pastry perfections. Speaking completely in French, he told us he wanted to bake since he was very young. What an amazing career choice…to bring joy to people everyday through perfectly flakey croissant crust.

Immediately, we walked back to the kitchen. It looked just like a kitchen I would see in any restaurant, but filled with smells of Paris. Decorating the walls were mixing tools, bread knives, spatulas, dough scrapers, lemon squeezers, measuring spoons, nutcrackers and anything else you can imagine in the kitchen of a French pâtisserie.

We were warmly greeted and couldn’t help but drool the entire time we were being introduced. Monsieur Leloup was so excited to welcome us in to his haven.

The first order of business was to take a taste of pain chocolat. Pronounced (pan chowkowlah.) Pain chocolat are a traditional breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack option for any day of the year. Many of my lovely friends studying abroad have built a strong and long-lasting relationship with this simple treat.

M. Leloup carefully cut a pain chocolat in half to show us the importance of perfect layers. He showed us the small chocolate strips that are carefully rolled in to each one. He said the ingredients that make each pain chocolat is what gives us that satisfying moment of a first bite. This is not food to M. Leloup, this is artwork.

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We were given another demonstration with croissants. Because I was starving at 2:30 p.m., I couldn’t help but stare as he put the tray of freshly baked croissants on the counter top.

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We were taught exactly how to properly knead the dough, cut the pieces in to small slices and formally pull and roll the dough in order to wrap the slices into small little bits of croissant goodness. We learned to paint egg white on the top of each croissant before it is baked. This gives the croissants their crispy, tasty flavor.

My passion for food has always given me a reason to meet new people, travel and be more experimental in my life overall. I realized while M. Leloup was teaching us his ways, that spending time to care for the process of making something is just as valuable as eating what you make. Just like painters paint, writers write, and dancers dance…chefs and pâtissiers practice great patience in order to give themselves the opportunity to create something truly wonderful.IMG_3570

Among the first two treats we tasted, there were plenty of dessert recipes M. Leloup was happy to break down for us. He showed us how to make a lemon cake bar and fruit compote with fresh vanilla.

The fresh fruit compote was made with a small pinch of sugar and rhubarb. I could taste the fruit as if I had just picked it from the imaginary garden in the back.

IMG_3563M. Leloup showed us where he gets the vanilla for the compote and sure enough, he uses the freshest vanilla he can find. He pulls out the vanilla canes so we can smell just how fresh it has to be in order to evoke the best flavors.

The lemon cake bar was a simple recipe of fresh cake dough, pears and a splash of lemon juice. We watched the batter pour into the baking trays. Once baked, the cake is somewhat flat rather than puffed up like a traditional gateau. The dough was moist and sweet. I loved the addition of the pears because I feel like pear can be a underrated fruit. They really are delicious.

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I admire Europe’s love for dessert. I appreciate that Europeans seem to give themselves time to savor something, no matter if it might not be healthy for them. “Healthy” has become a relative term for me. Something “healthy” doesn’t necessarily mean healthy for the body, it could be healthy for the soul.

T.

Let’s talk about salads.

So it’s common knowledge that salads are generally good for us. If we load a salad with ranch, which I know we love, then it might add about 500 calories to our “healthy” salad.

In Paris, I’ve come across a salad that is quickly becoming internationally famous. Its called “salade chevre chaud.” If you’ve been here, which most of my friends who are studying abroad have, then you know what this salad is. Sometimes it is just cheese melted on small toasts over arugula or some kind of bed of lettuce. Sometimes we will get les pommes de terre, or hard boiled egg with tomatoes, carrots, pomegranate, avocado, parmesan cheese, apples, walnuts, or whatever else they decide to throw in.

Still, this salad has puzzled me completely. How do the French take a simple salade chevre chaud and switch it up completely? At the St. Regis restaurant near the seine, they have the cheese melted on small toasts over a simple bed of lettuce. But in the 14th arrondissement, at a small restaurant I couldn’t find the name of, this is what they gave me.

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So there is honey on there…with cucumber. I was SO confused when the waiter put it in front of me on my tiny table. The other funny thing is, they won’t write all the salad’s ingredients on the menu. Sometimes you will get a menu in your hand or occasionally it is posted on the wall and they bring the chalkboard over to your table. This salad was fantastic. It looks good in the picture, but to be starving and see that salad placed in front of you…there’s nothing better.

We all know I love food more than anything…well, not more than yoga.

MY POINT is that when you come to Paris, which we know you all want to now, you must order a chevre chaud salad just because of how much fun it is to wonder what is going to be in it. The herbs they put in the goat cheese (that’s what chevre is) makes the salad. Or, sometimes it’s the honey drizzled all over the salad as salad dressing.

How smart is that? Honey rather than salad dressing? Think about how much we try to be smart with what we eat…yet the salad dressing we love, which might be 1,000 calories, is drenched all over the ingredients. We need to pay more attention.

But salad isn’t just about the way it tastes, it’s about the way it looks as well. The image of the salad gives your mind an impression of the experience you are about to have. The smells help with that as well.

Salad doesn’t have to be a boring bed of greens.  If you are making a salad at home, use butter lettuce. There is something about the texture and flavor that changes the dynamic of the salad. There are so many salads that are made with butter lettuce in Paris.

I think they get it.

Now go cut up some goat cheese, throw some herbs on there, cut up some toasts, bake them in the oven and make your masterpiece… 🙂

T.

And they really are FRENCH fries

I thought I was getting out of the United States while abroad.

NOPE!

Hello burgers and fries.

Burgers and fries until the day I dies. Sorry I had to, because I literally mean until the day I die, because they are just so bad for you! It doesn’t make them any less delicious though, does it?

What I love is how the French seem to impose their gourmet style cooking on this basic, stereotypical American cuisine. I couldn’t believe how lovely the burgers looked…I even arrived as a vegetarian!

I have swayed a bit from my traditional ways, as it is so difficult not to. BUT- I will say that one of my fabulous friends here Charlotte, loves her yummy burgers…and she isn’t afraid to say so!

Ketchup is almost always offered with the burger and fries. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Well, you’d be surprised to receive a judgmental, “bien sur” from them. It is so funny actually, to watch French people order burgers. You will walk past a window at a café or restaurant and see four Parisians all eating a burger and fries. So why is this our American reputation? Why are we pinned as the “burger joint” country? Is it because we don’t sit down and eat our fries with a fork and knife? That is exactly why.

We eat with our hands. French people have a fork in their left hand and a knife in their right hand. ALWAYS. If you want to fit in when you visit, you have to cut your food in to tiny little pieces, no matter how hard it is to flip your fork right side up using one hand while trying not to let your food fall off the end of it. This is formally referred to as “etiquette.”

However… you are permitted to eat les crêpes, les jambons and les baguettes with your hands. Should you be writing this down?

When we think critically, food is about flavor: aromas, ingredients, balance, measurements, pairings and of course, wine. So we can think of this burger and fries crossover as a way to really understand one another. We know we can sit without speaking and understand exactly what our fellow Parisian is thinking: “Yum.”

T.

We eat

Une croissant au citron
Une croissant au citron

Oh boy. I knew I’d be scared to begin blogging about food in Paris. But the thing is, the restaurant food is not the problem. It’s the crêpes. I can’t handle this.

Crêpes are made from flour, water, sugar, milk, eggs, butter and salt. From such simple ingredients, how do you build a reputation, let alone a country? To Americans, crêpes are Paris in a nutshell. When you put a crêpe in your mouth, you aren’t just giving in to your body’s sugar craving, you’re accepting another culture.

While walking along Rue Saint-Honoré in the 1st arrondissement, you know you are conforming to the idyllic concept of Parisian life. You have the seine to your left and the most high end shopping temptations on your right. What does this have to do with food? Gosh, everything. Because shopping takes up so much energy, you just want a bite to eat…sugar please!

What about the man on the corner with the large circular griddle, spinning the batter around with that tiny little stick? Doesn’t seem normal, but when he scoops that Nutella on his spoon, slaps it on to the hot crêpe and spreads it around slowly like your watching a food porno, you have to stop. You just don’t have a choice. Think I’m wrong? Try walking by that smell and not spending 4 euros.

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Le Pain

We’ve learned a lot about what food means to Parisians. We get it… cheese, bread, and wine. It seems to be all they need to survive and all be a size 0, men included. Plus, with a Pâtisserie on every single corner, except for Sundays or Mondays when they are closed, you are guaranteed to get fat. There is no surprise that bread in French is “le pain.”

Hate to break it to you, but what all this really means is that Americans have a hard time stopping. Now, of course I am generalizing from observation and personal experience, but we just can’t have one croissant. We want four. If we only eat one now, we will have the other four in about fifteen minutes.

Americans see French people eating exactly what we are told not to eat…and not just one time during the week… they eat their baguettes, croissants or quiches every single morning. That is the thing though, they have one…

So for my Parisian experience, I am aiming to avoid all corners with crêpe stands until the desperation reaches its peak. Until then, I’ll be good and eat macaroons.

T.

P.S. If you want to know what it feels like walking down the street in Paris, click on this link 🙂

Paris, from me to you.