Travelling Alone For Fun and Definitely No Profit

After my last post I did a shout-out to see whether people would be interested in some of the practical aspects of travelling overseas as a woman alone, and the response was a pretty resounding yes. Ideally, I would really like to inspire people to take the opportunity when it’s available to them, but to be super-realistic as well. Some of the advice will be totally gender-neutral, but nonetheless, being a woman is my lived experience and my perspective.

It’s Expensive. Say goodbye to your money.

giphy (1).gif

Context is important. Firstly, it was Europe at the end of peak season, and because I literally was going to escape Melbourne Winter I was hardly going to at any other point (apart from maybe….more peak season). Dreaming of less expensive parts of the world? You might be able to do it on a tighter budget.

The second part of context is that I won’t even pretend what I did was ‘budget’ travel. The $5,000 tax return I got last year because I was out of work for a while formed the basis of my travel budget, but certainly didn’t cover it. I’m now working full-time and earning something around the average wage for a woman in this country, so I knew I could pay off the few indulgences on my credit card when I came back.

Budget-wise, as a solo traveller you cop it hardest really in a couple of places: accommodation, and private transport (taxis and Ubers). Travelling with someone else won’t really bring down your costs for flights, food, trains, experiences, etc.  Accommodation doesn’t need to be the end of the world…unless you’re a kind of fussy arsehole like me. Obviously, there’s backpackers’ and similar budget accommodation options. That’s fine if you’re in your 20s or are an ‘I can sleep anywhere’ type, but I’m in my 30s and I can barely sleep anywhere. I mostly stuck with 3-star hotels, and I tried to adhere to a budget of about $AUD150 a night. Plenty of hotels also have ‘single rooms’ for a lower tariff. These rooms are generally shoeboxes and have single beds. I made the decision that I do not sleep in a single bed at home, so I certainly wasn’t going to when I was on holiday. In the end, I paid for accommodation what any couple/duo travelling together and staying in hotels would have…but they can split it in two.

If you’re a woman travelling alone, you really need to invest some time here. I spent….many weeks organising my accommodation. Partly that was because I was trying to keep my itinerary loose to factor in meeting up with my bestie, but I locked that down about ten weeks out from my trip. If you know which cities you want to visit and when, it’s time to start getting down to the nitty-gritty of neighbourhoods. In Paris, for example, there’s twenty different arrondissements (neighbourhoods), all with their own character, all with their own problem spots. Allow some time to ask your friends and networks (who might need to be asked three times before they let you know) the areas they stayed in and what they liked and disliked. Read online articles. When you’ve narrowed down areas where you’d like to stay, now you need to devote some time to reviews. Prioritise the opinions of solo female travellers. They will understand your safety concerns. I mostly stayed in hotels because I had a lot of trouble actually securing Airbnb bookings thanks to flaky hosts. The one Airbnb I ended up in (in Berlin), only had reviews up until April or May, when it wouldn’t have warmed up in the city yet. Turns out in summer when the weather’s warm, people like to drink outside the convenience store downstairs until 2 or 3am. You better believe I left a reviewing warning women they may need to elbow their way through half-pissed men who have literally set up a table and chairs in front of the door to the apartment in the evening. Because we live in a world where women have to be constantly vigilant, and if I could have avoided that experience, I would have copped the price.

So, you may end up paying a little more to stay somewhere that other women travelling alone felt comfortable, felt like they were in a good neighbourhood where they can come and go at night, and that there weren’t staff who made them feel less safe (which reminds me I need to go leave a review for the Munich hotel where the guy on the front desk assigned the guy who checked in after me the same room so he could just wander in…).

You will need to learn to be truly shameless with selfies

giphy (2)

Look, we have to thank the Instagram age for something –  it’s really not all that weird to whip out your phone and take a picture of yourself, particularly in tourist areas. I always thought maybe a selfie stick was a bridge too far, but I did end up buying one and used it a few times until I forgot to put it in my day bag and it never went back in. You’ll find if you want some scope beyond the length of your arm, most people are willing to take a photo of you if you ask politely. It’s good traveller karma. But all in all, be prepared to ditch the shame. Your Mum won’t forgive you if there’s not photos of you in amazing spots.

IMG_20180907_141912.jpg

Hi Mum! Just in Versailles, thinking about how I’ll never even be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment

Preparation prevents piss poor performance

tenor

It’s generally acknowledged that the Paris Metro is not exactly the safest place in the world, and if you don’t have anyone to keep an eye on you then you’re gonna feel that more. Now the truth is, I actually felt less safe on the Berlin U-Bahn travelling to and from Neukölln, but it would be naive to think that people don’t get robbed in big cities. My aim before I left was to try and look as much as a local as possible, so I ended up grabbing this bag – one I could convert to a backpack, a crossbody, or a shoulder bag depending on the situation, which also wouldn’t be too large for me to need to ditch at museums (I believe the Neues Museum in Berlin was the only spot where I had to cloak it, and I went to a lot of museums, galleries and attractions). A small backpack is great, but harder to keep an eye on in crowds, and some places make you wear backpacks at the front which turned out to be a horrific safety hazard on the tight, crowded stairs of Neuschwanstein Castle where I couldn’t actually see my feet. So the converting aspect was great, but I will note after a while the ‘handle’ type bit would slip through and the backpack was uneven and it would get annoying.

But then again, nothing was more annoying than this suitcase. It was never the right time to convert it and carry 15kg on my back, and the motherfucker would go off balance, flip over and twist my wrist at the slightest provocation. I missed my 4-wheeled suitcase, even on cobblestones. I ended up taking more Ubers because of it.

I will note, the plan to look like a local was a total bust. Europe is a wonderful place for walking. But if you’re walking 10km a day, day-in day-out, you need to be wearing something like Skechers. Sorry. On the plus side, people only need to see your shoes to start speaking English to you?

The bit where you eat alone

full

I wrote about this in my last post, how I sometimes found myself (particularly in Paris), shoved away in corners like my existence as a woman eating alone was something terrible and shameful. And hey, if you’re not used to going out to eat alone, you might find it a little uncomfortable at first. Even I did not go out to eat every night. Often I’d fill up on lunch (Florence does an excellent Fucking Huge Sandwich) and then have something light from the supermarket for dinner, or just grab some street food. If your budget (or complete lack of need for real fresh nutrients) extends to the ability to eat at restaurants every night, good for you! My one spot of advice: take your book or Kindle. It’s the key to eating alone and not feeling like a people-watching odd bod, and you won’t feel the need to rush because you’ll be enjoying your time and your food. Not a big reader? I dunno, maybe follow some more people on Twitter.

Now, here’s the secret advantage to eating alone: as long as you’re not mortally offended about ending up in some pokey little corner, it’s way easier to get in to popular restaurants quickly than if you’re with a group. I rolled up to Cafe Constant slightly before the dinner rush, got set up at a little round table by the door for some bistro-style food, and got to watch group after group turned away to wait for the upstairs section to open. It is my opinion that wine tastes even better when people are looking at you enviously and slightly hungrily.

Which leads me to:

Doing whatever the fuck you want

3addec4f4478ae4a45fce3d28b245400f9267b77c3f9b3c1e56fce232e734258_large.gif

Apart from when I was travelling between spots, I rarely started my day before 11am. I didn’t set alarms. I am well aware that this would send….a reasonable part of the population crazy, but I don’t wake up early on weekends, I’m not waking up early on my three weeks off work. Summer days are long and offer you plenty of time to see the sights. It also meant if I wanted to subsist solely on pastry eaten on walks between places until dinner, no-one was there to beg me to sit down for a meal. Excessive researching as well as mining recs from friends and communities meant I had handy-dandy maps of attractions to check out, places to shop, and most importantly, food I wanted to eat (by genre, even):

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 3.14.34 pm

It meant that the night before as I was going to bed, or even on the go, I could pull out the map and make a vague itinerary. Always, preferably, with some time to wander and discover.

And I don’t think I need  to extol the virtues of going on holidays and only doing the things that interest you. No more wandering the Museum of Sports and Borts for four hours. Feel like the attraction you’re at is overrated? Just leave!

If you’re in a relationship and haven’t experienced the No-Compromise Life in a long time….it’s probably time.

Craving human company? Need to go further afield? Go on a tour

tumblr_oos30rchic1qm9k25o2_r1_400.gif

I’m never going to be a Contiki-style girl. I’m an introvert, and one obnoxious person could ruin my entire trip. But there may come a point where you’d just like to have a sustained conversation in English, or there’s something you’d have trouble getting to on your own. It’s not always the cheapest option, but it breaks things up. My entire trip was kind of inspired by Under The Tuscan Sun (yeah that’s okay I’m farewelling the last shred of respect you had for me) so from my base in Florence I chose to do a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano (particularly difficult places to get to without a car) with lunch at a winery in the Chianti region. In Florence city, I did an evening food tour of Oltrarno, which is the less heaving area of Florence across the Arno from the Duomo, the Uffizi etc. Both of these tours were run by Walks of Italy (with the same guide, which was a little awkward) and were English-speaking, small-group experiences which gave me an opportunity to chat to people over meals and generally enjoying breaking bread and hearing other people’s tales. Another one I went on was my tour from Munich to Neuschwanstein Palace and Linderhof Castle. This was a small-ish group (~30) and I certainly paid a premium for it, but I had spent enough time dodging large groups in museums at that stage to know a big tour wasn’t for me. This tour had a great mix of informed hosts, free time for wandering around, and guided portions. I never thought I’d be a tour person at all, given how enthusiastic I am about research, but they definitely have a place on a solo trip.

My wish list

please

It’s pretty short. It has one item. I wish Google Maps had a Woman Walking Alone At Night In An Unfamiliar City feature. I don’t care if it takes me a little longer to get back to my hotel. When you’re hopping from city to city, you rarely ever spend enough time anywhere to get to know a neighbourhood so well that you know where the dodgy spots to avoid are, like you would at home. Just a feature, that sends you down populated, well-lit streets, rather than quiet back-streets like I experienced in Paris. Surely machine learning is far enough along for that, right?

It’s okay if it’s not for you

lc_shrug-400x225

It’s okay to want to share your experiences with people. I was overjoyed that I still got to spend some time with friends on this trip. But even if a long trip isn’t for you, I hope this prepares you for a business trip or a small break, because time spent on your own and exploring is incredibly valuable.

If you’ve got any specific questions, let me know!

 

In other news, Victorian Values is back at PAX Aus this year, playing more bad dating sims and hopefully drinking on stage if I have my way. If you’re around on the evening of Saturday October 27, come check us out!

Katie’s Favourite (Melbourne) Things 2017 – Part 2

That last post, uh, got away from me a little.
Mean_girls_i_just_have_a_lot_of_feelings

Safe to say my blogs are not carefully-planned affairs, and around word 2,000 I realised that the list of foodie locations I wanted to wax rhapsodic about probably deserved its own post.

Note: sometimes I eat healthy food, but I’m not going to talk about that here because it’s boring. Eat an apple between these, you’ll be fine.

giphy-preview

Sweets
Beatrix
When my sister gave birth to my nephew last year, I didn’t take flowers to the hospital the next day. I took Beatrix. Not an entirely unselfish action – who do you think got to eat cake with her as we cooed over the new addition? We celebrated with Beatrix again this year when he hit his first year of orbiting the sun.
Luckily, you don’t need to push a human out of your vagina to celebrate with Beatrix. Maybe you need a reward for a tough week, or for the sheer slog (from the northern suburbs at least) of getting to their postage-stamp sized shop in North Melbourne (I’m being dramatic, it’s a short tram ride from the city or one train stop from Southern Cross and a bit of a stroll)
18620287_10154352057087587_3381817753181331121_n

Above is their cocoa meringue roulade with ricotta cream and toffeed banana. I know, right? It was even better than it looks. It’s actually impossible to buy a bad sweet at Beatrix (not hyperbole, a scientific fact proven by buying a lot of things at Beatrix). And it’s a good thing they’re so dependable, because you can’t always rely on your favourite item being available – their list of cakes, sweets and sandwiches changes daily. I strongly recommend keeping an eye on their Instagram, as they’ll usually post the cake list the night before, and the savouries morning of. But don’t worry. Point, purchase, put it in your mouth. It will be good.

Important note: Beatrix is open Tuesday-Saturday, so if you’re only in Melbourne for a weekend, plan accordingly.

Lune Croissanterie
You probably haven’t had a croissant this good in Australia. I’m sorry, it’s true. And there’s a small chance it will ruin you for all other croissants, but it’s worth the risk.
Check this out:
16683998_10154086387742587_8287401386578216932_n

Its a temperature-controlled room within Lune, specially built to make sure your croissants come out perfectly. And yes, you can marvel at their artistry and attention to detail while you munch on their wares:

21370983_10154647553987587_1576348505073898962_n

Hot Lune tips:
1) Try to get up reasonably early if you’re going there on the weekend. I’ve seen them sell out by lunchtime multiple times.
2) Fight like hell to get in to the Lune Lab
It’s held on weekend mornings, and is the best bloody three-course pastry meal you’ll ever have. I’ve done it twice, and I’m doing it again in the new year. It’s definitely in the ‘treat’ category a $60, but tbh once you’ve done it you would consider paying that just for the first course – a plain Lune croissant, warm and fresh from the oven. This is followed by a savoury course, which changes by season. In summer, it was a danish-style pastry with burrata, heirloom tomatoes, basil oil and confit garlic fromage blanc. In winter, a roast pumpkin escargot with taleggio, burnt butter dressing, capers, radicchio and roasted hazelnuts. This is followed by a dessert course, also seasonal – in summer this year is was a choux with earl grey custard, raspberries and salted macadamia crunch. In winter, a citrus square with amoretto and ricotta mousse, pink grapefruit, orange, cara cara orange and candied cumquats. Oh, and in addition all that, you also get bottomless coffee.
If you can’t get in to Lune Lab (and don’t be surprised – tickets are released every 2-3 months and they are snapped up in minutes, with only 8 people per session), then never fear, because this creativity is carried over to their regular menu, with a Christmas addition to their croissant lineup including a turkey croissant with cranberry & sage stuffing and walnut crumb.

Note: They’re now open seven days a week (blessss – I had some disappointments during my wild no-job-to-be-at days), but only for takeaway on Tuesday and Wednesdays.

Honourable mention: Trekked it to Fitzroy, only to find Lune are sold out? Can’t get flaky pastry off your mind? Wander down to Smith St and hop a tram down the street (it’s also walkable for the keen) to Gontran Cherrier. They make a killer pain au chocolat, and their cafe au lait is basically a fucking bowl.

Il Melograno
Summer heat you got down, and not in the mood to shove another baked good in your mouth? That’s weird, but I’m here for you. I probably haven’t tried enough to say it’s definitively the best, but Il Melograno must sit pretty damn high on Melbourne’s gelato rankings. It’s definitely the best that sits across the road from my favourite cinema, and it’s certainly the best in UberEats range of my house (dangerous, dangerous). They have a bunch of yummy savouries in the cafe, and the day where I had an affogato with their orange-infused ricotta gelato between movie sessions at the Palace may have been one of my finest on earth.
I don’t need to go on about this one. They don’t do crazy combos like Messina, it’s just damn good gelato. You’ll decide your favourite flavour on your own, but I highly recommend the Bacio.

Bonus: Look I’ve not tried these drinks they make but I’m extremely open to plans:
13466152_10153519524482587_4677975850870836378_n

Savouries
Royal Stacks/8bit/Mr Burger
At some point over the last few years, American-style burgers became my jam. I suspect it times pretty closely with my trip to New York in 2013, and my first taste of a Shack Burger from Shake Shack. It became my platonic ideal. It doesn’t need to be an intense monster, I can barely even handle two patties, but it should have beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayo, ketchup and pickles. You can put onion on there if it feels right to you, but I’ll pick it off because I find it overwhelming.
The three I linked to all do some variety on the burger above, and I don’t have a clear favourite, so I’m happy to recommend them all. 8bit does a side of potato gems, which makes them my go-to when I’m in the city, although I’d say maybe they’re the messiest to eat (none of these are date food, however). Mr Burger has the super-indulgent trucker fries with cheese sauce and bacon, and also has a seriously delicious fried chicken burger when you’re in the mood for such things (and they also happen to be the only one I can get delivered to my house, thanks to their permanent truck at Welcome to Thornbury). And Royal Stacks will let you out a mac and cheese croquette on your burger. So.

Honourable mention: I probably don’t eat them quite as often as I used to when I was regularly trekking out to the Lido in Hawthorn and they were just downstairs, but Huxtaburger also do a very solid burger.

Bonus: Although you’re probably a weirdo if you don’t get some sort of fried potato with your burger, all the basic American-style burgers from these venues sit at a really reasonable price point of about $10. Considering they all have CBD venues where you presume things are a bit more expensive, that’s pretty impressive.

Dexter and Takeaway Pizza
Preston is not particularly far from where I live, but it’s not necessarily easy to tempt me to hang out there. It’s got quite a good market but not much else. Apart from this tiny strip of High St, where even the trams fear to tread (it’s near the train station), pumping out deliciousness both sides of the road.

Takeaway Pizza is the new venue from the meat geniuses at Dexter. I didn’t even think I could like pizza all that much. I’ve never got particularly excited about it. But it turns out when you ferment your dough for three days, then cover it with braised lamb shoulder, potato, leek, and lemon thyme, it can turn me around. Even a vegetarian option with zucchini, artichoke, lemon ricotta, chilli and garlic blew my mind. I don’t know how to explain apart from the fact that every element is so perfect that you will desperately even want to find room to eat the crust. They also have a really interesting drinks list and a lovely sunny venue, but let’s be real, when they start offering delivery in the new year, I’m not leaving the bloody house.

Which is good, because it means I can save any Preston visits for the caramel short rib at Dexter. I am not exaggerating when I say this shit falls off the bone.

15965900_10154006762387587_8251101713158012551_n

Oh god, I’ve gone and made myself horrifically hungry now. Let’s change the subject.

Drink things
I don’t really go out to drink a lot, so I’m not really your blogger for this subject, but there are a couple of special Melbourne venues you should hit up.

1806
They’re all about the cocktail and I highly recommend researching beforehand if you don’t want to spend forty minutes perusing the menu. We’re in serious date night territory with ambience and uh….price, but sometimes you’ve just got to treat your best friend visiting from Sydney as a date. It’s certainly a nice little central location and worked well for us a for a drink and a nibble before Book of Mormon.21427196_10154646124797587_6355517568955077687_o

The Everleigh
Not wildly different from 1806 in general vibe – hey, I like my cocktails – but the service really sets The Everleigh apart from any other venue in Melbourne. Not only will they make you a cocktail shaped to your tastes (I like citrus cocktails, for example, so I let them run wild on that one), the highlight for me was when I departed for the bathroom and when I returned I found out they’d nicked my half-drunk cocktail to keep chilled while I was away. Slightly more appealing than the pub that will make off with your last mouthfuls so they can use the glass.
From memory they don’t do bar snacks of any heft, so it’s not a bad idea to eat beforehand, as a diet of pure cocktails can send you to pissedville pretty quickly, -especially if you’re not paying attention to your mounting bill. The OG outpost of Belle’s Hot Chicken is downstairs, although possibly not a great idea if you’ve dressed up in your finery to match the refined surroundings of The Everleigh. However, you’re never going to be short of a bite on Gertrude Street.

Thus concludes my guide! There’s so much more that didn’t make it on here (like my favourite neighbourhood cafe Jerry Joy) but I’m more than happy to carry on the conversation on Twitter!
food