This week’s pic from Solo Travel Society member Dees was taken at Ha Long Bay in north Vietnam.
“When traveling solo, you are a leader of one – you.
Choose your own path.
Have a fabulous time.
Your only responsibility is to be safe. If this means losing your money, missing an opportunity, being rude or acting selfish, you have my blessing.”
I wrote this way back in 2009 in one of my early posts on Solo Traveler. It was a note to my son who was considering his first solo trip and I believe that the message still holds true. Safety is your number one priority. Fortunately, it’s not a huge challenge. Here I give you 9 posts that address the safety issue in different ways.
While I can’t guarantee your safety as you travel solo, I can provide advice that will help keep you safe. In fact, I can provide lots of advice. Below are some of my more popular posts on staying safe while traveling solo.
Safety is a big issue when you travel solo. Here are some guidelines for traveling solo safely. Continue reading →
Common sense in one country is not necessarily common in another. Travelers must have travel common sense. Here are 20 tips to help you get yours. Continue reading →
It’s important to be safe when you travel alone. Your location – the city, district, pub… affects your safety. Here’s how to know when a place is safe and when it may not be. Continue reading →
Is it safe? Is it safe to travel solo? Here’s my report from Mexico and how I determine the safety of a destination about which I have concerns. Continue reading →
From a safety perspective, these 6 travel mistakes to avoid will help you in your travels. Continue reading →
Going out at night offers unique ways of experiencing your destination but it does require some special attention for safety. Here are 15 tips to keep you safe. Continue reading →
Solo travelers take full responsibility for their own safety as they travel. You need these tips, apps and resources. Continue reading →
Sometimes the things you learn as a child stay with you your entire life. This was the case with me. This safety tip informs much of the safety information I offer for solo travelers. Continue reading →
My white curly hair stands out in a crowd – especially traveling places like South America or the Middle East. Here’s how to blend in when you really can’t. Continue reading →
We are pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Eric, a member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Eric is from the United States, and submitted the following report about San Francisco. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: English
Reasons to go: Along with New York City (which is in my backyard), San Francisco has become my favorite U.S. city to visit. The city combines a big city feel with a great natural setting. Each neighborhood is distinct. There is a wide variety of things to do and places to explore. The physical setting, surrounded by the bay and ocean, the hills, and the fog that seems to roll in each afternoon give it an atmosphere unlike anywhere else I’ve visited.
I first visited San Francisco in the fall of 2011. The city was easy to reach from San Francisco International Airport: I simply took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train directly downtown, which only takes around 35 minutes. The Powell Street station will put you right in the middle of the action. This is the transit hub, and the starting point for two of the city’s famous cable car lines.
I found it easy to get around the city without a car. The combination of cable cars, streetcars, and buses are easy to use and will take you to most points of interest. There are transit passes available which include unlimited use of the mass transit (BART excluded). These are a steal considering the cable cars cost around $6 per ride!
There are lots of accommodation options, but on all of my trips there I have stayed near Union Square. This is the main area for hotels as well as big stores and restaurants. I like staying in this area because it is lively well into the night, and it is also easy to get to other parts of the city via transit from here. While Union Square is nice, the area just to the west (Tenderloin) isn’t, so keep that in mind when looking for a place to stay.
For a first-time visitor, I’d suggest hopping on the Powell/Hyde cable car and riding it all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. Not only will you get to ride through many different areas, but you will get your first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, surrounded by mountains. This is one of those scenes that sticks in my mind the most. The cable cars also go by Lombard Street, which is the famous “crooked street.” At the end of the cable car line is the Buena Vista Café; supposedly, Irish Coffee was invented there. It’s a cool place to grab a drink.
Fisherman’s Wharf is touristy, but it’s fun to walk around. It’s always lively and busy with street musicians. I like to walk to the end of Pier 39 and watch the sea lions bark and swim in the bay. From here it’s a short walk to where the ferries depart for Alcatraz. If you’re planning to visit, I’d book far in advance, as tickets often sell out.
My absolute favorite thing to do in San Francisco is to walk west from the wharf all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. There are also bike rentals available. The walkway, busy with joggers,
bikers, and walkers is pleasant, and the scenery is magnificent. I love to stop by Crissy Field, which seems to double as a dog beach, and take in the view of the bridge in the distance and the sailboats plowing by.
Walking over the Golden Gate Bridge is one of those things that must be done. The bridge is impressive up close. Many times it is foggy and cold, which adds to a mystical feel. A quick detour will take you to the Palace of Fine Arts, which is a leftover from a World’s Fair and one of the most photogenic places in the city.
A quick, 5-minute bus ride from the bridge visitor center is Golden Gate Park. The park is huge, about the size of Central Park, and you could spend an entire day there. There are two large museums there: the California Academy of Sciences and the DeYoung Art Museum. Nearby is the Japanese Tea Garden, which I found very serene and calming. There is much more in the park, including gardens, windmills, and the Conservancy of Flowers. The western end borders Ocean Beach. The beach is nice considering it’s right in the city, but be aware the water is freezing!
Back into the heart of the city, two great areas to check out are Chinatown and North Beach, San Francisco’s Italian area. Chinatown is fun to wander around and is always bustling, especially along Stockton Street, which is where many of the authentic Chinese markets are. There are tons of places to eat: I can recommend Hunan Home’s restaurant on Jackson Street for great authentic food.
Chinatown runs right into North Beach. Here, the Chinese markets give way to coffee houses and sidewalk cafes. Washington Square is a great spot to relax and people-watch. In the distance, Coit Tower can be seen. From North Beach, steps lead all the way to the tower at the top of Telegraph Hill. Apparently, parrots hang out along the stairway, but I’ve never seen any. The view from the top is spectacular.
One of the nice things about visiting San Francisco is its location in relation to other places that you may wish to visit. There are many tours available to places such as Napa Valley, Monterey, and Yosemite National Park. A great half-day out is a visit to Muir Woods, which is just north of the city. This is a grove of huge redwood trees. Many tours which visit Muir Woods also stop at Sausalito, which is a cool (rich) scenic little town across the bay with shops and places to eat.
Within the city, check out SF City Guides, which offer free (by donation) walking tours of many different areas. I’ve taken one of the Civic Center, and it was quite good.
One final thing to keep in mind is the weather: pack layers! It seems like overcast mornings often give way to clear, warm afternoons. This is, of course, until the wind whips up late in the afternoon. Most days seem to follow this pattern. To see something cool, head down to Aquatic Park and watch the fog roll in over the towers of the Golden Gate.
I have been to San Francisco a few times and there are still places I haven’t had a chance to visit. I’d recommend it to a solo traveler. It’s a place I return to again and again.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety - 2 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language - 1 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 1 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)
30 minutes is all it takes by train from the station in Bologna to the station in central Florence.
I was in Bologna as a guest of the Emilia-Romagna tourist board last October. Since then, I have suggested to many that it is a place from which to visit Florence. But more, you’ll appreciate Bologna because it’s less expensive, safe for exploring at night (walking in the evening is a common pastime in Bologna) has fabulous food and is close to many other Italian cities you’ll want to visit.
But this time I’m writing about my day trip to Florence. With only one day I focused on the outside of Florence. I didn’t go into the museums or climb the Duomo but there was still much to enjoy.
The Florence cathedral is The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, which is more commonly referred to simply as Il Duomo. Duomo is the Italian word for cathedral. But go ahead. Google “Duomo” and after Wikipedia’s definition of the word are sites that talk specifically about the Florence’ Duomo. Why? Because the magnificent dome was an engineering feat. It was the largest dome in Europe from it completion in 1436 until modern times – unfortunately this uncertain time frame is repeated on many sites and I couldn’t find any definite time period for this. The dome was designed by Brunelleschi. You can climb to the top which I did in 2002. The cost is €10.
The Duomo is the biggest attraction to the city but there is so much more.
Michelangelo was born in Tuscany and is frequently associated with Florence for his relationship with the Medici family. Many of his works still reside there including the original David which is in the Galleria dell’Accademia. But I didn’t have the time to go to the Accademia in my one day tour. Instead, I enjoyed the replica that is situated in the famous statue’s original location in the Palazzo della Signoria not far from the Duomo.
From the Palazzo I went past the Uffizi Gallery. If you want to include a visit to this enormous gallery buy your ticket online in advance and plan to arrive prior to opening which is 8:30am, Tuesday through Sunday. I did not plan to go so past it I went towards the famous Ponte Vecchio famous for still having shops built along its length as was common in medieval times. (This is not completely uncommon. There are similar bridges in Venice and Bath, England and, I’m sure, many more places.) The bridge shops were originally butchers but they have long been converted to jewellery stores. I had a couple of interesting conversations about the nationality of the shop customers. While for many decades they had been American, in the last decade there has been a shift with their major customers now being from Russia and China.
Not far past the other side of the Ponte Vecchio are the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens. The Palazzo has an interesting history starting with the Florentine banker who had the palace built in 1458. It was then purchased by the Medici family in 1549 and was later used by Napoleon in the late 18th century. In the 1860′s it was used as a royal palace for the newly united Italy and in the early 20th century it was donated to the Italian people as a gallery. It’s open to the public and holds a number of collections including that of the Medici family.
But I spent more time in the Boboli Gardens which is known for its sculptures which date from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The gardens are beautiful and the sculptures very fine but it was the view of the city from them and the grotto on the side that I most enjoyed. To have a view of the city from on high put the Duomo in perspective. And then there is the grotto.
The Grotta del Buontalenti, like many grottos, is attached to a garden, in this case the Boboli Gardens. It was commissioned by Francesco I de ‘Medici and begun in 1584 by Vasari (of the Duomo’s dome). It includes work by Michelangelo (his pieces are replicas as the originals were moved to the Accademia like his David) and others. It’s a baffling combination of grotesque figures and beautiful statues in classical form. It’s complicated. I suggest that you check this blog out for more on the grotto.
From the grotto I simply made my way back across the bridge south of the Ponte Vecchio and through the streets of Florence to the train station. Another 30 minutes and I was back in Bologna.
My thanks to the tourism board here for supporting Blogville in Bologna – a place for bloggers to stay while exploring the region. You can read what other bloggers have written about their stay here.
We are so pleased to present the Solo Traveler Book Club‘s second book review!
On the first Monday of the month we’ll announce the book that we will be reading. There will be a short introduction by the Solo Traveler reader who suggested the book telling you why you will want to read it. On the closest Sunday to the end of the month, we will publish their review. The discussion about the book will take place in the comments section at the end of the post.
It seems clear that we can experience both good travel and bad. And of course we hope for the former even if, truth be told, we often experience the latter. Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel is written to give us some insights into what we seek from travel, to examine why we travel, what we anticipate from our travels, and why it simply often doesn’t work out. For me, a closer examination of my purpose in traveling, has the promise of not just avoiding the bad but also deepening the good.
De Botton, Swiss-born and British-educated, is a public intellectual. His lectures, his books, his numerous videos on youtube and elsewhere have made him a dependable guide to whatever subject he chooses. That his analyses are often not profound is of no issue. If they simply serve to help us get started in examining our travel motives and understanding how we might get more from our experiences, they are enormously valuable.
To take just one issue that de Botton looks at, he considers how our experience of travel in the 21st century is colored by the ubiquitous rating of every historical site, every church, every mountain view, every boat ride, every hotel, evaluating for us their worthiness, and beyond that
even providing us with a language with which to express our appreciation of them. How are we then to see things with our own eyes, determine for ourselves beauty and worth in what we visit? How can we determine for ourselves how interesting a place is? Do we travel to register what so many have already registered? Is our curiosity so easily met? Do we contemplate when we first start thinking about travel, what it is we want from it?
On Solo Traveler, the benefits of traveling on one’s own are frequently discussed, including the sense of self-confidence we achieve, the ability to focus on our interests and not compromise them to satisfy a partner, and so on. Do we travel to grow, to change ourselves? Do we simply want to imagine a different way to live in this world, to escape our everyday identities, or simply to marvel at the enormous number of different ways people live, love, laugh, and learn?
Whatever the case, to be led to such contemplations is wonderful in and of itself. I recommend The Art of Travel wholeheartedly.
Join in the discussion by answering some of these questions in the comments section below, or generate your own.