I consider myself a moderately seasoned traveler. I spent a semester abroad in Florence where I navigated the Italian train system. I’d hop over to Greece and find the the chicest and most unsuspecting rooftop restaurants in Athens. After trailing back to Italy, I managed rounds of free drinks from professional rugby players in Parma. And let’s not forget the pub crawls through the medieval streets of Prague. I travel. Well, I might add.
So when my best friend and I returned to Europe to visit my sister recently I figured it would be a breeze. We planned to spend our first few days in Barcelona and booked flights from Pisa to Barcelona on good ol’ Ryanair, the lowest guaranteed fair airline.
The morning of our only full day, my eyes cracked open one at time at about 11:30 a.m., three and a half hours later than our “scheduled” 8:00 a.m. wake-up call. Groggy, slow-moving and jet-lagged, we took on a we-can-do-this attitude and quickly pulled ourselves together and raced out of our rooms for the tour bus stop.
Up and down the piazzas we trekked, watching our sightseeing bus zip by over and again. We waved frantically, yelling to passengers seated atop, “Hey, where’d you get on this bus?” only to be answered by puzzled faces and “I can’t hear you.” After 45 minutes, my friend said, “I want to cry,” and I agreed. But then between squinted eyes as if staring at a mirage, I saw the bus stop.
We filed on the bus with a crew of fanny-pack-wearing, selfie-stick-holding fellow tourists and sat up top. Feeling both grateful and relieved, we took in the city’s buzz as the warm Catalina sun steadily caressed our shoulders. Like sponges, we absorbed the sights, sounds, and people, smiling tirelessly. We hit all of our stops, toured historical buildings, chugged sangria slushies (yes, those exist!), all with our trusty paper map in hand.
The rest of the trip wasn’t without its ups and downs. Cases in point: We made more than a few wrong turns down suspect streets. We loss track of time dancing the night away until 3:30 a.m. the morning of an anticipated 5 a.m. airport wake-up call. We sat impatiently in the airport during a four-hour flight delay during one of our in-country quests. And trust, there were others. But by the end of our long weekend escapade, none of that mattered. Why? Because we come, we had ate, and we had selfied at almost every point in Barcelona.
And by the end of it all, we realized, though wrought with imperfect and oft never-realized plans, we did Barcelona perfectly. At least as far as we are concerned. And isn’t that what traveling is all about? Growing and realizing new things as well as places–with or without a tour guide, a friend or a map. And while these mishaps make for questionable stories, belly laughs, and “oh, my God”s some things are best averted. Here are six tips to make your first solo trip easy like…well, you fill in the blank.
Do your research. Pick your must-see places and then map out the best ways to get from point A to B. Remember, you’ll be facing language barriers, foreign public transportation systems, customs and everything in between. Cut down on the “where the hell am I?!” moments by having a game plan. Grab a map from the front desk and draw out the best routes just in case you lose service (which you probably will). And make note of a few of our favorite travel sites and bloggers that provide authoritative insight as well as style inspiration: Luxury Link, Travel Noire, Condé Nast Traveler, Walk In Wonderland, and Travelista Teri.
Ask a friend. Chances are you know someone who has traveled to your chosen destination. Don’t be shy. People who live or have visited a destination usually embrace the opportunity to show that they are “in the know.” If you don’t know someone, contact the concierge of the hotel you are considering staying. Ask him or her for shop, gallery, restaurant, bars, museums and day-trip recommendations that they loved. Yelp and Tripadvisor are great resources but often lead to tourist traps.
Reserve your times. Most well-known landmarks have long lines (that’s what makes them famous, right?) but there are several alternatives to avoid these time consumers. Once you decide where you want to go, check to see if you can reserve a ticket online or book a time slot. In Barcelona you’ll want to do this for destinations like La Sagrada Familia and La Parque Guell. Express line, here you come!
Be Insta-worthy. Photos are like little portals to the past. When you’re on vacation, remember to document the important moments. Find the perfect lighting (the TyLite will ensure you are good) and strike a pose. You may feel silly doing it but you’ll be glad you have these photos—and your Instagram feed will thank you. Just no selfie sticks, please!
Bring a positive attitude. While traveling is a universally joyous experience, it can be stressful and exhausting at times. Check your mindset and expectations— after all, nothing is perfect. Take deep breaths, drink wine, inhale the fresh air and remember to be grateful.
Enjoy the moment. There will be that moment when the perfect opportunity presents itself to totally deviate from the above tips, Take it! The best memories are often those you didn’t plan for.
Ready to book that ticket and hotel? We are! Next up, Kenya!
Tess McCurdy loves traveling, wine, long runs and in her spare time teaches 10 year olds how to do back hand springs. She is a recent graduate of Elon University and is an upcoming digital superstar. Instagram: @TessMcCurdy7