Top 3 Travel Companies for Solo Travelers

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I am a huge advocate of taking the leap and traveling solo. I mean my blog’s name is Solo Travel Woman after all. I love going on a trip and being able to explore at my own pace, see everything I want to see, and not have to answer to anyone. However, there are times that although I want to go off on my own and not wait for someone else to become available, I don’t really want to be alone the whole time. It’s nice having someone to laugh with, who has the same interests as you and to just meet new people.

Over the years, I have traveled with and researched many travel companies that are typically filled with other like-minded, solo travelers. Everyone leaves for their journey alone, each with the purpose of exploring new places and learning about different cultures. Yet, we all come together and form a traveling family. Through these experiences, I have made life-long friendships all over the world. From San Diego to London, from Toronto to Melbourne I have met men and women I now consider my friends.

Here are my top three travel companies that allow you to travel solo, experience all the things you want, and have the opportunity to make new friends like I did.

First on my list is Contiki. With 350+ unique trips within 6 continents, Contiki makes traveling easier for 18 – 35-year-olds.

I am an event manager for a living and well, the last thing I want to do while on vacation is plan things. Contiki takes care of all the scheduling and organizing. I only have to worry about getting there. From hotels to transfers, to excursions, and meals there is nothing they do not think of.

For those who always want to do more, more, more; Contiki also gives you a list of optional excursions you can add on in place of free time. I have to admit, I am one of those people. It is because of these optional excursions that I was able to visit a family-owned vineyard in Crete and stomp my own grapes for wine, enjoy a traditional Greek breakfast and even get in a little dance (learn more about my time in Greece).

One of the biggest perks is their payment plan. You only need to put down a small deposit to confirm your spot on the trip and then just pay 45 days before departure and you are all set.

Another thing I want to mention is that I used Contiki tours for my trip to Peru and Machu Picchu trek. If you know anything about porters or sherpas, they are not always treated right or paid fairly by the tour companies that hire them. Contiki takes very good care of not only their paid guests but also their on-the-ground team, including porters and sherpas. Should you go forward with another company when trekking or mountain climbing, please make sure they treat their team fairly.

If this sparks your interested, Contiki is giving you $100 off your first trip with them! Just click here.

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Next up is Intrepid. Much like Contiki, Intrepid travel takes all the planning on for you so you just have to show up.

With 1,000 unique trips within 100 different countries, you are sure to find your next destination. One of the best parts about traveling with Intrepid is that there is no age max. Although most trips are open to ages 15 and up, anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Another cool thing to note about Intrepid, all of their tour leaders are born in-country. That means you are experiencing your destination and learning from the best possible resource, a local. How stellar is that?

arrowLast on my list is Expat Explore. Although I have yet to travel with this company, I know many people who have and once I can no longer travel with Contiki, I will be sure to do so.

Expat Explore has some of the best financial benefits of the 3 companies listed. Not only do they have affordable tours in the first place, but they also only require a 10% deposit to confirm your booking and if you happen to find the same tour at a cheaper price they won’t match it…they will beat it. Can’t get much better than that.

Another bonus is they are an all age tour company. They consider a positive mind and attitude more important than a number and I couldn’t agree more. They do note that some tours are not suitable for children under 10 however, they may consider younger children on certain tours if they meet certain criteria and a request is received in writing via email for consideration.

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Take some time and check out each company, see which is the best for you and let me know who you book with. Remember, if you decide to book with Contiki get $100 off your first trip by clicking here.

Happy exploring.

XoXo,

Sara

P.S. The tour companies mentioned above are just a few of the many out there. I am sure others are just as fabulous however, I have put my trust in these suggestions and wanted to share.

Always do your own research and move forward with whatever you are comfortable with. If your favorite is not listed above, let me know and I will be sure to check them out.

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Tips Every Solo Travel Woman Should Know       

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One of the most frequent questions I get asked about traveling solo is regarding my safety. I used to worry that as a solo travel woman I would stand out and be a target to any and all worst-case scenarios. Although yes, things can happen, the more you experience solo travel whether abroad or even just trips to different places within your own hometown, you will gain sharper intuition and become more aware of your surroundings. This list of tips every solo travel woman should know is based on my own experience. I hope you find them helpful.

Part of the reason I was prepared for solo travel was due to moving to NYC at only 21 years old. For the most part, I was left to explore and get comfortable living there on my own and it all worked out. It was during this time that I learned most of the skills below that have helped me on my travels. You probably already do some of these without even realizing it. The key thing to learn from this though is to become more aware.

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Trust your instincts. If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this. When you feel like you are entering an unsafe situation, get out. You’re feeling that way for a reason. If you feel secure and comfortable, everything is probably going to be fine. Do not let anyone talk you out of trusting your gut. Some things to help you be prepared if you find yourself in a concerning situation:

  • Staying with a host family? Make sure to locate and keep a list of nearby hostels, hotels, and emergency services. If you ever feel uncomfortable – get out.
  • In a new country? Locate your nearest embassy or consulate.
  • In a different city? Locate your nearest hospital and emergency service stations (fire, police, etc.).

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Walk with a purpose. Don’t walk with your head down and try to keep from looking intimidated if you are in an area that makes you feel worried. Doing so will alert those around you that you are ‘out of place’ and not from there. Walk with your head held high and with confidence. This will help you be more aware of your surroundings too. Some other ways to help you stay aware:

  • Do not listen to music with headphones while walking around. It tells possible muggers that you have electronics of value with you and that you are not alert.
  • Smile and acknowledge people as they pass and approach you. Make eye contact. Someone will be less likely to want to attack you if they know you can profile them.

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Know the culture. Make sure that when traveling abroad you do some research on the culture and any dress codes. You will be less likely to receive catcalls, unwanted comments or worse if you are dressed appropriately. Plus, if you are traveling somewhere – respect their culture and policies.

Outside of Muslim countries, the top 5 countries with the strictest dress codes are:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Uganda
  • North Korea
  • Sudan
  • France (specifically around their “burqa ban”)

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Be prepared. Some good things to pack to take the extra step towards your safety are:

  • A copy of your passport and ID. If you were to lose yours, having a copy will help when going to your nearest embassy to ensure you have no issues going home.
  • This will sound odd but, an alarm doorstop. These are great to have as they will slow down any unwanted visitors trying to enter your room.
  • Traveling to a location that lacks toilets (i.e. they have dirt holes in the ground)? Get yourself a go-girl. This saved me from many unsanitary trips to the restroom while in Peru.
  • Slash-proof, RFID blocking bag/wallet
  • Flashlight/whistle keychain

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Talk like a local. You don’t have to be fluent in the language of the country you are visiting but, try to learn some basic phrases and/or keywords that would be helpful in case of an emergency. Drops: Language Learning app is one of my favorites. Some sample phrases to learn:

  • Where is the police station?
  • Where is the hospital?
  • I need help.
  • Where is the airport/train station/bus depot?
  • I am allergic to…
  • Call the police/ambulance.
  • I am hurt.
  • Help me.
  • American Embassy.
  • Where is the…
  • How long until…

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Download the apps I shared in my “Top 10 Apps for Traveling Solo” post. Trust me – you will have a much safer and smoother time traveling with them.

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Other useful tips:

  • Watch your drinking, especially if you are traveling solo. Don’t get too drunk to where you are unable to get yourself to your hotel or know where you are. Also, make sure you always watch your drink.
  • Wear a money belt or crossbody purse while traveling. Even the most popular and “safe” tourist areas are not immune to pick-pocketers.
  • When taking public transportation; stay awake, alert and keep a hold on your belongings.
  • When in a cab, keep your purse on the floor and your belongings in the back seat with you so, you can get out easily if needed. The purse on the floor prevents someone from reaching through the window at a stoplight and snatching it.
  • Don’t go the cheap route. We all want to save money and find a bargain but, safe for shopping. Cheaper taxi/hotel/restaurant options may not be the safest. It’s worth the extra costs to ensure you are safe.
  • Get the business card of the hotel you are staying at. This way, if you get lost or have a driver who does not speak your language, you can show them the card to direct them where to go.
  • Make sure to have a data plan on your phone. Just something minimal to ensure you can phone home if you need to.
  • Let at least 2 other people know of your full itinerary. I always give my mother and a friend a copy.

I hope all of these tips empower you to become a solo travel woman and to explore all our world has to offer. Things can happen anywhere, prepared or not but, you should never let the fear of the unknown hold you back on once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Until next time, happy exploring.

XoXo,

Sara

Exploring Portland in Two Days (solo)

So, you’ve found yourself in Oregon’s “Rose City”, Portland for 48 hours. What do you do to ensure you see all this beautiful city has to offer? Read this post of course!

In April, I was heading to Portland for a conference and had a solid 48 hours to explore. Never having been before, I wanted to see as much as I could.

My journey would start at none other than Powell’s Book Store, the world’s largest independent bookstore. Covering an entire city block, Powell’s opened in 1971 and has become a Portland landmark. Your trip is not complete without a visit to browse the floor to ceiling shelves of books covering over 68,000 sq. feet. To avoid getting lost:

  • The main entrance is at the corner of 10th and Burnside.
  • Pick up a map at the info desk in the center of the green room, also downloadable here.
  • Restrooms are in the purple room – 2nd level.
  • Cashiers are in the green/orange room which are by the 2 entrances.
  • If you are looking to sell used booked enter at 11th and Couch into the orange room.
  • Each room has information desks with computers to help look up a specific book from their over 1 million in inventory.

For lunch, I crossed the street and stopped into Sizzle Pie where I enjoyed a NYC inspired slice with a Portland twist. Try their homemade sangria too. It hit the spot. What I loved about this place was its intimate and welcoming atmosphere. Perfect for the solo travel woman. At the bar I met two other solo diners who happened to be from NYC – now living in Portland. My connections made would lead me to my evening stop on my first day – Jackknife Bar.

During lunch, I met the GM for Jackknife Bar and being it was a Saturday night and I am a woman in her 30’s who still wants to have fun – I took him up on his offer to swing by his bar to check it out. Located within the Sentinel Hotel, Jackknife offers a candle-lit room, a variety of custom-built seating arrangements, a wraparound bar all surrounding its focal point fireplace. It reminded me a lot of what you would find in the meatpacking district of NYC.

My second day in Portland and last day to venture, would find me exploring natures greatest treasures. I LOVE getting in touch with nature as much as I can. Yes, the city has a lot to offer and I am sure I could have explored more but, the opportunity to get out into the mountains was hard to pass up.

I booked a day trip with Viator that took us to Mt. Hood with a visit along the way to Multnomah Falls, Hood River and the town of Mt. Hood. I was amazed with everything we experienced along the way.

Multnomah Falls was like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. It was lush, colorful, full of sounds from water flowing to birds chirping and just magical. More than 2 million people visit Multnomah Falls each year making it the most visited natural site in the Pacific Northwest. The site has a snack bar, gift shop and full ADA accessible restaurant.

Our next stop was Starvation Creek. Don’t worry, no one starved here. First named Starveout Creek in 1884 after a passenger train got stuck there after a train got stuck in the snow. Blocked by a 20ft snow drift, the passengers spent three weeks shoveling their way out. They got out just in time without depleting all their resources. Very Oregon Trail of them.

Ever want to see prehistoric 10′ long, 500 lb. sturgeon? Make sure to stop at the Bonneville Hatchery – we did. I also got a photo op with an extremely famous Oregon native…Big Foot.

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For lunch we made a pit stop in the town of Mt. Hood. I wish I had longer in this cute little town. However, in the hour we had I was able to enjoy a delicious meal and freshly brewed beer at Full Sail Brewery  and stop in a few cute little shops.

Finally at our destination – Timberline Lodge. Did you know you can ski/snowboard here 365 days a year? How awesome is that!

Set high on the shoulder of Mt. Hood, this is one of the most unique high-alpine mountain experiences in North America. Even Hollywood thinks it’s great. Some exterior shots of the lodge were taken to be used in the 1980 film “The Shining”. Fun tip: if you go to the lodges front desk and ask for the ax, you can take photos with it on the main floor.

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As a hot cocoa snob, I was very excited to hear that the Timberline Lodge is known for their over the top version. I HAD to try it and I was not disappointed. Cinnamon sticks, caramel crunch, whipped cream and chocolate syrup top the already filling beverage. It is well worth the $10.

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On the way home we stopped at a family owned vineyard and fruit stand and took some photos with another member of the cascade mountain range – Mt. Adams. Just another majestic landmark to check off the list.

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As my 48 hours of exploration came to an end, I reflected on how lucky I am to have a career that brings me to such beautiful places. My advice to anyone who also has a job that involves travel, make time to explore the cities you are in. You never know when you may be back, and life is too short to let any opportunity to see our beautiful planet pass you by.

Until next time, happy exploring.

XoXo,

Sara

Solo Travel Woman

Oh and yes, I did make it to Voodoo donuts. Although they are fun themes and creative flavors – to me they are just another donut. Blue Star is much better.

Solo Travel Woman Tribe

Solo Travel Woman is so much more than this blog and my explorations. It is bigger than that. 

Solo Travel Woman is about the empowered and independent woman is who is not afraid and will no longer be held back from exploring our beautiful world. It is for the woman who likes immersing herself in other cultures, tasting global cuisines, visiting museums and galleries, hiking the tallest mountains, sleeping in a tent or a luxury hotel, and one who doesn’t see an end to her journey.

logo_transparentSolo Travel Woman wants YOU to become a part of the tribe. Whether guest blogging on our site, becoming a brand ambassador for our new STW Shops Solo Travel Woman line or just embracing your inner explorer we would love to connect.

If you are interested in joining the tribe email solotravelwoman@gmail.com with TRIBE in the subject line.

With all that being said, as you read above we mentioned our new STW Shops. Yes, we have officially launched our own eCommerce site. Not only does it have Solo Travel Woman clothing and accessories (images below) but, also other travel items such as luggage, tech gadgets, outdoor supplies and much more. 

For our grand opening we are running a 10% off sale from now through 11:59 p.m. ET April 30th. Use code GRANDOPEN at checkout.

Happy exploring!

XoXO,

Sara

San Diego Bucket List

San Diego, an ocean front city with almost perfect year-round weather and one of America’s top tourist destinations. It is no wonder that this amazing city has so much to do.

I have put together a list of my top 25 bucket list things to do while I am visiting “America’s Finest City” as a solo travel woman this April (I even checked off the ones I have done so, far).

√ 1. Get lost in the view at La Jolla Cove and spend time with the seals at La Jolla children’s pool

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√ 2. Visit the San Diego Zoo

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√ 3. Get spooked at the Whaley House Museum

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4. Get a tan at black beach (not for the insecure)

5. Tour the U.S.S. Midway

6. Experience Safari park

7. Explore Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve

√  8. Check out a Padres game

9. Visit the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial

√  10. Have a drink on the patio at Hotel Del

11. Go hang gliding at Torrey Pines gliderport

12. See a performance at the Old Globe Theatre

√ 13. Take a stroll in The Prado at Balboa Park

√ 14. Cross the Cabrillo Bridge

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15. Kayak through the caves in La Jolla

16. Visit the San Diego Air & Space museum

17. Visit the Ocean Beach farmers market

√ 18. Go on a whale watching cruise and possibly see my first in person dolphin

√ 19. Check out the Japanese Friendship Gardens at Balboa Park

√ 20. Explore Old Town

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√ 21. Visit the Gaslamp district

√ 22. Shop in Seaport Village

23. Visit Birch Aquarium

24. Explore the San Diego Natural History Museum

25. Hike to the top of Cowles Mountain

Let me know which ones you have done/will be doing the next time you visit San Diego.

Happy planning!

XoXo,

Sara