How did you get started traveling?
As a kid my family didn’t do many over the top trips, but we definitely weren’t a “go to Disney every year” family, so a trip always meant somewhere new.
My first big trip was in middle school. Our Spanish teacher took a few students to France and Spain during Spring Break. It was during this week I knew one day I would be back to live here in Spain. Luckily, my job in the United States gave me the opportunity to do a two year rotation in Spain, and later I decided to stay indefinitely.
As an adult, my first big trip was with a friend to Australia. And now, I just can’t stop. Over Semana Santa, when we crossed into Armenia, I was able to tick off my 50th country on my very nerdy travel checklist!
What’s your favorite destination you’ve been to and why?
This is a question I get asked a lot! I still haven’t been able to narrow it down to one, so I will just give a quick rundown of the top three.
I visited Lapland during the summer solstice, so right off the bat the fact that there wasn’t a single sunset in 4 days made it pretty cool. On my visit, I got to meet Santa. Since I was there in the summer, there wasn’t the three hour wait they have in winter time, and I got some quality time with him. He speaks 10 languages and learns a little bit of dozens more so he has something to say to all the kids around Christmas time. He is REAL. I also got to visit husky and reindeer farms, and visit a private sauna in the woods, (this typical Lapland activity involves getting as hot as you can without fainting, and then running and jumping in a very cold lake).
Moscow is another place that has great things for tourists to do. Their subway system is like no other. From mosaics to statues, to stories and superstitions, who would have thought a main tourist attractions could be visiting subway stations? Another interesting find – a secret hidden underground bunker (18 stories no elevator) from the cold war times. The outside of St. Basel’s cathedral is quite a sight, and has a sad story about the two architects who designed it.
Who doesn’t love Italian food? Florence is my favorite Italian city so far. The meals I have had a La Giostra are hands down the best of my life. Its proximity to vineyards is also great, and although there are many tourists all around, it didn’t feel as overwhelming as other Italian cities. Somehow I felt like I ran into more Italians there than Rome or Milan for example.
Tell us about your first solo trip.
On my first solo trip I went to Brussels over a long weekend. Having just moved to Spain alone a month earlier, I don’t think I was nervous at all about traveling alone. It rained the whole time but I bought a cheap umbrella and kept on going. I was friendly with my fellow students in the chocolate making class, most of which were couples, but I didn’t let that bother me. Who isn’t chattier after sitting and having some Delirium beer in its flagship bar?! After I realized the train system was easy to manage I decided to hop on a train one day to visit Bruges as well. I took along with me a list of the sights from the movie “In Bruges” and embarked on my own personal scavenger hunt. Besides the rain, it was a great first solo trip, and left me craving more.
Tell us about your most interesting solo trip.
Last year before friends and family visited during summer, I took a little over a week to go see the north of Spain on my own. Traveling by bus or train I managed to see a lot of very cool and different things. From wine making in La Rioja and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to the coastline near Santander and peaks of los Picos de Europa, it was all beautiful. I definitely want to spend more time in each of these places.
What have you been able to learn from traveling solo?
How independent and efficient I am! I used to book trips through tour companies that had preset itineraries. Sometimes it’s easy to rely on others to make all the plans. These of course are good ideas if you want to see all the highlights, but it can be done on your own as well. When I travel solo, or with someone who isn’t into planning, I take control and really make the best of the time I have somewhere. Most of the time I am only getting away for a weekend, but I have been amazed at the things you can pack into a 2.5 day trip!
Should women be fearful of traveling alone?
*Obviously this comes with the disclaimer that you should do you research before choosing a destination to travel solo to. Read up about the cities, understand their public transport, learn if there are particular areas to avoid or avoid at night, scams like certain taxis.
What advice do you have for women who are traveling alone?
Don’t be shy or embarrassed. Chat up your tour guides, people next to you on the train, waiters, bartenders. Also, super important – in some places, the food is half (or more) of the reason to visit. Don’t be embarrassed to go and have lunch, dinner, or grab a drink in a local bar by yourself. And if you don’t feel comfortable chatting with strangers, bring a good book, and still get out there for a good meal and drink.
What destinations do you recommend for solo travel?
What makes for the best travel memories?
Looking for something different or bizarre to do near a city you are visiting. You may sacrifice some time in that city, but wind up seeing something really worthwhile and different. Some fun things include a day trip to Dracula’s castle from Bucharest, visiting a cheese or chocolate factory outside of Geneva, hopping a train over to Malmo, Sweden from Copenhagen just for dinner, finding a mini safari a short drive out of the Dakar city center, or even visiting Chernobyl during a visit to Kiev. If you only have a short time in a city you may not think spending a few hours getting to these places is worth it, but I think that’s where some of the best memories come from.
Do you have anything else to add to inspire women travelers?
If you can travel, travel! Now is the time. I always think about people who are saving up all the time, and that they may miss out. If you don’t go now you aren’t going to have enough time or have enough strength to enjoy the things you have been “saving up” to do!
About Jeannette Winter
Jeannette Winter was born and raised in New York State. She spent some time in San Diego, California before moving to Madrid in 2012 to work at an accounting firm. She spends her weekends collecting passport stamps and exploring Spain. A huge Yankees fan, you can now find her rooting for Real Madrid. Follow her adventures on her blog, or on Twitter.
About Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that travelling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.