I stood in the middle of the train station, overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds assaulting my senses. Checking my itinerary again I searched for platform number two. My carry on rolled along next to me as I circled the main floor one more time.
“Let me guess, American,” the young man said in clear English.
“Is it that obvious?” I asked.
Maybe it was the hint of panic showing on my face that gave away my inability to understand all the signs written in German. Or perhaps it was my aimless wondering that made it obvious I had no idea where I was going. Whatever it was, I was grateful for the young man who helped me find my way as I transferred trains in Munich.
Traveling alone can be intimidating, particularly for a woman going abroad. Yet it can also be a very rewarding experience. I’ve ventured to Europe and Israel on my own and actually found that traveling
alone can be more interesting if you’re smart about the experience. Here are my top five tips to help you make the most of your single traveling experience.
Research and planning can make any trip more enjoyable and affordable, particularly when traveling alone abroad. Researching potential destinations online can be daunting. There’s just too much information and not all of it is worthwhile. Checking out a few reviews on sites like Yahoo Travel (www.travel.yahoo.com) can provide good tips, but check the dates to make sure the information is current. Websites like Foder’s Travel (www.foders.com) and Top Ten Things (www.toptenthingstodoin.com) offer travel tips on cities all over the world. A little research also helps you be safe. I did check the U.S. Department of State website (www.travel.state.gov) before I headed off to Israel by myself and I planned accordingly, keeping north of Tel Aviv until I had the safety of a tour group. My research usually includes a look at a few maps, some basic reading on the best way to get around a city and some reviews of the top tourists spots. Knowing these basics can ease the transition into a new culture and minimize wasted time and money.
Don’t underestimate the challenges of culture shock, particularly if you’re not competent in the local language. The inability to understand local signs, television or radio creates a sense of isolation which can lead to loneliness. It’s important to find ways to feel connected. Structured tours led in English can provide opportunities to socialize when traveling alone. When I was in Salzburg I did an introductory tour of the city and met two fabulous women from Louisiana. We ended up spending most of the day together and topped it off with dinner at the castle. Another way to minimize culture shock is to bring along your favorite music, a movie or audiobook. These not only help pass time when traveling between cities, but they also allow you to hear your native language which minimizes the sense of isolation and loneliness.
Don’t allow the tours to take over, leave room for spontaneity. While I’ve appreciated some English-speaking tours when traveling abroad, my favorite experiences usually came from just being a visitor and not a tourist. As a visitor you want to speak to local people and experience the culture. Don’t spend all of your time with fellow tourists. I was visiting the city of Akko in northern Israel and stopped to ask directions of a local and ended up with my own private tour of the city for the afternoon. I also try to visit a Rotary club when I travel. Rotary International is a service club with a presence in over 200 countries around the world. As a Rotarian I’m welcome as a guest at any Rotary meeting around the world and it’s a great way to meet local people and get a sense of the community.
Do something special to pamper yourself. It’s important to indulge in some simple pleasures when traveling alone. Eat that special meal that you would never order at home, order breakfast in bed, or relax with a glass of wine in a bubble bath. One of my favorite moments in Salzburg was treating myself to the famous Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel. It was worth every calorie that I tried to walk off with the miles of sightseeing.
Be careful of the assumptions you make when traveling. Often Americans assume that everyone speaks English and will accommodate us when we travel. While it is true that many people around the world speak English, most people appreciate it if you attempt to communicate in the native language, even if it’s only to say please and thank you. And don’t make assumptions about driving if you’re intending to rent a car. I was grateful that I had taken time to look up some road signs so that when I drove in Germany I understood how to drive on the autobahn. The blue signs with the split road show that the speed limit is lifted for that stretch of road, although it is recommended that you stay under 130 kilometres per hour (81 mph).
Don’t let the lack of a travel partner keep you from exploring the world! With a little common sense and light packing – that’s the bonus tip #6 – you can venture out on your own safely and affordably.
Lowell, MI-There is no such thing as a bad location for a wedding. I’ve been to weddings as far as France and in former Czechoslovakia, which was my own, and as close as to Alto and Hastings in Michigan.
And I will be going to a true pioneer international wedding at the Saint Patrick’s Church in Parnell and later to a nearby reception at the Wabasis Lake Lodge north east of Grattan.
We’ve considered Black Star Winery in Suttons Bay in Leelanau Peninsula or Stafford’s Perry Hotel in Petoskey.
Sometimes the travel for that many people becomes too complex. We even thought of getting a bus. But, our international family is already flying in from France and from Czech Republic.
I can’t imagine burdening them with more travel after crossing the big pond.
Although I can see my daughter Emma Chavent loving an extra side trip to Marocco. She is almost like Marco Polo. And my parents Ella and Vaclav Konecny would love to go to Israel.
And then more logistics kicks in such as, where will all these people sleep? And who will feed them? We all live out in the country, and there are not too many hotels around.
The first that comes to my mind is the Main Street Inn in Lowell and the Candlestone Inn in Belding.
Also you to have to stagger the fly in, otherwise we would be like taxi drivers racing between the Gerald Ford International Airport and Lowell.
Rule number one: They can’t all come on one plane even if it’s an airbus.
Rule number two: No stowaways.
Rule number three: No agendas like trying to squeeze in on top of the wedding Uncle Vas’ birthday or an anniversary.
Rule number four: The less luggage the better, but don’t forget your shoes and underwear.
We have yet to solve the storage and closet problems as well as lodging.
Food was easier to resolve for a welcome party for approximately 20.
We wanted something typically American like a huge ham with beans, but decided for a caterer instead.
Timing is everything. Don’t come one year before the actual wedding or stay and wait for younger sibling, who is still in kindergarten, to get married.
I have yet to come across more wedding travel tips as we approach the wedding day on October 25.
After more than two decades of living in North America, the Pala and the Konecny families still like to patronize international venues around the world.
Here is a sampling of few of our favorites spread around the Midwest. The most recent one that we visited as a family was the Don Quijote Spanish restaurant in Valparaiso, Indiana for my dad’s 80th birthday.
One day on their way from Chicago, my parents Vaclav and Ella Konecny spotted a billboard with the famous Spanish knight Don Quijote on a stretch of freeway 94.
Located about 12 miles from the Indiana State Dunes, Valparaiso is a small university town with a cosmopolitan fare.
The restaurant is a real Spanish treat owned by Mr. Carlos of Barcelona.
And does Mr. Carlos know how to cook and entertain.
The menu offerings range from pork, blackened lamb and salmon to seafood and the signature Spanish dish paella. The yellow saffron rice is sautéed with seafood and sprinkled with peas for a delicious meal for two.
Annually Mr. Carlos throws a picnic for customers around mid July. He roasts two pigs and makes a big pan of paella.
It wouldn’t be Spanish if there wasn’t any wine. The garage is set up with mixers for Sangria and Margaritas, as well as bottled wine and beer.
Mr. Carlos’ clientele is truly international in customs and spirit. With Chicago only 60 miles away and the nearby Indiana State Dunes Park, the restaurant is a cool destination in summer or winter.
The tastefully decorated restaurant with an interior that resembles on outside street is a reprieve with its own store that carries authentic Spanish goodies.
For more information go to www.donquijotevalpo.com