Oct 14

Rasputin’s New Adventure… Without Me

While in Quito, Ecuador Rasputin and I had an unfortunate parting of the ways. In a separate post I will outline the details but the short story is that on Thursday, September 10, 2015 after 9 years as my travel companion, Rasputin was stolen from me (as was my purse).
My only hope is that Rasputin has found a new friend who will bring him on new adventures.

I found Rasputin on June 22, 2006 in a train station in Copenhagen. I had just finished a tour of Scandinavia and Russia. On the Russia half of the tour our “day song” was Rasputin. I thought he should have a name that reflected the trip I was just finishing.

The choice of name worked out well for Rasputin. Although many people gave a double take when I said the name, it was easy to say, “like the Russian monk” and people knew exactly what his name was. And if taking a picture with a stuffed giraffe isn’t a conversation piece, his name was.When I needed a name for my blog, Rasputin was the inspiration, the little guy with me that took pictures with. We would then go home and he would write the blog with me, in spirit at least.

From the day I got him, Rasputin was my little travel buddy, he made me feel a little less lonely on my solo trips. We’ve been to Disney World several times and even Disneyland once. He’s been to Egypt, Australia, England, Scotland, all over the US, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and the highlight of his little life to South Africa to see real giraffes in the wild. Oh, and a giraffe head on a wall and giraffe skinned purses. South Africa was both a highlight and a humbling experience for Rasputin…

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Rasputin was a tricky little guy, a bit like a cat with nine lives. When I went to Australia, right after a shooting at LAX, I left him in my office. Fortunately I was able to talk someone into getting him (and my neck pillow) for me and bring it to me at the airport. They really must love me at work… But Rasputin sometimes fell out of my purse and would be rescued by an excellent taxi driver. Then there was the time that I left him at the art of animation studio at the Hollywood Studios, remembering him when I got to Star Tours. I had to wait at the back door for the ongoing class to end and then ask the cast member about my giraffe I left on the table.

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My purse in Quito, Ecuador was the end of his ninth life. But his spirit will live on. While my brother in law always thought I was nuts, people generally loved Rasputin. Flight attendants frequently asked about him, and friends bought him presents for his birthday. He even made friends with other stuffed giraffes. After his loss, I now have a menagerie of stuffed animals donated by friends. I’m not quite sure what I will do with all of them. No stuffed animal can replace 9 years with Rasputin, but the idea of having a little something with me to keep up his mission of traveling the world would be continuing his legacy.

Sep 10

Single Solo Travel

I recently read an article from Match.com about 6 Tips for single vacationers and since that’s often me, I thought I would share a bit about it.

1. The Beach isn’t always best – the claim is that you won’t meet people if your head is buried in a book. You should instead take a vacation where you’re doing activities.  I would agree with this. I think this is why I don’t meet people on planes, my head is buried in my book. But I do get out and do things once I’m in my destination.

2. Try a singles package – I haven’t done this, but I have always taken tours where you can book as a single and I do find there aren’t as many couples on these trips.

3. Reserve a room in a smaller hotel. I do find that big chain hotels are not terribly social, except for maybe the hotel bar. Pick a hostel or a smaller B&B style of hotel.

4. don’t plan your whole vacation in advance – Ok, I do this all the time. Hey, some things need to be planned in advance if you want to do them. But, I do think it’s good to have some flexibility so you can go off and do something different with new friends you meet.

5. Find other tourists to talk to – locals aren’t going to drop things to spend time with you. But tourists, they’ll do that, they have no problem altering plans to spend time with other travelers. Especially if they read #4

6. Try these easy ice-breakers – travelers have easy excuses to strike up conversations with others – whether asking direction or for travel advice. This is one thing I’ve always enjoyed about traveling by myself, I’m forced to do this and I often meet people as a result. Even if you’re not getting a date or a travel buddy, it’s a good way to break the monotony of being alone.

Do you have any tips for solo single travelers?

Apr 30

Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb

One of the most commonly talked about things to do in Sydney is the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb, enjoying a great view of a city and loving a challenge of course I did this!

After much debate and wallet searching, I booked a twilight/sunset bridge climb a month or two before I went to Australia.  I asked several friends and they all suggested doing twilight if I could afford the extra $100 for that time slot.  I figured I would probably only do it once so I better do it now.

Climbing Sydney Harbor Bridge

The twilight climb starts when it is fully light out, and ended in the dark. Made a great setting for the city.  I did this by myself and thought it was a great activity for solo travelers.  You are “attached” to your guide and your group and will have plenty of time to chat with the people around you. I had locals next to me and learned a bit about the city, very handy since it was my first night in the city.

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The climb itself was not “hard,” the average healthy person can do this with little or no trouble. You do climb pretty high so it’s not “easy,” but it is certainly doable.  There is plenty of time to climb too if you’re not in the best shape. I NEVER felt like we were rushed and had frequent breaks along the climb while groups ahead of us were doing photos. I will say though that my legs were shaking at the end, a bit like they do at the end of a Jillian Michael’s workout.

I feel I should mention the set up of the climb as there is quite a bit that needs to be done to get ready. But, it’s not the most interesting part of the climb. So what do you do? After the Breathalyzer test you put on jumpsuits. After that everything you bring has to be attached to the suit.  Sunglasses, hats, handkerchief, climbing gear (you are attached to the bridge during the climb), extra jacket, radios (mostly so the guide can communicate with the group). You go from station to station as a group and get your gear. There is also a section where you get to practice climbing the ladders that are on the bridge.  Overall, I felt very safe after all the training and gearing up we did.

The tour includes admission to climb the Pylon, I had stopped in the office before my climb and they gave me my voucher early so I could climb the pylon that day.  That was really nice since it was a beautiful day. Though it was quite windy.  Between the tour and they pylon I thought I got a great feeling for the work that went into building the bridge.

Is it worth it? I thought it absolutely was, it was a great adventure for me. But I understand it is expensive and some people are afraid of heights. I can’t help if you’re afraid of heights. But if money is a concern, I do think just doing the pylon is a good experience, I’ll have a post about that next week.

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I did pre-purchase the photo package, and thought it was a good value, especially since they have a legitimate reason for not allowing you to bring cameras up with you. My guide knew I had the package and took extra photos of me.  When the climb was over I was forced to choose only the allotted number of photos from the package (8, I think). When I returned home I sent a letter about that complaining, because frankly, it didn’t cost them any money to give me those extra photos.  The letter I got back was wonderful – starting the following day they were allowing anyone who purchased the photo package to have all their photos and they looked up and sent me all of my photos.  Before that I was on the fence about the photo packages; but I loved my photos and the experience so much that I highly recommend the photo packages.

Tips:

If you want to climb during twilight but don’t want to pay the $100 extra, book a tour right before or after the twilight tours and you’ll have twilight during part of your climb.

Leave you’re stuff at home or in the hotel if you can. If not, lockers are provided.

Dump all of your stuff from your pockets into your bag before your group is called, makes it easier when you have to change clothes.

Wear comfortable clothes, you can wear them under the nifty jumpsuit so keep that in mind when dressing.

Book early in your visit to Sydney, weather (hot, cold, wind, thunder) can cause the cancelation of tours. One girl in my group was on her 3rd attempt to climb.

They will give you a hat for the climb, so wait to buy a baseball cap from the shop.

Don’t drink before, they do give a breathalyzer test before you climb.

Drink water before the climb, use the bathroom too. There are a few water fountains on the climb, but you can dehydrate on the climb, and there are no bathrooms – keep this all in mind!

If you want to climb a pylon, wait until after you climb the bridge, a voucher is included.

Crissy

Apr 02

The Melbourne Cup as a solo person

When I was planning my trip to Australia one of my Australian friends suggested that it was Melbourne Cup when I was there and to either go and embrace it, or avoid the city during that period.  I decided to embrace it and bought myself general admission tickets, since that what it seemed that people did.  I didn’t find this to be my best choice on this trip for a number of reasons.

When I was planning my trip the Melbourne Cup I couldn’t find much information about what to do once you were there, just info on the layout of Flemington, how to get there and how to bet.  What I didn’t realize is that this is really a group activity.  As in groups of Aussies picnicking in their Sunday finest and occasionally watching a horse race.  I arrived early, but by early afternoon it was crazy crowded, lines for everything were massive and there was nowhere to sit.  If I had to do it over again, I would probably skip it or at least book a ticket with a seat instead of general admission.

But there were a few things I liked.  I had fun picking an outfit and getting a fascinator for the event. Though the weather forecast kept changing and I ended up over dressed. But it was also fun watching other people so dressed up and what types of hats and fascinators they came up with.  The horses were nice too, I’m glad I found where they are in their stalls, they were beautiful horses!  And well, now I can say I’ve gone.

What would I recommend to others attending?

Arrive early, whether you have a seat, are with a group, arrive early. It’s much easier to get around and see stuff there if you’re there before noon.  If you are not in a group where you can leave someone with your stuff, then get a ticket with a seat instead of general admission, you’ll be much more comfortable.  Walk around and see the different areas, attractions and food options at the cup, there is a very wide variety.

Sep 20

Website Review – Cruise Critic Message Boards

CruiseCriticLogoTwo or so years ago I took a Mediterranean Cruise with Norwegian, by myself in one of their new solo cabins.  While I was prepping for the trip I looked around on Cruise Critic for information. There is so much information on there, it’s insane!  I also met a bunch of people, which made the cruise an unforgettable experience.  For these two reasons my tip today to anyone going on a cruise is to go to the Cruise Critic and particularly the message boards.

Cruise Critica has Roll Call boards for pretty much every ship and sail date.  Some boards are very active while others are a bit quiet.  I know many people coordinated to take private tours with groups of 6 or 8 people, which might have consisted of 3 or 4 couples who never met before the cruise.  Most Roll Calls arrange a meet for everyone on the first or second day.  It’s an opportunity to meet some people, even if you don’t click and become friends, it’s nice to have a friendly face around the ship from time to time.  Heck, my group even had a meet up the night before the cruise in Barcelona.

The other thing on Cruise Critic is learning what to do in port, everything from reviews of excursions to how to get around a port are available.  I got step by step instructions on how to get from the port outside Rome to Rome, including photos.  It was invaluable and lowered my stress level trumendously.

If you’re taking a cruise, I highly recommend Cruise Critic!

Sep 18

Travel Friends

Over the years I have taken quite a few tours with Contiki and have met quite a few people.  While every tour has a different dynamic, they all have one thing in common – everyone becomes part of your new family for the length of the tour and beyond.

Of course you don’t need to go on a tour to make lifelong friends, but that is where I met my friend Stephanie who I traveled with in Colorado.  We met on my tour to England and Scotland and kept in touch over the years.  She even visited me when she was out East for work.

But what is so great about travel friends?  They’re like family, not matter how much time has passed since you last saw them, they are still like family.  There’s no awkwardness when you meet them years later. When you travel together you get to see each other morning, noon, night, hungover, tired, cranky, doing laundry, the walls quickly fall away.  You’re irrevocably bonded together and even if you weren’t the best of friends, or didn’t have the same travel style, you’ll always look after each other and you’ll always be friends.

Mar 22

Women on the Road – Book Review

I’ve gotten a little bit behind on some of my reading and after a few months of distraction I finally sat down to review the book Woman on the Road.

The book is a guide for female baby-boomers looking to travel the world, with an emphasis on solo.  While I’m a few years younger then a baby-boomer, I still enjoyed this book and thought it would be a great value for travelers of all ages.
While the book does lean towards supporting longer term traveler, the information in it is easily applicable to one or two week vacations too.
They cover all the topics you’ll face and in great detail in just 200 pages:
Saving money for your trip, choosing accomidations, travel options, packing, choosing destinations (including what time of year you’ll be traveling), dealing with hagglers and beggars, volunteering, reaclimating to home and everything in between.
What’s even better they not only cover all of these topics in depth, they offer a wide range of considerations.  You’re budget is tight, then couchsurfing might be better.  Heck, even if you have a bigger budget you might want to go to more expensive destinations and still couchsurf.
Perhaps you want to integrate some cultural experiences into your trip, try a cooking class or language class.
At the end they conclude with checklists (based on time before trip starts), itineraries of varying lengths and what I think is the coolest element that you don’t usually see in books like this.  Brief interviews with woman who actually did this.  How they traveled, what issues they had, budget, and safety.  I think this final section sets this book apart from others by adding a human element that makes a trip seem more tangable.

Jul 20

The Indie Travel Podcast And Couples

In the Indie Travel Podcast episode # 237 – How Couples Can Stay Sane on The Road Craig and Linda discuss tips for couples.  As I normally travel solo, I didn’t expect to get too much out of this episode, but I was wrong.  This podcast was chock full of information for couples and for any type of pair traveling together, ways to set expectations and divide the work and not blame each other and be mad about stuff.  

It’s a great episode, I recommend it to anyone who likes to travel.

 

Aug 04

Epic Studio Cabins, the good, the bad and the shower…

Studio cabins, did NCL accidentally get it right?

Yes and No!

I’ve heard that when NCL originally designed the studio cabins on the EPIC they were supposed to be small double occupancy rooms, but they didn’t sell well so they made them solo passenger cabins, though you can still put 2 people in them if you choose. They have a private lounge area for only the studio passengers, it has a bar (open 1 hour a day), coffee, snacks and continental breakfast. There is even a member of the staff that helps to get the passengers to know each other.

It sounds perfect, and NCL absolutely got this right.  But it felt like now that they have this product they don’t quite know what to do with them now, I think the concept needs a little nurturing to make it truely fantastic.
 
I’ll start with the cabins
The cabins, although small, are nice.  The bathroom is broken up – the toilet, shower and sink are separate.  The shower has a glass wall with frosting on it, but the frosting needs to be darker and cover more of the wall, luckily I was the only one in the room.  There are two closets in the room,with doors that slide (when open they cover the sink and the TV), each with a hanger bar and 2 shelves.  There are additional shelves in the room, but no drawers.  If you look hard enough, there are baskets under the bed for additional storage.  I thought there was plenty of storage for 1 person, but I think it would be tight if there was a second person in the room.  Actually, everything about this cabin was just fine for 1 person, but I couldn’t imagine a second person in one of these cabins, except maybe a mother and small child. 

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Toilet

The room comes with “mood” lighting.  This was neat for about 2 minutes, then it was annoying.  Even more annoying was the panel to change the settings was next to the bed, not near the door.  Although there is no thermostat there is a panel that allows you to adjust the temperature to cooler or warmer, I think this is the first ship I’ve had this feature on and I like it!  My cabin had at least 3 sets of outlets, several of which were for european and american plugs.  There was a table and a bench in the room, but both were so small that I only used them to put stuff on. 

Mood Lighting

The Studio Lounge:

The studio lounge was a private area that offered a bar, drinks, food, sitting area and TV.  It was a nice sized space for the number of passengers in the studios, it was busiest in the mornings (continental breakfast was offered) and evening, but never crowded.  The space was used for the solo passenger meet ups, which was the only time the bar was open.  We had a member of the social staff assigned to us for the solo meet ups, Sol, she helped get everyone introduced and arranged for 1 group dinner. 
I think this is the area where the studio cabins fell short.  I met many wonderful people who were staying in the studio cabins, some were very outgoing and others were very very shy.  I think that the staff member who is assigned to the studio lounge should be organizing more activities.  I don’t think this is the fault of Sol, from what I have heard everyone has had the same experience since the ship launched, so I think this is how NCL has designed the position.  I would have liked to have seen a few more dinners planned, particularly in the specialty restaurants, a session in the Ice Bar or bowling.  I think that would open up more opportunities for solo cruisers and it would generate more money for the cruise line – a win for all. 

The other thing that I thought was missing was a window or a balcony or anything involving fresh air and sunlight.  Since the studio cabins were inside I felt an extra need to go outside in my free time, I know other people expressed a concern about possibly feeling clausterphobic in these cabins.  I had no issue with clausterphobia.  There were a few occasions where I would have liked to have spent time in the lounge, but with no window or baloncy, I chose to go up on deck instead.  I think the interior nature of the lounge kept it from being a more popular place to congregate.  Not that it needed a big section of window or a large balcony, but anything would have been better.  The best example of this was on the last day of the cruise I ate breakfast in the lounge, got my things and debarked the ship.  To my surprise it was cold and raining and ended up not being dressed properly. 

Hallway for the Studios

I have written NCL a letter about all of my thoughts on improving the Studio cabin experience, so I don’t mind saying it here.  They did write back and thank me for my input.  But since this post seems to be a bit negative, I do want to add that I absolutely LOVED this cruise and the studio cabins.  I made many wonderful friends and would definatley consider sailing on the EPIC again if I was traveling by myself.  I would also recommend this ship to anyone else traveling by themselves.  I just think there are a few things that can be done to make it an even better experience.

Reminder: I can be found on Twitter @Travelingiraffe

Jul 27

Edinburgh with and without friends

When planning my trip to England and Scotland I wasn’t sure one day was enough time in Edinburgh so I added 2 extra days in Edinburgh at the end of the trip.  I had a chance to see the city with friends I had made and then a chance to return and see it as a lonely sad person.  Should I even continue with this post?

Ok, I’ll continue.  Before the trip I had 2 days alone in London, and while it was a little lonely with no one to talk to, I was fine.  But the difference of being alone after your tour, after spending 2 weeks with a group of great people, it was a world of difference.

I left Glasgow after saying goodbye to all my friends, so I was sad as it was.  Then my hotel wasn’t ready, but I was ready, I wanted to get myself going and seeing things before I got depressed being by myself.  I had to keep busy.  I eventually got into my room and was out and about to Hollyrood Palace.  I ended up keeping myself pretty busy for my 2 days.  The nights were a little hard though.  I did take a tour one night and stayed in the other night – I packed and watched some movies.

The worst part though might be that there is not one picture of me in Edinburgh from after my trip!  Glad I got some during the tour.

The good things I experienced were that I had freedom, I could eat at any restaurant I wanted, picking my own hotel (the Contiki hotel was a bus ride out of the city but I was staying a block off the Royal Mile).  Seeing whatever site I wanted and lingering over the little weird things that caught my eye. Having already been to the city I already knew my way around.  Free free time.  The time where you’ve seen all the big sites and you don’t mind spending time in a little wacky site or at the internet cafe, or wandering into random shops because you could.

I’ve always found traveling by myself a little lonely, but after doing a tour that feeling is heightened.  The contrast of being around people 24/7 to being around only strangers is dramatic.  The moral of the story – plan for the solo days at the beginning of a trip.  I should take my own advice.  I planned to spend a day alone pre-cruise, but 2 days post-cruise in Barcelona.  But this did work out better as I did meet some people on my cruise who were also staying longer.