10 Amazing Destinations for Solo Travelers

One thing I get asked about a lot is solo travel. I hear a lot of “I could never do that. I am not brave enough.” I don’t consider myself to be brave or particularly adventurous to be honest. So why do I travel solo? I do it because I don’t have someone to travel with regularly and I refuse to sit at home and let life pass me by while I wait for a travel companion that may never come.

To date, I have traveled on my own a couple dozen times and have some amazing and funny memories from these trips. I have found a peace in traveling solo, problem solving on my own and not having to please anyone else along the way.

If you find yourself contemplating taking a solo trip but are not sure where to start, I have some ideas for you! Below, I list 10 amazing destinations for solo travelers.

Three Things to Consider Before Booking a Solo Trip

In general, there are three things in particular that I consider before booking a trip as a solo female traveler. They are:

  1. Is the destination “safe” and how does the country treat women?
  2. What is the native language and will I encounter people on a regular basis who can speak some English?
  3. What is the transportation situation? Is renting a car or driver necessary or is public transportation easily accessible and reliable?

10 Amazing Destinations for Solo Travelers

Hawaii, USA

I know that Hawaii doesn’t seem like it would be an amazing destination for solo travelers but it is my favorite place to go as a solo traveler. I have been to Hawaii four times, three times solo. Yes, you will be surrounded by lots of couples and families. However, there is plenty of beach and pool space for everyone.

I like Hawaii because I feel very safe there. The weather is almost always nice. You will get the occasional rain shower but it means there is likely a rainbow to follow.

Renting a car in Hawaii is necessary but the rental process is easy and most of the driving is small towns and paved so it is easy. If you do go somewhere you are not comfortable driving (ie. the Road to Hana), join an organized tour and let an expert do the driving.

There are lots of restaurants with great food and the Hawaiian people are wonderful. I do encourage you to learn about the Hawaiian culture before you travel so you understand Hawaii’s history. It is key to respecting that culture while you are visiting.

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Greece

I booked a trip to Greece in 2014 to meet up with some friends who were visiting there. While I spent several days with them on the island of Skiathos, I traveled through Athens, Santorini and Mykonos on my own.

I found exploring Athens and then traveling to and around the islands to be fairly easy, other than one evening when all of the ferries were canceled as I was trying to get from Mykonos to Santorini. The islands were small enough that I felt like I could walk around and see most of what I wanted to see, even without a car. There were restaurants everywhere with delicious Greek food.

Amazing Destinations for Solo Female Travelers
Oia in Santorini, Greece

Australia

Australia is a GREAT option for solo travelers. There is so much to see and do. The one thing to keep in mind is that Australia is a huge country, so you will need to pick and choose what you want to do.

I started my trip in Sydney where I met up with a couple of friends. We toured the opera house, climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge and did the Coogee to Bondi Beach coastal walk. After a brief stop in Canberra to see a friend and her mom, I spent time on my own visiting Uluru and then scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

I flew from place to place within Australia since the country is so big but when I was in different areas of the country, I was able to walk to restaurants for dinner each evening with no problems.

Croatia

While I traveled to and from Croatia on my own, I traveled through the country as part of an organized tour with Trafalgar. This was my second time traveling as part of an organized tour. I was much more comfortable with splitting off and doing my own thing this time. I did a lot of my own exploring and ate meals at restaurants I wanted to try this time.

I liked that my transportation around the country was taken care of. Croatia is filled with great people and good food. It has an interesting history as well. Dubrovnik. Split. Hvar. These are just a few of the places you should check out while you are there. While you’re at it, add Slovenia to your Croatian itinerary. Slovenia is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited.

Italy

This one definitely isn’t a secret. I have been to Italy twice and definitely think it is a good option for solo travelers. Rome, Florence and Venice are all easily accessible by train. All of them are easily walkable too.

I would recommend going during the shoulder seasons (April and September or October) if you can to avoid the massive crowds. Also, make sure to plan ahead. I am all for going to a place and then deciding when to do things but Italy is not the place for winging it. If you want to check out the Colosseum, the Vatican and the museums in Florence, make reservations ahead of time so you don’t waste hours of your trip waiting in lines.

London, UK

London is my favorite international city to visit and definitely one of the most amazing destinations for solo travelers. It is also the first city I visited solo. I landed in London in 2013 to meet up with my Contiki travel group. It was my first time abroad and I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe, even with minimal travel experience.

There is so much to see and do in London. This is one city where the hop on and off tours buses are popular. I recommend joining one of them to start you visit so you can get the lay of the city and then plan to hop off and on accordingly.

New York City, USA

New York, New York! One of my favorite cities to visit. I have been there several times and still don’t feel like I have even scratched the surface on all there is to see.

Go to a Broadway show. Check out Times Square. Walk through different neighborhoods. Visit the Top of the Rock. Meander through Central Park. Explore the museums. Take the subway.

Your feet will be sore when you leave but it will all be worth it.

Chicago, USA

I can’t write an article about amazing destinations for solo travelers and not mention my favorite city – Chicago. Obviously since I live here, I love it and think it is a great place to live and visit. I admit to my biases.

There is so much to do here! Take an architectural cruise via a boat on the Chicago River. See the Bean in Millennium Park. Have a drink at the Signature Room in the former Hancock Tower. Step out on the ledges at Willis Tower. Go to a baseball game a Wrigley Field. hang out at one of the many beaches along Lake Michigan. Enjoy delicious food all over the city.

Chicago is also a great place for a girls’ weekend if you are looking into destinations for that as well.

A view of Millennium Park from Cindy’s Rooftop in downtown Chicago

Grand Cayman

There are a lot of great places to visit in the Caribbean. However, I am very picky because I do not like staying at all inclusive resorts. I think they are the worst for solo travelers to be honest because options are so limited and I tend to feel trapped on the resort. While many islands in the Caribbean are full of all inclusive resorts, one that is not is Grand Cayman. And therefore, I think it is a good option for solo travel.

I flew to Grand Cayman to finish my open water scuba diving certification. It seemed like a much more pleasant way to do it than in a local quarry in rural Illinois.

I stay at the Sunshine Suites, which was across the road from Seven Mile Beach. Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman is one of the nicest, most picturesque beaches I have been to. The sand it white and the water was clear. I did not rent a car but was able to use the buses to get around. They have some great restaurants worth checking out too. Diving was great too if you are a fan of scuba diving.

Alaska, USA

I visited Alaska as part of my quest to visit 50 states that I finished in 2018. I spent a week in Alaska, visiting Anchorage, Kenai Fjords National Park, Denali National Park and finishing my trip in Fairbanks (where it was 90 degrees F the day I left!).

I did not rent a car, instead choosing to utilize organized tours and the Alaskan Railroad to get around. I LOVED LOVED LOVED taking the Alaskan Railroad through the Alaskan countryside. I splurged and got a seat on the first car where food and drinks were included. The best part was the little balcony off the back of the train car. I spend a lot of time out there during the trip admiring the Alaskan scenery as it went by, looking for moose and breathing in the fresh air.

If you are going to Alaska, I highly recommend taking the train for at least part of your journey. You won’t regret letting someone else do the driving while you relax and gaze at the scenery.

Amazing Destinations for Solo Female Travelers

There you have my list. I hope it inspires you to go for it! Solo travel can be so rewarding. There are many benefits to traveling solo. You can check out some of them here.

As for me, I can’t wait to keep traveling solo. Some of the places I hope to visit soon include Switzerland, Scotland, Iceland, New Zealand and Japan!

I cannot wait to start planning and take off!

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Amazing Destinations for Solo Female Travelers

Why You Should Visit Slovenia

In 2019, I booked a trip with Trafalgar to visit Croatia. It was their “Best of Croatia and Slovenia” tour. I had wanted to go to Croatia for a while but I would always get overwhelmed when trying to plan so I kept pushing it off. This tour seemed like the perfect compromise. It also included Slovenia, a country I did not know anything about. I didn’t do much research about it before I left either, figuring I would learn about it along the way. Turns out, Slovenia is incredibly beautiful with wonderful people. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the two week trip. I highly recommend visiting Slovenia when you have a chance. Here are the reasons I think why you should visit Slovenia.

But First, Some Slovenian Facts

Slovenia is located in Central Europe and is bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and the Adriatic Sea. It covers approximately 7,800 square miles and has a population of two million people. It has a mostly mountainous terrain. Slovenia was the first republic to split from Yugoslavia in 1991. It is now a parliamentary republic. Slovenia is a member nation of the EU, United Nations and NATO. Its capital and largest city is Ljubjana.

On the “famous people” front, the current First Lady of the USA is from Slovenia.

The Reasons Why You Should Visit Slovenia

It is not completely overrun with tourists (yet!).

Yes, of course there are many tourists in Slovenia, many of them part of a tour of Croatia like me. But unlike some other places I have visited in Europe, it did not feel like Slovenia was being overwhelmed by tourists.

I was able to walk around Ljubljana without feeling crowded. I snagged a table at a highly recommended restaurant in Bled without a reservation. Getting decent photos of Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj without a ton of people in the background was a breeze.

The only time it felt like there were a lot of people around was when we visited the island in the middle of Lake Bled. But it’s a small island and it’s popular. So it is to be expected.

I Felt Very Safe as a Female Solo Traveler

While I visited Slovenia as part of an organized tour, I spent much of my time exploring the area on my own and I never felt unsafe.

On our second night in Bled, I skipped the organized dinner and instead walked to Penzion Berc, a local hotel with a restaurant that was highly rated on Yelp and in Rick Steves’ Croatia and Slovenia travel guide. I went alone. I was able to eat at a table outside, where I had a delicious meal of lamb chops with creme brulee (my favorite!) for dessert. The food was very good but the thing I remember most about this meal was that I had a glass of wine with dinner but declined another one because I didn’t want to end up with a $100 dinner bill that night. It turns out, the wine, which was also very good, was only four euros a glass! If I has known that, I would have had another one for sure! Ha!

My goal was to be back to the hotel before dark but it didn’t happen. It also turns out that Bled does not have any street lights in town, probably to cut down on environmental pollution, which I understand. It did make walking back to my hotel a bit of an adventure though. Luckily, I had my cell phone and was able to use the flashlight on it to guide me along. Once I made it back to the hotel, I decided to enjoy the beautiful evening and found a bench along the lake behind the hotel and sat out there for an hour or so before turning in for the night. It was so calming and pleasant. It was perfect for a solo female traveler.

Lamb Chops in Slovenia
Lamb Chops from Penzion Berc in Bled, Slovenia
Creme Brulee – Yum!

Ljubljana is a Great European Capitol

Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital and largest city. It has a population of about 300,000 people. It is known for its university population and green spaces, including Tivoli Park. The Ljublianica River, lined with outdoor cafes, divides the city’s old town from its commercial hub.

We spent a few hours in Ljubljana and I believe it is worth a visit. It is small and therefore, easy to explore by foot. I don’t think you need to spend more than a day in Ljubljana. I spent my time walking along the river and the city center, popping into shops that looked interesting and admiring the architecture as I went. Eventually, I got an ice cream cone and found a spot in the shade to sit and people watch for a while.

One building I kept admiring was the Ljubljana Castle. The castle is perched on top of Castle Hill and it overlooks the city. Archaeologists believe that the area of the present castle has been continuously settled since 1200 BC.

The castle’s role has changed numerous times since its first mention around 1120. Aside from tourism, the castle now is used for weddings and cultural events.

Reasons to visit Slovenia
Ljubljana Castle
One of the buildings surrounding the city center in LjubLjana.
Ljubljana River
A selfie with the Ljubljana River in the background.

Lake Bled

Lake Bled is probably the most well known area in Slovenia and is probably the reason that many people choose to visit Slovenia. Bled was our home base for the two nights we spent in Slovenia. We slayed along Lake Bled in the Hotel Park.  When we stayed there, I would say it was adequate. It was definitely not fancy but the location along the lake was perfect. I did see as I was looking the hotel up to link in this post that it is being renovated so it may be wonderful after it is redone.

The lake surrounds Bled Island, which can be accessed by taking one of the wooden boats shown below. There are no motorized boats allowed on the lake so the boats are rowed by men to and from the island.

The island has several building on it, the main one being the pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, which was built in its current form near the end of the 17th century. We spent an hour or so on the island, wandering around, admiring the views and reading up on the history of the church.

In our free time, we were able to walk around the lake. It is about three miles around. While some people on my tour did the walk, I did not. To be honest, jet lag and lack of sleep for several days was starting to catch up to me at that point so I took the time to rest instead. It was much needed.

Another thing that the Bled area is known for is their cream cake. It is made with eggs, cream, milk and sugar. After visiting the island, we went to a restaurant where we were able to try the cream cake. It was okay. I was expecting more flavor to be honest.

The boats used to get to Bled Island
The pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary on Bled Island
The view from my breakfast table in the Hotel Park in Bled, Slovenia.
The famous cream cake
A view of Bled from Bled Island
Reasons why you should visit Slovenia
The area was so pretty with such amazing views!
I loved the clouds and the mountains in the background here.

Amazing Views of the Julian Alps

The Julian Alps stretch from northeastern Italy to Slovenia. Mount Triglav is the highest peak in Slovenia and is included in Slovenia’s coat of arms. The views we had of the Julian Alps as we were visiting and driving through the Bled area were spectacular!

Reasons to visit Slovenia
The majestic Julian Alps in the background.

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj was a hidden gem that our tour guide took us to on our second day the Bled area. We had to walk through some trees and down a fairly steep hill to get there but boy was it worth it!

Lake Bohinj is possibly the prettiest lake I have visited. As someone who is always in search of the perfect reflection shot, Lake Bohinj delivered! The views were spectacular. The setting was so peaceful. The water so clear. This lake HAS to be in the list of reasons to visit Slovenia.

Reasons to visit Slovenia
Lake Bohinj in Slovenia. Absolutely stunning!
Me at Lake Bohinj

My Final Thoughts on Why You Should Visit Slovenia

As you can see, there are many reasons why I think you should visit Slovenia soon. I love that it’s a little off the beaten path and that not a lot of people have been there. In fact, many people get it confused with Slovakia. I would say I have made that correction to others about 25 times. If you get the chance, go to Slovenia. Add Croatia and Bosnia to the itinerary and you will have a great trip filled with good food, wonderful people and an interesting history lesson.

You can check out other posts from my trip to Croatia and Slovenia here and here.

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Reasons why you should visit Slovenia

My Favorite Vacation Souvenir Idea

Do you struggle with vacation souvenir ideas?

I used to. Back from my early travel days, I couldn’t decide on one vacation souvenir idea and as a result, I have a variety of things to remember my earliest trips by.

I have some magnets. I have t-shirts. Random chachkies. I also have Christmas ornaments.

Over the years, I finally settled on Christmas ornaments. They are now my preferred vacation souvenir idea for several reasons:

  • They are also usually small and easy to pack for the trip home.
  • They’re fairly easy to find and can usually be found in an airport if necessary.
  • Most of the year, they are put away and do not clutter up my home.
  • They make putting my Christmas tree up really fun because pulling them out of the boxes is like walking down memory lane of my travels.

Most of the ornaments I have make me smile. Some make me laugh. Others remind me of travel mishaps or things I’d like to forget.

Regardless, they are all a memory and my favorite part of putting up my Christmas tree.

Since my tree is up, I thought I would share many of the ornaments from my travels that I have collected over the years.

Vacation Souvenir Ideas
Hawaii 2018 🙂
The newest ornament on my tree. I picked this one up in Denver last weekend. It was too cute to pass up.
Vacation Souvenir Ideas
I picked this ornament up in San Fran when I went with an aunt and cousins to Napa in November 2018.
Arizona Cactus Christmas Ornament
This ornament captured my eye when I visited my friends Rene, Marion, Garrett and Bri in Arizona in April 2019. I also crossed the Diamondbacks baseball stadium, Chase Field, off my list during this trip.
Belize Christmas Ornament
My friend Jess and I had a great time scuba diving in Belize, It is where she earned her open water certification.
Boston Christmas Ornament
Who else loves Boston? I haven’t been to Boston in several years but would love to go back and visit soon!
Cayman Islands Christmas Ornament
I earned my scuba diving open water certification in the Cayman Islands. Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman is one of the best beaches I have been to.
Chicago Theater
This is a replica of the marquee for the Chicago Theater on State Street. I see it daily when I get on and off the train for work.
Chicago Bean
A replica of the Chicago Bean (and my reflection). I got this one at the Christkindl Market held in the Chicago loop each year.
Croatia and Philadelphia Christmas Ornaments
Two for one in this photo. 🙂 Dubrovnik Croatia and Philadelphia.
Vacation Souvenir Ideas
I got this one during my first trip to Hawaii in 2013. Hawaii is my favorite place to visit.
Iowa Christmas Ornament
Home Sweet Home. Part of my heart will always belong to Iowa.
Las Vegas Christmas Ornament
Even the places I don’t like get honored on my tree. This ornament is an example.
Vacation Souvenir Ideas
Another two for one. Maine and Niagara Falls. We went to both of these places during our baseball trip in 2016. That was one of my favorite vacations.
Mexico Christmas Ornament
Cozumel, Mexico. I didn’t like diving there. The currents were too strong and it was hard for me to relax when being dragged along by it.
Vacation Souvenir Ideas
This is one of my favorite ornaments. It is the Night Watchman from Rothenburg, Germany. We did his tour of the city when we visited. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Rothernburg.
I visited North Dakota with my friend Crystal last summer. She bought this for me in the airport because I forgot to buy one,. What a fun weekend and a great friend!
I visited Multnomah Falls in Oregon with my good friend Liz.
Eiffel Tower, Paris.
Key chain being used as an ornament here. The Eiffel Tower, Paris.
Rome Christmas Ornament
I bought this one in Rome.
Santorini Christmas Ornament
Santorini, Greece. The home of a famous sunset and massive, overwhelming crowds.
Sydney Harbor Bridge
I bought this one after climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge with Megan and Claire. Another really fun trip!
Vacation Souvenir Ideas
Texas. I love lots of people there but I did not love living there.
The Netherlands
The Netherlands
Venice, Italy
I like this one too from Venice, Italy.
Vermont
Vermont. My 50th US State visited.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park. I visited the park with my mom, sister, nephew and niece.
This is a licitar. Licitars colorfully decorated biscuits made of sweet honey dough. They are part of Croatia and Slovenia’s cultural heritage and are a traditional symbol of the Croatian capital Zagreb. They are used as an ornamental gift, often given at celebrations of love such as weddings and St, Valentine’s Day.
I got this one in Alaska. I saw several moose while I was there. They were definitely one of the highlights (along with seeing the peak of Denali).
My friend Jackie and I escaped the Chicago winter and headed to Paradise Island in the Bahamas a few years ago. The beach was nice there too.
Vacation Souvenir Ideas
This isn’t technically a travel ornament. I picked it up at a store in Chicago. But it makes a nice addition to my tree.

Do you have a go-to souvenir idea for your travels? If so, I’d love to hear it. Tell me about it is in the comments below.

Want to read more? Check out my tips for women traveling solo here.

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Vacation Souvenir Idea

Solo and Stranded by The Mykonos Winds

The Mykonos Windmills

“Will the Mykonos winds ever die down so I can get off this island?”

That was a direct quote I kept asking myself over and over when I visited Athens and three of the Greek Islands, including Mykonos, in the summer of 2014.

But before I tell you why I was asking myself that, let me back up a bit.

Some Background Information

In early 2014, I got an email from my friend, Amy. She lived in the UK and she and a couple of friends were heading to Greece that July. She asked if I would like to go along. I knew instantly that the opportunity to travel to Greece with friends was too good to pass up. Therefore, it was a no brainer for me. I replied “Of course! I’d love to go.”

After some back and forth, I found out that they were going to fly directly from London to the island of Skiathos. They planned to spend all of their time in Greece on that island. I loved the idea of visiting Skiathos but since the flights from Chicago to Greece are not short or cheap, I wanted to see more than just one island while I was there.

I decided to fly in a couple of days before them and visit Athens and the Parthenon. Then I flew to Skiathos and spent a few days with Amy and her friends. Up next was Mykonos. I planned to end my trip by visiting Santorini and its famous sunsets.

Other than when I was with Amy and her friends, I was solo on this trip.

Traveling Solo in Mykonos

I arrived in Mykonos from Skiathos early in the morning, before the hotel lobby opened for the day. I spent my time waiting for the lobby to open on the front porch, where I enjoyed the sunny, but windy morning.

The Mykonos winds were something that instantly surprised me when I arrived on the island. They were strong. At night when I was in my hotel room, the wind reminded me of winters in the Midwest during a blizzard. I imagined the wind whipping snow around outside my window.

I really liked Mykonos. It was everything that I expected it to be. I spent my days wandering around the island. I loved the narrow pathways with the white houses and bright colored trim. The food was delicious. The ocean views from anywhere on the island couldn’t be beat!

One my favorite sites was the famous windmills, which were built in the 16th century to mill wheat. Their use gradually declined until they ceased production in the middle of the 20th century. There are currently 16 windmills on Mykonos, seven of which are positioned on the landmark hill in Chora.

The Mykonos Windmills

I also loved the Panagia Paraportiani church. Dating back to the 1400s, it faces the sea at the entrance to Chora. It’s considered a great example of Cycladic architecture and is classified as a national monument. What makes it so special though is its exterior. It is actually five tiny churches squeezed together, giving it a very unique shape.

The Mykonos Winds

On my last day in Mykonos, I got up and ate breakfast, checked out of my hotel with my large suitcase (I was not an efficient or logical packer back then) and headed out to do some last minute exploring before catching one of the afternoon ferries to Santorini. I decided to take the ferry instead of fly from Mykonos to Santorini for a different (and cheaper) experience.

I got to the dock and found out the ferry I was booked on was delayed because the Mykonos winds were really strong that day. At that point, I wasn’t concerned. There were several ferries that made the voyage to Santorini each day. I figured I would catch one of them.

Throughout the afternoon, the Mykonos winds caused ferry after ferry to be canceled or delayed. I would go from one dock to another, dragging my big suitcase with me as I went. By the end of the day, I had five or six ferry tickets in my hand but I was still in Mykonos.

The workers at the dock and ticket office assured us that the final ferry of the day would be arriving so I, along with many other passengers, waited for it. I was confident that it would be worth it and that I would make it to Santorini that evening.

The ferry did arrive as expected. Delayed, but it arrived. However, once it docked, we were informed that it was not leaving. There were no more ferries going to Santorini that evening.

I was officially stranded.

Ugh! Passengers all around me were scrambling, trying to decide what to do. Many of them resigned themselves to sleeping outside on the cafe patios around the dock. I was not comfortable with that as a solo female traveler and was convinced there had to be another option.

Hotel rooms were extremely hard to come by that evening since it was busy season and most rooms were booked weeks or months in advance. I stood outside of a restaurant I had eaten at earlier in the day (so I knew their Wifi password) and checked all of my favorite sites until I was finally able to find a room. I checked in, took a quick shower and went to bed. What a relief!

The Next Morning

I overslept. Yep, that is now the next morning started. I overslept and I missed the 5:30 a.m. ferry.

At this point, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I just wanted to get off the island. Why was it so hard to do that?!

I knew the one thing I had to do was get up and figure out a plan. I decided to head down to the docks to see when the next ferry was set to depart. The Mykonos winds had died down a lot over night so I figured the ferries would be running that morning.

Before leaving the hotel, I made one decision though. I decided that if I wasn’t on a ferry heading to Santorini by noon, I was heading to the airport and booking a flight back to Athens instead. I would spend the rest of my trip in Athens. Since my flight back to Chicago departed from there, I figured it would be the easiest way to make sure I didn’t miss that flight.

Upon arriving at the port where the ferries departed, I found out the next ferry to Santorini departed mid-morning. “Okay, good,” I thought. That will work. It was around 8 a.m. and that wasn’t a bad wait considering all of the waiting I did the day before.

But just my luck, it was sold out. It turns out, there weren’t tickets available on ferries heading to Santorini until that evening. Ugh! At this point, my frustration became palpable.

I passed on buying a ticket because I was not going to wait all day again. I was going to the airport before that happened. Since I didn’t have anywhere to be at that moment, I decided to stick around the area and see if anyone canceled. Maybe they would let me buy a last minute ticket for the mid-morning. ferry if someone did.

The mid-morning ferry arrived on time and as it docked, I realized instantly that the boarding situation was one where you got on the boat and showed your tickets later. It presented an opportunity for me and I took it. I joined the crowd and got on the boat. They wouldn’t throw me into the sea for not having a ticket, right? I found a place to sit, tried to be invisible and started figuring out in my head what I would tell the ticket checkers.

When the ticket checker got to me, he was not pleased that I did not have a ticket for that particular ferry. I started pleading my case, showing him all of the tickets I had from the day before. This was not a case of freeloading. I had bought a ticket – just not for that particular ferry.

Eventually, he relented. He told me to find an empty seat and walked away. Honestly, I think he just wanted me to stop talking. Either way, it worked. I was able to finally relax,enjoy the views and enjoy the ferry ride to Santorini.

My Takeaway

This trip was the first time I had traveled to Europe on my own. The experience of being stranded on Mykonos was a great learning opportunity for me. I was able to think on my feet and come up with a plan quickly. I was flexible and patient. The confidence I gained from this experience gave me the boost I needed to know I can go almost anywhere on my own and have the trip be successful.

It was the start of many fun adventures!

Want to keep reading? Read all about my time exploring in Athens here.

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Traveling Solo in Mykonos

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

If you go to Hawaii, one of the things you “must do” according to most travel guides is traveling the Road to Hana in Maui,

I have traveled the Road to Hana twice. The guides are right but there are some things to consider. To travel the Road to Hana, you should be aware of the following:

  • Time – it is at least an all day time commitment. I explain more about this below.
  • There are a lot of curves and stops. If you are prone to car sickness, take medication before you go.
  • It can be a harrowing drive. If that isn’t your thing, consider doing the Road to Hana as part of an organized tour.

I traveled the road once via organized tour and once we drove it on our own. I enjoyed it both ways. With the tour, our driver took care of the harrowing roads. He also told us where all of the best views were. When we went by ourselves, we used an app on my phone to find the sites while going at our own leisurely pace.

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RoadtoHana
The Three Bears Waterfall along the Road to Hana.

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Background Information

The Road to Hana, or the Hana Highway, is a stretch of highway that spans over 64 miles and connects Kahului to the town of Hana on the east side of Maui. It then continues on to Kipahulu as Highway Route 31.

If you drive the highway uninterrupted, I’ve read that it should take about two and a half hours to complete. It is highly unlikely that you will ever travel it uninterrupted as a tourist because the highway is very winding and narrow. There is also so much to see along the way that will keeping you stopping and starting throughout the trip.

The Road to Hana passes over 59 bridges, many of which are concrete and steel dating back to 1910. Most are only one lane wide. There are also approximately 620 curves along Route 360 from east of Kahului to Hana. Most of these curves are through lush, tropical rain forest. Because of the curves, it’s a good idea to consider motion sickness meds before traveling on the Road to Hana if you’re prone to that ailment.

So if the highway is so winding and stressful, why do people travel along it?

Because it is the route required to see many amazing ocean views, pretty waterfalls, lava tubes and a black sand beach. All of these make it worth the drive or ride.

Regardless of whether you drive the Road to Hana yourself or go as part of a tour, it is a full day trip from the west side of the island, where I stayed both times. We left in the early morning and returned after sunset. If you prefer, you could also break the trip into two days and book a room in the town of Hana for one night. This is a good option if you want to take more time to explore and do the driving over two days.

Don’t Forget the App if you Travel the Road to Hana in Maui on Your Own

The key to traveling the road on our own was to download an app with a narrated audio guide of the road so we did not miss any of the hidden gems. Gypsy Guide or Shaka Guides are both good options and they are available for a nominal cost on the Apple and Google platforms. The audio can be stopped and started as needed and is also available offline so you can download the information and play it without having to worry about having cell service. Make sure to bring your phone charger with you though so you have plenty of battery for the guided audio tour and for taking lots of pictures!

There are so many opportunities to take beautiful photos along the way. The audio guide will alert you when a landmark possibly worth stopping at is approaching and it’s up to you to decide whether to listen. I recommend at least stopping briefly to check most of the landmarks out. You’re on vacation after all so why not?

Below are some of my favorite stops from my travels along the highway.

Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden

The Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden is located at mile market 10.5 on the Road to Hana,. It includes 26 acres and more than 700 species of plants. It has the most varied collection of plants in Hawaii. The garden features a platform where visitors can see Keopuka Rock, also known as the Jurassic Rock because it appeared in the opening sequence of Jurassic Park.

Visitors can also get close up views of the Rainbow Gum trees in the Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden. These trees look may look like they’ve been painted on the the colors are all natural. The trees shed their bark each year, showing a bright green bark underneath. Over time, the bright green bark darkens to orange, maroon, blue and purple tones.

Garden of Eden in Maui Jurassic Rock in Maui Rainbow Gum Tree Road to Hana Maui Rainbow Gum Tree in Maui

The chicken below was the first living thing to greet us when we got off the bus to get a closer look at the Rainbow Gum trees on our tour. Although he looked ready to chase me back onto the bus, he quickly lost interest and we peacefully went our separate ways.

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Upper Waikani Falls (aka The Three Bears)

These falls are very popular because they’re easy to see from the road.

They are located at mile marker 19.6. Most people snap a photo and drive off because there are few places to stop and park. There is parking 1/10 mile past the falls. You will have to walk back along the narrow road with no shoulder. When these falls are at a safe flow rate (like in the photos) you can take a short hike down from the road and swim.

Wai’anapanapa State Park

Wai’anapanapa State Park at mile marker 32 is best known for its black sand beach named Pa’iloa. The beach is actually more rocky than it is sandy and is small with a ocean cave on the east side that can be traveled through to the ocean. There’s also a naturally made lava arch in the water.

Wai'anapanapa State Park in Maui Black Sand Beach in Maui

Palapala Ho’omau Church

This church was built in 1857 and still stands along Maui’s lush coastline. It is the burial ground of prominent aviator, inventor, explorer, author and activist Charles Lindbergh.

Palapala Ho'omau Church in Maui

When I visited the church, there was a herd of horses that lived in the field next to the church. I wasn’t all that interested in the grave and while I hung out waiting for the rest of our tour to come back from the grave, the bus driver and I passed our time by playing with the horses. We would give them a mint for a smile. These horses undoubtedly have the best smelling breath on the island. The photo below is one of my favorite from my trip traveling the Road the Hana in Maui in 2013.

Mints for a Smile in Maui

I have so many photos from the Road to Hana. It is impossible to pinpoint which mile market they were all taken at. I am going to share a few more of my favorites below. No mile marker info available. This is really the key to traveling the Road to Hana in Maui. Take your time, enjoy the views and soak in the experience.

You won’t regret it!

Views while traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

An arch over the ocean traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Interested in reading more about my favorite place in the world? You can check out some of my other Hawaiian adventures here and here.

Two Days in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

One of the highlights of our tour through Croatia and Slovenia was our visit to Dubrovnik. I think that Dubrovnik lives up to the hype you hear, particularly in the early morning and the late evenings when it is not so crowded. I loved the old buildings with the orange roofs and the walls that surround the old city. We spent two days in Dubrovnik, Croatia and here is a rundown of the things we did.

The History of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is on the Adriatic Sea in southern Croatia.

It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean Sea, meaning it’s very crowded when the cruise ships disembark in the area. In 2011, its population was 42,615. Dubrovnik and its famed walls joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1979.

In 1991, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, Dubrovnik was besieged by Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army for seven months. During our trek to Cavtat, a neighboring village, on Day 2, we had a Dubrovnik resident telling us her first hand experience of being in the city when the siege took place. Their family friends from a town outside of Dubrovnik had sent their kids to Dubrovnik for school that morning. After the siege happened, her dad picked up their friends’ kids from school. The kids ended up staying with her family for over six months. How scary for everyone!

The city suffered significant damage from shelling. Repair and restoration work was completed in in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and now Dubrovnik has re-emerged as one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean.

Two Days in Dubrovnik Croatia

Day One

We arrived in Dubrovnik in the mid-afternoon and had some free time before going into the old town for dinner that evening. Our hotel was within walking distance to a rocky beach so that’s where I headed after checking into my room. Our bags hadn’t been delivered to our rooms yet but I didn’t let that deter me. I went in my jeans and gym shoes. I didn’t plan to swim anyway.

The beach wasn’t crowded and the rocks were smooth and colorful. It was so nice to chill and listen to the waves come in. Apparently I let myself relax too much though because I got so distracted by the waves that I didn’t notice a bigger wave come to shore until it was too late and it soaked my gym shoes.

Doh!

After hanging out by the beach for a bit, I decided to get a glass of wine and write some postcards to home at one of the outdoor cafes between the beach and our hotel. The nice thing about organized tours is that your tour mates are always nearby. After sitting for a bit, a couple of my tour mates walked by and asked if they could join me. We ended up spending the rest of our free time sharing travel stories and drinking wine while enjoying the beautiful afternoon. It was lovely.

For dinner, we headed to the city center for our group farewell dinner at Gusta Me. This wasn’t our last night on tour though. The weather was suspect that evening so our tour director switched the dinner with our sunset cruise. It was worth the change even though it didn’t rain until later in the evening (more on this later).

Day Two

The next morning, day two of our two days in Dubrovnik, Croatia, we got up early and headed back into the old town to explore. Heading there early was strategic because it allowed us to walk around and see what we wanted to see before the hordes of cruise ship passengers arrived.

We had a bit of a guided walking tour and then were on our own. I headed to the wall entrance. The walls around Dubrovnik are the largest and most complete I have seen so I was definitely wanted to check them out.

The Walls of Dubrovnik

The city walls that surround Dubrovnik today were constructed mainly during the 12th–17th centuries and are a source of pride for the city. The walls run an uninterrupted course of approximately 6,360 ft in length, encircling most of the old city, and reach a maximum height of about 82 ft.

One thing to consider before deciding to walk the walls is that it is not cheap. It was $30 USD (200 kunas) to enter. I thought it was worth it for the views and the exercise but if you are on a tight budget, this might be something you should skip.

The views. They were spectacular! The sea on one side, Dubrovnik on the other. It doesn’t get much better than that. The walk itself was fairly easy. The path at the top of the wall was well maintained. There were stairs but not too many after the entrance, where there were a lot of them.

I spent about an hour admiring the views and snapping photos. The thing I didn’t realize is that there aren’t many exit points. Once you enter, you are committed for over an hour. When I did finally find an exit, I took it. I was heading away from the city for an afternoon excursion to escape the crowds and didn’t want to miss the boat. I also wanted to get some lunch before we boarded.

Burek Deliciousness

For lunch, I had a burek with spinach. Burek is a family of baked filled pastries made of thin flaky dough known as phyllo and stuffed with cheese or meat. My favorite was stuffed with spinach and cheese. I would go back to Croatia just to have a burek. They were delicious! They are available at the bakeries you see along the streets. Make sure you have one when you visit Croatia!

After lunch and ice cream for dessert (when in Europe, you have to have at least one ice cream a day. I think it’s a rule for all tourists, right?), we boarded a boat and spent the afternoon in the village Cavtat, a much more relaxed, less crowded mini Dubrovnik.

The Sunset

For dinner that evening, we boarded a different boat from the local marina and set out for a sunset cruise. There couldn’t have been a better way to end our tour.

The food and wine on the boat were great! I had the fish and enjoyed it as much as the company. But then it was time for the sunset and it was FABULOUS! I love Hawaiian sunsets but the sunset on this night was even better. The colors were so vivid and were always changing. It was a great night. Several times I had to pinch myself to remind myself that I really was in Dubrovnik with a glass of wine in my hand while experiencing a stunning sunset. It doesn’t get much better than that!

It was the perfect way to end my two days in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

The Rain and My Shoes

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that it rained overnight during our first night in Dubrovnik. Remember I also said that my shoes got wet when I went to the beach? Well, to dry the shoes out, I put them outside to dry. Clearly that backfired because it stormed for hours so they were wetter the next morning than when I put them out to dry. Unfortunately, they were my only gym shoes and since we were going to be walking so much that day, I had to wear them.

It was a squishy morning but overall, it was fine…

At least I thought it was until I got home a couple of days later.

I wore the shoes home as well (I always wear gym shoes when flying because I never know when I’ll be running to my next gate). I took them off when I got home and put them by the door. A couple of hours later, I walked downstairs and it smelled awful. I spent about ten minutes looking around, thinking that something was rotting or that my dog pooped in a corner…until I realized it was my shoes.

Yikes! So gross!!!

I ended up putting them outside until I could throw them in the washer. They are okay now but man, I considered throwing them straight into the dumpster in the moment.

Dubrovnik and Game of Thrones

I have never seen the Game of Thrones so the significant or interesting places related to the show that our guide mentioned during our walking tour didn’t mean anything to me. If you are interested in doing a Game of Thrones tour during your visit to Dubrovnik, this tour has great reviews. It looks like it sells out quickly though so buy your tickets ahead of time if you can.

Want to keep reading? Check out my other posts from Croatia here and here.

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Two Days in Dubrovnik Croatia

Fortress Lovrijenac
Fortress Lovrijenac is built on a high sheer rock overlooking the sea, This detached fortress was of prime importance for the defense of the western part of Dubrovnik, both against attack from land and the sea. During its service fortress was manned by 25 man garrison and a Commander of the fort.
Dubrovnik Walls
Starting my walk along the top of the walls surrounding Dubrovnik
Two Days in Dubrovnik Croatia
Beautiful Dubrovnik.
Houses in Dubrovnik Croatia
The hill behind the buildings in this photo was where the Serbs’ bombs were fired from in 1991
My on the walls of Dubrovnik
I finally asked someone to take my photo 🙂
Two Days in Dubrovnik Croatia
Back to selfies
Walls in Dubrovnik Croatia
A look at the outside of the walls from the top
Dubrovnik Croatia in two days
The walls surrounding Dubrovnik from the outside
Burek in Dubrovnik
My favorite food find in Croatia – the burek. This one is stuffed with spinach and cheese. So delicious!
Dubrovnik from the water
Dubrovnik from the water
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik from the top of the hill. So pretty!
The Franjo Tu?man Bridge in Dubrovnik
The Franjo Tu?man Bridge in Dubrovnik. Construction of this bridge was interrupted by the fighting after this bridge. Its completion represents Dubrovnik’s triumph recovery from the war.
A picture of the bridge as the sun began to set.
Dubrovnik Sunset
A beautiful sunset and a very happy traveler.
Sunset in Dubrovnik
Those colors!
Selfie at Sunset in Dubrovnik
What a prefect ending to a great trip!

Why I Won’t Go Back to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

I try to stay positive on this blog. Most of my posts are about travel and travel is my happy place. So let’s face it, it isn’t hard to be positive. But, I feel it is necessary to state my true feelings about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Don’t get me wrong, it is one of the most beautiful parks I have been to.

There are sixteen beautiful lakes and waterfalls everywhere you look.

There is also a definite downside.

Let me explain…

Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Background

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It was founded in 1949 and added to the UNESCO World Heritage register in 1979. The park is located in the karst area of central Croatia, at the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It extends over 73,000 acres and takes between three and four hours to hike through. Each year, more than one million visitors visit the park. It is located in a remote and poor part of Croatia that is still recovering from the war. Due to its remoteness, it is best to stay in the area for one night when visiting.

On Easter Sunday in 1991, the first shots of Croatia’s war with Yugoslavia were fired in the park. The first casualty of the war was a park policeman. Until 1995, the Serbs controlled the park. Virtually no tourists were allowed to visit which allowed the ecosystem to recover from the impact of so many visitors prior to 1991.

Arriving at the Park

We arrived to Plitvice Lakes National Park in the early afternoon after riding in the coach for a couple of hours. By the time we arrived, the lines at the entrance were already long and the park was really crowded.

We had to choose between two options when visiting the park.

  • We could skip the lower part of the park and walk along the rim with our tour director and look down at the views. This was the less strenuous option and would take a couple of hours to complete.
  • We could do a longer 3.5 hours hike with a park guide. This option would take us down by the waterfalls and lakes. It was much more strenuous.

I chose the second option.

The First Half of the Hike

To be honest, the hiking part wasn’t too bad until the end, when it was straight up a hill for a bit to get to our hotel. Were were warned that was the worst part.

The guides were wrong. That was not the worst part.

We got down to the bottom of the valley on our way to the big waterfalls and the path was a wooden platform two people wide. There were no railings and tons of people going both ways, with some visitors trying to push their way in front of other people. This part of the hike was terrifying for me and it lasted for about an hour and a half.

I could not pay attention to or enjoy the views around me because I wouldn’t let my eyes leave the platform. I am a klutz so I was afraid I would trip and fall if I looked up. If that wasn’t enough, I was always braced, ready to protect myself in case I was pushed, determined that I was not going into the water and if I was going in, I wasn’t going in alone. And in case you’re wondering, yes, people get pushed in. It happens a lot and happened to our guide a few weeks before we were there.

I had my DSLR camera and my phone with me. Right away, I wished I had left my good camera with my luggage on the bus (and would recommend you do it if you visit Plitvice Lakes National Park). I’m a good swimmer so I wasn’t worried about drowning if I fell into the lakes themselves because they were calm with no marine animals that would want to eat me. However, parts of the walk were directly over gushing waterfalls. There is no way I could survive a fall down those rushing waterfalls unscathed. My anxiety was off the charts.

We did make it down to the water falls without. We also made it back out. No one from our group fell in, hallelujah! A lot of patience was required along the way but we did it. The waterfalls were beautiful. The color of the lakes along the way was also amazing,. The color reminded me a lot of the color of the water in the Bahamas – a beautiful bright aqua blue.

The Second Half of the Hike

After an hour and a half or so of hiking and waterfall admiring, we reached the end of the wooden platform path. From there on, we were on real ground. Even though the path was still the same width, it made a huge difference to be on real ground. There were no lakes or waterfalls beneath us, only beside us. The path was gravel but smooth so I wasn’t so worried about tripping. The crowd was still thick but since there was only water on one side and rocks and walls on the other, we could all move over a bit.

I could relax and enjoy the experience a bit. It was much appreciated. The beautiful views continued. We saw some fish in the water along the way. There are a few ferries on one of the upper lakes but they are electric so they don’t pollute the water. As a result, the water was very clear, making it pretty easy to see fish.

The Hotel

I wish I could tell you we stayed in a plush hotel that I loved.

But I can’t.

The biggest problem? I was in a room at the end of the top floor with a sloped roof above me. I knew there might be a problem when I went to change my shirt before dinner and hit my hands on the ceiling when I lifted my arms up.

And then it was time to take a shower. The shower head was way too short for me since the tub bottom added several inches to the floor. So, I took a shower on my knees. I could handle that but then on top of it, there was no shower curtain. No matter how hard I tried to keep the water in the tub, it refused to obey and water went everywhere. At one point, I just stopped and started laughing. The whole situation was so ridiculous. It still makes me laugh today.

Luckily, we only stayed one night in this hotel. My mantra is that I can handle almost anything for one night. I did the best I could to get clean, got dressed and then dried up the bathroom as best I could before heading to bed.

I considered it a funny travel story that makes that hotel unforgettable.

My Conclusion about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Looking back, I guess I am glad the park was part of our tour and that I was able to visit it. But I wish I had done tour option 1 – the hike around the top. According to those who did it, it was much less stressful.

I can say with certainty that I will not visit the valley area of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia again unless they add railings and crowd control measures. We were there in September, which is a shoulder season for tourism in Croatia so it wasn’t as crowded as it is in July and August. I cannot imagine being there when it was more crowded and really hot on top of that. Where do all of the people go? There is no way anyone enjoys it.

My advice to you if you are going to visit the park is to go first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon after the crowds have dissipated a bit. And definitely try to go in April/ May or September/October when it “isn’t as crowded.” It is beautiful. I cannot dispute that. However, the crowds make it worth consider skipping.

Are you interested in reading more about my trip to Croatia and Slovenia? Check out two of my previous posts here and here.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Big Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
If you look to the middle left of this photo, you can see people walking on the boardwalk along the cliff. It is two people wide with no railings and they’re about to walk over the rushing waterfalls. So scary!
Big Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park
The big waterfalls from the very bottom of the valley shown in the previous photo
Plitvice Lakes National Park waterfalls
Me…delirious from the walk to the bottom of the valley and a lack of sleep.
Plitvice Lakes
Scary but so beautiful. This is under the boardwalk. If I trip and fall or am pushed, I am going to end up at the bottom in that pool of water.
Beautiful colored water at Plitvice Lakes National Park
The water was so clear and bright blue.
Pretty water flowing in Plitvice Lakes National Park
So pretty
Pretty colored water and water falls. The perfect combination.
Pretty views and lots of people reflected in my sunglasses
I look like a giant in this shower!