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

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!

Traveling Solo Through Croatia and Slovenia

This is the story of how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. You might think that this was my plan all along but it was not. Let me explain…

One of the countries I had wanted to visit for a while was Croatia. Every time I started planning, I would get overwhelmed and end up going somewhere else. When a friend mentioned to me that we should travel together this fall, I immediately said “yes.” After some debate, we settled on visiting Croatia (other options included Portugal and Switzerland).

Instead of trying to plan it on our own, we decided to go with a tour. If you know me, you know that planning a trip is my favorite part of traveling. I love doing the research and the bookings and then executing my plan. Going with a tour was a change for me but I knew it would be best for this trip because we were booking pretty last minute (we booked in mid-July for a trip in September).

I reviewed the itineraries for a bunch of different companies and we ended up settling on Trafalgar and their “Best of Croatia and Slovenia” tour. I have seen Trafalgar tours during my previous visits to Europe and knew they were a reputable company. Trafalgar has been around for over 70 years and is a sister company to Contiki, which is the under 35 tour I traveled with on my first trip to Europe in 2011.

This is where the story should continue with how we successfully booked the trip, packed our bags and had a great time. But things don’t always work out as planned.

We both booked the tour separately and requested to share rooms. It turns out, there was only ONE spot left on the tour. We didn’t find this out until AFTER I paid my deposit for the trip. Ugh!

So where to go from there?! I ended up canceling my registration. The deposit was only $100 so it wasn’t a huge deal to lose it. My friend and I discussed other locations for a few days and then she decided that she really wanted to go to Italy. She found a tour she wanted to go on and asked me to join her.

It was a tough decision because I wanted to travel with her but I have been to Italy twice already and may go back for a third time at some point with family. I didn’t want to go this year when there are so many other places in the world I want to explore. In the end, I politely declined but I told her to go ahead! I knew that’s where she really wanted to go and I was more than fine with her doing that.

After thinking about my options for a couple of days, I decided to email Trafalgar and see if that one spot on the Best of Croatia and Slovenia tour was still available. It was and they were willing to re-book my registration and apply my previously paid deposit to the new booking.

That is how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. Well, sort of solo at least. I was with a tour that included 46 other people but I wasn’t traveling with anyone I knew. So I guess I traveled solo-light. Ha!

The trip was a great success and I had a nice time. I am so glad I decided to go even though my friend wasn’t able to go with me. As I write this post, I’ve been back from the trip a few days. I will publish some detailed posts about the various places we visited in the coming weeks but I have a few initial thoughts/fun tidbits that I thought I would share here.

Skip the cruise

Skip the cruise (or at least the big cruise ship)! Traveling through Croatia via a land tour or small ship that can navigate the rivers is the way to go. Croatia and Slovenia are both beautiful counties. I got to see so much more of both countries than I would have on a cruise. Plus, we could plan our sight seeing and excursions to avoid the deluge of cruise passengers that arrive in cities like Dubrovnik each day.

Traveling Solo

I never felt unsafe when I was on my own in either country. While I was often with my tourmates, I ate meals alone several times. I would also often set out on my own to explore during our free times. People were always very kind and almost everyone spoke great English. The food, particularly the seafood, was fresh and tasty. I never felt on guard and may have felt safer on my own during this trip than I have in any other foreign country I have visited. I highly recommend traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia (and with Trafalgar) if you are looking for a good solo travel destination.

Slovenia, Croatia & the European Union

The members of the European Union recognized Slovenia as an independent state in January 1992. The United Nations accepted it as a member in May of 1992. Slovenia joined the EU on May 1, 2004. It uses the Euro for currency.

Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003. The European Commission recommended making it an official candidate in 2004. Croatia officially joined the European Union as its 28th member on July 1, 2013. While it is part of the EU now, it still does not use the Euro.

Speaking of Croatia and Its Currency

While switching to the Euro is likely inevitable for Croatia, they currently use a currency called the kuna. The kuna is a weasel-like animal common in the region. In midieval times, the pelts from kunas were used by the Croats as payment for goods and services. When Croatia became an independent state in the 1994, they adopted their own currency and named it the kuna after this old payment practice.

Yugoslavia and the war

One of the things I liked best about touring Slovenia and Croatia as part of a land tour is the opportunity it gave me to learn about the history of the region. I knew that Slovenia and Croatia were both formerly a part of Yugoslavia but didn’t really know much about the region’s past and what caused Yugoslavia to split into the countries it currently is today (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo (which is still being disputed)). While most of the areas are safe and peaceful today and travel is encouraged throughout, we were advised to avoid Kosovo.

Some tension do remain among the countries. This became evident on the second day of our tour. It took us three hours to get through the Croatian/Slovenian border. While very inconvenient, particularly for our coach driver and tour director, it gave me lots of time to nap and try to fight off the jet lag.

A Bit Different Than What I’m Used To

I currently live in Chicago, a city full of people with different skin colors, religions, languages, traditions and beliefs. I thrive on this diversity and love learning new things, meeting new people and observing how different people live. One thing that struck me over and over about Slovenia and Croatia was how non-diverse the countries were. About 85% of Croatians are Catholic. Using my observations as a gauge, I’d guess about 99% of them are white. It was so different than what I’m used to.

The Best Time to Visit Croatia

You probably don’t want to hear this but I think the best time to visit Croatia was probably 3-5 years ago. The word is out and the crowds have arrived en mass. Not only are the inland towns being inundated with land tours, cruise ships are now docking and dropping off thousands of additional tourists every day. I found the crowds in Plitvice Lakes National Park and Dubrovnik to be especially overwhelming. My advice is to go during the shoulder seasons (April/May/September/October). If you go during the summer, plan to explore early in the mornings before most of the crowds are up and moving about. You will have a much more relaxing, enjoyable time.

Croatia and Its Outdoor Cafes (with a Catch)

Croatia has one of the most vibrant cafe cultures I’ve ever seen. Everyone sits outside in cafes to enjoy their coffee and people watch. I love outdoor cafes and I could get used to that lifestyle very easily. The unfortunate thing is that most people in Croatia smoke cigarettes, which was a major annoyance for me. Every time I would sit down to enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea, someone would sit next to me and instantly light a cigarette. It was the most annoying thing about this trip for me and it happened EVERY SINGLE TIME I sat down! I would quickly finish, pay and then move on.

The Necktie

Croatia has given the world many things but no Croatian invention is as internationally renowned as the necktie. The history of the necktie can be traced back to Paris in 1630. King Louis XIII was inspecting a line-up of Croatian mercenaries in traditional costume when his eye was taken by pieces of fabric that the soldiers were wearing around their necks. The material ranged from tatty cloths for the soldiers to fine silks for the officers, but the stylishness was ubiquitous. King Louis was impressed by this modern fashion. He recommended it be adopted by the people of France and soon, the necktie became the hottest fashion accessory on the streets of Paris.

Those are my initial thoughts along with a summary of how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. I will post more soon but in the meantime, check out a few photos from the trip below and a post listing Four Benefits of Traveling Solo here.

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Traveling Solo Through Croatia and Slovenia

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Our home away from home for the duration of our trip – the Trafalgar coach. Yes, it even had Wifi.
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Tour life. We would get off the bus and go to our rooms and then the hotel staff would deliver our bags to our rooms.
Neckties and Croatia
Pretty Croatian neckties
Cats in Dubrovnik
There were a lot of cute, healthy cats in Dubrovnik and Split. Don’t worry, I didn’t touch them so my allergies weren’t impacted. I admired them from afar. 🙂
Postcard in Dubrovnik
Writing postcards to Iowa with a glass of rose at an outdoor cafe in Dubrovnik. I’ve turned my 9 year old nephew into a postcard monster with all of my travels. He he always reminds me to send him postcards whenever he knows I am about to leave for a trip.
Flat Stanley in Croatia
My constant companion throughout this trip was this dude – Flat Stanley. He was cut out and colored by my 9 year old niece. Here he is in Plitvice Lakes National Park. Look at the color of that water! Stanley was kicking his feet up in excitement because he loved it so much! 🙂
Flat Stanley in Croatia
Stanley wanted to drive the coach…but I told him “no.”

 

Packing for Europe in the Fall

Travel without Checking a Bag

Twas the night before I leave for a trip to Croatia and Slovenia and here I am; sitting on the couch, relaxing and writing a blog post after packing for Europe in the fall. Who am I?

This never happens. Usually at this point before a trip, I am scrambling to finish laundry and packing. It is common for me to be putting stuff into my suitcase as I am walking out the door en route to the airport.

So what is different this time? A few things. The main thing is I did my laundry last weekend and made myself wear what was left in my closet for work this week. This allowed me to pack last night without having to account for unfinished laundry. Also, in general, I am very relaxed about this trip. While I am going solo, I booked it through a tour so they do all of the planning. All I have to do is show up, which means no second guessing myself tonight about whether I booked hotels and day trips correctly.

Speaking of packing, I am turning over a new leaf there.  I am packing for Europe in the fall with only my backpack and a carry on suitcase. You read that right – no checked bag for me on this trip!  I am so proud of myself!

I am a big fan of Sarah Murdoch. Sarah works with Rick Steves and also plans and guides her own tours. She always stresses packing light in all of her blog and social media posts. I know how practical and correct she is so I am taking it to heart! While I’m not at her level of light packing yet (she travels with just a backpack), I have definitely downsized and am looking forward to how much easier I know it will make this trip.

So how did I do it? Here is a complete list of what I packed. (Note: Some of the Amazon links below are affiliate links which means that if you purchase anything through the use of my links, I receive a small commission).

In my suitcase…

  • 5 tops
  • 2 jeans
  • 3 dresses
  • 2 pajamas
  • Lots of socks and underwear
  • 2 bras
  • A rain/trench coat
  • 2 cardigans
  • A pair of athletic shorts and a T-shirt for lounging around
  • A swimsuit
  • My Cubs sweatshirt in case of cold hotel rooms
  • 4 pairs of shoes (my sneakers, a pair of ballet flats, a pair of nicer flat sandals and my flip flops for moving about hotels)
  • 3 pairs of fun earrings
  • Makeup
  • Zuca bag with my toiletries
  • A ziplock bag with my shower supplies
  • Outlet converters
  • A guidebook
  • Money belt (not sure if I will use it but I bring it just in case)

I *think* I included enough clothes so I will not have to do laundry while I’m traveling if I don’t want to. I wear clothes multiple times between washings at home so why not do the same when traveling? The list above includes key pieces I need to dress up for a nicer dinner or dress casually for every day activities.

There is a key to getting all of that in my suitcase and keeping it organized: packing cubes. These are the ones I have and they make a big difference for me. I love them and don’t like to travel without them anymore.

Away suitcase
My empty Away suitcase

My Away suitcase
All packed and so organized!

In my backpack…

  • My DSLR camera
  • Medicine (mostly allergy meds and some Advil)
  • A light fleece jacket for the plane
  • Noise canceling headphones
  • My Trtl pillow (the best travel pillow! I highly recommend it!)
  • A small crossbody purse with my phone, currency, passport, mints and chapstick
  • A book
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste, contact solution and case
  • My iPad
  • Compression socks for the plane
  • A folder containing our itinerary and Flat Stanley (courtesy of my 9 year old niece)

And that is it! I am happy with this list. It is minimal but complete. I cannot wait to take off tomorrow and explore Croatia and Slovenia over the next week and a half!

Want to read more? Check out my posts detailing my solo trip to Greece here and here!

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