Like quite a lot of other people, I enjoy going on holiday. I’m not really one for a beach holiday (though I wouldn’t turn down, say, a week in the Maldives). I prefer city breaks where there is a bit of hustle and bustle.
My favourite thing to do is visit a city and pretend I live there, mainly by doing a lot of fairly mundane stuff. Although I like to see the sights I’m far more likely to spend 10 minutes looking at, for example, the Eiffel Tower or Acropolis, before spending the next couple of hours marvelling over different shampoo varieties in the local chemists or studying six different new and exciting crisp brands in a supermarket. I have always been this way and once had a blazing row with my husband in a Cologne Apotheke because I wanted to buy a boxed set of 15 miniature bath oils, a Woodruff-scented lip balm and an unusual packet of blister plasters to haul back home in our rucksacks. He just didn’t understand that no, I couldn’t get those things at home. Not those EXACT same things.
Anyway, although I’ve had some lovely holidays with friends who love me and therefore have indulged me in my obsession – I dragged some of them around several Parisian Pharmacies a few years ago trying to track down the last bottles of La Roche Posay Serozinc in the capital – I decided last year that it was time to try a bit of solo travel.
As I’ve mentioned approximately 52 times already on this blog, I enjoy spending a lot of time alone. Before last year though, I had felt nervous about holidaying alone though. This is not because I was worried about being abducted/losing all my travel documents/people thinking I’m a weirdo but because after my husband died I panicked that I might have a full on grief breakdown in the middle of a foreign city and feel like I was all alone in the world then spend the rest of the holiday holed up in my hotel watching TV I don’t understand. This seemed like a potentially quite expensive episode when I could just stay at home and cry in my pajamas for free.
Last year I decided the time had come and I was ready to give solo travel a go. It all started with me tagging onto a holiday to Las Vegas with some friends (that’s me in the top photo on the High Roller ferris wheel in Vegas). I flew solo from Heathrow and the ten hours zoomed by as I ended up sitting next to the boyfriend of one of the First Class flight attendants. He made sure we were kept in gin, tonic and chocolate for the whole flight. This was after we’d been in the air for 2 hours:
I landed at night, surprisingly still sober, and was treated to the full assault to the senses that is the Las Vegas strip as my cab driver took me to Caesar’s Palace. He later returned to Caesar’s Palace to bring me my hand luggage as I’d manage to leave it in the boot of the cab without noticing. Thank goodness for nice cab drivers! (He got a hefty tip for pretty much saving my whole holiday).
Vegas is amazing and bonkers and you can quickly lose your grip on reality as you have a foot-long cocktail at 10am in a crystal chandeliered bar, surrounded by the relentless chirping, chiming and cash-chugging noises of the hundreds of gambling machines in every hotel. Then, when you’re a bit tipsy and you’ve lost a wad of cash, you can ‘shoot a real machine gun’. Fun for all the family:
After 5 days together, drinking margaritas and visiting the Hoover Dam in a stars and stripes-painted Hummer, my friends and I all went our separate ways, bidding farewell at McCarran airport over the biggest breakfasts I’ve ever seen:
I flew to San Francisco, managing to upgrade to first class for about $70. This meant I got a massive leather seat and free ginger ale from a nice air steward named Chad. I’d never been to the West Coast of America before, only the East, and was really looking forward to experiencing the hippie vibes of ‘Frisco’ (all the guide books tell you to NEVER call it that).
I stayed at a hotel called The Warwick, with compact yet stylish rooms. It had a swanky air to it but was also only yards from the Tenderloin, which all the guide books tell you to avoid. As you can tell, I did an awful lot of guidebook preparation for my solo jaunts.
This was the view from my hotel room:
What you can’t see is the giant branch of Walgreens at the foot of that building on the corner of the block. This was heaven for me as I could easily stock my room with yoghurt and drinks for breakfast and the odd salad for dinners in my room. Although I love to get out and about to explore during the day, I’m not really one for solo adventures at night. It also meant I could pop in each day to see if they’d had any more shades of Wet ‘n’ Wild 1 step wonder gel nail varnish come into stock (I am obsessed).
On day one I was up early and on the first tour bus to do a full circuit of the main sights. I really recommend this if you are a solo traveller as you can get your bearings easily with this overview tour and then decide which bits you want to go back to.
Here is a terrible photo of me with the Golden Gate Bridge. (It was very cold and windy but I stuck out the top deck for the views).
About an hour after this, I decided to disembark at the Embarcadero and explore Fisherman’s Wharf and the Saturday food market. True to the San Franciscan weather’s reputation, it had changed a bit from the morning cold and fog and was now beautifully sunny.
I looked at delicious foodstuffs, ate some amazing savoury Zeppole (donuts with parmesan and herbs) and spent about an hour in conversation with a nice lady who happened to sit next to me as I was drinking lavender lemonade and taking in the view.
My next couple of days in San Francisco were filled with shopping and sightseeing and a cinema pitstop when I realised I had burned my scalp in the sunshine and I wanted to hide somewhere dark for a bit.
Then it was time for my next port of call – Seattle. I had managed to shop quite a lot in SF, thanks to a city branch of Target (two pairs of sandals, Sonia Kashuk makeup, EOS shaving cream and two bags of mint Milanos) and the flagship branch of Old Navy (practically a whole new summer wardrobe) so I had to apply a bit of pressure to the old suitcase lid, then I was off to the airport in a swanky town car.
No first class upgrade this time, but it was still a pleasant flight of around an hour. Then the pilot announced we were close to Sea-Tac airport and I was incredibly happy with my window seat as the views were amazing:
I had never been to Seattle either, but I fell in love with it almost instantly. It felt very different to San Francisco – fresher, greener and friendlier. Also, you can get Poutine and really good beer:
I stayed at Inn at the Market (which pops into shot in Sleepless in Seattle, film fans). My room was the size of a small apartment and came with amazing robes, slippers, a coffee machine with – of course – Starbucks pods, and a small handful of chocolates left on my pillow each night. The bed was epically proportioned:
My few days in Seattle were great – I visited Pike Place Market (breakfast at Lowell’s two-days running), the Seattle Museum of Art, Pioneer Square, The Space Needle, The EMP Museum and, of course, the shops. Here are some pictures of varying quality:
Then it was time to fly home, hauling my by now bulging-at-the-seams suitcase (I may have HAD to buy a Rebecca Minkoff bag at Nordstrom because the sales assistant was sooooooo lovely …) back to Sea-Tac and stocking up on InStyle magazine and See’s Candies for the return voyage.
I really enjoyed my first proper solo travelling and it left me hungry for more. That’s why when I got home, emboldened by my transatalantic adventures, I booked to go to New York for the week a few months later. I will tell you all about that trip, and about what I’ve learned about solo travel, in my next post …