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Guest Post: How to Plan a Solo Trip

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Another Friday, another guest post. Today, and for two more weeks, I'll be sharing guest posts from some of my favourite bloggers & photographers and people I'm lucky enough to call friends.

Today, I want to introduce you to my friend Gennean! In her words: I’m a twenty-something gal currently living in California who recently returned from the trip of a lifetime — a four and a half month journey through eleven European countries. And it was actually toward the end of this trip that Hannah and I met in real life after following one another’s blogs and Instagram for a while. We met on a rainy London day at a cute shop called Biscuiteers where we drank cream tea and swapped life stories for a good few hours. I was at the end of my big European adventure, and it was so lovely to process some of the things I’d seen and learned over the last few months with a sweet, new friend.

Truly, I could have sat there and talked to Gennean for h o u r s more, but I had to catch the train back to Birmingham! I cannot wait for our paths to cross again, and in the meantime, there’s always Instagram!


For some backstory, after paying off all of my student loan debt in 2016 and saving for about a year, I quit my full-time job in Nashville and moved back home to California for a few months before embarking on my adventure across the Atlantic earlier this year. Of course, there is so much that goes into this story — from the fear of leaving the comfort of my life in Nashville to trusting God to work all of the details together — but some of the most frequent questions I’ve been getting as of late are around the practicalities of planning a solo trip. Whether you are going away for four days or four months, here are some of the things to keep in mind when planning a solo trip:

BUDGETING

First things first, let me say this: you should not go into debt for a trip. Ever. If you cannot realistically afford a holiday within your current means, I honestly don’t think that you should be taking one.  This has always been my mantra, even (and especially) while I was paying off debt. If I wanted to take a few days off here or there for a long weekend, I would always save for it beforehand. So this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take trips if you have debt; it just means you have to be more intentional in your planning.

Speaking of planning, creating a budget is one of the first things you should consider when planning for a trip. It may seem tedious or annoying, but having a plan for your money is a great way to start the planning process. It was the first thing I worked on with my Europe trip, because I needed to know just how much money I would need to save before I could start getting into the nitty gritty details.  You can do this with pen and paper or create a spreadsheet (my preference, that way you can access it easily from anywhere) that includes with all of the necessary categories of spending for your holiday. For my multi-month long trip, my budget included the following:

  • Round-trip flight

  • Food ($X per day, multiplied by X days)

  • Lodging ($X per night, multiplied by X nights)

  • Other Travel Expenses (train, bus, etc.)

  • Entertainment + Fun

  • Travel Insurance

  • Miscellaneous

  • Recurring Bills (Giving, Phone, Insurances, etc.)

Placing all of these categories into a formulated spreadsheet that showed total numbers can really help with saving the money you’ll need. You can adapt your budget as necessary for your trip, but this is a good place to start. While actively saving for your trip, you can do a few different things to keep your travel funds apart from your other money to avoid spending it prematurely, like withdrawing cash after each pay check and keeping it tucked away or creating a separate savings account for the trip. For more tips on saving money for travel, check out my more detailed post.

PACKING TIPS

Packing for a trip tends to elicit one of two reactions: freaking out about planning and just throwing whatever into a suitcase, or getting all kinds of excited and creating a detailed document with each and every item to pack based on the weather and activities planned. I tend to fall into the latter category of human, and almost always create a spreadsheet where I compile a list all of the things that I want to pack for an upcoming trip. I realize this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve found that preparing ahead of time can really save you both time and potential headaches in the future. Not only will you have better and/or the right things ready to go, but your bag will likely be lighter as a result of planning ahead. And remember, in most cases, you can always run to the store if you really need something that you didn’t pack. When it comes to the practical stuff, like actually getting your stuff into a bag, some people debate the folding vs. rolling methods, but have you heard of packing cubes? They are a lifesaver! Not only do they keep your things organized, but I’m convinced that they also help you get more into your bag than you could without them! So fold or roll to your heart’s content, but make sure you’re using some packing cubes. Lastly, be sure to think through what things might be available to you that you can skip packing, like a blow dryer, toiletries, etc. in order to make more space in your bag. I had to be really specific with what I packed on my Europe trip, which you can read more about here.

My biggest piece of advice when it comes to packing is this: be realistic, and try to adopt a minimalist mindset if you can. Do you need two jackets for a summer trip? Or three pair of shoes for a 4-day weekend? Try to pack intentionally, choosing items you can mix and match to create more outfit choices. Less might really be more when it comes to packing, as having less stuff could free up your mental and emotional space, giving you more room for more experiences and memories. And that’s what really matters, right?

SAFETY TIPS

Traveling by yourself, especially as a woman, can seem scary. Trust me, I totally get it. I had plenty of well-meaning people express some concern when I started talking about my plans to travel for a while. While I appreciated their concern, I’m here to tell you that traveling solo does not have to be scary… but it does mean being more aware and a bit more cautious. Some safety tips are fairly common sense, like avoiding dark, desolate areas (especially when you’re alone), not telling someone you just met where you’re staying, and not flashing around cash or expensive items, especially in heavily tourist-filled areas (like the Colosseum in Rome). Along with those, here are a few of my personal tips for staying safe while traveling solo:

  • Try to look like as much of a local as possible. You can do this in a number of ways: walk confidently and look like you know where you’re going, feel free to make eye contact with people on the street, and don’t wear something that screams “tourist,” like a money belt or big camera. This will help you to not stick out as a potential target to scammers or thieves.

  • While exploring, keep your headphones on you. Whether you choose to actually listen to music, a podcast, or an audio book or not is totally up to you, but having your headphones in can help you avoid any potentially awkward conversations. Plus, you will actually end up looking more like a local this way.

  • Keep your eyes up and off your phone. You should definitely know where you’re going, so if that means peeping at Google Maps from time to time, that’s totally okay. But don’t be so focused on your phone that you miss what’s happening around you. Not only can this make someone an easier target, but it keeps you distracted and less able to potentially defend yourself.

  • Lastly, try to always be aware of your surroundings. This doesn’t mean you need to be on hyper alert all of the time, but take mental note of what’s going on around you and make decisions from there. If something feels off, move on. Know yourself and trust your gut.

Ultimately, when traveling solo, remember keep your head up, eyes open, and be as prepared as you can, but most of all, remember to have fun! This is an experience to be savored and enjoyed, so make sure you’re embracing every moment!

THE TRUTH ABOUT TRAVELING SOLO

Traveling solo is simultaneously totally amazing and super hard, and that — I think — is the beauty of it.  There’s something so very special about exploring on your own, because you will be challenged to grow in so many ways: you will edge out of your comfort zones; you’ll experience exhilaration and exhaustion and loneliness in the same breath; you will learn boundaries and how to take care of yourself; your confidence will soar and you’ll learn when to ask for help; you’ll do things you never thought you could or would; and you will see some absolutely stunning places and meet beautiful souls along the way. You will grow, you will change, and you will be better because of it.

I hope that some of my tips for planning a solo trip — from packing to budgeting and staying safe — have inspired you to take one in the future. I’ve chatted with some people in my circles who’ve said they don’t think they could ever travel by themselves, but let me squash that thought. Letting fear stop you from trying something new is no way to live, and I promise that you have what it takes to do it yourself. So whether it’s a long weekend or a few months, taking a solo trip has the potential to be absolutely life changing…so what are you waiting for?

You should follow Gennean on Instagram, too.

Gigha, Scotland

TravelHannah Drake2 Comments

While we were in Scotland, staying at the Balinakill Country House, Luke and I spent an afternoon on the Isle of Gigha. First things first, it's pronounced like "gear". Scottish, am I right? It's the southernmost, and I'll say the most beautiful, of the Hebridean Islands off the west coast of Scotland.

Most of the Drakes at the house had already been on the island earlier in the week and recommended it for our Saturday activity, highly recommending the Boathouse Restaurant for a delicious seafood lunch. It didn't take much convincing on their part. A picturesque island and seafood fresh from the ocean? What more could you want?

We slept in on Saturday and had breakfast at the house with Luke's parents before setting off toward the ferry. It wasn't a long drive, but it was definitely a gorgeous one. We were a bit early for the ferry and it was starting to rain, so we ducked inside the shop for a cup of tea. I think it was around £5 each for a round trip and with the island being so small, we decided to leave the car on the mainland. It started drizzling as we began our journey, but from across the ocean, you could see that the clouds were broken over the island and the sunlight was pouring down. After the short journey, we were in a completely different weather system, staring out at the rain on the other side of the channel. It still boggles my mind how different they were with how close together they are.

Our main goal was to have lunch at the restaurant, so we decided to stop in first to make a reservation for an hour or so later. Unfortunately, when we got there, they said they were fully booked for the rest of the afternoon and couldn't accommodate us. That really cramped my style, to be honest. I was so disappointed that this place had been talked up so much and we weren't going to be able to eat there.

We decided instead to just start exploring. We turned up the main road to go toward the north shore of the isle, immediately passing a field housing dozens of cows, most of whom were right near the fence we were walking by. Watching the cows somehow managed to lift my crushed spirits and we continued on. After walking probably the length of a football field, we decided to go back to rent bikes at the corner shop we had passed.

Now on wheels, we were ready to actually explore. We rode up the main road passing all the farms that dot the hills of the island. We saw lots of cows, sheep, horses, and even made friends with a dog on the road.

It was easily one of the most beautiful bike rides I've ever taken, but it was kind of hard work. At one point, I had to hop off and walk my bike up a really steep hill as Luke cruised by me. We had the perfect weather too. It wasn't too hot (which we loved as a break in the middle of the hottest English summer on record), it wasn't raining, and the fresh sea air filled our lungs as we rode.

We really had no idea where we were or where we were going, but the isle is small enough that there's only one road from end to end. The man at the shop had told us it was 5 miles to the north end and only 2 to the south, but those 5 miles seemed quite long. When we got to a good vantage point and had been riding for quite some time, we decided to turn back to drive to Skipness for lunch, since Luke's brother had recommended a different seafood restaurant nearby.

We rode back without stopping as much and were pleased to see the dog from earlier back at the shop where we rented our bikes. (By the way, they were only £10 each for the afternoon.) We walked back toward the ferry and arrived just in time to catch it to go back. We were both getting pretty hungry and were a bit surprised to discover Skipness was 40 minutes away.

Unfortunately when we got there, we discovered that the Skipness Seafood Cabin is CLOSED ON SATURDAYS! Seriously! At this point, I was full-on hangry and all we had to eat were wine gums left over from our road trip.

We were able to eat at the Skipness Seafood Cabin the next day with Luke's parents before we started our journey home. Luke and I split the seafood platter and it was so good! It was in such a cool spot too and had beautiful views of the Isle of Arran.

Hindsight is of course 20/20, but I wish we had done some research before leaving the island. If we had looked up the restaurant before we left, we would have known it was closed. We could have stayed on the island and ridden toward the south, which had more restaurants and shops. And next time, I'm going to make sure I pack some snacks in our Muzmm backpack when we're out exploring because even though it looks picture perfect, it was kind of a disaster of a day. (By the way, you can use the code HANNAH10 to get 10% off your order at Muzmm and they've got a ton of cute styles.)

I would love to go back to Gigha someday and do it right next time! There's so much on the island that we didn't even realise. But despite all of our lunch and seafood troubles, it really was a great day and a memory I'll always cherish.

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Balinakill Country House

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Last month, we drove up to Scotland for a weekend with Luke's family. Luke's aunt had planned a week in the Scottish countryside for all the Drakes who were able to make it and booked the most gorgeous country house for everyone to stay. Unfortunately, with our wedding and three major trips this year, we weren't able to go for the whole time, but we're both just glad we were able to drive up for the weekend.

It was a long drive and the weekend didn't get off to the best start. We had been gifted a £50 gift card to John Lewis after a number of issues with our wedding registry and the day before we left, we decided to use it to buy a new lens I wanted for our camera, paying £10 in next morning delivery. Long story short, despite it being guaranteed delivery by 10:30 and us even sticking around until about 12:45 just in case, it never came. Luckily, we had a good weekend ahead and a gorgeous drive to get there.

If I can only teach you one thing here in this space, it's that you have to drive through the UK (and I've heard Ireland, though never done it myself) at some point in your life. The views will seriously take your breath away.

The Balinakill Country House is located near Clachan, on the west side of the Kintyre Peninsula in Argyll. That meant we drove up to Scotland and then did a hairpin turn around the Atlantic Ocean to drive back down the peninsula. (Did I mention how gorgeous the drive was?)

The current house is on land purchased by Sir William McKinnon, 1st Baronet of Strathaird and Loup and founder of the British India Steam Navigation Company in 1867. He built the house 20 years later, completing it in 1893, the same year Sir William died. It was visited by King Leopold of Belgium and Queen Victoria of England and functioned as a school from 1941 for the duration of the war after the bombing attacks in the Glasgow area.

The house is Victorian style and continues to house a wealth of period feature. It is surrounded by gardens and neighbouring fields of sheep. The house has twelve en-suite bedrooms, a children's playroom, two sitting rooms, a conservatory, two kitchens, a dining room that seats up to 24 people, and a gunroom bar.

When we were there, I seriously felt like I could have been at a murder mystery weekend. It would be the perfect house for it! All you need is some period costumes and a perfectly timed thunderstorm! Maybe an inspector with a bushy moustache and plaid cape too.

It was super easy to get lost in the house, which apparently made for a fantastic game of hide and seek before we got there. They have wifi at the house, but due to it's size, it's not great in half the house since it's too far from the router. Not necessarily a bad thing when you're on a relaxing weekend away, though, is it?

While we were there, I read a whole book, cosying up in the sitting room or in our room that had a beautiful view of the garden below. We sat outside and enjoyed Pimms, we played games in the conservatory, and I walked around the grounds by myself one afternoon, exploring, and even coming face-to-face with a sheep who didn't seem too pleased to see me.

It's available for exclusive rent, meaning you rent the entire place. While the kitchens are ready for you to use, you'll of course need to bring your own food. (The Drakes handled this by assigning different couples/families one night each to buy and prepare dinner.) It's also available for events, including weddings.

Maybe you're thinking why would you ever leave? But the house is also in a great location for exploring everything around. No matter which way you turn out of the private driveway, you're going to find an adventure. And even though we were only there for about 36 hours, we had a great time exploring Gigha, an island south of the house, and had a delicious lunch in Skipness. But more on that next week.

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