Today I’m back for another interview, but the questions are all about travel, because I am very curious! Thanks, Tracy, for agreeing to do these Q & A sessions. As you know, I find New York to be fascinating, as well as the people living in it. So, let’s chat again. Me, in my house in Digby, Nova Scotia. You, in your apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Stephanie: Do you have a favorite weekend spot to escape the busyness of the city? What are some places you would recommend?
Tracy: I adore the North Fork of Long Island, and that will always be my favorite place near New York City. I’ve spent a lot of time on the East End (was there this past New Year’s), and I never get tired of being there. The wineries, farms and Long Island Sound are what I look forward to. Even in wintertime, it’s a spectacular escape from the city.
Also, I enjoy going to where I grew up in Berks County, Pennsylvania and seeing familiar faces and places. The last time I was home, my mom and I ventured to Lititz in Lancaster County (about a 40 minutes drive from my mom’s house). I had driven through once before, but we wandered around the shops this time. That region of PA is booming and attracting city folks now. I read in the New York Post that Lancaster is the new Brooklyn. What next!?
The Hudson Valley makes for a relaxing weekend away too. Towns like Rhinebeck, Saugerties, New Paltz and Cold Spring are charming with lots to see and do, and just a few hours away. To be honest, we are fortunate in our positioning here in New York. We have many great vacation spots within a drive. I could write a New York travel blog focusing on all the amazing spots to visit near NYC!
I could also go on and on about all the places I’ve been to and all those I want to go to. Take Fire Island – I have not been there in years because it’s super expensive, but I would totally go every summer if it were more affordable. Nonetheless, Fire Island will remain one of the most magical places I’ve been to in my life. People walk and ride bikes everywhere because there’s no traffic on the island, and the beaches are magnificent – wide and deep with white sugar sand. If you have the chance, go to Fire Island.
Stephanie: Which airport in New York do you prefer and why?
Tracy: I’d have to say JFK because I can take public transit to get to and from, and although it’s a hike, it’s not like Newark. (I’m flying out of Newark this weekend.) Newark is a hassle because you have to take NJ Transit, and it’s not my favorite. LaGuardia will be terrific once it’s been renovated, but now, it’s run down and not so pleasant. Traveling from NYC is easy, though, because we have three airports. I am thankful for the choices even if the airports aren’t the easiest to get to.
Stephanie: What country do you hope to travel to next? And are you planning a trip this spring?
Tracy: Funny you should ask about a trip! I am leaving for Costa Rica early Saturday morning and will be gone for four nights. Mike and I plan to try and do a winter vacation every year, to get a dose of Vitamin D since January and February are dark and dreary in New York. This visit will be our first to Central America, and I am so looking forward to it. Last year we visited Barbados and had a great time.
I’d like to go back to Europe late in the summer. I don’t have any firm plans, but I’d like to explore Eastern Europe this go-around. I’m particularly curious about the Balkans, and I’d love to visit Poland (my great grandmother was born there, and my grandmother spoke fluent Polish), so stay tuned.
Stephanie: Do you tend to carry a lot of luggage with you on trips, or are you a light traveler?
Tracy: If I’m driving, then forget it – I throw anything and everything into the car – I totally overpack. But more often, I’m flying, and I do not overpack when I fly. I have learned to pack one small suitcase and one tote bag, most of which is tech stuff (laptop, camera, batteries, chargers, etc). I was in Europe for a month last summer and took one small suitcase and one carry-on bag . I was traveling around from country to country and could not be bothered with too many bags. Still, I could’ve gone lighter, but my weakness is shoes. It’s always the shoes. I can’t decide and take like seven pairs. Shoes are my vice. And red wine, but I cannot carry that on a plane. 🙂
Stephanie: What advice could you give someone who is traveling solo for the first time?
Tracy: Well, I am by no means a seasoned solo traveler. Yes, I’ve flown to and from the UK alone, and driven up and down the Eastern Seaboard alone. And this past summer, I spent two days alone in Paris, and then flew to Milan and spent a day and a half alone there. But, some women thrive when traveling solo and will go most anywhere without a companion. I’m not sure if that’s me, but who knows? I never thought I’d be in Paris alone, but I was. And I liked it – a lot.
Here are a few tips for traveling solo….
Side with familiarity.
For a first solo adventure, I would suggest starting with somewhere that’s similar to your surroundings, a place where you would feel most comfortable. Paris is similar to New York in many ways, as is Milan, so it made sense for me to try solo time in those cities. Put me alone in the midst of the Sahara Desert, and I’d probably be a basket case. By the way, if you live in a major city, New York is fantastic for a solo trip because you will never truly be alone here!
Plan your trip well.
I am a firm believer in planning as much as possible, whether traveling alone or with someone. So try and think through as many details in advance as you can. Don’t wing it. Once you’ve traveled the world, you might be able to wing it, but even then, maybe not a good idea.
Have your hotels booked. Know how you’re getting from the airport to your hotel and back again. Figure out the costs ahead and how you’ll pay for the cabs or drivers if you can afford them. You do not want to run out of cash on a trip! If a cab is not in your budget, is there another method of transportation that’s less expensive and safe for a single woman? Transportation might also dictate where you travel to and where you stay, so look at those details before booking a trip alone.
Trust your instincts.
If your gut is telling you that something doesn’t feel or seem right, go with it and get out of the situation. Make sure you have a phone with data and a charger. Load Google Translate and other helpful apps like Maps.me, where you can get access to a map of any place you visit, and Bungee Girl, a great app to connect with other women while traveling solo.
The best tips tend to come from people who live in the place you’re visiting. Talk to the staff at your hotel and ask about where to go and what to do. If you feel unsafe, ask them about safety. Request that they call you a taxi. In fact, I think any hotel – even if you’re not staying there – will call you a cab if you need one. Reach out to people, and you will be amazed at the response you get. Most locals are happy to help, especially if you attempt to speak their language (that’s where Google translate comes in).
Be smart but not paranoid.
And no matter if you travel alone or with a group, copy your passport and keep the copy separate from the book. Don’t carry too much cash, and be sure you have more than one debit/credit card in case one gets lost or stolen. It’s probably not a bad idea to keep one card in a hidden place too.
Don’t be paranoid, though, and assume that if you do not wear a cross-body bag, your purse will get stolen. (Being paranoid will ruin your trip.) But do stay alert, and don’t drink too much, especially if you’re out alone at night. Use common sense, and when in doubt, listen to your inner voice, you know that one that sounds like your mother. 🙂
Know where you are staying.
This point might sound like a no-brainer, but I made the mistake of not having my hotel info on me and was lost alone for hours in Florence. I do not speak Italian, and no one spoke English, and it was long before smartphones and apps. But looking at the positive, I learned about the kindness of people through that experience. So many locals tried to help me, and even with a language barrier, we still managed to communicate. Meanwhile, after roaming around for what seemed like an eternity, I got in a taxi and found the hotel. Since that trip almost 17 years ago, I’ve seen the kindness of strangers in countless situations when I’ve traveled.
So before you even arrive at the hotel, write down the name, address and phone number on paper (smartphones die and get lost), so you can always show it to someone and they can point you in the right direction or take you there. I learned my lesson and will never do that again, which brings me to the next point.
Be ready to learn more than you did in school.
You’ll learn things you never thought about before, and those things won’t be anything you can read in a book or study in a course. I think travel is as much about discovering yourself as it is about discovering other places and people. So just know – if you are taking a trip alone, you are going to learn some great stuff and probably some not-so-great stuff about yourself, so be prepared.
For example, I really suck at navigating by myself, and I’m reminded of that when I travel anywhere alone. I get lost ten times, and then I start to freak out, but then I realize that I can always find my way, even if no one is there to help me. That’s probably why cities work best for me when I’m alone.
Driving in a foreign country opens another can of worms, so to speak. I’ve driven in England, Quebec, Italy, and Switzerland, but I had someone translating the signage to English and navigating with Google Maps, which makes driving doable. And eventually, you say to yourself, wow! I am driving in a foreign country. (And in the UK, on the opposite side of the road, which is no easy feat.)
But that’s the thing about travel. You learn, and quickly. You make mistakes, and those mistakes teach you to be a smarter traveler, so each trip has the potential to be better than the last. And you change. I’ve heard (and believe) that if a trip doesn’t change something about you, then it wasn’t a successful trip.
It’s always fun talking with you. I just wanted to say that this New York blog is like an escape for me, seeing where I live in such a small town. I enjoy sitting at my computer with my coffee, reading and daydreaming of life in your amazing city. Thanks for sharing your stories!
Have a question for Tracy? Send an email to hello at tracysnewyorklife dot com.