SOLO 83 | Solo Travel

 

Welcome to the final episode of Peter McGraw’s series on solitude. He invites two solo travelers – one part-time and one full-time – to a live podcast taping for his Solo club on Clubhouse. Topics include their experiences traveling alone, how they meet people on the road, and how they walk a city alone (i.e., flaneuring). They present tips for packing, safety, and saving money. They close the conversation with an important solo travel question: what do you do when a couple asks you to move seats on an airplane so they can sit together?

Listen to Episode #83 here:

Solo Travel

Welcome back to the final episode in my six-part series on solitude. I invited two solo travelers, one part-time and one full-time, to discuss their experiences in traveling alone, how they meet people on the road and how they walk the city. In other words, how they flâneur. Do you remember that episode? They present some tips for packing, saving money and safety, and whether or not you’re comfortable going to a movie or dining alone. I hope you find this conversation motivating and you’re willing to give solo traveling a try. It can be hugely rewarding. We close the conversation with a question. What do you do when a couple asks you to move seats on an airplane so they can sit together? I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.

Our first guest is Ashley McCurdy. After getting laid off from her corporate job, Ashley put her things in storage, threw some essentials in a carry-on suitcase and booked a one-way flight to Florida. After doing the math, she realized that it was cheaper and more fun to live full-time in hotels, instead of paying expensive California rent. Ashley documents her adventures on her YouTube channel In Search of Traveler, where she is in search of the new normal of traveling during Coronavirus. Welcome, Ashley.

Thanks for having me.

Our second guest is Ihita Kabir. Ihita has more than thirteen years of professional experience in diversity and inclusion, consulting and project management. Her accomplishments include designing corporate diversity initiatives to improve the recruitment, leadership development, and career advancement of diverse talent. Beyond her day job, she is an avid traveler. Sixty-one countries so far. As she puts it, she travels nights, weekends, holidays and vacations. Welcome, Ihita.

I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me, Peter.

It’s my pleasure. We are taping this in a SOLO Club room on Clubhouse, a social media app that features real-time conversations. Besides hosting this show SOLO, I’ve been building community on this app. SOLO the Club for Singles on Clubhouse already has 30,000 subscribers. Please consider joining and find out all the SOLO clubs, including the SOLO Travel Club and you can find out more about that at SOLOClubs.com. We’ll talk for about 45 minutes and have a Q&A with whoever is left in the audience when we’re finished. How’s that sound?

SOLO 83 | Solo Travel

 

That sounds great. I hope everyone stays in the audience because that’s part of what I love about Clubhouse. I want to have actual conversations live.

This is part of a series that I’m doing on solitude, but we’re going to find that traveling solo doesn’t mean that you’re alone all the time. It’s quite the contrary. If you want to make connections, you can do that. Why don’t we start a little bit with, how did you get here? How am I talking to the two of you on SOLO about solo travel? You both approach your solo travel in different ways. That’s why I chose the two of you. Who wants to go first? Ashley, do you want to go first?

My story is a story about making lemonade out of lemons. I lost my job and I was a little bit discouraged and I didn’t know what that next step was going to be. One night and a lot of Rosé later, I started watching YouTube videos. There were some YouTubers that were making a lot of money who said, “I’ve never had a camera before. I have never traveled out of the country before,” and they just did it. They lived by that model. How hard could it be? I thought to myself, “I went to a top ten Film School in the States. How hard can it be?” It was hard and it still is hard, but it’s one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done. I’ve been on this adventure. In January 2021, I joined Clubhouse and quickly met you, Ihita and some others, and here we are now.

Were you an avid traveler before this? Did you have travel chops?

Yeah. My travel story is my dad was a corporate traveler. My dad was a lifetime Platinum with Marriott, Million Miler with United, so I grew up seeing the perks of brand loyalty, which is why I’m such a loyalist. It’s seeing things that my dad got. I wanted to emulate that as a young working professional in my twenties, but I didn’t have the money to emulate that. I quickly learned how to find a deal when traveling so I would plan these epic trips. I would have so much fun spending 4 to 6 months putting together the perfect trip for the best deal and researching. It’s like, “I want to do this tour. What’s the best tour that I can find at the cheapest price?” It was almost like a game to me. I became known as this amazing traveler that went on epic trips for a reasonable price. I knew that I could travel hack and save money. It would be cheaper to live in hotels than paying rent, but I had no idea how good I could get at it and now I’m living comfortably on $500 a week. I learned how to maximize programs, travel hacks, credit cards and all that fun stuff, and also stretch that dollar.

Where are you now and where are you headed next?

I’m sitting in the middle of a hotel room in Mexico City. After this, I’m headed back to the States to get my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine before heading to West Palm Beach, Florida to meet up with a bunch of travel content creators for a meet-up. There’s a room on here that we go to every night and there’s twenty of us that are going to meet up in Florida for a weekend. After that, I’m headed to Costa Rica.

I might have not gotten the invitation for that. It must be still arriving in the mail.

It’s on the way.

For those of you who don’t know this, there’s a fun room that runs almost every night, whether the host is there or not. I always jump in and cause problems. That fact remains so I’m not surprised. I’m also not a content creator, so we’re okay. That’s wonderful. What’s the longest amount of time you’ve been in a hotel?

I’ve been traveling full time since July 20th, 2020. I’ve been either in a hotel, at my parents’ house for the holidays. I’ve stayed with some friends for some of it, but the majority of the time has been in an actual hotel. Mostly Marriott. In 2020, I stayed 103 nights. I don’t know what my count is for 2021 but I’ve already hit titanium status, which is the second-highest tier. I do have enough nights for Ambassador. I have to spend to hit Ambassador, which is Marriott’s top public status for 2022.

They might have to start a new level for you. We’re not even halfway through the year yet. That’s amazing. I want to learn more about this as we go on. Ihita, you have a different approach to your travels these days. You’re more of a part-time traveler.

I’ve always been a part-time traveler. It’s interesting that I fell into it even though I grew up. For those of you that don’t know me, I was born in the States, but I grew up bouncing back and forth between Bangladesh and the US. I was always on planes and I’ve been on planes since before I was a year old. I find planes comforting. When you hear that rumble of the plane taking off, it’s like a lullaby. I will pass out every time like clockwork. Even if I want to stay awake and watch movies, it’s immediate. In my adult life, as a teenager, I didn’t travel a lot.

The only place I went when I was in college was to Mexico for a weekend and I loved it. I never aspired to be a traveler per se. For me, it was more of once I started traveling a little bit after a bad breakup. I had a friend who was living in London. I said, “I’m going to come to visit you and will go to Paris for the weekend.” I fell in love with it because she was in school during the day, so I ended up exploring myself. I realized quickly that it was easier and cheaper for me to travel abroad than it was in the US. That’s how my wanderlust came into play initially financially because I was still just out of college, I didn’t quite have a plan.

When I would compare hotel and flight prices, I might as well hop abroad. I might as well go to the Caribbean, South America or chase the flight ticket. That’s how I started and it became an addiction. I’m not seeking help so please don’t send any, but it’s become a form of self-care for me over the last decade-plus, which sounds crazy to say. I’ve now been to 61 countries and I’m going to Guatemala, so that will be my 62nd. I have found not only a lot of myself when I travel, but I love the immersive experiences and the ability to connect with other beings around the world. That’s what fulfills me as a true extrovert and only child. I love connecting with people from all over the world. That’s a little bit of how I got started and why I keep going.

What percentage of your trips would qualify as a solo trip do you think, Ihita?

Probably about at least 50% of it. I say that split is because I didn’t start solo traveling until maybe the last few years and it happened by mistake. My first solo trip ended up being that way because my friend got food poisoning and didn’t join me and I was already in Vietnam. I had no choice but to carry on. I will admit that the first few days were a bit awkward. I didn’t know how to meet people. I followed the itinerary and went back to my room because I wasn’t sure what to do. By the end of the trip, on the last night, I found a little bit of my rhythm. I met people by asking them to take their pictures and started forming that connection. I found my rhythm and it was so addictive that 2.5 months later I felt the need to go back out into the world. I saw that there was a cheap flight to Ecuador so I went for a long weekend and I never stopped. I keep experimenting and I can’t wait to get back out there.

We should jump into this right away. This is a series that I’m doing on solitude and one of the themes has been about the costs versus benefits of solitude. A lot of people think of solitude, they immediately think about loneliness, the challenges of loneliness, and how upsetting and problematic that can be. One of the findings that come through time and time again about loneliness is it’s not about a state of being alone per se. It’s more a state of wanting to not be alone. You can be lonely in a crowd. You can be lonely in a marriage but you can also be lonely on a plane. Not Ihita because she’s asleep.

There are also these great benefits of solitude. A chance for self-reflection, creativity and certainly the freedom that goes with making those choices, whatever choice you want. I had a previous guest who said how much he enjoys not having someone edit her life. When you travel with someone else or a group of people, they often can edit where you go, when you go, how long you stay and so on. Maybe if you two could talk to me a little bit about your perspective on solitude and to what degree even though you’re traveling solo, your time might not be alone? Ihita already teased us a little bit with her Vietnam story in terms of meeting people.

I have a lot of anxiety and social anxiety. For me, it was always a balance. If I would go on a trip with friends, I would find it almost exhausting because being in groups of people is energy-draining for me. You feel you have to be on all the time and all of that. For me, I would always have in-group trips, what we call solo days. We would do our own thing and I found a lot of joy in having time to myself. It’s like what you were hinting at without having to worry about somebody telling you where to be, what to do, what to eat, and when to do it. I could do what I felt like doing at that moment and be with my own thoughts and doing my own thing. That gave me the confidence to start exploring and doing that solo travel thing and taking longer trips alone and realizing I enjoy my own company.

There is a balance because loneliness is a thing and that we do need human connection. What has worked well for me is when sightseeing things, I always try to book group tours. I’ve met a lot of amazing friends on the road. I know there’s one girl, Kristin, who I met at a Marriott breakfast in Cancun who is co-hosting the Digital Nomad Reminders on Solo Travel. I always tried to smile and say hello to people. You would be surprised that I’ve met so many amazing people on the road. I met one girl who was getting her eggs frozen and we became fast friends. I went to the appointment with her because she was traveling solo. I helped her pick out her sperm donor. It’s crazy stuff. You never know who you’re going to meet on the road and there are so many interesting people who are in the same situation. They’re looking for conversation. They want to be around people and to feel heard and appreciated. Smile and say hello is always my tip.

I’ll put in the exhibits. I took a screenshot of this room and you’ll see Ashley has this picture with her hands out and she’s got this big, wide and wonderful smile. It’s so fitting. I like this idea of a solo day as part of group travel. I’ve talked about this before on the show where I used to do these group trips these new year’s trips with a close group of friends, outstanding people, lots and lots of fun, but invariably, at some point, we were going to go out yet another night. Despite being an extrovert, I said, “I’m going to stay in. I’m going to do some reading, watch a movie and chill out.” I needed a little bit of a break. As I’ve gone on in my life, I find myself enjoying the solo travel but then looking for those connections that might be on my terms that are there. How about you, Ihita? How do you balance that time with meeting people and how do you go about doing it?

Focus on a few things and do them well instead of trying to do everything mediocrely. Click To Tweet

I’m a little bit of the opposite of Ashley. As outspoken and outgoing as I am online, it’s how I am in real life. I always say, “It’s because I’m an only child.” I was the kid at kindergarten that I literally remember waving to my mom who was peeking in through the window and I said, “Bye. I don’t need you here. There are a few people my size that I can talk to. I don’t need you here anymore.” I’m truly the definition of an extrovert. I thrive off of human connection and energy. Solo travel for me is not necessarily the solitude but it is the autonomy, as Ashley mentioned. It’s the ability to wake up and say, “Here’s what I feel like doing today.” That might be a spa day and I want to self-care and pamper, but it also might be I want to go on a pub crawl, meet people and have an exchange of cultures, ideas, conversation and create a community while I’m on the road. It’s all about what I want to do and not catering to maybe my travel partner. That’s what solo travel embodies for me. It’s the autonomy of it rather than just the solitude.

You’ve been to 61 countries. It sounds like you go to a wide array of places from South America to Europe and beyond. For either of you, I’m curious, do you have beats within your day that you do when you’re out there? How much are you doing touristy things? How much are you doing local things? I ask because I tend to try to recreate my LA or Boulder life in these other places, sometimes imperfectly. Up in the morning, finding a cafe, doing some reading, doing some writing and creative work, and finding a way to workout. Also, picking some spots to do the things that you can only do in Florence, London or Tokyo.

For me, because I’m a part-time traveler, I do fit in a lot more. I always tell people, “If you are coming on a trip with me to be relaxed, you’re probably not going to get that experience,” because I’m trying to fit in as much as I can. I willingly sacrifice my sleep in exchange for all of the experiences. When I am planning a trip, I will try to say what my must-dos are. It might be the big cultural icons that are there. If you’re going to Brazil, you probably want to go to Christ the Redeemer but after that, I surprisingly prioritize people, food, cultural immersion and experiences. I will generally try to do a cooking class, a walking tour or the pub crawl.

It’s dissimilar to my everyday life, but I also think I’m much more relaxed when I’m traveling despite all of the things that I’m doing because it’s a chance for me to be my most authentic self. The people that meet me on vacation get to see the best version of myself in many ways. I’m truly prioritizing myself because all of my commitments are back home and I get to say, “Here’s what I feel like doing today.” It’s to hang out with some people and maybe learn how to cook their food or learn how they live their daily lives. It’s having that exchange.

Do you sleep better on the road or at home?

For sure. I eat and sleep better on the road. Everything’s better on the road. If only I could figure out a way to make it my full-time gig.

We’re going to work on that, Ihita.

2021 goals.

How about you, Ashley? What are your beats in your day? You’re full-time and now you’re working on your new careers as you do this travel, so I’m curious.

For me, the last couple of months have been trying to figure this out because I’m trying to monetize and trying to figure out the most authentic and efficient way to monetize full-time travel in what I thought was going to be the path. It’s definitely evolved over the last few months. The way that I structure my week is I’m Type-A. I like a nice schedule so I try to work from 9:00 to 5:00, which usually ends up being a little bit longer. I try to get three main things done each day. I have things for each day of the week on things that I focus on to build and grow. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes things that you might not notice and it could be something like this. This podcast is one thing I would consider that I’m doing now. Every day looks different and I spend a lot of time in Clubhouse, but that trickles out into other things too, so that’s an effective use of my time as well. I did one excursion. Each week, I try to do one excursion, which usually ends up being my content for my YouTube video for each week and building that out.

There’s a lot. People don’t realize that when I say, “I’m a full-time traveler,” number one, think about when you want a vacation and how tired you are afterward. If you go, go, go like that, you will burn out quickly. I’ve been doing this since July 2020, so I learned fast that you have to take things slow and you have to figure out how best to do whatever you want to do and focus on a few things and do those things well, as opposed to trying to do everything mediocrely. That’s what I do at a high level, but I have probably ten different streams of income or ways that I make money. There are a lot of balls in the air and a lot of moving pieces. I try to keep it all flowing and make it sense.

Since you’re living out of hotels and you’re living out of Marriotts mostly, that sounds like a great home base. It’s clean, safe, high quality and I’m not saying this because I’m angling for Marriott to become a sponsor of the SOLO Travel Club, but it seems like a great home base. Whenever I travel internationally, especially in some difficult places, I always look for a nice hotel to stay in. Even if I’m not staying, I always look to visit the hotel. It’s a good place to have a clean bathroom, have a good healthy meal, and maybe get a little air conditioning, whatever it might be. How much do you find that enhances this ability that you’re on the road for months in that way?

I am loyal to Marriott and there’s a reason behind that. At the hotel that I’m staying at now, for example, not only do I get a free breakfast and free snacks from 12:00 noon to 3:00 PM which I missed, but also dinner. For dinner, I had a bacon-wrapped filet, a spinach salad with candied pecans, and a couple of sodas. That was completely free. I did tip them out 20% of what it would have been. It’s Mexico City. It was $5 or something for the tip. They were surprised because most people who are on the status of the free dinner don’t do that so they’re appreciative of that. The coolest perk is a lot of times you get upgraded.

You never know who you're going to meet on the road and there are so many interesting people who are in the same situation. Click To Tweet

Once you start having status with these hotel chains, typically I get upgraded to a one-bedroom suite which would be the same thing as maybe renting a one-bedroom Airbnb, but not only am I earning points which I can redeem for free nights, but I also became a travel agent. That’s one of my streams of income. Every time that I book with Marriott, I’m making a commission back. I’m not a CPA, so I can’t give tax advice, but my tax guy tells me that because I’m a travel agent, this becomes something that I can write off. Doing my taxes in 2021 was fun because my entire life is pretty much a write-off.

Don’t say it like that, Ashley.

You get what I’m saying. There are a lot of benefits to traveling. I’m not a tax professional so I’m not using the correct lingo but that’s how it feels at least.

That was my awkward attempt at a joke, that’s all. I’m going to reset the room in a moment, but I do want to share that Ashley is a wealth of information about hacking the system. I booked a hotel room in Vegas and I used one of your hacks. I don’t know if it’ll work. I’ll let you know but in the notes section, I wrote, “Waive resort fee.” The reason for that is the person checking you in might think that the manager wrote in the note section, “Waive resort fee.” I’ll check back in later and let you know if that works. I never would have thought to do that.

Where are you saying? Can I ask?

It’s at the MGM Park in Vegas.

It’s totally going to work at MGM. You have to report back and let us know how it goes.

The other thing is, and I’m curious about the two of you, speaking of Vegas and hotels, I learned this trick in Vegas called the $20 sandwich. We have a video going and Ashley’s shaking her head now. I don’t do it like this anymore but the way I learned the $20 sandwich is they ask you for an ID and a credit card. You fold the $20 bill up and you place it between there like a sandwich. When you hand it to the person at the front desk, you ask politely for whatever it is you want, perhaps an upgraded room or something like that. I have been experimenting with this over the years, not just in Vegas but in lots of hotels, especially when I’m staying for more than one night. It’s surprisingly effective in terms of making that person’s day because it’s hard work to work a front desk. The hours are long and you’re on your feet a lot. You often deal with headaches and on and also, the person often works hard to try to accommodate that.

When you arrive for check-in, you asked for the second upgrade. You can do the $20 sandwich thing, which is effective or you’re always celebrating something, you’ve got a milestone birthday of somebody in the group, you’re celebrating an engagement, an anniversary or a promotion. It’s always a party and people love a party at check-in and they want to make it special. Maybe they’ll send up a bottle of champagne, maybe upgrade you to a suite, especially if you’re checking in mid-week. That’s another travel hack. Come on Thursday. You have a better chance of getting upgraded mid-week than on the weekends. Check-in earlier, the better and because they’ll have more room. Those are a few of my Vegas tips. When you’re gambling, make sure you’re a part of the Player’s Club because you can get a lot of free stuff in Vegas if you lose a lot of money.

All that saved money goes elsewhere. I want to get into some more tips on the flip side of this. Ihita, do you have any tips about traveling in general, but especially about solo traveling? How do you make it work for you?

A lot of people will ask me, “Where are you going next?” I don’t have a list. As long as it’s someplace, I haven’t been. That flexibility of not having a particular destination in mind means that when I am going on a trip, I know what dates I’m going but generally not the destination. I will use a lot of the Google Flights or Skyscanner Go Everywhere option and see where the weather is nice that I want to go to now and what are some of the cheaper flights. That’s how I will pick my destination. It’s a little bit more of an adventure but it also is a price hack.

In terms of traveling, especially when I’m solo traveling, instead of renting the entire place on an Airbnb, I’ll rent the room. You might be staying with a family, but as long as the room is private and the bathroom is private, that’s all I need. When I was in Vietnam, still on that same trip, there were times where I was paying maybe $11 a day for my lodging. It was super affordable. I’m very food-focused but my food does not always have to be the most fine-dining destinations. I certainly will go on some Michelin star excursions if that’s available but even that, we think in the States, in North America that Michelin dining is super expensive.

I’ve had meals for less than $100 on all five courses in Poland because I went to a Michelin starred restaurant that I happened to find in Poland when I was looking up my options for food. Keep an open mind because what may be true in your home country may not be the same as when you’re abroad. Be flexible, whether it’s your destination. I know some people have flexible schedules. If you have flexible dates, you can travel, there are Scott’s Cheap Flights and other resources that you can use to say, “There’s a random mistake fare that’s coming up in two weeks. Can I go?” It depends on what works for your schedule and your availability but I found that flexibility will go a long way in terms of savings for you.

Did you say mistake fare?

Mistake fares are when the airline somehow has coded something differently. Someone made an oops, and someone out there that has a full-time job looking at these fares, finds it and sends it out to you. There are some that go out for free. There’s some that you might have to hunt. You can even learn how to do it yourself. I’m certainly not that advanced but I use the subscriptions instead and they’ll send out. A few years ago, there’s what was called Dubai Blackout because everyone ended up going to Dubai for only a couple of hundred dollars. I see Ashley here on video nodding her head because that was a mistake fare. I didn’t jump on it. I didn’t get it quite as quickly. They go fast but if you have flexibility, you can certainly save a lot of money.

I have to imagine that the airlines also sign up for those alerts so they can catch their own mistakes.

They fix it fairly quickly and also sometimes they don’t always honor it. You won’t get in trouble for booking it but there is a chance you’ve got to jump on it because they might email you and say, “This was a mistake. We’re canceling.” More often than not, they change it so no one else can book but if you’ve gotten in, you’re good.

I agree with you about the food thing. First of all, almost anywhere you eat in Vietnam, the food is absolutely crazy delicious. I’m not one of these Michelin star hunters in any way. I’ve only had Michelin meals twice. Once in France and once in Hong Kong, but the Hong Kong meal cost me $25. Just because something’s Michelin star doesn’t mean it’s going to be expensive and it’s worth it. You might have to wait or get lucky in terms of getting a reservation but it’s not doesn’t have to be expensive. A follow-up, Ihita, do you pick different locations depending on whether it’s solo or group, or does that not have any effect?

No, it has no effect. People joke on Clubhouse because I’ll say, “You’re always welcome to come on my trips.” They think that this is something new that I’m saying but I’ve been saying this for as long as I’ve traveled. My trips are always open. Anyone who wants to come along, as long as you’re financially responsible and generally responsible and not going to be a threat to my existence or to others, you are welcome to come along on the trip. I plan it as though it’s myself and if others want to join, they can, so I’m going regardless. That has been the most freeing part of solo travel for me. I’m going to go on my adventures and I hope people join because I’m an extroverted soul so the more the merrier. If they don’t come it’s cool too.

What I found interesting pre-pandemic when I used to use my Instagram account. I haven’t in a long time. After I went on my adventures, people would always say, “That looks so cool. I want to come.” I’ve always said, “You wouldn’t have come.” When I was planning Armenia and Azerbaijan, I said, “Do you want to come to Azerbaijan?” Most people would say, “I don’t know what’s there.” Once I go and they see the adventures I’ve had, the foods I ate, the people I met, then everyone wants to come. I’ve gotten a lot out of my adventures by leaning into the possibilities and not letting the stereotypes scare me away.

That’s wonderful. I want to ask the two of you about packing. In the early days of Clubhouse, when I first started the SOLO travel club, I opened a room about luggage. It was a crazy popular room because people have strong opinions about luggage. What ended up happening as part of that, where there were two camps of people. There was Team Peter and there was Team Ann. Ann is an ultralight packer, just the carry-on and has it all hacked. I am a notorious over-packer. It’s the boy scout in me even though I was never a boy scout. I want to be ready for everything, plus I’m 6’5” so my clothes are enormous. They put a pair of shoes in a carry-on bag and that gets half gone. Nonetheless, are you Team Pete or Team Ann? Are you a light packer or a heavy packer? Can you give three tips for the solo traveler in terms of their packing,

Traveling by yourself is more about the autonomy of it rather than just the solitude. Click To Tweet

I can go first. I am definitely Team Ann. I am also a light packer, so I’m not a backpacker. I’ve said that before in other rooms. I don’t like carrying my bags that way, but I am a carry-on and roller bag. That’s all I have. One of my tips is going to take a big fluffy beach bag that can double. That’s where I put in all of my souvenirs. I learned this from a friend. I plan my outfits in advance, so I know what I’m wearing for the most part with some extras, so that’s all I’m packing. It’s annoying when I do it before the trip, but it saves me a lot of space. I’m definitely a roller too. I roll all of my luggage.

This idea of planning outfits, I have a friend who would print out the ten-day weather forecast. Based upon the weather forecast, he would write down what he’s going to wear each of the days. I was like, “That’s next level.”

Ashley and I are both nodding our heads because yes, I don’t quite print it out but I do look at the weather and what’s anticipated and try to plan accordingly because all I have is one piece of luggage. I have my extra beach bag, a big fluffy duffel but that’s mostly empty. I might have a pair of shoes in there or I might have an extra outfit for any reason. That’s where I’m going to bring my stuff back in and anything that I find. I am all about traveling light. It’s saved me sometimes when there have not been missed flights on my end but because there are delays. They are able to put me on the next flight. There was one time I had 25 minutes.

First of all, I did my research. All of us had a flight that was delayed so all of us missed our connections. We went up to the gate agent and while I was waiting for my turn, I researched the flights and I knew exactly which one I wanted to take and I was 25 minutes away. He looked at me when I got there and he’s like, “I’ll look.” I was like, “No. I know which flight it is. Here’s the code you’re putting in.” He found it and he’s like, “You’re going to have to trust me. I need you to start going towards the gate. When you get to the gate, your ticket will be there but I need you to go to the gate right now because if you wait for me to print it out and get you confirmed, you’re going to miss it.” I was like, “What time is your shift over? What is your badge? Because if I don’t make that flight I am coming back here, sir.” When I went there, they’re like, “You must be XYZ.” I’m like, “No, I’m this other person. Do you not have my ticket?” She refreshed their system and she’s like, “Nevermind. You are here.” It worked because the first question he asked was, “Did you check in your luggage?” I said, “No, this is all I have.”

I’m not saying Team Pete is the way to go. I’m saying that it’s my team. I’m stuck with them. How about you, Ashley?

I used to be Team Peter. I was the person who I would check in with my 20-inch suitcase that was already overweight at the beginning of the trip. Now I travel with two carry-on suitcases and one is pretty much all my stuff and the other one is all my camera equipment.

Talk to us a little bit more about how you do it, especially if you’re on the road all the time.

All my clothes pretty much match. They have the same color scheme. I’m from Los Angeles so we wear black, gray and white, all neutrals. We don’t wear a lot of colors. Everything we wear pretty much matches and you have to be strategic with what you pack. The two carry-on suitcases I have, the Away suitcase is a larger carry-on size so you can fit a lot in that. I do check that bag though because I have full-size liquids when I travel. There are certain things like shampoo, makeup, and things that you can’t get on the road. I have three shampoos. I started the year with 3 shampoos, 3 conditioners, 2 deodorants, 2 lotions and certain things that I didn’t want to have to worry about finding abroad.

Your shampoos and lotions.

It’s nothing fancy. It’s like L’Oreal. It’s hard to find L’Oreal shampoos sometimes depending on where you are in the world.

You have to be camera-ready sometimes. This is your business.

It’s funny because I used to be so into that stuff. I have my full makeup bag. I’ve not worn makeup one time since I’ve been traveling and I’ve learned that I’m going to look like crap on camera. I’m going to be sweating. In every YouTube video, I’m always sweating and my mom’s always like, “You look so hot.” I’m like, “Because I am.” This has been one of the best exercises for my perfectionism. I look like crap. Take it or leave it. You want to see some hot Instagram girl on YouTube, this is not the channel for you. This is the real deal. I look a lot like a hot mess half the time and that’s okay. My people will find me and that will be it. I’ve learned to be me and to embrace my super fuzzy hairs. My hair is always frizzy because I tend to go to humid places and it is what it is. It’s been great.

Do you have Away, Samsonite or TUMI? Those were the big winners in the luggage.

I have a TUMI carry-on. My biggest piece of advice is don’t cheap out on your luggage. I have an Away suitcase and a TUMI suitcase. A carry-on TUMI is about $1,000. I did not pay $1,000 for my carry-on. I went to the Bloomingdale’s outlet and got it for $250 and I’ve had it for five years. TUMI was the corporate suitcase that I traveled with when I worked in corporate. That thing has been through hell and back and it looks great. It does not have a scratch on it. It has been the best suitcase I’ve ever had. In the past, I’ve got Samsonite. I like Samsonite but I like TUMI better. My Away suitcase is fantastic and it has a built-in battery, which I really like, so I can charge on the go.

How about yours, Ihita?

For me, I am definitely team Away and I walk you through why.

I’m having flashbacks. People have such strong opinions.

I am going to be team Away for life and that is because of the bigger carry-on. If you’re not familiar with Away, they have two sizes for the carry-on. There’s the regular carry on and there’s the bigger one. The bigger one is bigger by maybe 2 inches. What they did is the US carriers have their size requirements that they list on their website but if you go measure what the bins are, it’s slightly bigger. What Away did is they went and measured what the slightly bigger actual compartments are, not the size that they tell you, and they made their bags slightly smaller than that. You get a little bit of extra space, which my guy friends think I’m crazy for caring about.

For me, as someone who’s 5’1.75”, the three-quarters matter, it’s important. Those are maybe 2 or 3 dresses that I can fit in there especially if I’m traveling in the summertime. I love the Away for that reason because it gives me the maximum amount of space while being a luggage that I know is going to fit in most places around the world. The only place that hasn’t fit is when I took a little propeller plane going from Laos to wherever. They had to put my bag at the bottom but they had to put everyone’s bag in the bottom unless it was a briefcase. I’m team Away for life.

I’m going to make a case for Samsonite because I remember what the case was, which is, Samsonite has an incredible return policy. You basically buy the luggage and you can have it for life more or less. You can keep bringing it back and getting it fixed and fixed. They’ve been in the business for a long time and make good luggage on top of that. Ihita is 5% on her battery right now, which is a total rookie move.

I’m not a podcaster, Peter. I wasn’t ready.

Get out there. Travel and see the world, and see what you learn about yourself. Don't let your fears stop you. Click To Tweet

What we’re going to do is we’re going to keep going until her battery dies and we’ll wrap up with Ashley whatever it is we’re talking about. I’m going to go maybe ten more minutes anyway and we’re going to open it up to questions. I want to ask you about flâneuring. I’ll start by asking you, do you know what flâneuring is?

Not even a little bit. I was about to google on the side. If you’re going to tell me that will save me a search.

I had a previous episode on it. It’s one of my favorites. It’s within an Italian academic who wrote a book about flâneuring in Paris. Flâneuring was invented in Paris. The flâneur in the mid-1800s was a gentleman. Flâneuring is not limited to men anymore, but a man of some wealth who would dress up and would walk around the city and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the cityscape. This was around the time that Paris became the Paris that we know with the boulevards and all this kind of stuff. The act of flâneuring is to walk a city alone and do it solo. It’s important that it’s solo because of the editing process that we talked about. It’s hard to flâneur, to truly wander aimlessly with someone else.

However, one of the things that he had said in the show, which I liked was, “Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean that you are alone. You becoming a part of the crowd.” You might have interactions with locals, shopkeepers, the kid, a stray cat or whatever it might be. I’m curious, and this is connected to my next question, do you flâneur? Do you walk the cities? What cities do you like to walk to? I’m talking to two women here especially, how do you keep yourself safe as a solo traveler, whether it be walking or beyond? Let’s have Ihita go first because of her battery.

Thank you. I will say that I do flâneur. I had never used that term before. I love that I’ve learned something new. I try to do that as often as I can. I flâneur with all of the local pets, especially the cats. I am the person that is going to probably not notice you but I will notice your pet and that will make me excited. You might have heard me say in other rooms, even though I didn’t know the term that what I love doing in new places is getting lost in hearing the sounds, the sights, the smells and taking it in, and becoming a little part of that for a bit and I bring that with me. This is somewhat unrelated but one of my favorite travel tips for fun is I shazam the music that I hear in every country that I go to because it creates a playlist for me.

When I come home, it transports me through sound back to that moment, that sight, that smell, that shop that I heard that music in. I absolutely think that’s a huge part of my travel experience. If the city isn’t getting a little bit of me and I’m not getting a little bit of that destination, I feel like it’s a failed trip. In terms of safety, I heard this in another room and I’m going to start doing this. Someone said, “If you have those wireless earbuds wear one in one ear so you know where you’re going but the other ear, leave it open so you can still hear what’s happening around you and you’re staying safe without looking you may not know where you’re going.” I wanted to pass on that tip because I thought that’s genius. I definitely need to do that on my next one.

If I may before Ashley answers, I don’t do it as much now, but when I was new to traveling, especially when I was solo, I would stop into local record stores. I would make friends with the shopkeeper and I would say, “If there was one artist, if there was one song, if there’s one band that I must know, who is it?” I would buy the CD. This is back when CDs were a big thing and I would bring the CD back for the same reason. If it’s the best in the country, you’re likely to like it. How about you, Ashley, do you flâneur?

I started doing a lot of walks because I had a lot of free time after losing my job. I go on these tour walks back in LA. When I started traveling, my biggest fear was gaining weight back. That was something I continued to do and it was a way to get a lay of the lands. When I would go to a new place, I would walk around taking in the sights, figure out what places I wanted to check out and eat, or wherever the coolest coffee shop is that I wanted to try, that sort of things and it’s become a part of my day. Late morning and early afternoon walk or right after breakfast. I would go out and walk. I’d get my steps in and take in the city. I have an Amazon Music account. Before I started, I started a little playlist called Ashley’s World Adventure. In every city, I add songs. I got the idea because I used to complete marathons. I was slow but I did it a few times. I would have a playlist so I would know when a certain song came on what miles. I would be like, “This is my song from LA.” It’s the same thing from my playlist now. I add songs in certain countries so when I play them back, it makes me think of that country and it brings back the memories of my walks.

That’s lovely. Is this available publicly?

My playlist is on Amazon Music. I don’t know if there’s a way I can share it. It’s songs that I like.

What about safety? You’re out on the road a lot? What are your go-to habits or tips that you would give people, especially those who might be new to solo travel?

Be aware of your surroundings and look around. One of the biggest things that you can easily forget on the road, especially as an American, we’re in our gadgets, which aren’t always as popular depending on where you are. Look around at the locals. Do they have air pods in their ears? Are they walking around with an iPhone 11? Little things that can make you stand out. I made a rookie mistake when I first came to Mexico City. I walk around with my air pods in and holding my iPhone 11.

I was in a part of Mexico City that had much more locals. When I first got here, I stood out and nobody else had an iPhone or air pods. Somebody came by me on a motorcycle and tried to take the phone out of my hand and that was totally my fault. Who do I think I am? I’m assertive and cussed the guy out and he didn’t get it from me. I flipped him off. There’s a whole Facebook Live if you want to hear me tell the story. That was so stupid thinking back about it. Look around, be aware, be alert, don’t be in your own little world, pay attention, and don’t look like a tourist. Try to look like a local and blend in. Especially as a solo traveler and solo female traveler, you’re always meeting somebody. If somebody asks, “Are you alone?” You’re like, “My boyfriend’s coming or I’m meeting my friend.”

I want to wrap this up not because I want to wrap it up but because Ihita’s at 2% and I want to get some people up on stage. I want to ask the two of you. You’re on a plane, you’re flying alone, you have a great seat because you’re a seasoned traveler and you know how to get great seats. Someone asks you, “I’m here with my partner. Would you mind moving seats so we can sit together?” How do you respond to that?

It depends. If I am in a window seat, “No. It’s my seat and I got it.” If it’s a great seat but maybe I’m on the aisle and moving will allow me to get the window seat, then yes. It depends. Is it serving me in some way? Otherwise, no it’s not happening. Maybe for a kid. If a child and their parents are separated, then maybe.

Ashley?

This happens all the time and I have a fear of flying, believe it or not. I get anxious when I fly so I have to fly on the left side of the plane. I’ve had situations where somebody has already been in my seat when I’ve gotten on the plane. I’m like, “I’m here with my family. Can we switch?” I can’t fly on the right side of the plane. I like the balance. I know it sounds weird but I can’t do it. What I learned is for Delta, I have some status and you can book priority seats for free with the status but if you’re a normal person, you would have to pay extra to sit closer to the front.

Especially now with COVID, you can say you can’t switch seats because of COVID in case you contracted it and they want your seats. I’m on the priority seat and you have to pay extra for that so I don’t think it would be fair to switch and they don’t like it. Blame it on the airline and the extra fee. People usually let it go and will ask somebody else but I hate it. If you have a family, try and book your family together. Don’t put that on a solo traveler. It’s so rude when people do that because a lot of times as solo travelers, we might pay extra to book the seat that we want to sit in. Even though we’re traveling alone, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to sit there and we don’t care because we pick that seat for a reason. That’s my two cents on that.

My feelings are similar. I was afraid you two were going to be like, “Of course, I’m going to change.” I’m 6’5″ and every inch is precious in those seats. I will change if I’m no worse off. That’s the way I treat it. If I’m no worse off and given my criteria, I’m happy to do it. Generally, I’m like, “I can’t do that for you. Sorry.” Ihita and Ashley, thank you so much for doing this. I knew you were going to be spectacular and that’s why I invited you. One last thing, do you have any parting thoughts for all of those SOLO readers out there who may not have even gone to a movie alone or may never have even dined alone and yet maybe contemplating a solo road trip, a solo international trip, a solo trip to another city? What’s one parting thought or encouragement tip would you give them?

I hope that by having the two of us on this show, you have received two different perspectives of how it’s possible to travel whether you are employed full-time or someone that lives on the road. My one general encouragement is to go travel. It’s okay however you want to travel. If you’re someone who wants to be at a resort all the time, that’s cool. If you want to be a backpacker, that’s totally cool too. Get out there. Travel and see the world, and see what you learn about yourself. Don’t let your fears stop you whether it’s the destination or getting on the road for the first few times.

Start planning it and put it on the calendar. That’s a great way to do it. Buy the ticket. Once the ticket is purchased, you’re on. Ashley?

Once you make a decision to do something, the universe, God, fate, whatever you want to call it, will conspire to help you make it happen. Click To Tweet

Everything that you guys said is so true. You make a decision after a few glasses of Rosé and it sounds crazy but fun. I remember putting in my 30-day notice for my apartment. I’m like, “What am I doing?” The first few months of this were like, “I’m ruining my life. What am I doing? I made a mistake.” I truly believe in anything in life, if you feel called to do something, if you feel a tug to do it, it could be something as simple as going to a movie or going to dinner by yourself for the first time or it could be something as big as becoming a full-time traveler, do it.

Once you make a decision to do something, the universe, God, fate or whatever you want to call it, will conspire to help you make it happen. It’s so crazy that once you make that decision and you’re committed to the decision and to the outcome of being whatever you want, the people and the opportunities that come into your life are crazy. It’s almost like magic but that’s the manifestation. That’s the power of positive thought and going and chasing after your dreams. Don’t let a mediocre life stop you from having an amazing life. That’s with anything, not only travel. Go out, chase your dreams and do whatever will make you happy.

That is wonderful. I’m going to close with that. I’m going to thank both of you and say cheers.

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About Ihita Kabir

Ihita Kabir has more than 13 years of professional experience in diversity & inclusion, consulting, and project management. Her accomplishments include designing corporate diversity initiatives to improve the recruitment, leadership development, & career advancement of diverse talent. Beyond her day job, Ihita is an avid traveler–61 countries to date. As she puts it she travels nights, weekends, holidays, and vacations.

 

About Ashley McCurdy

SOLO 83 | Solo TravelAfter getting laid off from her corporate job, Ashley McCurdy put her things in storage, threw some essentials in a carry-on suitcase and booked a one-way flight to Florida. After doing the math she realized that it was cheaper (and more fun) to live full time in hotels instead of paying expensive California rent. Ashley documents her adventures on her YouTube channel, In Search of Traveler where she is “in search of” the new normal of travel during coronavirus.

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