Confessions of a staycation lover

When it comes to the weekends, I am often counting down from Wednesday (hump day) to buzzy Fridays, filled with excitement about the fact that I am going to spend my Saturdays and Sundays staycationing in London.

London is an amazing city with so much to see and do and as much as I may feel like I deserve some down time in the weekends, I also know that it is a crime to stay indoors when there is so much happening across the city.

If you wanted to, you could live in London like a tourist – cramming your Saturdays and Sundays with market visits (Portobello, Borough, Broadway!), festivals, pop up events, museums and galleries, and more.

That is what I often did when I moved to London four years ago and I absolutely loved taking in everything the city had to offer. In fact I lived in a perpetually dreamy state for six months straight after I arrived, enamoured with the vibrancy of the city, which is always alive and brimming with possibility.

Now that I have been in London for several years and it has truly become my home I feel more comfortable with taking a more relaxed approach to my weekends.

These days most of my staycationing revolves around walking and food. This is a wonderful combination as you can indulge in delicious brunches and dinners and then erase much of the guilt by burning calories directly afterwards. You can’t go wrong!

London has every type of cuisine imaginable and countless restaurants, cafes, diners, market stalls, and more. Before I make eating plans with friends I often consult Google about the best spots in the hopes of unearthing undiscovered gems.

By the same token, as a creature of habit I also like to go back to my favourite places. There is something to be said about knowing what you are going to get and having faith in the quality of food they deliver.

When it comes to walks, I have taken to walking to my many of my destinations instead of taking public transport. London has an amazing underground train service and it has served me well over the years, but it is a real treat to walk above ground across town and take in so many of London’s most famous landmarks.

For instance, a walk from home in west London all the way to London Bridge to get pasta at a wonderful spot called Padella takes me past the Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Southbank. I can assure you, walking past such iconic sights never gets old, no matter how many times you have done it!

So as the weekend approaches I am working out my plans, figuring out where to eat and where to walk to, and I know that by Monday I will feel as though I have had a relaxing and fun-filled staycation.

Confessions of a travelling city dweller

Today I am leaving on a jet plane and heading to Alicante, Spain. As I attempt to not overpack and get into holiday mode I thought it would be a good chance to ruminate on why I am so excited about this holiday.

It is not often that I really dig deep and look into the reasons behind why I travel, but upon reading some of Alain de Botton’s The Art Of Travel, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give it some thought before I jet off.

“At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves – that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us.”

– Alain de Botton – The Art Of Travel

My day to day life is filled with habits and routines, the daily grind of work and often the exact same scenery as I journey to and from work and pass through the exact same locales again and again.

Many of us live this life and it can seem like we are living out the Bill Murray movie ‘Groundhog Day’. We are in perpetual motion but not always fully conscious of what we are doing because we are performing rote actions and routines.

For me, holidays in exotic locales give me an escape from what can seem like the neverending hamster wheel we call life. I am released from the ordinary and confronted with an environment that is entirely different and new and this awakens something within me that can at times be forgotten.

Travelling provides the opportunity to take stock of life as you wander the streets of a foreign city, taking in the different architecture, sounds, smells, food and climate.

If you live in London climate is often key. So many days in London are spent with a perpetual blanket of grey cloud hovering above you (as well as smog which we only notice when we blow our noses).

This is why we embrace the sunny days in London so wholeheartedly and bring our shorts and dresses out prematurely. It is also why I have booked this trip to Spain, which is famed for its high percentage of sunny days.

Sometimes you have those busy holidays which you return from almost in need of another break, but this break is a relaxing one, devoid of any real plans apart from eating, going on long walks across the city, hopefully getting enough sunshine to bathe in and eating some delicious local cuisine.

Ultimately I am in need of time to relax, to shed the stresses that can accompany my everyday working life and to reflect on what is really important to me. Perhaps this reflective state will also lead me to more creative ideas for my blog and other pursuits.

I am aware that I am also very privileged to be in the position to be able to afford to travel and to experience other corners of the world. I need to embrace this opportunity and have gratitude for the fact that I am able to hop on a plane at all.

I am about to close my bags and head off now a little more aware of why I am travelling and what I want to get out of it. I enjoy having this awareness. Perhaps I’ll have a different set of reasons next time. In the meantime, bon voyage!

Female Solo Traveler

Traveling solo if you are a woman is not for the faint-hearted. It is a test for even the most independent of spirits but if you have ever done it before you know that it is well worth doing it at least once.

A word of warning – you must thoroughly enjoy your own company because that is all you will have for the many, many hours that you will be away. This experience is not for people who fear that people are staring at them as if they are the biggest loser on earth if they eat alone at a restaurant. Spoiler alert, you are likely to be eating alone, most if not all of the time. So you need to be at peace with solitude. Either that or you need to have the gift of the gab and the ability to pick up friends along with your travels.

I have traveled solo twice and I find that your choice of city can really make or break the whole experience. I like the cities to be compact and manageable; with plenty of sights to see but not so many that you don’t feel as though you have seen everything you wanted to by the time you leave. Verona and Lisbon perfectly fit that criteria and I had the most amazing time in both cities.

I am a pretty easy going person but I find that the biggest difficulties you get when traveling with others is people often have different ideas about what they want their holiday to be like.

When travelling solo you can prepare for feelings of pure joy at your ability to decide what time to start your days, where and when to eat, how long you want to spend poring over artwork in museums (or not), and whether you want to get around by foot/tram/rail/bus.

I am a big walker and can easily stroll across cities by foot for days at a time from morning through to nighttime with the occasional food stop. This hasn’t always gone down well with travel companions who aren’t up for such a walking-heavy holiday so when I get a chance to do whatever I want I get ready for my perfect holiday jam – walking, eating, reading, sleeping.

My days traveling solo in Verona and Lisbon were filled with blissful walks through bustling town squares, climbs to stunning lookouts spanning as far as the eye could see, meandering walks through picturesque gardens, with the sun beating down on me as my spirit was nourished and relaxation set in.

To beat solitude I had a never-ending soundtrack of my favourite music playing in my ear, punctuated by rest stops spent reading memoirs and essays by the likes of Norah Ephron and Diane Keaton. Their voices kept me company, as if I had a friend telling me funny, personal stories over a cup of coffee. So in a way I did have a companion with me, but one that had no demands whatsoever about what we should do everyday. Perfect company!

While I don’t mind eating alone, it became a bit of a dire situation on occasion. First there was the time that I attempted to get served at the restaurant of a popular site in Lisbon and was ignored, then told they were closed (they weren’t). I guess they just didn’t want a single lady cramping their style.

Then there was the time I was seated and then approached by wait staff who were somewhat concerned, telling me that they ‘don’t get many single women dining alone,’ followed up with recommendations about a music festival happening out of town ‘filled with young people’. Boy oh boy, I must have really been coming across as Sally no mates.

What these people didn’t understand was that I had made a conscious decision to travel to their city on my own, that I had planned my days there meticulously, and that I was having a ball being in my own company.

The memories of those solo holidays are positively dreamy. Awkward solitary meals aside, they were two of my best travel experiences and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.