I love to make lists and write things down to keep my thoughts (and life) organized, and over the years I’ve had many different systems for doing so. I had a brief love affair with the Filofax system, but it just wasn’t flexible enough for me. At one point I just wrote things down on a yellow pad of paper, but the lack of organization and potential for sheets to be ripped out or lost ended up stressing me out, so that was short lived. For a couple years now, my go-to has been a simple lined notebook. I’ve used notebooks made by Clairefontaine and Moleskine and I love both. My favourite size is the Moleskine Large size, 8.25 x 5”.
Then recently I hit upon a new system for organizing things within the notebook itself: bullet journaling! It’s actually a very simple system, but something about the guidelines it sets out has helped me to feel much more organized and in control of all the information I want to keep track of on a daily basis.
First of all, the system uses an index and numbered pages. I haven’t been too consistent about writing down what pages my lists are on and then looking them up, but the times that I remember to do so, I’ve saved lots of time not flipping around from one list to another trying to remember where I wrote what.
It also has a monthly calendar and to-do list at the beginning of each month, followed by pages for daily lists. In the monthly calendar I usually just write down the biggest event that day (I have another agenda that I use for keeping track of appointments), more as a memory aid than anything else. I love the monthly to-do list and use it all the time. The items on the monthly to-do list end up getting transferred to my daily to-do lists and nothing is forgotten. Sometimes, when I’m stressed out, my daily to-do list is short and includes easy items like “shower” (see below) so that I feel better about my productivity. It works!
The daily lists are great, because the bullet journal symbol system makes it easy to incorporate all different kinds of information. The black dot is for ideas & inspiration and might include a book title I heard about that day or a possible birthday gift for a friend. The circle is for events, so this can act as a dayplanner as well. And the square is for to-do list items, perfect for being checked off once they’re accomplished.
And then, of course, are all the random lists. I constantly have a “catch-all” list on the go for writing down all kinds of “black dot” items (ideas & inspiration), some of which end up being turned into to-do list items. Every few days, as the list fills up, I’ll go back and highlight the ones that I haven’t yet taken action on (for example: looked up, researched, figured out, added to my GoodReads, etc) just so they don’t all blur together. Other examples of lists in my most recent bullet journal include: groceries, Korean bucket list, observations, blog post ideas.
And it’s really as simple as that. It’s not necessarily ground-breaking, but for me, even just the idea of having different symbols for different types of information was tremendously helpful. I’m still tweaking the system to work for me and coming up with new symbols to indicate different things, but so far I love this simple method. Check out the bullet journal website & video to learn more. Any organization methods you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them! I’m endlessly fascinated by office supplies and productivity tips.
While on my great adventure, I learned quite a few lessons about myself, other people, the world, and, of course, travelling! I recently received a question from a girl asking if I had any tips for travelling and sightseeing alone in foreign countries, and while I am still a travel novice at best, I thought I’d throw my two cents in about what I learned on the road. This list covers a few different topics from safety and security to handling loneliness, and I’ve tried to aim it at all solo travellers, not just us female ones!
1. Stay in smaller hostels
The idea of meeting more people when you stay in smaller hostels sounds counterintuitive, but it’s absolutely true. My very best experiences – the places I met the most new friends, felt the most comfortable and the least lonely – were at smaller hostels. I loved places that felt more like apartments, with just a few rooms and a kitchen where people would cook and hang out. Whenever I stayed in a place like this, I would end up meeting lots of people to sightsee with, go to dinner with, and go out at night with.
In bigger hostels, ironically, I met far fewer people. The common spaces are so big (more like a bar) that it can be a bit more intimidating to hang out there alone, and even if you do, the atmosphere isn’t conducive to making friends. While the facilities are usually great at hostels like these, the tradeoff is that you’ll be spending a bit more time alone (in my experience). Sometimes I was more than willing to make that tradeoff, other times I wished I was staying somewhere smaller.
If you use a site like HostelWorld (which I used for all my bookings and highly recommend), the smaller hostels will usually have good reviews but not be “HostelWorld Recommended”. I liked to take the time to read through reviews – look for ones from solo travellers that talk about ease of making friends, and friendliness of staff. Some great small hostels from my trip were Olga’s Place (San Sebastian, Spain), Victoria Meublé (Nice, France), and Hostel Brikette (Positano, Italy).
2. Join group activities
More often than not, hostels will run group activities: usually walking tours and pub crawls at larger hostels, and informal outings (usually led by the young surfer dude who works at the hostel) like group dinners or going out at night at smaller hostels. Not all of these will be a fit for your personality, but stay open to all activities that might be suggested to you.
Some of my favourite things to do were to take the Sandeman’s New Europe Free Walking Tour my first day in a new city. Not all cities offer them, but a good number do, and often I made a friend either before the tour or during it. If not, it was an interesting and educational way to spend a few hours. In Amsterdam, they offered a nighttime walk through the Red Light District, which was an awesome way to explore the area at night without having to walk around by myself at night. Finding tours or group activities can be a great way to get a sense of a city’s character by night if you’re not comfortable exploring it on your own.
3. Be smart and alert
I don’t think that travelling alone in a foreign country is as scary as people make it out to be, and fortunately, nothing bad happened to me on my trip. I had a few truly uncomfortable moments, usually when oblivious (or not so oblivious? hard to tell) men tried to talk to me, follow me for a short time, or approach me when I was walking home alone at night. Fortunately, nothing dangerous or scary ever happened.
But whenever I was out on my own after dark, I made sure to be careful and smart. Apart from my first ever night of solo travel in Paris (when I hadn’t expected to be out late and got off at the wrong subway station and was terrified because I was lost), I never went out late if I wasn’t familiar with the area and/or didn’t know how to get back to my hostel. I never walked if I could take public transportation close to my door. I took a taxi if the alternative was finding a night bus in a place I didn’t know very well. I was always very alert and aware. If I had been spending time with friends, they were usually kind enough to walk me home, or at the very least insisted that I send a message when I had arrived safely. I never took any risks, and was always careful when I decided how and when to get home at night. I always made sure to listen to my gut impression of a city – in Lisbon, for instance, I simply didn’t feel comfortable being out after dark, but in the smaller town of Montpellier, I felt more at ease. The times I was out after dark alone were usually truly lovely times, like listening to music at a street festival or riding a water bus.
Often when I was out at night it was with new friends – it’s ideal if you can find people to spend the evenings with! And many times, I simply chose not to go out too late, usually because I was exhausted from sightseeing, wanted to catch up with family or friends, or just because I didn’t feel like it.
Don’t be afraid. In general Europe is not some horribly scary place where bad things happen – no more than the rest of the world, anyway. As long as you’re smart, don’t take too many chances, assess rewards vs. risks, and don’t be afraid to taxi home, I’m sure you will have a wonderful time.
4. Travel light
I’ve explained this one in some detail here, but I think it’s worth repeating. Not only will travelling light save you stress, it will also make you feel more independent and in control. In my whole three-month trip, I don’t remember getting help with my bag once, except perhaps from friends or family who insisted on carrying it after meeting me at the train station. It was heavy, it was my own little monster, but it was manageable and I could handle it myself. This was very important to me.
I never wanted to feel or look vulnerable. I didn’t want to struggle with my bag and have my attention be split. Having a backpack allowed me to navigate new places with my hands free which is wonderful for looking at maps or reading directions. I think travelling with a backpack of a manageable size and weight also means that you won’t be preyed upon – you’re moving fast, and you’re alert and aware. Plus, it’ll save you a few headaches when it easily fits into luggage compartments and under hostel beds.
5. Befriend the solo traveller
Most likely, this will happen naturally, but in case it doesn’t: solo travellers are the best kind of friends for other solo travellers! Keep an eye out for people in your room or hostel who are travelling alone, especially other solo female travellers if you’re a girl. They are great travel buddies because they understand the struggle of taking selfies in front of important monuments and the occasional (though not always!) boredom of eating alone. They tend to be game to join up for the day and are usually very interesting people with very interesting backstories.
With solo travellers, you also don’t feel like you’re interrupting something or intruding, the way you sometimes do when you befriend best friends, or a couple. Though I must say that I made friends with pairs of friends and really kind, lovely couples on my trip, so there’s no one hard and fast rule except: be friendly to everyone! But I did find that many natural friendships occurred with other people flying solo.
6. Be friendly
I know it sounds painfully obvious, but it’s not always. Travelling alone can be pretty lonely at times, and if you don’t make an effort, it can become a vicious cycle until you move on to the next place. You can help yourself out by staying in smaller hostels, where you’re more likely to be swept up in the friendly tide of people, but you also have to make an effort to be friendly.
Smile at people. Say hello. Start conversations. Ask where people are from and where they’re travelling and really listen to their answers. Ask what their plans for the day are, and if you can join them (see #5 – this is usually more comfortable with other solo travellers!). This is not my natural setting – I can be quite introverted – so I know it can be really hard, but on the road, things change. If you want to make new friends, you have to make an effort! I often had to remind myself to be open and say hello (the #1 thing you can do) because my knee-jerk response is to keep to myself and do my own thing. But the key thing to remember is that everyone wants to make friends, they’re probably just shy too.
So keep smiling! Be prepared to spend a chunk of time exploring on your own, and embrace that – I actually prefer being alone while sightseeing because I get to decide how long I want to spend somewhere, if I even want to go elsewhere, when to eat, when to rest, etc. But I think you’ll find that with a little friendliness, you can make some truly great friends.
7. Let someone know where you are
Not for every minute of every day, but I liked for someone to know at least the city and the country I was in. This helped me feel connected to home when I felt very far away, and made me feel a little more tethered and safe. This tip might not work for everyone, especially people who are more free-spirited than I, and who are planning their trip day by day. But I made various changes to my itinerary as I went along, and still liked for my family to have a loose schedule of where I was going to be when.
I also had the habit of sending my mom a text message or email when I arrived safely in a new city and had found my way to my hostel – she liked to know, and I liked that someone knew. I rarely told anyone which hostel I was staying at because I usually booked my hostel only a few days in advance of my arrival and it would have been more complicated to keep my schedule updated with all those details.
8. Book hostels in advance
I never arrived to a new city after dark, and I never arrived to a new city without having booked a bed in a hostel. Both of those things were non-negotiable to me, because I simply didn’t want to put that added stress on myself. I knew I would find it too stressful and tiring (my bag was heavy!) to walk around to different hostels asking for a bed, when it’s so easy and straightforward to book online! Especially since I was travelling alone and would have nobody to split the work with or strategize with.
That being said, I didn’t have all my hostels booked before I left on my trip. I was tempted, because I like to have things planned, but I resisted the urge and I’m so happy I did. It allowed me so much more flexibility to change my plans, and staying longer or shorter times in different cities. Like I said above, I usually booked my hostels about a week to a few days before arriving there. This sometimes became frustrating, especially when I got a great hostel recommendation from other travellers and the place turned out to be sold out when I tried to book it, but I always managed to find a good place. It gave me so much peace of mind to not have to worry about accommodation along with all the other mental chaos that comes with being plunked down in a brand-new city.
9. Connect with loved ones
When you’re on the move all the time, trying to soak up the culture and spirit of a new place, it can be hard to remember to take time to slow down and refill your tank with love and conversations from your loved ones. Before you know it, you might hit a low point and desperately need some of that love, but suddenly everyone is at work, or at school, or asleep (dang time difference!) or otherwise preoccupied with living their busy lives.
This happened to me more than once. I could be flying along, loving everything, making friends, and then suddenly I’d have a bad day or be staying in a bad hostel, and I’d be feeling the loneliness more than ever, but my favourite people back home were busy. This was not their fault, and it wasn’t mine either, but a better strategy is to try your best to keep in touch, keep reaching out, keep replying to emails and Facebook messages and making Skype dates. That way, if you come back to the hostel after a long day, you have replies to your messages and SnapChats that can perk you up, make you feel loved, and bring you back to your happy self.
It’s so easy to forget to reply when you’re constantly on the go, but that might leave your loved ones to think “hey, she’s totally happy and out having adventures! I don’t need to worry about her”, while you’re on the other end, craving connection.
10. Embrace being a solo traveller
My #1 tip for solo travel is to embrace it. Look for the positives, find the bright side, relish in your freedom and independence, truly enjoy your time alone. When you’re alone, you get to decide what you do, when, where, and for how long. You get to eat gelato at 10AM and not have anyone say anything about it. You get to take photos of absolutely everything and not have to jog to catch up with anyone. You can sit on a step in the drizzling rain and listen to classical music played by a 4-piece string quartet. You can have a 3 course lunch that involves sangria and lasts 3 hours. You can stop and sit on a park bench and read your book for as long as you like. You can stand in line for a food truck and eat on the grass in the park. You can wander a street festival or market as many times as you want (for me, it’s usually many times).
Of course, you can do most these things with other people, but embrace the fact that you don’t have to consult anyone – you can do what you want, when you want. Some of my very best memories from my trip are of times I was alone: floating on my back in crystal blue water, hiking a really difficult trail and rewarding myself with pizza and beer, watching the sunset over truly exquisite countryside, listening to French people play Celtic music while eating a sweet onion fritter at the best street festival in the world. So embrace your freedom and your independence, be brave, and enjoy this truly special time.
I’d love to hear your tips on travelling solo and/or being a solo female traveller, specifically. What have you learned? What would you do differently? What would you like to know? Let me know in the comments below!
2012 was the year that I got back into running. I haven’t run so much, or so consistently since I was on the cross-country running team in Grade 10. I’m happy that I’ve kept it up, I’m happy that it’s getting easier, and I’m happy (most of all) that I’m enjoying it.
When I wrote about running here, I had really only just started up a running routine. Happily, all of what I wrote then still holds true for me today. I still adore my Nike+ GPS app and my bright turquoise shoes. I still focus mainly on just getting out the door and not pushing too hard. I still try to run variations on the same route.
But I’ve picked up some more motivational tips along the way! Running has spread like a virus within my friend group (a few of us recently did The Colour Run together!) which means there’s a wealth of information about running at my fingertips. I’ve now created a running routine that works for me, and I’ve been sticking to it. I’ll share what works for me, but keep in mind that everyone is motivated differently, and not everything that works for me may work for you! That being said, maybe you’ll see something here that hits home – I certainly did, since most of these things I learned from someone else.
Schedule: I run (at least) twice a week, just like I blog (at least) twice a week. In fact, I do both activities on the same day. For the past two semesters, I’ve had fairly open mornings on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I tend to run and blog during those mornings. I find it much easier to declare which specific days and during what time periods I’ll run than to decide to just “try and run twice a week”. By having an “implementation intention”, it makes it easy and automatic: for me, if it is Monday or Wednesday morning, I am going running.
My other rule is that I have to leave the house by 11:50AM to go running, otherwise I don’t have enough time to run, shower, get ready and leave for class on time. I find this strategy of singling out the last possible time I could leave to be extremely helpful, because it doesn’t let me make excuses or get flustered. I know that if I leave at that time, I will still have lots of time, so I don’t get stressed out during my run (when I want my mind to be relaxed, not worrying!). Also, having that time in mind makes planning my morning easier. There is no second-guessing or thinking involved, I just know I have to organize myself well enough to be able to go running by 11:50. Having a window of time I could go running in works better for me than having a specific time that I have to leave.
Running in the morning for me is a no-brainer. I know that later on in the day I’m usually busier, not to mention I don’t want to change my clothes, or disrupt my day. If I run in the morning, it’s out of the way and taken care of.
My advice would be to take a good look at your schedule, and work backwards. Choose a window of time that you could go running in, whether that be in the morning or evening, then schedule it in.
Fuel: Mornings that I run, I’ll do one of three things.
1. Not eat anything (rarely)
2. Drink a smoothie (only if I have enough time to eat/partially digest it before I run, otherwise it sloshes around in my stomach and makes me nauseous)
3. Drink a cup of caffeinated tea (usually chai) and eat a Clif bar.
I typically go with option #3, though today I chose option #2. Clif bars are expensive, however, and are a meal replacement. I am planning to make my own energy bars (from nuts, dates, etc), which cost far less! The meal replacement part doesn’t worry me as much, because I’m not eating it as a snack – it truly is replacing my breakfast.
When I get back from running I’m usually not very hungry. I haven’t investigated post-run protein shakes, but for the past few weeks I’ve been drinking a big glass of cold water with 1 tbsp of chia seeds. I don’t love the texture, but I’m glad to be working them into my diet as they are very healthy. I’m still working out the best fuel system for me. I have friends who don’t eat anything, or who eat four hours before they run, so there are a lot of options. I think that deciding what/if to eat is a process of trial-and-error, of experimenting and then listening to your body. I still haven’t perfected what I eat pre-run, but my current systems are working out pretty well.
Thoughts: Running has become a bit of a “flow” activity for me, which is wonderful. I don’t think about much while I’m out there, except avoiding pedestrians, focusing on the next stretch, or a few mantras. When I think back to my runs, sometimes I’m surprised at how empty my mind was – I really do just focus on the next micro-goal, one at a time. My “mantras” when I run are more like prompts, and most of them I pirated from Born to Run. The main one is “easy, smooth, light, fast”, which is self-explanatory but so, so great. Those words really direct the way I try to run. The second is “tall”, as in stand up straight, don’t hunch. Others include “cycle your legs underneath you”, “small steps”, and “check your form”. These thoughts pop into my mind quite a bit throughout the time I’m running, and they really help me focus on my gait. I would recommend choosing any one thought/mantra (you can get them from anywhere!) and thinking about it while you run. It’s interesting to me how quickly these thoughts became automatic for me, and now they just pop up spontaneously.
“Gear”: This one’s in quotation marks because I don’t have much of it at all, nor do I think I really need all that much. Until I’m running half marathons, I think for the most part my regular old track pants and gym t-shirts will do me just fine. The two exceptions to this are my sports bra and my running shoes. I recently bought this bra, which cost me an arm and a leg, but I don’t regret it one bit. It’s comfortable, and doesn’t dig in. There isn’t too much elastic. It’s supportive without being constricting. My last sports bra was made entirely of elastic, and always felt like it was constricting my breathing (granted, that could have been all in my head, but it also left scary marks on my sides). This one’s a dream! As I’ve mentioned before, I have the New Balance Minimus Zero shoes. They are great, but I definitely have to pay attention to my form and posture, and not let myself just bang down hills. There’s no real cushioning, so I have to be very careful. Yes, sometimes I wish I had more fancy Lululemon shirts, but the truth is that wearing those doesn’t make you a runner. You’ve got to put in the work, and the work can be done wearing pretty much anything at all.
Goals: I love goals. They are so great for boosting my focus and motivation. My main goal this year was to be able to run 10K. I’ve been slowly (very slowly) working towards it, a little at a time. When I set that goal, I wasn’t even running at all, but now I’ve gotten up to 8.35K and I’m very proud. I still have a couple months to go before 2013, and I have no doubt I’ll reach it. Setting a broad goal for the year is better for me than setting goals for each week. Some weeks I’m very tired, and only want to do a short loop before stopping. Other weeks, I’m ready for a challenge. Having a very broad goal gives me freedom from week-to-week, which stops me from getting too discouraged!
My second goal was to run a race! This one was very effective in keeping me going when September rolled around and I didn’t feel like running. I chose a fun 5K for my first race, but nonetheless I was doing it with 3 friends that I didn’t want to look silly in front of! So I practiced, and kept running, and kept practicing. I didn’t want to be too slow or out of shape to keep up, and it was very good motivation! (Because of this practice, I was actually able to keep up during the race, and keep up my running into the fall).
I’m happy to report that because of all of these small changes, I’m actually enjoying the process of running. I don’t necessarily love it while I’m out there, sometimes it hurts and it’s always pretty hard. But I always find myself smiling – yes, smiling – at some point during my run. Sometimes the right song comes on and the wind blows and I just feel great, and I smile. That usually happens for at least a couple seconds, even if the rest of the time is a slog. In any case, running is a great activity because it’s fresh air, exercise, goals, “runner’s high”, people-watching. Plus, it is a huge confidence booster to see yourself slowly improve. I’m hoping to keep up my running practice during the winter, but I might need a bit more gear for that! We’ll see.
Do you have any running tips for me? I’d love to hear them! Do let me know what works for you.