Traveling solo as a woman? You are a genius!
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Did you do it yet? Did you buy the ticket? If you’re thinking about traveling solo as a woman, that’s the first big step. The true catalyst; putting into motion events that will change your life forever.
I know a few things about changing my life forever. I’ve been around the world a few times traveling solo as a woman – I’ve been to twenty seven countries and four continents, many by myself.
I have been to every state in the continental USA barring the Dakotas and Idaho. I’ve hiked the staircase to Machu Picchu in complete darkness, swam in the Black Sea off Bulgaria and explored the dense jungles of Cambodia. The impetus for my travel was to study International Tourism abroad in college, after that experience, I couldn’t stop.
I live to travel and my thirst to see new things is insatiable.
In Greece (one of Nomads Nation’s Must Visit Destinations of 2017), I met an ancient looking man on a train, he was traveling by himself. He had always wanted to see the Parthenon but put it off, waiting for the right time. Now he could finally go, but his wife had passed away and his knees hurt and he was exhausted and he wasn’t sure if he would be able to make it to his destination. His story made me realize that the time is now.
Don’t put it off, the time is now.
The chances are that you’ve already told your friends and family of the plan, or maybe just dream at this point, of traveling to a foreign country by yourself. Ninety-eight percent of your friends probably think you’ve finally lost it, maybe a few close ones were supportive, at least more supportive of the dream than your mother.
If your mother is anything like mine, she probably looked at you like you’ve just had the craziest idea yet to date, asked a few probing questions; to make sure you were being serious, and then promptly started praying.
I was there. I felt the confused eyes squinting in on me, while their noses wrinkled.
“You’re going where?” inevitably next was…
“With who?… No one??”
“You’re going to get killed or kidnaped or sold on the black market or — insert worse thing imaginable here—”.
A co-worker had me convinced I was going to wake up in a bathtub of cold water with my organs removed. I spent most of a day in a state of sheer terror- until I got home and could look up the likelihood, and don’t worry. This fear-mongerer saw it in a horror flick.
There will always be someone who has a terrible worse case scenario for you- to put it simply: haters gunna’ hate.
They don’t understand the thrill of the experience of traveling solo as a woman. These naysayers probably haven’t gotten out of town in a while, and can’t see the beauty of seeing different places, and other ways of doing things.
Let me Inspire You
If you are thinking about traveling solo as a woman, let me tell you something.
You are not crazy. You are a genius, and you are about to have the time of your life.
Furthermore, you are not by yourself! There are thousands of women right now in distant beautiful lands exploring their dreams, and making them reality. Even better news is that you’re going to meet these adventurous like-minded ladies on your travels!
I’m here to help you get a feel for what it will be like, to travel by yourself, for the first time.
I guarantee after this first trip you’ll be hooked. Just like me. You’ll get the bug, the travel bug!
Traveling solo as a woman you can expect several ubiquitous experiences, regardless of where you go. You’re going to get there and experience life, raw and beautiful, you’re going to learn about yourself, but it will take some physical and mental work. I want you to be prepared for the natural flow of the following.
- Nerves and defining your fears
- Helpful locals
- Fast friends from all over the world
Nerves traveling solo as a woman
Traveling solo as a woman can be arduous. You may be frightened, and rightly so. These fears are your body’s natural way of saying – be prudent, look where you’re going. All that joy of feeling by yourself, in charge, and ready to conquer the world can be dashed after you get duped into paying too much for that taxi, or got lost for the first time.
Or much sooner, as you will see in my less than flattering story of my first real trip by myself.
I woke up bright and early – my bag was perfectly packed, my clothes laid out, my mom waiting outside, ready to take me to the airport. I had initially planned to go with my best friend but after months of talking, when it came time to buy the ticket, she didn’t have the money saved. In blind stubborn confidence I decided I was going nonetheless. I bought a one way ticket to Bangkok. I emptied out my apartment, put my stuff in storage and quit my job. I was ready to go!
After a tearful goodbye from my mom and a promise to take care, I was off, onto my first leg of the trip.
Leaving South Florida, I had a nine hour layover at John F. Kennedy Airport, and I experienced nerves like never before.
I think I spent at least five of those layover hours crying in the bathroom of JFK. “What have I done?” I asked myself. “I have finally lost it” and “What the hell was I thinking, I can’t do this” I wrote in my journal and cried and looked at flights from JFK back home.
Slowly I built the courage to call my parents. Bemoaning my decision I called crying and desperate. My mother answered. “Oh my gosh, are you okay?? What’s the matter?” She must have thought her worries were correct, the airport had been bombed, and I had lost a limb or worse, based on the fervor of my sobs. “I can’t do this!!” I finally managed to get out. “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this alone.”
My mom listened. My dad listened. I spoke of my fears, and they validated them, telling me I had every right to be afraid traveling solo as a woman.
But regardless of their fears for me, they encouraged me to continue my trip. I remember my dad saying clearly. “If you don’t like it you can turn right back around, and come right home, and no one will think less of you.”
He said, “You’re so brave for deciding to do this, you bought the ticket and put in the planning.” He said, “Just go. If you don’t like it you can turn right back around.”
This was the best travel advice I have ever received. Just go.
If you don’t like it, you can turn right back around.
This became my mantra. I became focused on the small tasks.
“Ok I just have to make it to Dubai.”
“Ok I just have to make it to my hostel in Bangkok. If I don’t like it, I can turn right back around.”
But as it turned out I loved it, it was the best decision and the impetus for other wonderful decisions. Traveling solo as a woman allowed me to grow in ways I did not know possible. Maybe not at first, as I was still wobbly, getting my travel legs on and getting used my new life as a Nomad.
Hopefully your nerves won’t be as bad as mine were, but I want to tell you, you have the right to be nervous!
It’s an incredible undertaking shipping yourself to a far corner of the globe. But have faith in yourself and if I can assure you with my dad’s words
“Just go. If you don’t like it you can turn right back around.”
Define your fears traveling solo as a woman
What are you afraid of exactly? It helps to identify these things so you can look at them objectively and evaluate which fears are valid and which ones you can hang up on the shelf (so to speak).
Fear #1 – Being lonely/FOMO
Loneliness is a legitimate fear when traveling solo as a woman. Leaving your well established, groomed life behind, where everything is cush and planned. Sure you can meet friends on the way but you are going to miss home.
At least for a little while, maybe for a long while if you left a significant other on the other side of the world. And you may wonder what everyone is up to and what’s going on a Friday night in your home town.
I had friends snap chatting me pictures of them, together, in my favorite bar at home. I felt like missed my first born’s birthday when they changed the felt on the pool table from green to red. I wasn’t there.
That was the fear of missing out. FOMO at its finest. The problem with this fear is, all those people and those Friday nights will be there when you get back. Nothings going to change. In fact, my travels helped me appreciate home more than ever.
Fear #2 – Not knowing what the hell you’re doing
I said it. You haven’t got a freaking clue. You are in another place far-far away and you don’t know what the hell you are doing. You’ve never done it before. That’s frightening.
You don’t know where the hotel is you don’t know where to eat, you’ve heard some of the food makes people sick. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a foreign hotel expelling all fluids because some strange food has robbed you of all liquids.
So you’re skeptical, you don’t trust. Is the ice in this drink going to make me ill? Is this driver driving me to the right place? In the right direction? And of course the stupid cellular network is not working!
You could be driving to the warehouse district, and your presumptive death, and you don’t even know! These were some of my fears traveling solo as a woman, streaming, real life fears.
But you know what happened?
Despite my deepest fears, no one tried to kidnap me. No one tried to kill me.
I never got food poisoning. The ice cubes were fine. The visa process between countries was easier than I imagined.
All these fears I had were real; and in the moment they can seem crushing. But I promise you, you will get through those little moments and you will be proud of your strong constitution when you arrive on the other side.
Fear Tonic #1 – Effective Planning!
The way you dissolve nerves is through research, knowing as much as you can about a place before you get there. Your research will make you feel more comfortable because you have a way to predict what will happen. Not leaving it all to chance, because of course that’s scary, it’s also plain stupid.
Here’s an example. The most frightening thing to me was the transfer from the airport in Bangkok to the hotel. During my first time traveling solo as a woman, I remember my first steps out of the airport. I knew I’d look like such a tourist with my fresh clean bag, and the trip would take me about an hour, right after 32 hours of airplanes and airports.
I had major trust issues with the taxis and with anyone really because I didn’t know what to expect. I decided to get a hotel that had a link to the skytram. The metro system that went above the city. I trusted myself more that anyone else, that’s why I wanted to go this route.
I could have walked outside the airport and immediately hailed a cab. But that made me nervous.
We all have our own individual quandaries. I researched the airport and the metro line and looked at maps of where to ticket sales were and which stops I would need to get off at and transfer and I looked at Google street view so I could see how I would find the hotel, and what it looked like from the outside.
By the way – none of this was necessary. I could have easily hailed a cab for roughly twenty more dollars, but I was afraid of that. It was my first time traveling solo as a woman, and it made uncomfortable. So I researched MY best route.
Planning is the most important thing you can do to fight nerves. Planning helps transform your uncertainty into clear tangible thoughts. You can define what does worry you. And plan against it!
Fear Tonic #2 – Travel Insurance!
Traveling solo as a woman can be intimidating, and the answer to this fear I found was travel insurance! You pay a nominal fee, if anything bad happens, they take care of it. This greatly helped my worries.
When I went off on a frightened delusion about my laptop being stolen from below the bus, I would remember travel insurance and force myself back to sleep. If something really awful happened like my death, my plan included an insurance to have my body shipped back to the USA.
Just in case, so my parent wouldn’t have to spend their live savings flying my corpse home.
Unpleasant thought, umm YES, but your brain comes up with the craziest things when you are sleep deprived and in another time zone or what, at times, feels like, another world.
I was also very afraid of being robbed, which travel insurance helped take the edge off of. Keep your possessions close in your front pocket, don’t leave your stuff on the table when you use the restroom, this should go without saying. But I was beyond cautious, I was paranoid.
My first time traveling solo as a woman, I didn’t carry anything of value on me (nor do I ever) but I was obsessed with checking if I still had everything. Do I have my ATM card still, or “where’s my phone?” or “where’s the passport?”. I would freak out for several seconds, and all those seconds of worry truly add up. At that point, you are spending your vacation in a state of anxiety, fearing being robbed.
I mean these alleged robbers would have to be the sneakiest individuals on the planet. How could they get into my front pocket without me noticing. Yet I was still fearful. Knowing that I was insured helped reduce the fear.
Now that I’ve spilled my biggest fears, I look back and feel proud and empathetic towards this sweet naive girl – afraid of so much, yet marching right along.
Fake it till you make it!
These were simply the thoughts that were running through my head, in these specific scenarios, that happened to freak me out, and make me feel vulnerable. I want to be upfront, you’ll have things that make you uncomfortable. Steer clear of those thing, trust yourself, and you’ll be just fine.
After all that talk on nerves I want to assure you there will be wonderful helpful people that see you are traveling solo as a woman, making your way.
They will be angels on your path, and they will guide you.
Even though you probably don’t speak the same language, a smile is the same, and it will show that you are thankful for their help.
Some of the most helpful people on your journey will be the front desk person at your hostel. I recommend booking a nicer hostel when you first get into an area with good reviews as you get your footing.
The person at the front desk has likely answered all sorts of questions and they know how much it should cost for this or that, or where to exchange money, or can call a cab for you if don’t feel comfortable hailing one yourself.
This person is your connection and they have nothing to gain by giving you bad information, they want to help, (and it’s actually kind of their job.)
I am not suggesting to totally wing it and count on others to do the work of navigating for you.
When you are traveling solo as a woman, always evaluate the person you are asking. I go for people in uniforms, or shop clerks because they are stationary and know the area. The elderly are always a safe call because they are not physically threatening, but depending on where you are traveling, it’s likely they probably won’t speak english, so prepare for some creative sign language!
Point to yourself, say, “I go,” make the sign of waking with your fingers that look like feet walking quickly on the flat palm of your other hand, point to location on map. You are trying to convey where you want to go. They will help you. You’re going to look silly but try to be carefree, make it a game, have fun, these trials are a test of your creative intelligence.
As mentioned before, you want to educate yourself, plan what you want to see, look up how far away things are, and look at maps (check out maps.me for satellite gps, no wifi needed). But when you end up at the wrong bus stop or can’t figure out which way the metro is actually heading, asking someone for help is a viable option.
Honestly they will probably be thrilled to practice a little English, or communicate with someone that is so foreign, so interesting.
In my experience helpful people of all countries have risen to the occasion answering my question with maybe just a grunt and finger pointing in the right direction, or maybe they speak some of your language and can be of more help. But you will find your way with the help of some wonderful people. Besides no one is expecting you to do it all by yourself – you can always ask for help.
Navigating solo as a woman traveler
Navigating a new city in your home country could be difficult, let alone on the other side of the world in a foreign culture. It gets more complicated.
First off street signs. They are unintelligible if you don’t speak the language of the land you are visiting. This got me in quite a bit of trouble in Mexico.
I was driving with my friend in Tijuna. I was living in San Diego at the time and we were hoping to make a quick trip over the border to enjoy some Mexican food. My friend spoke Spanish and he was the driver, I was the co-pilot. I was supposed to tell him where to go, which street to turn on.
I followed the GPS telling us to make a right. We made the right and something didn’t look right, the cars were parked to wrong way. Then we realized, we were on a one way street!
Just as we realized this we heard siren, the police were behind us in an instant.
We were pulled over and my inability to be an effective co-pilot and the corruption with-in the system ended in a night at the police station and a pretty hefty fine. This was an extreme circumstance, but it makes my point – traveling (especially driving in a foreign land) is difficult and could come with consequences.
You’re going to need to get around. There are so many different ways to navigate and traverse this foreign terrain. All of them with their merits, choose the one that works with your comfort level and budget. Plan from there.
Now that I am an experienced traveler, and gotten over my paranoid fear of airport taxis, I always pay for a driver. Before I land in a new country I research how much a taxi would cost from the airport to my hotel. I also research the reputable companies in the country. This is just a simple Google search (Young Adventuress and Travel Independent have some great information, or try the free skype session on NomadsNation.)
I’ll usually pick a hotel in the downtown tourist district at least for the first night. I’ll take a screenshot of my hotels name and address just in case I don’t have service in the new country or am having trouble with wifi in the airport.
I’ll show the screenshot to the taxi driver, just in case he doesn’t speak English. I also have a hard time saying words in the foreign language sometimes, which is why I always recommend having it written down. You don’t want your mispronunciation resulting in you being dropped off at the wrong hotel in the wrong district of the city.
Ask them how much the taxi should cost and agree on a price before you start the trip. If they are asking too much don’t be afraid to say no, and hop out. This usually gets them to give you the correct price.
Insist on them using the meter. It’s the law that they use it in most countries I’ve visited, but still some drivers try to scam for an extra buck.
Another option is to email the hotel before you arrive and ask for a private car pickup. This is usually more expensive but I’ve found it’s worth it to pay the extra couple bucks to have a guy out front of the airport with your name on a sign. Especially when you are struggling with jet lag.
This driver has vested interest in getting you to the location safely. In my experience they have parked and walked me to the hotel if it’s on a side street. I paid the hotel for the service, they paid the driver. The drivers wants that payment so the are going to make sure you get to your destination.
Finding paradise traveling solo as a woman
You’re going to get there and not be able to believe your eyes. There was a reason you chose this place right? It’s going to be beautiful, and different, and it’s going to blow your mind! The people there have a different set of norms, they do things different and it’s very exciting to see, and hopefully feel a part of.
Remember you’re by yourself! Want to take longer at the museum? Go for it!
Want to sleep in, or go to bed early so you can wake at daybreak to hike the Acropolis? That’s your decision, no clearance needed!
You can do whatever you like! Traveling solo as a woman let’s you get to know yourself and what you want! It breeds self-awareness and it feels electrifying.
The word that describes this transitional feeling is liminal; occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. You were just home and came remember the simple joys of the routine, and now you are here. It feels like a foreign planet, or maybe like you died and made it to heaven: much to your surprise. The juxtaposition of the two worlds is baffling.
The physical beauty of the new location is a phenomenon in and of itself. Things you never thought were beautiful you’re going to be taking pictures of. Its unbelievable.
A park with old ladies doing stretches at 6 am, kids in their perfect little uniforms on the way to school, fruit stands with bright colored produce you’ve never seen before, the architecture. All these little differences are magical, you can’t take your eyes off of it, you can’t stop looking.
This leads to long walks around town, to nowhere in particular. Maybe listening to music, maybe just enjoying the sounds of the street. Walking with a street map from the hotel crammed into your back pocket. Trying to remember, right at the pharmacy, left at the cell phone store, and then all in reverse on the way home. Get lost. Worst case you pay a cab to get you home.
I try to walk everywhere I can physically make it when I am traveling (which is astonishing because I hardly walk anywhere when I’m home). I’ll look up the walking directions to wherever my heart desires and I study it for a bit. Perhaps while having a pre-walk pint, it’s a real life, choose your own adventure; your book! Notice the big streets and the cross street names. Making sure it’s walkable, distance-wise. Then I go for it.
Like I said earlier, the sights and sounds will captivate you. Small neighborhoods, and construction workers building what seems to be permit-less architecture and coffee shops and gypsies trying to sell you trinkets, small squares and statues and history, as they tell it.
You really get the feel of the place, walking around being part of the noise. My walkabouts on the town are some of my dearest memories.
Pro tip: when you’re jet lagged those first few days, get up at dawn and wander. One of my favorite times is sunrise, when the frail, street vending old ladies bring out their food carts and the shop keepers push up the rolled aluminum siding. Everyone is still rubbing their eyes, to get the sleep out. Things are being delivered and trash is being removed. And it’s beautiful in its own crazy way. This is an honest authentic view of a place. Unless I planned a specific day trip, I typically sleep through this beauty; later in the trip. Enjoy it when you cannot get back to sleep anyways!
Bicycles are also a lovely option. You get around much more quickly, can go farther, they are cheap to rent, and shouldn’t require your passport.
Remember my recommendation for identifying your fears? Specifying them so you can better understand yourself? This is the part where you get to do the exact same thing, but for your traveling interests!
Why do you want to go to a certain place? What draws you there, specifically? Figure that out.
Make a list and go to those places. I find I’m interested in old temples and architecture. The Colosseum and and Pantheon were a primary interest in the Mediterranean, I went to Cambodia for Angkor Wat, Peru for Machu Picchu. I love old abandoned cities and traces of the old ways of humanity.
There are always art museums, and historical sites. Famous parks. These are also my loves while I’m solo. That and beaches. There’s nothing like a good book in a sleepy seaside village where no one will bother you.
Contemplate your dreams, and make it a reality. The opportunities are endless.
If you are an adventurous eater you’ll be happy as a clam. No matter where you go the locals have their culinary flare. You’ll never have crepes like you do in Brittany, eclairs like you do Paris, or green curry like you will in Thailand. (Or, oh my lord, the sticky mango rice!)
These flavors are incredible, and the produce is most likely grown locally. They have all the correct ingredients, unlike the shitty versions you’ll attempt to create once home. Plan to gain some weight.
Relaxation is another beautiful part of traveling. You have no real agenda- that can’t be broken. Sleep in, go for breakfast, come back to the hostel, jump in the pool to cool off, take a walk to go see some sights, eat some more, take a nap. Life can be as chill or packed with activities as you like.
Making friends as a solo female traveler
Feel like some company? Meeting friends as a single female traveler is cake.
I recommend checking into a well-reviewed hostel, which boasts of a nice place to relax, in one of the female dorm rooms. There will then be 6 or 8 or maybe 4 other females’ that are brave inspired travelers. With stories to tell. I bet even if you are the most shut-in reclusive hermit, you could make friend by suppertime, if you try.
In a world where we are increasingly attached to our devices and we have our friends, and the pervasive “don’t bother me” culture. Traveling resets that. You can go to the bar with your book and hang out, look at your map, chat with the other travelers, introduce yourself, get out of the cushy comfort zone and grow. This skill is completely transferable and we don’t often get the chance to get to make new friends, from all over the world.
So how do you do it? How do you start meeting other traveler while traveling solo as a woman? After you’ve checked into your well reviewed hostel that boasts of a chill vibe and place to hang out, go down to the bar or community area. Bring a book or journal, your phone to get the wifi, a map, or anything that you need to work on. Get comfy, be yourself, order something to drink, ask for the wifi code – now your talking the hotel staff.
Ask them how long they lived in the country? If they are from this town specifically. Usually there will be a couple other people sitting around, enjoying the space and the freedom of traveling, with no real agenda, that are genuinely interested in these questions too, or at least half listening.
Alternatively, ask the other travelers directly. Where are you from? How long have you been on the road, traveling. Where have you been? Where are you going? People generally like to talk about themselves, especially when it’s to tell you about all the cool shit they have done.
It’s really about not being shy. And not giving a damn. It also helps to remember- I am never going to see these people again, if I don’t want to. Turn it into a game. I’m not saying lie about who you are. But you can say whatever you want, and they can too, and it’s liberating.
I was going through Southeast Asia and I was nervous about being alone. I thought not having a man with me or at least a friend might lead me into being targeted. So I wore a fake wedding ring, and researched teaching jobs in the capital. So if someone did creep me out I could say I lived in Bangkok as a teacher with my husband. This made me feel better. I am an honest person and I suck at lying, but it made me feel better, so I did it.
It helped in a few awkward conversations with taxi drivers and friendly locals that seemed to want to know every detail about my life. They were probably just making conversation, but it made me feel better to say I had someone near, that would know if I disappeared.
If you’re sick of the group of friends you found, change hostels, there’s a whole new of travelers there. Want to see different things then your new friends? Perfect, no problem; you can go see what you want and meet back up with them later.
I had a great experience with a group of travelers I met in Koh Chang, Thailand. A group of twelve-ish people met just by staying at the same bungalows, some of which were traveling solo as women as well. We all got on really well, and whenever I did decide to wake up there would be someone down at the pool or having breakfast that I could chill with.
Our gang was partying, kayaking, renting scooters, and going to waterfalls, all the things we each individually researched and wanted to do, but with a wide array of interesting people from interesting places. I was having a great time with these guys but time was going fast and I wanted to see Cambodia and Chiang Mai.
Well, in this beautifully connected world I only needed to find them on Facebook and make some vague plans for a few weeks from then and go explore what I wanted to see. Wouldn’t you know I met up with these fine friends on three other islands and in Bangkok? We later went to the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, saw Muay Thai fighting, and had a blast.
I’m not saying you will find fast friends like this where ever you go, but I am saying with a little effort you can meet others and not be by yourself, if you want to. Additionally when you travel you are surrounded with other brave adventurous souls, which want to see the world, just like you.
Traveling solo as a woman is the most thrilling experience and the greatest gift you can give yourself. You will learn about yourself, you will gain confidence. Things may get difficult because travel can be hard, but you will have help.
Whenever you feel like conversation there’s a group of lovely travelers down at the bar, laughing, that would love to chat you up, and hear your story. You will tell that story, which is your own, and you will see yourself for what you really are and what’s important to you. This is living.
Go see for yourself!
Only when traveling solo as a woman you can see yourself so clearly. Stripped of your job and your home and your friends or spouse it’s just you. Who are you? What do you like? Self-reflection wells within you. To be honest, aren’t you the most important person you can learn about?
There’s nothing like arriving in a country of millions of people, knowing not a soul, and needing to navigate. It is exhilarating! You know that there’s no one else to make to make the decisions for you. It’s all up to you. It can be trying, but it’s worth it, I promise!
You are in charge of your life, of your trip, of your next move. How often in our increasingly dictated lives do we ever feel completely in control? Like it’s all up to you?
Through your travels you will learn to trust yourself, and your confidence will grow. This will not happen right away, but it will happen. You will learn your weaknesses, and how to work with them. This confidence is the greatest gift you can give yourself. I promise it translates directly into your life waiting for you when you get back home (and that life will be there, just as you left it).
Stressful day at the office? It’s nothing like that time I had to navigate my way across the remote Cambodian border speaking not a lick of the native tongue. Which inevitably translates into, “I can do this!” After you travel by yourself, you learn to love and trust your judgments and intuition. This is an invaluable gift to yourself.
“Only on the edge do we see our full potential.” Traveling alone as a female made me feel at the edge of existence, my senses honed, and I felt very much in charge of my life and my path.
Everyone has their own journey and will experience different things being abroad, but many travelers, myself included, explain a common feeling. Like floating, feeling lost but with purpose.
Traveling by yourself (and more specifically traveling solo as a woman) is like you are looking at the vastness of the ocean or the stars and realizing how very small you actually are, and how wonderful it is to be part of the whole.
So give into the experience. Feel the nerves, do the planning, navigate, make friends, enjoy paradise; it’s waiting for you, just a plane ticket away.