Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Top Tips For Solo Travelers - Updated

 I first  experienced solo travel when I worked in International Education and needed to travel to various countries to attend education fairs and meet with recruitment agents.  I'll never forget my first solo  trip, talk about a baptism of fire! There I was dropped off on a busy city street in Bangkok armed with a suitcase, a laptop and a huge bag of promotional materials and no idea where my hotel was because I couldn't read the signs.  After consulting my map I worked out that I needed to get up an over-bridge to the other side of the multi-laned highway.  As I staggered up the stairs, in 30 degree heat, a kindly local helped carry my bags before leaving me to trek about a kilometre to my hotel.  Rather than being overwhelmed by this incident I enjoyed the challenge of negotiating a new city and was elated when I reached the hotel.  I thought that from then on every other trip would be easier, and it has been.

So, before having solo travel thrust on me by widowhood, I had already had some experience of it.  I have traveled to many countries alone now and always enjoy my solo trips.  I do enjoy other trips I make with friends and family however most of my travel is alone.  Here, for what it's worth, are some of my best tips to get the most out of solo travel.

  • Be brave.  Don't be afraid to head off into the world alone.  It is not as scary as you think it is and the rewards of solo travel are immense.
  • Make sure people back home have your itinerary and some contact numbers for you. If you know where you are staying give them the hotel numbers in case you lose your phone.
  • Get a business card from each hotel with their phone number and address on it to carry with you - good for showing to taxi/bus drivers and/or finding your way back. Also mark your accommodation on a map and carry the map with you.
  • Have more than one cash flow/credit card with you and keep them in different places, i.e. carry one and leave one in the hotel safe or hidden in your luggage.
A selfie in a handy mirror, Lisbon, Portugal 
  • Revel in it.  You can enjoy the freedom to do what you want when you want.  You do not have to consider another person or make compromises and you can change your mind whenever you want. I love just doing things as my heart desires, jumping on trains on the spur of the moment and exploring things that appeal to me.
  • Be street wise.  Take care of your safety.  Be friendly to people but always be on guard for scams and cheats.  That very charming person who seems so polite and kind and has offered to show you the city is very likely waiting their chance to rip you off. Never accept a drink from a stranger and always keep an eye on your drink, I have heard some people even take their drinks to the toilet with them just to be sure.
  • Talk to locals.  I have found that traveling alone provides way more opportunities to speak to locals than being part of a couple does.  Couples are usually involved in each other and other people do not wish to intrude. Be happy to open a conversation and see what evolves.  You have nothing to lose.
Sunshine, the morning paper, coffee for one and the sea = bliss
Mooloolaba, Australia
  • Eating out alone can be difficult for some people but I don't mind it.  More and more restaurants have communal tables which is a great way to meet people.  A quick google search will usually find these restaurants in your location.  Or take a book, e-reader or note book to the restaurant with you.  Once, in Hong Kong, a kindly waiter bought me a book when he noticed I was alone and had forgotten mine. Most places have free wifi now so you can surf the net to your heart's content. On my recent trip on Australia's Ghan train I particularly enjoyed being seated with different people for each meal.  I loved sharing food, wine and some great conversations with strangers.
  • Take walking tours or day tours.  This is a great way to see the sights and meet people even if only briefly.  I usually do this when I am in a foreign city and have always found it rewarding.  A lot of tours include a meal so you can enjoy the pleasure of dining with others too.
 Photo by a friendly stranger on my
solo trip to the Czech Republic
  • Get into your photography.  Being alone means you are not holding anyone else up if you want to take half an hour to get the perfect shot.  Ask people to take your photo and offer to take theirs.  Most people are only too pleased.    Once again, though, be streetwise and careful who you ask, you don't want that precious camera stolen.
  • Be prepared to pay the single supplement if, like me, you do not want to share a room with a stranger.  Yes, it is expensive to travel alone but only for accommodation, everything else e.g. airfares, food and tours you pay for one.  Some travel companies will pair the budget conscious traveller up with another solo traveller.
  • Get up early and have a large breakfast, then get out exploring. You don't have to wait for someone else to get organised for the day. Many hotels include breakfast in the tariff and  I find a big breakfast takes me through the day with just a light snack somewhere along the way. As an older solo traveller I have no interest in night clubbing so I make the most of the day and relax in my hotel room at night.  That said, I have wandered the streets of many Asian and European cities at night and never felt uncomfortable.  Just ensure you always stay on busy, crowded streets.
Train journeys are great for meeting people
  • The old politician's trick, admire babies.  All parents love to have their children admired and this can often lead to a friendly conversation, especially on long train journeys.
  • It is normal to feel lonely sometimes when you travel alone, occasionally I have felt  overwhelmed by loneliness so that's when  I concentrate on all the good things about solo travel. If my budget allows it I like to book a hotel room with a view, it can be totally absorbing watching street life below. I dash off a few e-mails, write my travel diary, watch local television and try to work out what they are saying, use up all the hotel room's shower wash in a big bubble bath, order room service and retire to bed happy and sleepy looking forward to the next day's adventures.

Finally...just try it.  We all have just one life and it is up to us to make the most of it.  If you don't enjoy solo travel don't do it again but I am sure you will find the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  Enjoy!

And If you have any other hints please post them in the comments section.  I would love to have them!

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Missmoo's Kitchen - The sweetest Little Coffeehouse in Auckland

There is nothing more nostalgic than the sight and smell of Grandma's baking and this is what Tracy Mulholland has perfectly replicated in Missmoo's Kitchen, her pretty coffeehouse in St Heliers, Auckland.

Tracy Mulholland aka Missmoo
Having had a successful 27 year career in banking Tracy decided it was time to follow her dream and open a coffeehouse.   Happy childhood memories of both her Nan's and her mother's baking was her inspiration and her plan was to bring back food 'how it used to be'.   She also had a vision of how the coffeehouse would look.  It was to have both a contemporary and a nostalgic feel. It was important to Tracy to have Royal Albert china as a reminder of her beloved Nan so she spent a few years collecting enough to stock the shop.  She told me that when customers walk in they are delighted to see the beautiful china lined up on shelves behind the counter and are eager to share their own memories of Royal Albert.  The china is a real draw card.

Beautiful china and old fashioned delights
 The second part of her vision was a large gilded mirror and, thirdly,  a glamorous toilet because experience had taught her most cafes toilets are not. Her vision has come together beautifully and, yes, the toilet is lovely, well worth a visit! There is also a good sized out door seating area surrounded by a white picket fence.  The cafe is on a quiet street, has a view over the surrounding suburb and a big plus is the ample free parking outside.

Glamour in the toilet and outdoor seating

Her mother's recipe book
All cooking and food preparation is done on site at Missmoo's with delicious offerings of delicate club sandwiches, the lightest of asparagus rolls, old fashioned savories, South Island cheese rolls, tasty pies and, of course, fresh from the oven, scones. The cakes and sweets are particularly tempting.  Who can go past a slice of fresh baked ginger crunch, an afghan, a coconut ice slice and many other treats?  For children there are the party favourites, chocolate crackles, rice bubble slice and  fairy bread to accompany their fluffy or hot chocolate. Glass jars on the counter offer, fudges and coconut ice. Tracy and her team bake the recipes from her mother's well thumbed, hand written, recipe book and the ever popular Edmonds Cookbook. There is not an over stuffed panini or hard to handle baguette in sight.

Brought up as the daughter of the publicans of Lake Ianthe Tavern in Westland, New Zealand, hospitality, cooking and baking for customers is in Tracy's blood.  She recalls that as a child she helped in the kitchen and by the time she was 9 she could change kegs on her own. She has always enjoyed both baking and sharing her baking with other people so this cafe is the culmination of what she calls 'following her heart'.  Tracy's fiance, Mark, and Mark's sister, Andrea, together with barista, Hollie, assist Tracy making it a very personal family business, even Tracy and Mark's 8 year old daughter, Georgia, is a dab hand at making the odd coffee and quick as lightning on the till.

Missmoo and her crew, Andrea, Hollie and daughter, Georgia

If you are wondering where the name Missmoo's Kitchen comes from it is from Tracy's surname Mulholland which was shortened to Mu as part of her ID in banking.  Before long everyone was calling her Miss Mu or Missmoo. Kitchen because it features good old fashioned baking from its very own kitchen.

I love this little coffee house and have been there many times, which is why I was inspired to write this post.  I love the whole package, the ambiance, the food, the friendliness of the staff, the convenient location.  I suggest you go and see for yourself.

Facebook:                Missmoo's Kitchen
Instagram:              missmooskitchen

Location:                   : 50 Waimarie Street St Heliers
Opening hours are   : 7am to 3.30pm Week days  
                                     8am to 2.30pm Weekends
Coffee Brand            : Allpress
Teas                           : Noble and Savage - a large                                                         range including herbals