Why you should try solo travelling

In this post I do some myth-busting around solo travelling and share how this has helped me to grow as a person

Whenever I talk about solo travelling often people respond with a mixture of shock, fear and sometimes admiration. For a lot of people, the prospect of solo travelling seems to fall somewhere between a frightening and an unsatisfying experience. Typically, whenever I talk about solo travelling, I tend to hear the following statements:

“I don’t think a holiday will be fun if I don’t have anyone to share the experience with”

“I’m frightened of eating alone, what if people are judging me?”

“I don’t feel safe travelling alone as a black woman in a foreign city/country”

“I’d find it really hard to navigate through a city on my own”

“I’d feel really self-conscious if I got lost and had to turn around – what if passers-by start laughing at me?

I take all these statements on board. Before I became a solo travelling advocate, I thought about many of these things. I constantly refused to travel alone because I was too self-conscious and too worried about what strangers might think. I was too scared about what might happen if something went wrong and I had nobody to rely on. I focused on all the negatives rather than any of the positives associated with solo travelling.

I decided to bite the bullet and give solo travelling a try in 2016 when I travelled to New York. New York was a city that I had wanted to visit since I was a child; however, it was far too expensive to travel there with my whole family. When I started working full time I decided to make a plan to visit, however, I was not in a relationship and had a hard time finding friends to go with who could afford to go, who could take time off work to go when I wanted to go and who actually wanted to travel to New York (I knew a lot of people who had visited a few years prior either with friends or family and so for them planning another trip wasn’t a priority). I had two options:

  1. I could have continued to wait until I managed to find someone who was able and willing to travel with me to New York. This could have taken several months or even years; or,
  2. Travel on my own whilst I had the means and the time to do so

I chose option two and haven’t looked back since.

There are many reasons why I am glad that I took the plunge to travel by myself. Firstly, solo travelling has made me much more independent. Rather than blindly relying on and following friends or family I was forced to do my own research on where to stay, what to do and how to get around New York. Secondly, I was able to get up as early as I wanted to or as late as I wanted to. Thirdly, I had the opportunity to see everything on my itinerary without needing to make concessions to avoid getting into a fight about what sites and attractions to prioritise. I was also free to spend as much or as little money as I wanted which was great. Crucially, I was able to visit during the US Open Tennis Championships and had the opportunity to watch my favourite tennis player, Novak Djokovic, play live on Arthur Ashe court. This moment felt like a dream come true!

Once I was in New York I wasn’t concerned about not having anyone around me to share this experience; I was in awe of where I was and was appreciative of the fact that I had made it to a place that I had been trying to visit for several years. I also generally enjoy my own company as it provides me with time for self-reflection time to be alone with my thoughts. Whilst in New York I often took a moment in front of monuments, landmarks and in parks just to appreciate being there and having the opportunity to live my dream. I also found that New York was a great place for dining alone as lots of restaurants have bars with plentiful seating. You will often be seated much more quickly when you are alone than you will be if you are a party of two or more as there is always higher demand for group seating. I also saw lots of people dining alone in New York and have since seen lots of solo diners in other cities that I have visited which has made me much less self-conscious about doing this myself.

Any woman of colour afraid of travelling alone should take inspiration from Jessica Nabongo, a Ugandan-American travel blogger who is vying to be the first black woman to travel to every country in the world. She often travels solo and has lots of tips on how she does this in different countries. She also frequently addresses concerns and preconceptions about safety and racism in countries she has travelled to in her posts. Follow her travels on @thecatchmeifyoucan

My love for solo travelling doesn’t mean that I am now against travelling with friends. Quite the contrary. I love having the opportunity to travel with friends who I can have a laugh with and who share my love for food, however, these days I also like having the opportunity to travel whenever and wherever I want by myself. Since I started solo travelling, I have also noticed that I have become a pro at carrying out research for holidays and so I can contribute towards planning holidays with friends much more than I was previously able to.

Solo travelling has freed me from relying on other people to travel abroad. It has made me stronger, wiser and much more independent and I highly recommend anyone with the means to do so to give solo travelling a try!

Follow me on Instagram @thetottenhamitetraveller

What to do in Lisbon – Scaling new heights

A round up of a few of my favourite sites in Lisbon which will enable you to take in some great views of the city

Lisbon, just like Rome, is known as the city of seven hills. For this reason, it would probably be a good idea to mentally and physically prepare yourself for the prospect of travelling through Lisbon’s hilly terrain. Difficulty faced when walking through Lisbon will be further exacerbated by the texture of the pavements; these appear to be made of varnished tiles which make them incredibly slippery. One advantage of travelling to such a hilly city, however, is that you are guaranteed to find some great viewing points. Here are some of the best attractions in Lisbon which will no doubt give you some great views and Instagram shots of the city #doitforthegram

Jéronimos Monastery (Mosterio dos Jéronimos)

My top tip for anyone wishing to visit Jéronimos Monastery is to skip the ridiculously long queue for buying tickets outside of the monastery by buying these at the archaeology museum (Museu Nacional de Arqueologia), which is adjacent to the main entrance of the monastery. You can also buy tickets for Bélem Tower here. Once you have your tickets you can zoom straight to the entrance for both sites and save yourself waiting for an hour or more to get in.

jm. 1

Jéronimos Monastery is a visually stunning building. As you walk past it as well as through it you can’t help but be taken aback by the sheer beauty of both the interior and exterior. I had no prior knowledge of the monastery before my visit but thankfully there was an abundance of information dotted around the monastery which detailed its history. There is one room in particular which juxtaposes timelines of the monastery’s c.500 year history and the history of the world over the same 500 year period.

jm. 2jm. 3jm. 4jm. 5jm. 6jm. 7jm. 8

Torre de Bélem (Bélem Tower)

Although I managed to bypass the initial queue at the entrance of Bélem Tower I was confronted with lots of smaller queues as I tried to make my way up the narrow stairs within the building to the various levels of this stunning Unesco World Hertiage site. Once I managed to get up these stairs, however, I was met with stunning views of the river Tagus and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument.

bt. 1bt. 2bt. 3

N.B. Almost all the main historical sites and attractions are closed in Lisbon on a Monday. I learnt that the hard way when I turned up to Bélem Tower on my first full day but at least this meant that I managed to get a photo of the exterior without a long line of tourists obstructing my view.

Castelo de São Jorge (St George’s Castle)

This site is located near Alfama so if you are planning a trip to this part of Lisbon you should most definitely add Castelo de São Jorge to your list. Some information about the history of the site itself is located in a modern building near the castle but if you are solely on the hunt for some great views of Lisbon you can wander around the viewing point, or Mirodouro, which is outside of the actual building or simply walk around the castle and climb the steep stairs which are located all over the castle.

csj. 1csj. 2csj. 3csj. 4csj. 5csj. 6csj. 7

Elevador de Santa Justa (Santa Justa Lift/Elevator)

My top tip for going here is to arrive early in the morning to avoid the queues that develop later in the day. I arrived just after 9am and was part of the second group to ascend to the top. N.B. You can use your Lisbon Viva Viagem card to access the lift providing you have enough credit on your card. A ticket will cost around 4 euros.

This is another great site in Lisbon that will provide you with some fantastic views of the city. Once you arrive at the top you will be able to see Carmo Convent, which is nearby, as well as Rossio Square (Praça de Dom Pedro IV).

Explore Lisbon by tram or on foot

It’s a safe bet that every travel guide and blog about Lisbon will tell you to take the historic tram 28. Whilst some may argue that no trip to Lisbon is complete without doing this at least once I wasn’t overly impressed with what I saw whilst I was on the tram. I even took it twice at around 8am just to make sure that I was able to fully appreciate the experience. As most of the streets in Lisbon are incredibly narrow I mainly just witnessed the tram coming dangerously close to crashing through a few coffee shops. Sometimes I felt that it was more interesting to see the trams travelling through the narrow streets than it was to be on the tram, especially as the tram mainly seemed to travel past shops and restaurants.

I managed to see much more of Lisbon when I was walking through the city. As well as allowing you travel at a slower pace, travelling on foot will provide you with a great opportunity to have a look at Lisbon’s famous azulejos (tiles) which adorn many homes and other buildings all over the city. Just take care when climbing steep (and very slippery) streets!

Have you travelled to Lisbon? If so, let me know what other interesting sites in Lisbon are worth visiting!

Follow me on instagram @thetottenhamitetraveller

What to do in Istanbul

My top picks for what to do and see on a short trip to Istanbul.

Besides looking for beautiful street art, there is so much to do and see in Istanbul. If you love culture there are a myriad of museums to visit and if you like site-seeing you can take a trip to a few of the historic monuments or mosques in the city or you could wander through the city’s beautiful streets and countless markets. Whilst researching for my trip I knew that there were a lot of things that I wanted to do but as I only has two full days to spend in the city, I had to think strategically about what I could do and see within such a limited amount of time. Here are my recommendations.

Have a Hamam (Turkish bath)

I was determined to spend some time relaxing during my short city break and what better way to do this in Turkey than to enjoy a traditional hamam. I went to Kilic Ali Paşa Hamam which was very conveniently only a short walk from my Airbnb. It’s not the cheapest hamam that you will find in the city (it’s about £40 for the hamam treatment on its own which isn’t bad, but if you are on a tighter budget you can find other hamam treatments for the equivalent of about £10), however, the stunning interiors and excellent service make this well worth the extra money. This hamam establishment is only open to women in the mornings but men can receive treatments later in the day.

Upon walking into the spa I was presented with a delicious quince sherbet drink before I was taken to the changing room to get ready for my treatment. The treatment itself was unlike anything I had ever experienced at a spa. Wearing nothing but bikini bottoms and a towel you are led into a small room by a woman who will be providing your hamam treatment. Your towel is then removed, after which point you are doused with warm water and then made to sit on a hot hexagonal marble stone to dry off before the hamam treatment properly begins.

The treatment itself involves a full body exfoliation with a mitt before your entire body (if you wish you can have your hair washed as well) is lathered with soap and massaged by your therapist. The therapists use a large muslin cloth which is periodically dunked into soapy water to create a balloon shape from which they squeeze out mountains of foam which are used to gently cleanse your skin. As I sat in a corner enveloped by mounds of bubbles, I felt completely calm and relaxed but also somewhat curious about how the rest of the treatment was going to go. All in all it was a lovely, albeit slightly unusual, experience to have someone else give you what is essentially a luxurious body wash. After the treatment was done, I was rinsed from head to toe and led into a low-lit room for a deep tissue massage which I had also booked for myself.

Visit the Hagia Sophia

I had been wanting to visit the Hagia Sophia for some time before my trip to Istanbul and so this was always going to be at the top of my site-seeing list. This site was first built as a church and was subsequently turned into mosque before finally being turned into a museum. It’s possible to see both Arabic calligraphy as well as murals of the Virgin Mary and Jesus (which was presumably covered up rather than destroyed when the site was turned into a mosque) throughout the interior of the building. What I love most about this museum is that it provides a visual account of how Istanbul has changed over the last 1500 or so years and besides this it is just absolutely stunning to behold. No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit here.

as. 3as. 4as. 2as. 7as. 5as. 8as. 9as. 10as. 11as. 12

Wander around Topkapi Palace

I must admit that I hadn’t done any research on Topkapi Palace before travelling to Istanbul. I wasn’t really planning on visiting, however, when I mentioned that I was travelling to Istanbul a few of my friends informed me that it was well worth a visit.

Once I arrived at the palace, I was surprised at how immense it was. As you make your way around the palace grounds you get a good overview of how the palace was used by the Ottoman Sultans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most fascinating part of the palace for me were the kitchens. The palace has an array of different kitchens – one kitchen was used solely for making confectionery. I thought that this revealed a lot about the lavish lives that these rulers lived. Another thing I loved about the palace was the tiles which adorned the buildings as they reminded me of the azulejos that I saw in Lisbon.

Stop and stare at the Blue Mosque

Whilst the Blue Mosque is stunning from the outside it is still very much a working mosque and therefore its interior had a very similar look and feel to other working mosques that I had seen before. For this reason, it wasn’t one of the most interesting sites that I managed to visit but I’d still recommend having a look at the exterior whilst you are strolling through the Sultanahmet district.

bm. 1

Sadly I didn’t get around to visiting the Grand Bazaar or the Asian side of Istanbul during this trip but that’s just another reason for me to come back to this amazing city.

Follow me on instagram @thetottenhamitetraveller 

Free art in Istanbul: Street art in Karaköy and Cihangir

I wander through a few of the edgiest and colourful neighbourhoods in Istanbul and stumble along some incredible street art along the way.

Anybody who knows me well will tell you that Istanbul has been a bucket list holiday destination of mine since 2010. I became fascinated by Istanbul after learning about part of its history whilst watching Diarmaid McCulloch’s series, A History of Christianity. My interest in visiting Istanbul grew even more after I delved deeper into Istanbul’s history whilst I was studying Theology at university. I found Istanbul’s vast and varied history utterly fascinating and the more I learnt about it the more I wanted to visit. That, and my undying love of Turkish food, made me determined to one day make this dream a reality. My plans were somewhat delayed because of the political turmoil that Turkey has endured since 2011, however, given that this has dissipated somewhat in recent years I decided that 2018 would be the year that I visited Istanbul.

A few years ago, I started researching Istanbul and was shocked to discover that Istanbul had a very modern, young and funky side to it. The Karaköy and Cihangir neighbourhoods of Istanbul definitely embody this side of Istanbul. The former has a cluster of vintage boutiques, an abundance of coffee shops and streets lined with murals whilst the latter is leafier and slightly more family-oriented but is still incredibly fashionable, arty and effortlessly cool. If you are looking for great brunch options, hipster vibes and instagrammable street art in Istanbul, these are the areas that you should visit.

Here are a few pictures I took whilst strolling through both neighbourhoods.

Karaköy

Karakoy. 5Karakoy. 1Karakoy. 2Karakoy. 3Karakoy. 4Karakoy. 6Karakoy. 7Karakoy. 8

Cihangir

Cihangir. 2Cihangir. 3Cihangir. 4Cihangir. 5Cihangir. 6

Are there any other neighbourhoods in Istanbul that have amazing street art?

Follow me on instagram @thetottenhamitetraveller 

Weekend Brunching: The Sister Table

I enjoyed some great food and great conversations at a brunch club in East London which was hosted by two amazing entrepreneurial women

This October I had the privilege of attending a brunch club which was run by The Sister Table. The Sister Table is the latest business venture for Benjamina and Bonita Ebuehi, who are twin sisters as well as formidable, highly creative and hard-working entrepreneurs who are taking London’s brunch scene by storm. Benjamina was a quarter-finalist on the Great British Bake Off in 2016 and now works as a baker and food stylist whilst Bonita is a graphic designer with her own line of stationary, gifts and homeware, which is embellished with traditional African prints.

The duo founded The Sister Table because they were alarmed by the lack of diversity they saw at the supper clubs that they had attended. In launching The Sister Table, the duo are helping to bring more diversity into this space. The price point for tickets (£35 for a three-course brunch including a complementary cocktail upon arrival) is very competitive and attractive for millennials who may not be able to fork out £50+ for some of the supper clubs which are currently available in London, as well as people of colour who may earn significantly less than their non-BAME peers.

Benjamina and Bonita also set out to launch The Sister Table with the aim of bringing together like-minded women who could enjoy good food and good conversations, and this is exactly what I experienced at their event in October. I arrived, very fittingly, with my sister but we sat and spoke with a trio of amazing, highly driven and eloquent ladies. The conversation flowed and, as cheesy as this may sound, although I had only just met these wonderful women I felt as if I had known them for some time. We talked freely about everything from our jobs, to our families and backgrounds to the state of schools in the UK to adulting; a topic every millennial can talk about at great length!

I can confirm that the event did provide good food as well as good conversations. The menu was autumn-inspired and so we started off our morning of eating with warm, tahini pecan granola with roasted maple vanilla plums, blackberries and natural yoghurt (they also had a soya yoghurt substitute which was great to see).

Next came our main dishes. We enjoyed some smashed sweet potato on sourdough toast with scrambled eggs. This was served with smoked beans, wilted spinach and a choice of either chorizo, which I opted for, or halloumi.

tst. 6tst. 3tst. 2tst. 5tst. 7

The final course was a thing of beauty. We were served not one, but two delectable desserts. The first was an apple frangipane tart that came with a heavenly accompaniment of salted cardamom caramel. We also had a plate of chocolate, banana and hazelnut cakes but as I was too full by this point, I had to take a few of these cakes home to enjoy later in the day.

tsb. 1tst. 8

To round off the afternoon, we were served a choice of delicious homemade chai (which you could get with dairy milk or oat milk) or filter coffee.

I left the event completely stuffed and very happy about the food I had eaten as well as the conversations that I had had with other attendees. The Sister Table is a great concept, a great price and is going from strength to strength. If you are a fan of delicious brunch, meeting new people and supporting entrepreneurial millennials then I urge you to give The Sister Table a go, you won’t regret it.

Follow me on instagram @thetottenhamitetraveller