Be careful whose advice you take when selecting your solo destination
Feeling emboldened by the success of my first incredible solo trip to Borneo (you can read all about that here) I was ready to take on the world and plan my second escape. Nowhere was out of bounds or off limits – the world was my oyster! I recalled a conversation with a lovely couple that I’d met on that first trip, where I’d asked them about their favourite place in the world and they’d replied Argentina. So, Argentina it was. And reflecting on this now, I can’t actually ever recall thinking to myself that I absolutely had to see Argentina. I chose it specifically on the back of their recommendation combined, perhaps, with the fact that I was working in the wine industry at the time so thought it might be good to visit some vineyards in Mendoza. What was I thinking?
Take advice, by all means, but from someone who has at least done some solo travel to the same destination! Seems obvious, right?
From the moment that I’d decided on Argentina I was bombarded with well-meaning advice and suggestions on where to stay from my wine colleagues none of whom, I realised far too late, had ever travelled solo.
I decided to spend a week in Buenos Aires and a second week in the wine region and took their advice on a couple of places that they used when there on business. The first, a beautiful, boutique hotel in a quiet suburb of Buenos Aires ticked many boxes but as soon as I got there I realised that it had no restaurant, no bar (always safe havens if you don’t feel like heading out to eat in a city alone), and was so far away from the main tourist areas that it was difficult for me to get around on foot, certainly at night when the city became quite a daunting place. Again, hindsight is always 20:20 and now I take much more time over my hotel choices and if I’m staying in a hotel, especially in a large city, versus perhaps an Airbnb, then I know what to look for to make sure it’s the right location and it has the right facilities for my solo stay.
If you get all tangled up, just tango on – Al Pacino
Please don’t laugh, but in preparation for my trip, I started to take weekly tango lessons in London. I was already dreaming of steamy nights dancing up close with hunky gauchos and I spent time researching social tango evenings (milongas) in Buenos Aires, of which there are many, where anyone can go and dance the night away with locals, no matter what your standard. Needless to say, that didn’t quite turn out as planned. I was so scared to walk about at night that I only went to one milonga (by taxi, I have no Spanish and the locals do not speak much English), which was in a huge hanger-like room filled with hundreds of people dancing the tango in large circles, divided by ability, and every last one of them significantly better than me. It was an amazing sight to behold but I wasn’t allowed to just spectate, oh no! The minute I sat down I was asked to dance and it was impossible to say no. And once you begin to dance, tango etiquette dictates that you have to dance the whole set until the DJ changes, and believe me, 15 minutes can feel like a lifetime when you’re trying your hardest to remember your limited tango moves and have absolutely no ability to make even the smallest of small talk. A smile and a raising of eyebrows can only get you so far when you’re crushing your dance partners toes!
A smile and a raising of eyebrows can only get you so far when you’re crushing your dance partners toes!
That wasn’t my only disappointment during my week in Buenos Aires. Eating out was very difficult. I decided to go for the long lunch option as I could walk to restaurants during the day, and I did treat myself to one incredible meal that I’d booked before I left London but in general, the waiters there had no idea what to do about a solo female eating alone. I’m not sure who felt the most uncomfortable me or them? And I was usually rushed through every meal and out the door in record time. Again, if the hotel had had a restaurant or had been in a neighbourhood with more local options I would have fared much better.
Looking back on that week, I remember a few occasions where I’d wandered through parts of the city, map in hand and looking like such a tourist, only to look around and realise that I was not in the safest or best part of town and I’d make a quick exit. I was very naive and I was lucky to have stayed as safe as I did. I also remember feeling pretty nervous the whole week – not great when you’re on holiday – but now I have more experience and know enough to perhaps choose a different style of solo travel were I to go to a similar city in the future – that was certainly the case when I went to Rio a few years later.
On a brighter note, my week in Mendoza was much more successful. It was a very different experience with days spent exploring the quiet streets, visiting vineyards (and even horseback riding through one!) and relaxing over long, lazy lunches. I guess it was just what I needed after the week in Buenos Aires. Am I glad that I went there? Yes, I am. I discovered dulce de leche ice cream, saw Eva Peron’s grave, ate some amazing steaks, drank some great red wines and, sadly, came to the realisation that tango really wasn’t for me! I also learned a lot about travelling solo in big cities, how to choose the right hotel and more importantly, whose advice to take (or not) when deciding on where in the world to go next.
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