I know, I know — this is against all the rules your parents taught you as a curious three-year-old, but it’s been the best way I’ve discovered local gems along this journey.
Luckily, everyone’s been very forthcoming with excellent recommendations after I’ve let them know what I’m doing. The key has been for me to initiate the conversation and ask for their guidance. For a slight introvert like me, that’s sometimes easier said than done, but this entire experience has been about pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone.
Had I not gone on a Tinder date last summer in Barcelona, Lisbon (one of my favorite cities in the world) would not have been on my near-term travel list. It felt like a crazy idea at the time, but it ultimately helped reignite the travel bug in me.
Had I not gone on a Tinder date last year while in Lisbon, I may never have known Ronda was a breathtaking city built into the cliffs. That week in Lisbon was my first extensive solo trip, and it let me know I was bold enough to do an extended 11-week excursion.
Had I not gone on a Hinge date this winter in Chicago, I likely wouldn't have a cute new roommate eagerly awaiting my return to Chicago. I also wouldn’t have been gifted a copy of Rick Steve’s helpful guide to Spain, which directed me to the sunny beach town of Nerja (where I currently want to own a quaint summer home overlooking the ocean and sip Aperol Spritz for the remainder of my natural life).
Had I not polled family and friends via Instagram about southern Spain, I may never have discovered the beauty and strength of synchronized equestrian ballet in Jerez. If you’re in the area on a Tuesday or Thursday, it’s worthwhile to visit the grounds of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art and enjoy a 90-minute performance with traditional garb and authentic Spanish music. And don't miss the opportunity to sip some local Sherry and/or enjoy a vermouth cocktail (one of my new favorite drinks).
Had I not spoken to Julie, the very helpful concierge in Jerez, I may never have known the White Hill towns I couldn’t possibly miss (and the ones to avoid at all costs) as I made my winding trek to Valencia.
Had I not spoken to the bar manager enjoying a quick a cigarette outside before dinner service, I may never have known La Judería has the best terrace view to watch the sunset over the entire white city of Vejer de la Frontera.
Had I not asked my tour guide, I may never have found the perfect vantage point to enjoy an ice cream cone and cold beer with locals while watching one final sunset over the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountains in Granada.
Had we not asked our Riad in Morocco (the equivalent of a quaint B&B), we may never have discovered the cooking class at Amal, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching and empowering women to earn a livable wage working in a commercial kitchen. Side Note: This was the highlight of Marrakech for me, so much more to come in a post dedicated entirely to these wonderful ladies.
My trip has largely been shaped by the experiences of others — whether from in-person discussions or via sites like NYT’s 36-hour city guides and TripAdvisor. I’m thankful to everyone who has taken the time to share their opinion. I gladly pass along a detailed list of travel recommendations to friends who asked, but I wasn’t in the habit of writing public reviews for businesses. After spending the better part of 11-weeks patronizing smaller businesses throughout Europe and Morocco, I’ve learned that it’s the second best thing we can do for an establishment (after cold hard cash, obviously).
I have a lot of friends (particularly women) who are scared to put themselves out there — be it professionally and/or socially. Grab a friend and head to that networking event. Finally post your online dating profile you’ve been meaning to set up for months. Write that review (positive or negative!) about that meal or excursion you just took. Life has a funny way of working out exactly as it should, but especially recently, I’ve benefited from both being more vocal and accepting the wisdom and help of others.