How to Travel Solo and Fall in Love With It

RIshikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram,
Rishikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram,

Myth: it costs a lot to travel.

Yes it does if you stay in $400 a night hotels like I used to do.

It was fun.

The truth is I love to travel solo.

I don’t have to wait for a friend to break up with her lover, leave their job, or save enough money to go with me.

When I want to go to Nepal, Colombia, or Sardinia I put on my Van sneakers and go!

I can sit in a fancy pants bar/restaurant like I am now and write. And enjoy a superb glass of red wine and be at ease and comfortable.

You never have to negotiate where to go based on money.

I was backpacking in the Himalayas solo in 2009 in Sikkim, India and realized I was spending less money per month than I received for renting out my apartment in Palo Alto, California.

I was spending less than $300 per month to stay in guesthouses eating home made Tibetan soup and momos, traveling by share jeep in the Himalayas, and having a blast.

I came home from that 10-month trip with money in the bank.


Don’t go over your budget on lodging. Yes you can splash out for a few days. But you can also get budget accommodation and live it up at the upper crust lounge/restaurant like I am now.

Secret: you can often work/write in 5-star surroundings enjoying the incredible views and then go back to your Airbnb room, campsite, or rented home.

You’ll discover that having a set amount to spend on lodging will keep you kosher.

I often times suggest a lower price on a room when the price suggested is too high.

It’s called rich foreigner tax. Many countries, like India, have no set prices on their rooms, the price is whatever they can get.

So haggle wisely, you’re still most likely paying too much.


One of the best things I ever did was travel twice around the world with no itinerary buying one-way plane tickets along the way.

If I felt like staying in Bali another month I could, no discussion.

If I wanted to explore Burma for a month, I went.

First time I went round the world I spent $2900 on plane tickets, the 2nd time I spent $1800. No I didn’t buy a RTW ticket, it doesn’t give you freedom on your journey.

For example I decided to stay in Cambodia for 4 weeks when I couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving.

I was falling in love with Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located and so I stayed.

No heated arguments. I found an incredible local guesthouse: Rosie’s guesthouse. And another one, Ou Malay where the Cambodian owners and I had a love fest of laughing and daily camaraderie.

It was $7 a night, no wifi but so what?! We loved each other!

Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse Siem Reap,
Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse, Siem Reap,

You meet so many people!

When you’re solo, there’s no one to listen or talk to. You can be alone with your own thoughts and then Bam! you meet someone seriously interesting who lights up your world and you wonder how you ever would have met them if you were with someone.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. And I’m still in touch with many friends I met traveling from Spain, Korea, Australia, Nepal, India, Germany, and Argentina.

They shook up my world and invited me into a new portal of love and friendship. I never would have met them if I wasn’t solo.

Being solo you have to reach out. It can be intoxicating.

Traveling solo, I mention my thoughts to whoever is standing by, I don’t take offense if they don’t respond, I’m simply radiating aloha which means, I’m spreading good will and happiness which is what the Dalai Lama advises but I didn’t realize until living in Hawaii that this means Aloha.

Pay attention. You might meet your soulmate, best friend ever, or meditation master around the next corner.

Suddenly you’ll be in a new world that you had no idea even existed.

Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon,
Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon,


Yes you can be safe but you have to trust your gut. Don’t negotiate with the red alert warnings your instincts tell you. Pay attention.

Your body knows before your mind. Listen.

And while you are at it: don’t tell people you’re traveling solo. Don’t advertise your solo status by flagrantly drinking and carousing. Really.

Do make friends with families and women. Volunteer with humanitarian foundations that are educating and changing lives. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and smile.

A smile is universal. Yes it works in every country. Try it. It works.

Change Your Life, join Mary on Kauai July to December for a 3-day luxury private retreat, learn yoga and photography on the best island in the world.



Our Short Oahu Getaway

Our short visit to Waikiki has been . . . perfect. In just two and half days here we’ve enjoyed great weather, gotten everything done we wanted and needed to do, and we‘ve relaxed.

The view from our lanai.
The view from our lanai

I don’t know what we did right, but the room we were given at the Hale Koa was on the top floor, with sweeping views of the resort grounds, the ocean and Waikiki Beach. We spent a lot of time at the hotel out on our lanai enjoying the view, whether that was for the sunset in the evening, or coffee and breakfast in the morning, or relaxing between other activities. Our room was spacious and comfortable, and the hotel had everything you could think of: restaurants, several bars, casual dining options, two pools (one for 18 and older only), beach access and rentals, tennis courts, a day spa, a gym, and beautiful grounds for strolling. Most things are for military only (you have to present ID to get in), but a few things, like the day spa, are open to the public with military receiving a discount. We laughed that Brett probably had the longest hair there (for a guy), and seemed to be the only retiree not sporting a ball cap that stated “Retired <branch of service>.”

Our hotel tower, one of two at the Hale Koa. Our room was on the top floor, second from the left.
Our hotel tower, one of two at the Hale Koa. Our room was on the top floor, second from the left. The Maile Pool (18 and older only) is in the foreground; there’s another larger pool on the grounds for families and children.
The Maile pool looking down from our lanai
Looking down from our lanai at the Maile pool.
Beautiful landscaping surrounds the Hale Koa.
Beautiful landscaping surrounds the Hale Koa.

One of our primary reasons for coming to Oahu was for the girls to do some shopping. Neither has really bought any new clothes for two years other than t-shirts for school, and with WenYu needing clothes for college they were eager to hit the stores. After we checked in on Wednesday afternoon we took a short walk over to the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center to let them get started. Brett and I turned them loose while we found a quiet seat outside and enjoyed coffee and lemonade, and watched Japanese tourists shop and learn the hula (they picked it up very quickly).

Sunset view from our lanai on Thursday evening
Sunset view from our lanai on Thursday evening

We slept in on Thursday morning, enjoyed our breakfast on the lanai, and then walked over to the huge Ala Moana Center, about a mile away. The girls took off on their own once we got there, and Brett and I mostly spent our time window shopping but bought a couple of things for ourselves: I got new pair of slippahs (flip flops) and some lingerie, and Brett got a new 10-year shaving brush for his Father’s Day gift – his old one is on its very last legs. We met up with the girls in the late afternoon and rode the bus back to the hotel. Dinner that night was at one of the hotel snack bars, with the girls staying to swim for awhile afterwards and Brett and I heading back to our room to enjoy the sunset. We surprised the girls when they got back with some tasty cupcakes from the famous Magnolia Bakery – they have an outpost in the Ala Moana Center.

It's a tough job, but someone has to sit out by the pool
It’s a tough job, but someone has to sit out by the pool
New slippahs and a pedicure!
New slippahs and a pedicure!

Yesterday was dedicated to relaxation. We slept in again, had breakfast on the lanai, and then we all headed in different directions for a while. Brett visited the nearby Army Museum of Hawai’i, the girls went to the pool, and I went to the day spa for a manicure and pedicure. We all got together for lunch at another one of the snack bars (all the snack bars served really tasty food), then headed to the pool for an afternoon of swimming and sunbathing. The girls took off early and went back into town for one last round of shopping while Brett and I relaxed at the Maile pool for a while longer.

Dessert selections included carrot cake, raspberry panna cotta, chocolate mousse and mini fruit tarts
Dessert selections at the buffet included carrot cake, raspberry panna cotta, chocolate mousse and mini fruit tarts

We had not planned to do any restaurant dining, but one of the Hale Koa’s restaurants hosts an all-you-can-eat buffet every evening at a very reasonable price, and Friday evening we learned they were serving crab legs and peel-and-eat shrimp as well as the regular menu items, so we decided we had to go. Our table came with a gorgeous view of the beach, and the food was amazing! We all ate too much, but agreed it was well worth it!

Ou intrepid shoppers relaxing on Waikiki Beach at sundown
Our intrepid shoppers relaxing on Waikiki Beach at sundown

Then we headed down to the beach to view Diamond Head once more, and see the sun set, before heading back to our room to watch the fireworks show in honor of Kamahemeha Day, the biggest state holiday in Hawai’i. We ended the day getting everything packed and ready for this morning’s departure for home.

The remains of the day: Waikiki sunset
The remains of the day: Waikiki sunset

While we greatly enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki, we are glad to be heading home to our slower-paced island. The getaway was a great one though – we all had a terrific time, got what we needed and did not go over budget! Brett and I are especially proud of the girls and their shopping prowess – they found lots of great stuff and are coming home with money still in their accounts. We’ll definitely be heading back to Waikiki again, but next time will give ourselves more time for sightseeing around the island. We loved our time on Oahu!

#Kauai: Helicopter Tour

Absolutely the best thing I’ve done on Kauai!

I’ve lived on this magical island for 2 years. But this opened my eyes all the way to my toes.

Soaring over the plunging velvety emerald cliffs and mesmerizing turquoise waters was a jolt to my soul.

How could all this amazing enchantment be sparkling in the now moment and I’ve never seen it?

I fell more deeply in love with this 25 x 33 miles tiny island. But no, it’s not so tiny. The power of the landscape made me tingle for hours, it was like having a crush on a hunky man turn into true love.

I was floating. My eyes grew new nerve endings, I could see more clearly and my heart busted open in gratitude.

Wonder and awe guide my life now. And I’ve never been more grateful that I sold my belongings, explored the world, moved to an island, and decided to be happy.

You can change your life. It all starts with that whispering in your spirit that says, yes go that way or no that is not for you.

Listen to it, even if it doesn’t make sense. Logic is not final wisdom.

Would your friends and family tell you not to move to another country or convert a used shipping container into a home? I am considering this.

Don’t live anyone’s life but your own.

It’s enough to do that one thing in your life. Truly live what is in your heart.

Yes courage takes practice. But there’s no other time like right now to start practicing.

Kickstart your motivation here, in my new video on the beach in Poipu.

Mary Bartnikowski, is an author, award winning photographer, and speaker. She has led programs at Apple Computer, Stanford, Intel, and worldwide.

Stay in touch with Mary and get her free ebook, Secrets of Stunning Photographs.

Go with

#Kauai: Power Places

Anini Beach, Kauai, photo,

Suddenly I was on Kauai. My toes tingled and my skin sparkled. 

My mouth dropped open in wonder and awe.

The power of this island surged up from the floor of my soul and out the top of my head. Happy I listened to that urge inside me to leave Hawaii Island and discover Kauai.

I’d been looking for this enchanted place in 32 countries and I never found it until now.

I knew I was home. 

I didn’t think I’d live in the USA again after traveling for 8 years worldwide. But when I found myself lying in the road after a brutal motorbike accident in Thailand, my heart whispered Hawaii.

So with 3 pieces of luggage I came home to the USA and landed in Honolulu, Hawaii not knowing a soul. I’ve never been more thrilled to see the Welcome to the United States of America sign in international arrivals. But this one had hula dancers on it.

Kauai happens to you. And your life is never the same. In the 18 months I’ve lived on this island I continue to discover new secrets that sing to my spirit, and when I visit a powerful place I love I am re-ignited with passion and purpose for my home.

Yesterday I went to Anini Beach in the above photo, and when I got there my heart busted open with gratitude. This is why I live here! Turquoise as far as the eye can see.

You’re dunked in killer beauty and pristine air. Swimming in diamond clear water that wild turtles love to be in!

This place heals you. My toothache disappeared. 

So I’m having dental surgery tomorrow. And I know in the depth of my being, at the core of my spirit that it kicked me into a greatly improved mindset to commune with turtles on Anini Beach.

Maybe I’ll go there right now to get another infusion of fairy dust, see my sea turtle friends, and soar to heaven and back without getting on a plane.

Speaking of that, I went on a helicopter ride and saw all my power places from the sky and it blew my brain cells out of my mind.

Flying Over Kalapaki Bay, Kauai, photo,

I was speechless and that is not an every day thing for me. You feel the radiance of cascading waterfalls, lush emerald green cliffs, and a beckoning bewilderingly blue coastline that delivers instant transformation and peace as you fly over this sacred rock in the middle of the ocean. You feel blessed.

It made me see that you can fly without your body, you just have to steep yourself in a powerful place that calls to you.

Surrender to what you loved as a child. Go see that place on the other side of the world that floats up in your heart when you’re dreaming. You’ll never be the same again. 

Next Post: the video of flying over Kauai in a helicopter.

Mary Bartnikowski, author of 4 books, award-winning photographer, and educator. She has led programs worldwide and at Apple, Stanford University, and Intel.

Join me on Kauai and Discover the Power Places of Kauai. Learn Photography with any Camera, Get Incredible Photos Guaranteed and Change Your Life, includes Luxury Accommodation.

Learn More Here.

Vogged In

The blue sky disappeared under the vog last Wednesday . . . but was back on Thursday.

Air pollution on Kaua’i? Out there in the middle of the ocean? You must be kidding!

We don’t get it very often, but once in a while, maybe three or four days in the early part of the year, vog makes it all the way over here from the Big Island. Vog (a word created by combining volcano + fog) is air pollution caused when sulfur dioxide and other gases and particles given off by the active volcanos on the Big Island react with oxygen and moisture in the presence of sunlight. Like smog (the combination of smoke + fog), vog can make eyes water, make it difficult to breathe, and aggravate allergies. It can get thick enough to hide mountains and block out the blue sky.

Vog is one of the primary reasons we chose to move to Kaua’i versus the Big Island. It can be a big issue there depending on where you live, and as someone who grew up in the Los Angeles area when air pollution and smog levels were at their peak in the 1950s and 60s, I was not interested in repeating that experience in any way, even though the cost of living on the BI is much lower than it is here on Kaua’i.

The winds and air currents have to be just right for vog to make it all the way to Kaua’i, and it seems to always come in from the south. People living on the north shore rarely get it. If we are seeing vog here on the east side of Kaua’i, I know it’s most likely bad on the south shore, even worse on Oahu, awful on Maui and probably downright miserable on the Big Island.

Thankfully vog doesn’t hang around too long here; the winds soon change and blow it away and we can forget about it for another year or so.

And Along Comes Guillermo


Although (thank goodness) Guillermo is now a tropical storm and continues to weaken, it will still be passing near enough to Hawai’i for us to feel some of its effects, mainly rough surf and rip tides, but also wind and rain. The Big Island and Maui are both already under a tropical storm watch, and we here on Kaua’i may be as well by Thursday. It’s been very hard to tell though that a storm is approaching – the weather the past two days has been positively lovely, with humidity levels more than bearable.

While the above picture (taken sometime Tuesday morning), makes it looks like the whole of Hawai’i will be swallowed up by Guillermo, in reality the storm is predicted to track (for now) to the north of us. The islands all look so small and vulnerable though. This picture, more than anything, makes me realize again how tiny Hawai’i is in relation to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, and how far away we are from anyplace else.

We always stay ready to ride out storms here at Casa Aloha with plenty of extra water and food on hand. We have two butane stoves and our grill for cooking in case we lose power (although the thought of possibly losing almost everything in our freezers scares me more than anything). We have plenty of books to read, games to play, and other activities to keep us busy as well if things ever go worse than expected.

Guillermo should pass on by however causing little to no problems – fingers crossed!


Gecko Land

Hawaiian gecko
Hawaiian gecko

The other night I had turned out all the lights and was ready to head down the hall to bed. While I was in the kitchen getting a glass of water, I suddenly heard the girls whispering out in the living room. I came out to see what was up, and both girls were holding large plastic containers and shivering.

Was there perhaps a gecko in one of their rooms, I asked?

Geckos are a fact of life in Hawai’i. You will see them inside, outside, during the day, in the evening, at night . . . everywhere and all the time. Hawai’i is a hard place to live if you can’t deal with bugs or small lizards because they are part of daily life here.

I don’t believe that there is any half-way about geckos either. You can either ignore them and live with them, or you can’t. Brett and I can; our girls claim they can’t. After over a year here they are still scared to death of them.

I like having them around because they eat bugs – lots and lots of bugs. I know one of the reasons we don’t have many bugs in our house is because we are up on the second level, off the ground, but another, equally strong, reason is because we have a nice population of geckos living with us, both inside and out. We actually rarely see the geckos in the house, but they are here. Mostly we see them at night, clinging to the outside of the windows, just waiting for a juicy, unsuspecting bug to arrive and share the window with them.

A brown anole trying to attract a date with his beautiful red dewlap.
A brown anole trying to attract a date with his beautiful red dewlap.

Geckos here are both brown and green, but we usually see more of the brown ones. And, some of our geckos are not actually geckos – they’re anoles. Some anoles are have beautiful bright lime green skin and bright red spotting like a gecko, but others we see are brown with yellow markings. Anoles can be differentiated from geckos by the red dewlap males sport under their chin. Anoles are actually more aggressive than geckos, especially the brown anole, but both will go after smaller members of their own tribe. True geckos “chirp” as a mating call, but we almost never hear the chirping at our house, another reason we think the little lizards we host are more likely to be anoles and not geckos.

Whatever, anoles eat bugs just as well as geckos do and both are welcome in our home. In Hawaiian folklore, geckos represent the spirits of past ancestors, and are to be treated with love and respect.

I will give the girls credit that they never want to kill the geckos they find in their rooms, just catch and release them outside, and they’ve gotten quite good at it. That’s what the big plastic jars they were carrying were for. But, the other night the gecko they were after kept getting away (they are quick as lightening) and then another, bigger one leapt onto the window outside and frightened them. So, it was mom to the rescue. I quickly found the offender, captured him (or her) and then released the prisoner outside.

Geckos I can live with. It’s snakes I can’t abide, but there are thankfully none in Hawai’i.