At the start of the year, I set myself a series of travel challenges for 2016. They ranged from visiting the South Pacific on a budget (check!) to visiting my big European oversights (check!) to starting to take more defined trips (check!)
Those were all fairly easy to tick off my list, but I’ve been struggling with one particular goal for a while now: to take a trip I never would have considered before. As I wrote in my post:
I want to get out of my comfort zone this year and try something I would normally steer away from. It could be anything from a yoga retreat to a surf instructor course; a spa holiday in a 5* resort to a camping trip. I think it’ll be fun to try something that’s not me at all and see how much I enjoy/hate it.
I pondered it for months until it finally hit me. The perfect way for me to smash this goal would be to splash out and take one of the most luxurious trips I could possibly imagine. I was going to be travelling alone around Europe, which would be the best opportunity for me to do it.
Because every single time I’ve travelled solo, I’ve done it on the tightest budget possible. I stay in cheap dorm rooms, I walk everywhere, I eat inexpensively, I end up dealing with creepy hostel owners, getting bedbugs, and having people throw up in my room two days in a row.
If you’ve been reading my site for any amount of time, you’ll know that my biggest travel splurges have been for the people I love most in my life. I’ll think nothing of splashing out several hundreds — or sometimes even several thousands — of dollars on helping my favourite people celebrate their special occasions in beautiful places around the world. It’s one of my favourite things to do.
…So why don’t I ever do it for myself?
That was a tough question for me to face. Why don’t I see myself as worthy? Why do I give so much to the people I love, but leave nothing for me? Ack.
It’s been a tough few years for me — you guys know that. So many panic attacks and illnesses and events that have sent my self-esteem down the drain and into the sewers.
But now that my anxiety is finally under control (I’m now three months anxiety free!), I can prioritise building myself back up.
And Berlin was just the place to start.
It would be a trip of firsts for me: my first taste of luxury travel as a solo traveler; my first massage after my traumatising experience in Bangkok (I’ve not had a massage since, and the hotel I chose to stay in has one of the best spas in the world, so I decided to take the plunge!); and my first time treating myself to a fancy AF meal (after spending my early solo travel days surviving on McDonald’s and supermarket food, I was going to eat at a two Michelin star restaurant.)
Staying at the Mandala Hotel
I opted to stay at the Mandala Hotel, because I wanted to stay in a hotel that had a spa (for my massage challenge) and their ONO spa had amazing reviews. As did the hotel. It’s a five-star hotel in Potsdamer Platz, ranked 10th on TripAdvisor, and sounded incredible. It looked perfect for my challenge.
And it was after making this decision, I wondered whether my Trip I Would Have Never Considered Taking Before could actually be me accepting a comped stay somewhere.
Because my five night stay in an executive suite at the Mandala came to just over $2,000.
In the past, my experiences of luxury travel as a budget traveller haven’t been the greatest. I mean, I loved staying in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives, but it also felt like an enormous rip-off. I immediately decided that if I felt this way in Berlin, I wasn’t going to let it affect my trip: this was a treat for me and, as I kept reminding myself, I was worth it.
Staying in a hotel this luxurious was a novelty for me: It was like having an entire house to myself! And there were all of these crazy features, like if you gave the staff a shopping list they’d go out and buy everything from a supermarket and bring it to your room for you. And they provided you a map of nearby jogging routes. There were five different types of pillows to choose from.
There was a hotel doctor and dentist for guests. I had a walk-in closet the size of our second bedroom in Lisbon. I had a personal shopper in case I wanted to buy new clothes. They had personal trainers. They had this cool key system where whenever you put your key card in the slot for power, the staff could see you were in your room and wouldn’t disturb you.
The gym was the fanciest I’ve ever been to, with fruit-infused water and ice cold face towels available everywhere. When reception called me a taxi when I was leaving, they walked me out to the street to make sure I found it okay! The list of amazing features was endless, although I didn’t have much use for many of them.
Most importantly of all: when I rocked up looking like a backpacker, covered in sweat with frizzy hair, wearing ugly clothes and carrying a backpack, they were so welcoming to me! No judgment from anyone, while I was half-expecting they were going to ask me if I was lost.
Overall, this was pretty much the most relaxed I’ve felt in a hotel ever. I loved every amazing second I spent at the Mandala.
My verdict: I have mixed feelings on this! The Mandala was undoubtably in my top five favourite places I’ve stayed in around the world, and I absolutely loved every moment I was there. It was probably the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The staff were amazing, my room was incredible, and, well, really, everything was perfect.
But it was so expensive. I blew my share of four month’s worth of rent in Lisbon on a five-day stay at the Mandala, and my apartment in Lisbon is bigger and almost as nice. And so I struggled with justifying such a huge amount of money on something I basically have when I’m not on the move.
So, would I do it again? Probably not to this extent.
But it did show me how much more enjoyable and stress-free my solo travels could be and encouraged me to seek out nicer places to stay in the future. I don’t have to always opt for sleepless nights in dorm rooms and try to travel on as tight a budget as possible.
And even though I did come to the conclusion that splurging on 5 star hotels around the world isn’t for me, it was an incredible experience that I’m glad I had. Just the first step towards showing myself more love in my life.
Finally Facing Up to My Massage Fears
The ONO spa is ranked the best in Berlin, and was also voted World’s Best Boutique Spa by Senses Wellness Guide (whatever that is…) — I knew I wanted a professional environment for dipping my toe back into the massage waters, and that definitely fit my criteria. It cost 100 euros for an hour-long massage.
And god, was I anxious!
When my masseuse asked me to remove all of my clothes, I panicked. Because after sharing what happened during my last massage, a load of people had reached out to tell me that my first sign something was wrong was me being told to take off all of my clothes — that you should never be told to be strip completely naked.
And I’m cool with being naked and all that, but if I wasn’t supposed to remove all of my clothes, what should I do instead? But also, I was in Germany, where nakedness isn’t weird, so maybe I was supposed to take them all off. I couldn’t believe I was panicking already.
Funny story: when I was chatting to the masseuse before the massage, she asked if I was here for the marathon. At the time, I had no idea that the Berlin marathon was on during my stay, so I immediately assumed she was asking me if I was here to have a marathon massage. Which sounded like something I probably didn’t want — I didn’t have all day and a marathon massage sounded like it would take a long time.
“Um, so what exactly is the marathon?” I asked.
And then I had to stand and listen to her explain exactly what a marathon was to me. She must have thought I was so dumb!
So, I had the massage and I felt a little out of my depth at first, because she asked me what kind of massage I liked and I had no idea beyond a non-intrusive one? And she asked about my favourite oils, and again, I had no idea. I definitely felt like a little kid who had no idea what they were even doing!
But once that was out of the way and there were no awkward conversations, I was all good. And I was proud of myself for facing up to my fears!
My verdict: I’m actually surprised to say it probably wasn’t worth it for me. The massage was relaxing and it did feel indulgent, but honestly? I’ve felt more relaxed after 15 minutes in those massage chairs at airports. I was really expecting to feel amazing afterwards and was disappointed that I didn’t.
And that could totally be because I was hyper-aware of everything that was going on to the point where I couldn’t fully allow myself to relax, but either way, I came away feeling that it was a nice experience, but it wasn’t 100 euros nice. When I went back down to my room afterwards, I just felt pretty normal.
Would I have another massage in the future? I probably would! But it most likely wouldn’t be in a Western country with crazy-expensive prices. It just didn’t do enough for me for me to justify spending so much.
From Picky Eater to Fearful Solo Diner to Nothing But Confidence
You all know the story. When I first started travelling, I was the pickiest eater ever. I hated foods with flavour. I hated anything I’d never tried before. I spent my first few months of travel surviving on McDonald’s and junk food from the supermarket. I was too afraid to try the local foods, because I assumed they would make me sick.
And that sucked. What a miserable way to travel!
Gradually, I worked up the courage to start trying new foods, and eventually my belief that every new flavour would send me into anaphylactic shock faded away. I started to realise the bland diet I’d kept to pre-travel had been incredibly boring. I kept trying more and more foods, each one exposing me to new flavours and textures, each one building up my confidence. And that continued until I reached the point where there’s literally nothing I can think of that I wouldn’t try eating now.
The only barrier that remained was my fear of eating alone.
I hated it.
I avoided it whenever I could.
I was so uncomfortable eating alone that sometimes, I’d just choose to not eat at all. When I travelled alone, I’d often revert back to eating supermarket food because it was easy to obtain, and only really enjoying what I ate when I was eating with somebody else and therefore didn’t have to be afraid of restaurants.
I decided to make a change, and I feel like I should tell you here that it wasn’t easy, but it was. Super easy. I just started eating at restaurants. And at first, I was uncomfortable and awkward — I even spent five hours in a restaurant because I was too nervous to ask for the bill.
But then I wasn’t so weird anymore. After a week of eating at restaurants for every meal, I was fine.
And now eating alone is one of my favourite parts of solo travel. It’s a time to treat myself, read a book, people watch, try some new foods. I’m no longer afraid of what people might be thinking of me. Especially because they’re most likely not thinking about me at all.
Eating at Facil was all about proving how far I’ve come.
I knew I would have truly defeated my eating alone demons if I could rock up to a two Michelin star restaurant in faded jeans and a top that’s seen the inside of 18 different washing machines around the world, and confidently sit down and enjoy my meal.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I was surrounded by stuffy businessmen in suits and very rich-looking people, and yet I owned that lunch. I didn’t care.
I even took a selfie.
My verdict: 10/10; one of the best meals of my life; would totally do again.
I loved every second of my time in Berlin, and I’m so glad I decided to treat myself on this trip. While I came away thinking that I probably wouldn’t repeat such an expensive experience to that extreme again, it was wonderful to have a taste of luxury in my life — even if it was for just five days.
This was of my favourite trips ever!