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Unexpectedly Solo in Barcelona

I wasn’t supposed to be in Barcelona alone. Everything I planned: the large airbnb with the balcony overlooking Santa Maria del Mar, the tickets to the Sagrada Familia, the cute little restaurants was with a romantic pre-TBEX getaway in mind.

And that was the plan right up until the night before departure when Mike looked at his passport and realized it had expired. Six weeks earlier.

I will spare you the domestic drama that ensued. Marriage I have come to learn, is all about these, well fuck-ups, for lack of a better word. Mike forgave me when I screwed up our taxes last year so I had to forgive him for forgetting to renew his passport. Besides, he felt terrible. Missing our trip to Europe would be far worse punishment than anything I could dream up.

The next morning with very little sleep and a lot of stress, I set out for Barcelona alone. Mike started scrambling to get an emergency passport renewal so he could hopefully meet me later on. We didn’t even know if that was possible, so I was facing somewhere between 3 days and 3 weeks in Europe alone.

I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t that I was afraid to go it alone (my love of solo travel is well documented), but I wasn’t mentally prepared for this at all. I had been planning a trip for two, not a solo jaunt. It threw me off kilter and made me question the whole trip.

Here is how I eventually made out:

Sunday

My little balcony workspace

I think it’s fair to say Barcelona didn’t make much of an impression on me the first time around. In fact, I didn’t even write about it when we visited in 2012. We were there for so little time, at the very end of a long trip, and I was really just ready to go home. I remember we stayed in a neat hostel and walked La Rambla but not much else.

In spite of my rusty Spanish skills and severe jetlag I successfully navigated my way from the airport to the cute AirBNB in the hip Born neighborhood. John, the unnervingly handsome landlord, didn’t comment on my surprise single-ness as he showed me the huge apartment I’d rented. Enormous, this place could sleep three couples. On the table was a chilled bottle of cava and two champagne flutes. Just for me.

Rather than sitting around the cavernous apartment feeling sorry for myself, I decided to meet up with some bloggers I’d connected with on Facebook. We didn’t really know each other, but they were happy to let me spend the afternoon with them drinking vermouth, walking around Poblenou and eating paella. It was a more local side of Barcelona that I hadn’t spotted on my first whirlwind trip through the city.

By the end of that first evening watching an evening thunderstorm rain down on the cobblestones below, I could tell I was starting to fall for this place. Then again, I’d been awake for the better part of 48 hours, and maybe I wasn’t thinking too straight, so I decided to sleep on it.

Monday

Thanks to jetlag I was up bright and bushy tailed at 6 AM. This never happens in real life so I decided to embrace it and do some sightseeing. I’d forgotten of course that Barcelona itself doesn’t wake up until at least 10 AM, and the streets were basically deserted.

Without Mike around, I’m able to engage in my favorite new-city activity: aimless wandering. Mike has no patience for this: he needs a destination, or at least a goal, but I am happy to get lost in Born’s winding streets with their little shops and cool street art. I picked up a pasty for breakfast and a jamon sandwich for lunch and happily exhausted my feet wandering around the Mercat de Santa Caterina, the Parc de la Ciutadella and more. It was lovely, if a little lonely.

I’m wasn’t quite up for dining alone so I bought myself a supermarket meal of fresh bread, cheese and beans with pesto. Mike is the one with excellent Spanish skills and I cursed him a little for cheating me out of a yummy and romantic meal somewhere fancy.

Tuesday

I did my aimless wandering yesterday and today I am chock full of plans. First up: a food tour with Devour Barcelona (full review of that coming up soon, but needless to say: it involved a lot of good eats). Group tours are nice when you’re alone because you can make some insta-friends- especially if you tell them your husband’s tale of passport-woe.

After the tour I headed across town to the towering Sagrada Familia. As recommended I had bought two tickets in advance, and I managed to convince a blogger friend Anne from Part Time Traveler to take Mike’s spot. Anne studied abroad in Barcelona so she made a nice tour guide for Gaudi’s masterpiece. The church itself is lovely and strange and so colorful in the afternoon light. Unfortunately the good camera was in Mike’s luggage (oops) so I had to make due with iPhone photography, which almost feels sacrilegious.

Afterwards we met up with Barcelona local Jenny from A Thing for Words and headed back to Born for a long night of tapa eating and cava drinking. Anne took us to her favorite undergrad haunt: El Xampanyet, where you can order a massive bottle of house cava for less than the cost of an Uber ride. We also indulge in pesto topped grilled calimari, chickpeas with butifarra and morcilla (that’s white and black sausage) and of course endless olives. It’s simple and brilliant and one of my most memorable meals in a long long time

Yup, consider me won over. I definitely love Barcelona.

Wednesday

Time to head to Lloret and get ready for TBEX- and meet up with Mike who has managed to obtain a 1-day passport renewal and is currently somewhere in the air between Seattle and Barcelona. I’ll be glad to see him and spend the next few weeks traveling through Portugal and England, but truthfully, I really did enjoy myself in Barcelona. With only a couple days to wander, explore and socialize I discovered everything I missed the first time around. Could I have done the same with Mike? Of course, but it felt pretty great to do it alone too.

It’s lucky for me that I’m an experienced solo traveler already, but also a testament to the importance of practicing solo travel, even if you’re in a committed relationship. Learn the skills now. You never know when you might have to go it alone, and you might as well learn to enjoy it.

Have you ever taken an unexpected solo trip?

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19 Responses to Unexpectedly Solo in Barcelona

  1. Kate June 1, 2015 at 9:32 AM #

    I’ve never had an unexpected solo trip, but I’ve done a lot of solo travel and found that I have a love hate relationship with it. I can only imagine how disappointing it must have been to find out last minute that your husband couldn’t come with you, especially if you’d booked everything up already! I hope you guys managed to meet up later into the trip!

  2. Siobhan June 1, 2015 at 1:31 PM #

    Your comment about aimless wandering made me laugh – it’s my favourite way to explore a new place, but it drives my husband mad! I travel solo on purpose a lot, but I’ve never found myself alone on a trip made for two. I like to think I’d take it as well as you did!!

  3. TravelUnbeatenPath (@Lo_Canuto) June 1, 2015 at 4:03 PM #

    Hahah ditto on the aimless wandering – it’s gotten us into an argument in San Diego (granted, we were both hangry) – but kudos for you going through with it, sticking to your plans and making the best of it (which sounds amazing anyway!)

  4. Megan June 1, 2015 at 4:21 PM #

    Ha! Forgetting to renew my passport sounds like something I would totally do, leaving my husband to his own devices. Reading this actually made me remember that I haven’t traveled solo in about a year – I’m excited to change that soon! Sometimes it’s such a refreshing change (and, it always makes me appreciate my husband that much more!)

  5. Erin Southerland June 1, 2015 at 7:23 PM #

    Your apartment in Barcelona looks incredible. It’s a city that is growing on me over time and I’m glad you enjoyed it despite the passport woes. Realizing his passport is about to expire the day we leave is totally something my husband would do. I’m glad he was able to get it renewed quickly!

    • Steph June 1, 2015 at 8:15 PM #

      It’s totally something my husband would do too. I mean obviously, but it wasn’t out of character if you know what I mean…

  6. Edna June 1, 2015 at 8:19 PM #

    I just booked my flights to Barcelona yesterday! Making a note of El Xampanyet for suuure.

  7. Carina June 2, 2015 at 11:50 AM #

    What an unexpected turn of events! oh i’d be so upset if my significant other forgot to renew his passport. Totally understand the part about enjoying solo travel but being upset when its unplanned, I would be too! But its nice that you manage to enjoy yourself wandering around, eating whatever you wanted, and meeting up with other bloggers. Such a brilliant way of embracing the situation 🙂

    x, Carina

  8. Maxi June 3, 2015 at 5:47 AM #

    Hahaha! Absolutely interesting to read about you solo travel in Barcelona. My partner is totally excited

    throughout the post. Thanks for sharing such a great experience.

  9. Lauren Aloise (@spanishsabores) June 3, 2015 at 6:36 AM #

    It was so good to see you at Tbex and have you on tour in Barcelona– but poor Mike!

  10. Katie June 3, 2015 at 6:43 AM #

    My fiance is South African and his visa application for Italy was denied 2 weeks before we were due to go because he didn’t have enough spare pages in his passport. I had to cancel the campervan I had booked then ended up spending 2 1/2 weeks backpacking by myself. I was so nervous but it ended up being kind of wonderful. I am about to embark on a 3 1/2 month solo trip through Alaska, British Columbia and Hawaii. I am sure I will miss him but I am looking forward to it

    • Steph June 3, 2015 at 11:09 AM #

      ooo what a bummer! Luckily Mike did manage to show up for the remaining 2 weeks of the trip, but I’m sure I could have handled it on my own if I had to. Your next trip sounds awesome! I have BC and Alaska on my list for this summer too.

  11. JB & Renee June 5, 2015 at 1:08 AM #

    Oh my god, that’s terrible! My wife would kill me if I ever did that. But you’re absolutely right, not being able to go on a trip like this would be punishment enough. Happy to hear that Mike was able to sort it out though. Enjoy the rest of your trip. 🙂

  12. Backpack Babe June 9, 2015 at 10:25 PM #

    Wait that’s so cute and actually really romantic looking 🙂 Barcelona is one of my favorite cities. I remember eating this pasta with squid ink haha. So freaking good. Are you going to go to the TBEX in Thailand this year?

    • Steph June 10, 2015 at 10:26 AM #

      Thanks! I don’t think I’ll make it to Thailand. Still on the fence about Ft. Lauderdale.

  13. Christan P June 12, 2015 at 5:22 AM #

    Life’s full of surprises. Even the not-so-good ones. So sorry you feel lonely traveling unexpectedly but I think it’s also a good time to reflect on the relationship that you have and how to become better with your partner. Don’t you think?

  14. Peggy July 1, 2015 at 2:00 AM #

    Steph. What a great site you have. Finally at the point in my life that my husband and I could afford to travel, only to find out that he’s not so keen to leave the comfort of the Lazy-Boy recliner. Oh well, what’s a girl to do, even one likely your mother’s age. Fortunately, despite his desire to stay in close proximity to a ‘Tim Hortons’ (believe me, it’s a Canadian thing), he is wonderfully supportive about my desire to see the world. With three years of Spanish under my belt now, I’ve stepped onto the soil of Argentina, travelled the coast or Uruguay and am heading off to five weeks in Spain in September. Travelling solo is to some a completely scary experience, but what I’ve happily discovered is that we all need to be pushed out of our comfort zones at times to really experience life, at any age. I don’t even mind getting lost anymore as its surprising how helpful complete strangers can be,especially when you are trying to communicate in your host country’s language. Looking forward to aimlessly walking the streets of Barcelona and taking your advice to visit a few of your suggestions. By the way, welcome to Vancouver and hope you enjoy the city. Sadly our Canadian girls are out, however, have a ticket for the final, so will be cheering for our neighbours to the south. Won’t quite be like the futbol in Argentina, (learned a few words at that game that weren’t in my Spanish textbook—your husband will know those ones), but BC Place will certainly be a sea of red, white and blue. Good luck, and if you are still looking for a good Chinese restaurant, Chong Qing on Robson is pretty authentic Szechuan style and you can ask for less spicy if that is your taste. Saludos!

    • Steph July 1, 2015 at 11:57 AM #

      Thanks for the lovely comment! I think it’s wonderful that you are off seeing the world on your own, and that your husband is supportive!
      I’m already back from Vancouver, but we went to Chong Qing and it was really good! Spot on recommendation.

  15. Chloe Gibson January 7, 2017 at 12:54 PM #

    I love Barcelona! I lived there for a year and couldn’t have felt safer by myself at night, even hitchhiked outside of the city and hiked up mountains alone! Glad you had a great experience!

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