Culture, People

Solo Travelers Talking: Veronica Olivarez on Pedometers, Abanicos, and Growing Up without Spanish

An image of Olivarez in Portugal

We’re fascinated by the fearlessness of solo travelers, so we’re talking to people about what it’s really like behind the social feeds. If you’re a solo traveler with a story to share, send us a message on social to be considered.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

A: Hi, I’m Veronica—a digital marketing consultant (Rosetta Stone is one of my clients), solo-traveler and creative professional who believes in living big and laughing often. I specialize in assisting entrepreneurs with digital marketing strategies and building their brand online. Before the digital nomad life, I was working in sales and marketing for an oil and gas company with a Monday through Friday and 9am to 5pm schedule. Then, oil prices dropped and I was one of many laid off. For months, I had no luck finding a job but plenty of free time. My sister invited me to visit her in Valencia, Spain for a 3-week visit and the rest is history.  While living in Spain for two years, I was able to learn the language and take advantage of the low airfare around Europe. I have been able to travel and connect with other solo-travelers, visit family and friends near and far, all the while creating some of the best experiences of my life. When traveling abroad, I make the most of the 3-month tourist visa but right now I am back at home base in Houston, Texas enjoying my Grandma’s cooking, traveling on the weekends and planning my next big adventure.  

When traveling abroad, I make the most of the 3-month tourist visa.

Q: What do you think drives your desire to head into the unknown?

A: What I love about solo travel is the possibility that anything can turn out better than you expect it to. Say “yes” to adventure and you won’t be disappointed, especially when it is solo! I said “yes” to taking a last-minute train from Valencia to Barcelona for a Beyoncé concert only to find out when I got there, it was a red carpet Club Carter VIP Experience! Whaaaaat??? Say “Yes.” Go. Figure it out when you get there!

What I love about solo travel is the possibility that anything can turn out better than you expect it to.

Q: Tell us about your first solo adventure.

A: My first solo adventure was a weekend trip to Paris, France for my 26th birthday. It was the first trip I did not have a friend waiting to pick me up from the airport and show me around the town. I was filled with excitement and tried to tune out the “Why Paris? It’s the city for lovers and you’re all alone.” Well, HELLO, I can love myself! Doesn’t that count? Paris is for lovers… and anyone else who wants to go!

A few months prior, I had this idea that I would have this luxurious dinner at a rooftop restaurant with views of the city, on a serious budget. The trip started out with an unintended uphill battle with my luggage vs. the cobblestone streets in search of my hostel, in the wrong direction. It is possible to sweat in 30° F weather. I took a boat ride on the Seine River, had a baguette for lunch under the Eiffel Tower, met other solo traveling girls for a coffee, and hired a photographer to take my pictures so I could finally put away my selfie stick. After a long and non-productive conversation of imposter syndrome, overcoming the fear of being by myself, embracing how bright my light was shining that night, and owning the “Veronica Olivarez, table for 1,” I was at a rooftop restaurant, with views of the flickering Eiffel Tower and the most delicious birthday dinner. To my surprise, the evening was topped off with the black-tie wait staff waving sparklers and singing “Happy Birthday.”

It doesn’t get easier, you get stronger!

The waiters sing to Olivarez in Paris.
A birthday celebration in Paris

Q: Can you tell us about your latest solo-travel experience?

A: This Summer, I explored Portugal and all its beauty for a one-week trip. After a few solo trips, you become accustomed to 25-30k steps/day and the luggage versus the cobblestone streets; it doesn’t get easier, you get stronger! From the castles in Sintra, the trolley in Lisbon to the waves in the Algarve coast. Two of the biggest highlights was going with a group of new friends from the hostel to Sagres, Portugal, known as “The End of the World.” The name alone put this place on my radar. Seeing the massive cliffs with no barriers and the deep blue water meeting the sky is absolutely breathtaking. It was the perfect place to watch the sunset and reflect on the journey that got me there. The second was swimming into the Bengali Cave in Lagoa. Surprisingly, I’m no mermaid but I put on a life jacket, grabbed a boogie board and splashed around in one place until a kind Australian soul offered this Texas damsel a boost. A girl who can’t manage to dive in an 8ft swimming pool is now inside one of the most captivating caves on earth. Face your fears or miss out on life’s greatest adventures!

Olivarez explores Sintra, Portugal
Sintra, Portugal

Q: What are a few of your solo-traveling must-haves?

A: The abanico is a Spanish trademark and a travel must-have accessory, not only for fashion but to keep cool with the hot summers and limited air conditioning. You can be sweating like an animal but still seem poised and cultured. The price range to buy one is from 2€ to 500€. I learned quickly that abanicos are not only for the Flamenco dancers and Spanish grandmothers but for everyone and everyday use, especially in the summer. Keep a scarf for cool evenings, a good book for the beach and long train rides, and sanitary wipes!

A collection of abanicos.
A collection of abanicos

Q: Do you think learning languages is an important aspect of being a global-focused traveler?

A: Yes! When you can speak the language of the place you’re visiting, you allow yourself the opportunity to truly experience the culture in its entirety. Even though Portugal was very accomodating to English speakers, I felt like such a tourist for not even refreshing myself on basic Portuguese beforehand. I will be better prepared next time!

 Imagine growing up with a Hispanic name, Veronica Olivarez, and not being able to speak Spanish. How embarrassing!

Q: Can you tell us a little about your experience learning languages?

A: Imagine growing up with a Hispanic name, Veronica Olivarez, and not being able to speak Spanish. How embarrassing! My parents knew Spanish but they only spoke English to my siblings and I. I took a few courses in high school but I was a lost cause when it came to learning the language. It wasn’t until 25 years old, living in Valencia, Spain, physically immersing myself in the culture, enrolling in a local language school, and participating in language exchange groups that I was finally able to carry on a conversation in Spanish. It took a lot of work (and still does) to maintain it and learn new words and phrases.

Olivarez wearing traditional clothing in Valencia.
Valencia, Spain

Q: How do you plan for the photos, the friendships, the culture, and all the delicious food to make for the perfect solo trip?

A: When I first started seeking friendships while traveling, I used BumbleBFF. I am so grateful for this app and the girls I was connected with. I also joined a Facebook group, “Girls Love Travel” for female travelers and it has given great support and resources for solo-travel. Connecting with locals is the best thing you can do to get prime cuisine at a fraction of the cost. For photos, getting my insta-worthy shots have come from putting my trust in strangers. They don’t always turn out good but they make for good laughs. I once booked a photographer on Airbnb experience and it was the best $50 I spent. 

Connecting with locals is the best thing you can do to get prime cuisine at a fraction of the cost.

Olivarez shares an image taken by a local.
A response to “Can you take my picture?”

Q: So, where’s next for you?

A: The South of France next year. Ever since my trip to Paris, I have wanted to learn French. It is my hope that I can do so near a beach. Also, I have always wanted to live in New York. I am certain with the new languages I learn, the people I meet, and the experiences I make, the opportunities to travel are endless.

Q: Any parting advice for aspiring solo travelers?

A: Traveling alone is scary at first but when the fear fades and the “what am I doing here” passes, the trip will turn out better than you could have ever imagined—and who knows, you might meet yourself.

Q: Where can we follow you?

A: Instagram: @vero_olivarez
Blog: veronicaolivarez.com

Thank you, Veronica! We hope you can use the complementary 3-month subscription to make progress on your French (tip: focus your lessons on travel by using Your Plan). If you’d like to see more of Veronica’s travels, follow her on Instagram. If you’re inspired to take an adventure of your own, share your language adventures with us @rosettastone #RosettaSessions or DM us on social to be considered for one of these articles. 

If you haven’t started another language yet, now there’s nothing stopping you.

3