My first travel conference and a solo trip to Riga

What is solo travelling? Is it going alone from place A to place B? Is it going alone from place A to place B, spending some time in place B without meeting anyone you know, and then returning alone to place A? Does the time in place B need to be longer than a day, perhaps spending at least a night there? Does it count if you have been to that place before, either alone or with someone you know? So what is the exact definition? No matter what the exact definition is, below I share with you my experience of what I count to be as my first solo trip abroad. The purpose of the trip was to attend my first travel conference!

A statue of a women with children in front of the Opera House in Riga
In front of the impressive Opera House in Riga

Preparing for the travel conference

In June 2019 I felt serious FOMO of not being able to attend one of the most popular travel conferences of the year. But let’s face it, I’m neither that popular nor I can afford a ticket to Boston at the last minute. So, I started researching about other travel conferences that may be happening in Europe. After some time I found a travel conference happening in November in Riga organised by Wanderful: the Women In Travel Summit (WITS). Wanderful has been organising travel conferences for some time now, but all of them up to that point have been in the USA. At that time, the final schedule wasn’t published yet, so I didn’t want to blindly buy a ticket for an event I just found. So I waited…

In August, Wanderful published the list of speakers but by then, tickets had increased in price. I didn’t book. Fast forward to the end of October, when I decided that this may be my only chance to attend a travel conference (considering the endless job applications I was doing at the time for a non-travel related position). Plus, it can help me make my blog known to other like-minded people. That was it! I booked a ticket for the conference, reserved a spot to some of the tours they offered, booked my flights, booked a hotel and even created last-minute business cards and a media kit.

View of Media Kit and Business Carts for Empnefsys and Travel to use in the travel conference
Getting ready for the travel conference

Travel Diary Preface

Below you can find some of my thoughts during the trip. Written down as the trip was taking place. The first draft was a complete mess, so I edited a bit the original to make it more readable. I’m still not sure if it makes sense, but here it is anyway. Enjoy!

Note: Many of the organised tours that I took part in, were organised by Magnetic Latvia Travel.

Wednesday 6/11/2019 – Journey to Latvia

17:50

Initial thoughts about the trip and the travel conference

So here I am on the plane, ready to depart from London Stansted and head to Riga. A new country for me. Two seconds ago I didn’t even have an idea of what was the official language (Russian? Latvian?). The answer is Latvian. And the saddest part is that I’m not as excited as I was when I booked the trip. And the reason is that everyone keeps reminding me of all the other things I have to do; especially those things that I didn’t do so that I have time to prepare for this trip, which is only a fraction of the things that I wanted to do before leaving home. Anyway, back to the topic now.

This is my first complete solo trip abroad (with emphasis on complete and abroad)! This is the first time that I’m travelling for (b)leisure on my own for the whole duration of the trip. And the scariest of all, is not going alone, eating alone or staying alone, but that b in front of leisure, because I’m going to Riga for a travel conference. My first ever travel conference. Which means that I am actually going to meet people I have never heard of before (not even followed on social media). So, one of the aims of this trip is to speak to people and network. But the last time I was in a conference on my own I spoke to exactly no one and socialised with my phone. So, hopefully, this time is going to be different!

Well, now that I wrote all the above I started getting a bit excited. Let’s see how it turns out!

23:25

Landing in Latvia

I am at the hotel (Opera Hotel and Spa [AD]) in Riga. My room is nice and quite spacious (especially the bathroom). I have no view though (only the atrium).

My bed in Opera Hotel and Spa in Riga
This was my bed for six nights

When I arrived in Riga it was raining, but I didn’t bother to open an umbrella. When I exited the buildings I felt like when Christos and I arrived in Geneva and were looking for the bus to Chamonix. I was looking for a bus too, but to the city centre instead. In the end, it was way easier to find the bus here (there were actually signs)!

Now I need to get ready to sleep! I have an early alarm tomorrow (5:30 am UK time). I’m not sure how I will be able to sleep so early (10:30 pm UK time), so I doubt how long I will be able to sleep. Anyway, let’s give it a try! Goodnight! 🙂

Thursday 7/11/2019 – Getting to know Riga

23:35

Riga Walking Tours

What a busy day! I’m at the hotel now! I just had a shower and I am ready to sleep. Today I went to three walking tours! I definitely did my workout for the day: 20k steps!

Morning Tours

The first tour was a free walking tour of the old town by Riga Free Tours. It departed at 10 am in front of St Peter’s church, where it happened to film a movie (apparently a Korean one about the 20th century and the war with Japan 🤷🏻‍♀️). The tour was very interesting. We went around the old town which is only 1/3 of 1% of Riga (i.e. 0.33333%) and observed the architecture of the buildings. The Old Town is very lovely to walk and has some beautiful and colourful art nouveau buildings.

Building in the Old Town Riga
Walking in the Old Town of Riga

After that tour, I went to another free tour by the same company about Alternative Riga. For that tour, we left the old town. We went to the market to discuss food and tradition, and to some other places around the city to discuss the economic situation of the country.

The cheese section of the Central Market in Riga
Lots of cheese at the Central Market

At the end of each tour, I wanted to tip the guide €5 (which was what most people did). I ended up giving €10 the first one and €4 the second one. I only realised that my €10 note was missing instead of the €5 one when I went to pay for my dinner! 🤦🏼‍♀️

Lunch break

After that, I went for a quick lunch at Lāči, where I had a cinnamon puff pastry pretzel and a pistachio eclair. Then I headed to the Radisson Blu Conference and Spa hotel for my first conference event.

An eclair and a sweet pretzel
My lunch from Lāči Bakery

Afternoon Tour

Before, during and after the travel conference there was the chance to participate in tours provided by their collaborators, and I booked a few of them. I actually booked all tours that I wanted except one: the Riga City Tour, because it was already fully booked. I covered that gap in my schedule with the walking tours I did in the morning.

The tour I signed up for was an art tour. We went to one of the moving theatres, a photography gallery and to a behind-the-scenes tour of the opera. There were two more stops: the Art Gallery and the Art Museum. However, the majority of the group skipped those (including myself) because there was a mistake in the schedule and the final hour of the tour overlapped by an event right after.

The main hall of the Latvian National Opera
Inside the Latvian National Opera

Evening activities

Happy hour with the travel conference attendees

My last event of the day was a happy hour event for people who arrived at Riga a few days before the travel conference. The beginning was very awkward because although I was surrounded by people I met on the tour I was not very talkative. So after sitting there for about 20 minutes without talking to anyone, I decided that I should leave.

However, on my way out I changed my mind and decided to try again. So I mingled a bit with the people who were standing by the bar. By the way, all of them were women so it was easier for me to approach them. There, I started talking with a person who was from London, then with another one who had been blogging for 6 years, and a couple more. In the end, we ended up going to dinner all together. On our way there, I met a girl from Hong Kong and while talking we realised that we were studying at the same university in London but in different years (she graduated the year I started).

Dinner with new friends

For dinner, we went to a fancy American-style place called MOONShine. Although it had a multi-page menu, most of the options included red meat (which I don’t usually eat). There were some fish options as well, but they were expensive, so I ended up taking some Vegetarian Pancakes and some potatoes as a side dish. The potatoes ended up being unnecessary because the pancakes were made out of potatoes. I also ordered a fruit punch since I didn’t have a drink in the happy hour earlier. The fanciest part of the dinner was that our table was inside a car! While the best part of it was that nobody from the table would look at me when I was taking photos of my food (in fact everyone else did)!

A car converted in a table at the MOONShine restaurant in Latvia
Our table was at the back seats of these car!

Anyway, it’s quite late now so I need to go to bed because I have a morning wake up tomorrow as well. Tomorrow, I will be going on a day trip from Riga, which like the art tour and my day trip on Monday morning, it is part of the pre- and post-conference events, and hence, it is included in my conference ticket.

Friday 8/11/2019 – A day trip to Manor Estates

14:40

Rundāle Palace Museum

I’m on the bus, we just finished lunch and we are going to our last stop of the tour. The tour today covered three Manor Estates. In the morning we visited the Rundāle Palace and in the afternoon we went to Mazmežotne.

At the Rundāle Palace, we were given a tour of the place. Our guides wore elegant thematic costumes. They told us a lot of interesting information, about the different rooms of the palace, their costumes, the fan customs of the early years of the palace, the family who originally owned the building (the Duke of Courland) and many more which are all messed up in my head right now! An interesting fact I remember is that the White Room (the ballroom) is painted white and not in any fancy-super-expensive-handcrafted wallpaper so that the walls don’t steal the attention from the dresses and costumes of the attendees! My favourite room was the Rose Room which had handcrafted 3D roses on the walls!

The exterior of the Rundāle Palace in Latvia
Having a quick walk in the gardens of the Rundāle Palace

Mazmežotne Manor

For lunch, we went to Mazmežotne Manor which is a very chic boutique hotel and spa. There, we were shown some of their rooms and then we were taken to the dining room for lunch. There, they held regular concerts on the weekends and many weddings!

Dinning room at the Mazmezotne Manor in Latvia
Snapping a few pics of the room before filling my plate with food!

Side thoughts

The route today is beautiful, although it is very foggy (and at the moment the road is very bumpy)! The schedule says that our last stop is at the Abgunste Manor and it includes a Jewellery and Photo Printing Workshop. Sounds exciting! Let’s see what it is!

Side note: What surprised me the most up to now, is the variety of people I met. I used to be around people from different countries (at university events), but this is the first time there is a big age difference. I met with people close to my age, people close to my mum’s age and everything that’s in between. (On top of that, I am not sure if I met anyone younger than me, but I guess once the conference officially starts I will have a better estimation)!

Overall, I can say that it is not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting everyone to be like all those picture-perfect Instagrammers with thousands of followers. I thought that I would be an outsider because I don’t have a huge audience (or an audience at all) but many of the people I met are at a similar situation with me and very approachable. This means that it is not daunting for me to say that I’m here to learn and to improve my blog! Of course, I don’t say that there aren’t people here with thousands of followers, but definitely less than what I was expecting. But again once the conference officially starts this may change.

Ok, we are about to arrive at our next destination so talk to you later!

17:15

Abgunstes Manor

Their story

That was it! We have now been to three manor houses! The last one, called Abgunstes Manor, was also a place for weddings and had a few rooms for visitors. They also offer workshops, a small exhibition space and an escape room! The story of the two founders of the company was very inspiring. They used to live in Riga but their life wasn’t fulfilling so they sold everything they had, they borrowed some money and bought an old manor house that had only seen from the outside in an auction. When the paperwork was done, they moved in and started restoring the place. They added some modern touches while keeping the old glory of the mansion! The final product is an impressive result of interior design and creativity.

Decorative items at the Abgunstes Manor in Latvia
The Abgunstes Manor was beautifully decorated with vintage items

Last summer, they had 32 weddings and they have some more booked for next summer. However, this is not the end! They continue restoring the mansion, building it room by room. They hope that by the beginning of summer, they will have more rooms ready and another kitchen!

And all this due to their cats! They have eight cats and each one was taken every time they were successfully granted new funding! We met Ceasar, Duke and three more cats which I don’t remember their names! They all have their special place in the mansion: the room which they helped fund! Their logo is (what else?) a cat!

Photo printing workshop

While we were there, firstly they told us their story, and then we were split into two groups to create some arts and crafts! One group created hairbands with ropes and plastic flowers and the other group (my group) printed images on a tote bag. To do this, we selected a printed image, then we were given a tote bag, with a carton inside (so not to damage the other side with the process that would follow). We stuck the image somewhere on the tote bag with some paper tape and started applying with a brush some liquid made of citric acid (I think). Then, we took the back of a spoon and we pressed it on the image to transfer the design onto the tote bag!

After that, we printed on another place on the tote bag the silhouette of a cat (their logo) using the technique of screen printing. For that, you need a frame to put the plastic design, screen printing paint and two people, one to hold in place the frame and the other to apply the paint! It was super fun! And my design was not that bad! After the workshop, we were given a hot drink and some snacks, and then we were shown around the rooms of the mansion and the warehouse on the side (another wedding venue).

A tote bag with a printed photo of the Abgunstes Manor
My tote bag design – not the best, but not bad either

Now, I am planning to go to the opening event of the travel conference at the National Railway Museum! There will be buses departing from Radisson Blu so I will catch one of those there and then back!

00:44

Opening event of Women In Travel Summit Riga

Ok, I should have been asleep by now, but since I’m not let’s wrap this up! The opening party was ok. I took the 18:45 shuttle to get there with some other ladies from the tour. We were given champagne (or vodka) when we arrived and some finger food (the waiters were passing by, asking us to take something literally every two minutes, sometimes less). Then, there was a very impressive introductory dance and some opening speeches by the organisers.

Stage of the opening event of the WITS travel confernce
The opening event was a great introduction to Riga and my first WITS

After that, the buffet opened. There was a vegetarian section, a meat section, a fish section, a dessert section and a drink section (you had to pay extra for drinks). I visited the vegetarian and then the dessert ones (of course)! The food was prepared by the winner of the Latvian Master Chef! Next, there were more performances and by 21:45 I took the shuttle bus back to Radisson Blu, and then walked to the hotel.

At the event, I was mainly with a girl from Latvia that I met on the tour today and some others who I met yesterday! Before leaving, I talked to some of the girls we were having dinner yesterday and also, passed by the Photobooth! Tomorrow is a busy day so I need to sleep now! See ya!

Saturday 9/11/2019 – First day of WITSRiga

20:05

Thoughts about Day 1 activities

I am at the hotel now, specifically at the Franco brasserie – the hotel’s restaurant (I’m too lazy to get out or ask anyone to come with me because I know that I will be late and I want to sleep early tonight). Anyway, today was a busy day. It was the first day of the WITS. It was nice, I met a few more people (but not that many as the other days), as I focused my energy on connecting with the companies that were there. And no I cannot say that I did well, but at least I gave some business cards!

In general, the sessions were good. Naturally, some of them were more interesting than others. I learned a few new things. I attended three sessions (pitching for brands, legal issues and freelance writing) and two panelling sessions (one on Riga travel and one about women in travel). There were also two networking sessions with brands and a speed networking session in the end. Of course, we also had lunch!

I skipped the speed networking session, as I had not arranged any meetings with brands because I did not know what a speed networking session was before coming here. It turned out, that they are either one-to-one or group meetings with brands to introduce yourself/blog and talk about possible collaborations. Because these meetings only last for ten minutes, you need to be really focused and have a clear plan of what to discuss, which of course I hadn’t. To be honest, I tried to arrange something last minute but everything was fully booked. At least I was not the only one; some other people I talked to (mostly people who were there for the first time as well) had not arranged any meetings either.

WITS travel conference banner and schedule
Highlights from WITS Day 1

Thoughts about the sessions

From the sessions that I attended, I found all of them to be useful in different parts. I cannot say that I couldn’t find the same information online but I guess it’s different having a real person telling you about it and stressing all the important points. I especially liked the speakers who were very enthusiastic and passionate about what they were doing!

The first one was overall very good, the second one could be more focused on EU legislation, and the last one was a good complement to the first session I attended. (Although, it was not directly related to what I want to do, but still quite relevant). The panels were ok, although at some points I felt quite bored.

After the sessions were over, there were supposed to be an event around the city, or at least that’s what I thought. What it turned out to be was just space on the schedule to go out in Riga and maybe use some of the discounts they provided us. However, for the reasons I said above, I chose to stay in!

Anyway, I need to eat now and then go back to my room so I’ll talk to you tomorrow!

Sunday 10/11/2019 – Second day of WITS Rigs

15:45

Plans for the rest of the day

Half an hour ago, I finished my last session of the travel conference. Now, I am at the Skyline Bar of Radisson Blu hotel, getting a drink and enjoying the view. Next, I am planning to search for some souvenirs, maybe go to one of the desserts shops I saw around, before going back to the hotel and do some work. Then, I plan to go out to find something to eat. Tomorrow after the tour, and if my clothes are in good condition (keep reading to see why) I may go for one last walk in the old town or go to a museum.

View of Riga for a rooftop bar during sunset
Enjoying in the sunset at the Skyline Bar of the Radisson Blu hotel in Riga

Before I start telling you about my day, I have to tell you that the service here is very bad. I almost left as nobody was coming to order!

Thoughts about Day 2 activities and sessions

Anyway, back to the conference now. The day started with a talk about building relationships with local brands and especially how important it is to specialise in a specific region. There was also a woman from Hamburg’s tourism board. It was good to hear her opinions about pitching and what she thinks of bloggers contacting them all the time.

The second session was about narrative storytelling and how it can be balanced with SEO. Another interesting session with a few useful tips to move forward. The last event for all the attendees at the travel conference was a keynote about creating evolution. The speaker was very passionate about the topic. Most interestingly, she became a writer and photographer from a technology background. My last event before leaving the conference venue was a 1-to-1 mentor meeting with Julie Fox. We talked about itinerary design and consultation, and how I could do something similar with my blog!

Ok, time’s up now I need to find a waiter to ask for the bill!

21:45

Evening activities

I am at the hotel now, I have returned from my dinner and I need to get ready for bed (but before that I need to submit a job application). After the drink at the bar, I went back to the hotel. On my way there, I stopped to browse the souvenirs at a shop. It turned out to be very expensive (€1 for a basic postcard – the one which you easily find with 0.30c). Besides, I also stopped at a nice tea house (Apsara Tea House) for a quick dessert. At the hotel, I worked a bit on a job application (and I checked my social media).

Interior of the Apsara Tea House in Riga
The cosy atmosphere and design of the Apsara Tea House in Riga

Then, I went to the Old Town for dinner. I entered a shopping centre there (Galerija Centrs) and found a nice mid-range Asian restaurant (called Gan bei). The good thing was that they had smaller portions as well so I could try a couple of dishes. I got some prawns along with some Singapore-style potatoes, both small portions. The fun part of this is that the waiter asked me if I wanted mint or lemon in my water. I said lemon and in the end, he charged the two pieces of lemon in my glass of water 0.30c! 🤦🏼‍♀️

Plans for tomorrow

Tomorrow I am going to my last tour with the travel conference group to the Boglands! There is an early start at 8 am, which means a 6 am alarm! Great! I am a bit worried about the shoes because the organisers asked us to bring waterproof ones. They only told this on Thursday and by the time I saw the email, I was already in Riga. People who did this tour on Friday told me that they were lending some wellies but I doubt that they will have my size (EU 36)… Well, let’s hope that everything will be alright!

Monday 11/11/2019 – Bogland Tour and Old Town walk

12:10

Bogland Tour

Preparing for the Bogland Tour

I am on the bus, going for lunch! We just finished our 2-hour bogshoeing tour at the Cena bog and it was amazing! I would definitely do it again! Maybe because the weather and the light were so nice, maybe it was the ambience of the group, I don’t know! And most importantly I didn’t fall! Yes, my socks and shoes got wet, but that was expected since they were not waterproof!

To give you an idea of what it was like, we went by bus to the starting point of our tour, where a guide was waiting for us. Then, the guide gave each of us a pair of bogshoes/snowshoes to curry with us. Some people got lucky and the guide had wellies in their size! The smaller one was 37 but another person took them! Anyway, I tried to place plastic bags around my shoes but the constantly fell off so they didn’t make a big difference!

Bogshoes/Snowshoes
How my feet looked with the bogshoes (and plastic bags) on

Walking in the bog

Then, we started walking in a very narrow path in the forest until we reached a point where we had to put our bogshows on. Things went well after that, we went to a nice spot for pictures and we even tried to walk on green land (very loose part of the bog). At some point, the guide made us race while we were wearing our snowshoes! One lady fell, but she was fine just a bit muddy! Luckily no one fell into the bog/water, which can be up to two metres deep and requires an enormous effort to get out! So never go into the bogs alone! When someone asked our guide if anyone ever fell into the bog, he said… “of course”!

Cena Bog in Latvia
The weather was so nice that morning in the bogs

Along the way, we learnt a few things about the bogs. For example, and from what I remember, there you can find some poisonous rosemary (only when you eat or drink it, not touch or smell it) and some perfectly edible raspberries! There can be all kinds of mammals. The lakes can freeze in the winter, but tours continue to happen! In the summer (and even in the winter) people can swim in the bog lakes, which they described as coca-cola because they are very dark from the mud! The water is also safe to drink, but don’t take that for granted because I may not have heard that correctly.

We almost arrived at our next stop, so I gotta go know!

18:05

Walk in the Old Town

And my trip to Riga almost came to an end! I am at a chocolate cafe (called Šokolādes Māja) enjoying a cup of tea along with some chocolates! After the bog, we went for lunch at a very nice restaurant! Next, we returned back to Riga and some of the others in the group planned a coffee hopping trip. I chose not to join them, as I am not a fan of coffee. Instead, I went for a walk in the old town. There, I took some photos, bought some souvenirs and chocolates and wandered into some shops.

Exterior of the House of the Black Heads
The House of the Black Heads in Riga Old Town

Now I am planning to visit a few more shops until dinner time. Then I need to find a place to eat (ed: found a nice Latvian place called Melnā Bite). After that, I am returning back to the hotel to prepare my luggage and eventually get some sleep. My flight tomorrow leaves at 11:20 am. So I should be leaving the hotel at about 8:30 am which means a 7 am alarm.

Tuesday 12/11/2019 – Returning to the UK

11:45

Wrapping up my first solo trip

I am on the plane now, going home! It was a great 5-day trip in Riga! Although my first visit in the Baltics did not cover all three Baltic countries, not even Riga as it should (I mean I did not visit any museums or researched a lot about the city beforehand), I managed to meet with people from diverse backgrounds (ok lots of them were from the US). After my trip, I have a lot of post-trip work to do (follow up emails, blog posts, social media posts, photo sorting, etc.).

The travel conference was a great experience and I don’t regret going there. For the next time, I should note that it’s better to book early. This should give me enough time to book all the tours that I want.

The Freedom Monument in Riga
The Freedom Monument in memory of those who were killed in the Latvian War of independence

Plans for the future

My next few days are quite busy as well:

  • I have two job video interviews to do, a few more applications before their deadlines pass.
  • On Sunday I am going to London to watch Disney On Ice.
  • On Friday, my mum comes to visit me, and we are going to Edinburgh for my “graduation”. Then we will be exploring Cambridge, Ely and finally, we will go to London for two more days for Black Friday.
  • The weekend just after Black Friday, Christos’ cousin will come to visit us from Cheltenham.
  • The weekend after that, we are going to Christos’ other cousin in Loughborough.
  • On the 18th of December, I have a flight to Cyprus, to spend the Christmas holidays there.
  • In January I will be going to Slovenia for the first time for a short winter excursion.
  • Finally, there is a trip to Dubai in February, which we might move to March. Nothing is confirmed yet about that trip and neither the trips that I have in my mind after that!

Anyway, once I am home I can’t wait to try out some of the things I learned at the travel conference!

That’s all for now! I hope you enjoyed reading this! 🙂

‘Till next time!

P.S. A year later, I can confirm that I went to all the places I mentioned above. None of them was affected by COVID-19 (the virus didn’t exist in the mass media then). The trip to Dubai happened in March in the end, and it also included Abu Dhabi. After that, I had a few more trips planned, which, unfortunately, I had to cancel. This also includes the second WITS conference in Europe which would have taken place in October 2020 in Gdańsk. Now, the conference has been postponed for September 2021 and I can’t wait to join the group again!

All photos were taken using the Sony ILCE-5100 [AD] mirrorless camera.

Did you like this post? Save it for later!

Pinterest Graphic for My first travel conference and solo trip to Riga blogpost

Elina Michaelidou

Elina is a computer science graduate and a traveller enthusiastic. Read everything about her travel experiences here.

Leave a Comment