Italy was the first country in Europe I traveled to 11 years ago as a single adult. Not surprising, I immediately fell in love with the landscape and culture. Two years later I went back, hoping to capture the same good vibes, and it didn’t happen. Disappointed, I took Italy off my list and only traveled to new places that I had yet to experience.
Until this summer.
Husband had never been to Italy, so we agreed to spend half of the trip in cities that I had visited and half of the trip in uncharted territory. The landscape and the culture were back, sucking me into lingering dinners in quiet piazzas and drinks anywhere there were stairs to sit on.
My paramount discovery was Rome. I’ve heard you either love Rome or you can’t wait to leave. But I was smitten. Romans live among the art and history that surrounds them. Statues constructed during the time of Julius Caesar are still standing in the elements, not covered in glass or roped off to the public. There is a sense that if a Colosseum built in 80 AD can survive earthquakes and war, you don’t have too much to worry about. Life is good.
One of my quirks is that I dream in the language I’m surrounded by. Within a day of arriving in Italy, my dreams were in Italian. And even though I’ve been home for several days, the Italian in my head still continues. This trait is typically annoying, but right now I hope the dreams stay in Italian for a bit longer so I can image I’m still in Rome.
The Florence Cathedral, also known as Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and “the Duomo,” towers over the city streets. On this Throwback Thursday I was in Florence, Italy in 2007, and this was the sunset view from the rooftop of my B&B. Not bad, eh?
It’s another Throwback Thursday, and today we are in Piazza San Marco, Venice 2005.
In October I sent 515 images to ScanCafe. I have two three-ring binders of very organized negatives and slide film, mostly of travel from nearly a decade ago that I want to save forever. Honestly? Most of the pictures are complete garbage, and that’s being nice. I can’t believe I took 13 pictures of a cliff side. Come on! Crashing waves aren’t that interesting. But I saved them all, fearful of deleting some sort of memory or place in time that I will never see again.
Of the 515 scans that now sit on my hard drive, the people of Venice, Italy are a favorite when looking back at what I had captured so long ago. The pictures made me realize that I’m not as adventurous with my camera as I used to be because I have developed an adult conscience. I’m too concerned about being nice and not offending and being respectful and not acting like someone who just points their camera at anything.
I have altered my photography because of limitations. Yes, I used to center everything instead of putting a picture into thirds, but I caught a few elements of life of Venice by not knowing the rules. Maybe in 2011 I need to remember to throw the rules out once in awhile.
This weekend’s release of the movie Eat, Pray, Love has unleashed a mountain of travel stories in the news media, mostly written by women who have jogged around the globe for months at a time by themselves. I am the first one to advocate such behavior. I do not believe you need a partner to enjoy traveling.
That said, I wonder how many women have read these same news stories over the last week and thought, ‘Fine for her, but I would never gallivant around by myself. Too frightening.’
Even my independent spirit falls into that category. I easily identify with Rosalba, the main character in my favorite Italian movie, Bread and Tulips. In the story, frumpy housewife Rosalba is accidentally left behind by her family at a rest stop while on vacation. Instead of waiting for them to pick her up, she hitch-hikes to Venice, Italy and meets new characters along the way. She soars in her new-found independence but there are moments when it suddenly hits – Oh God, I’m alone. NOW what?
While I have traveled overseas “by myself” in the past, I was never alone for very long. I have been on three Rick Steves tours, two of which I traveled without a partner. But the security of being with a group heightened my travel experience because I was comfortable. If you are independent, a tour with loose rules and minimum group tour time is a great alternative. I look for tours that offer a few hours of tour highlights, and then free time each day, with bonus free days included. If you want to skip the tour that day or skip dinner with the group, more power to you. The beauty of this type of tour is the complete independence or complete tour structure you crave. The choice is yours.
I cringe when movies portray travel situations that I am willing to bet a small percentage of women would never consider. That’s not what solo travel is like for most of us. But there are plenty of good tour options for even the most adventurous at heart who want to eat, pray, and love every minute of it.
When you travel overseas the last thing you want is a lot of luggage. Drag a big suitcase on wheels over a cobblestone street in Italy and you will get stares and snickers. Take that same large suitcase on any train in Europe and pray for a spare seat next to you. Luggage compartments on the railways are typically not big enough to hold more than a large backpack unless you’re lucky.
I travel 10-12 days with a Rick Steves convertible bag. It’s dimensions are listed as 14 x 9 x 21. It allows me to put my Think Tank Speed Demon camera bag around my waist in the front, carry my clothes on my back, while keeping me completely hands free to fiddle with train tickets, maps, etc.
Think it’s impossible to put everything on your back? Think again. Here is my packing list that I follow every time I leave home for a few weeks, plus my personal pre-travel to-do checklist with handy hints.
- Alarm clock, jewelry, sunglasses, European adapter, sporks for picnics
- Make-up bag and toiletry bag
- Hair dryer (if needed)
- Under garments (total days travel plus one for insurance in case of travel delays)
- Socks (total days travel)
- Sleeping t-shirt and shorts
- Shirts (total days travel)
- Jeans and slacks (one of each)
- Extra travel books and necessary confirmations, plus maps
Where are the shoes? Don’t need them. Wear the same pair on your feet everyday. It will save a lot of space. Dress-up clothes for fine dining? Not my style, plus it adds several additional layers to the suitcase for a one-time event. Packing light means prioritizing.
I’ve also gotten into the habit of slinging a carry-on sack for the plane that can be easily packed away once I arrive at my destination, and then brought out again for farmer’s market shopping or a place to put books for a long train ride.
- Money belt (which you need to put on once you arrive at your destination!)
- Passport and wallet with essentials needed
- Airline tickets/EuroRail tickets
- Travel books you want to read
- Neck pillow (Like the American Express card, don’t leave home without it)
- Sweater for chilly plane ride and chilly European nights
I carry more camera equipment than many, but here are the items that I find necessary for my camera bag:
- Digital SLR with lens attached
- Point-and-shoot camera
- Polarizing filter
- Extra memory cards
- Battery chargers
- Lens cleaning cloth
Finally, I keep a pre-travel list handy that makes a great reminder checklist to click-through before I holiday for a few weeks.
- Arrange care and feeding instructions for any pets at home
- Water plants
- Stop mail
- Call credit card companies and alert them of travel plans in specific countries (Note: In Europe most establishments accept MasterCard Euro, which is not the same as MasterCard as we know it in the U.S. Make sure you have a Visa card packed. Medium to larger establishments also accept American Express.)
- Compose “out of office” e-mail alert
- Pack plan baggie for the best hygiene feeling (travel toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, face wipes)
- Pack liquid security quart sized baggie to appease TSA, if necessary
- Photocopy your credit cards, passport and list out credit card emergency numbers. Hide away in your suitcase, far from your wallet
- Compose travel card with flight information for wallet
As much as I resemble a pack mule in this photo, this is a side view of me with all of my travel luggage exposed, just prior to jumping on a train for my next destination. It ain’t pretty, but it works. In the end, less is more.