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Italy

To Tour or Not to Tour: Planning the First Solo Trip

 

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“Sailing ’round the world in a dirty gondola…” – The Band

Going abroad for the first time can be a daunting experience, especially when you’re traveling solo. However, if you have no one else who can travel with you at that time, it may be the only option you have. I have traveled alone on both trips to Italy and Africa. When I left the comfort and familiarity of NYC to board the flight to Italy alone almost 2 years ago, I was practically shaking with anxiety. However, as soon as I arrived in Rome, it took almost no time to realize that living independently in NYC for nearly 1 year had more than prepared me for the streets of Italy’s most fantastic cities!

If you are traveling abroad for the first time solo, meeting with a tour group may help alleviate some nervousness. However, depending on your destination, you may be able to self-plan your trip to cut costs and fit in more of what you want to see and do without having to cooperate with a strict group schedule.

For my first trip abroad to Italy, I was scheduled to meet up with a good friend I had taught high school with in Memphis, as well as one of her friends from college. My friend had arranged for the 3 of us to travel with EF Tours, with the majority of our group being from the Memphis area. I would fly solo from NYC to Rome to meet my friend and the group there. Given my lack of experience in foreign travel, I willingly agreed to this plan…at that time, I did not know the first thing about planning a trip in Italy! However, my friend had to drop out of the trip just a few days before our departure due to family circumstances, and I found myself traveling across Italy with a group of relative strangers. I grew to enjoy the company of the group, but often found myself splitting off to see more sights at my own pace.

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Climbing the Duomo in Florence, a solo feat! Not for the claustrophobic…

There were both pros and cons to using an organized tour company for my first solo trip:

Pros:

  • I knew I had a group waiting on me in Rome and expecting my arrival. This was reassuring, just in case the unforeseen happened!
  • Pre-arranged transport and accommodations between all the major cities on our agenda (Rome, Florence, Venice) as well as some less-visited towns (Assisi, Spoleto, Bologna) proved extremely convenient.
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Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi…a beautiful and moving visit I may not have made if I were traveling completely solo, since it’s a little off the beaten path! This painting spells “peace” in every language.
  • Several accommodations were outside of the main cities, meaning I was able to see a different side of Italy that was less touristy. For example, dancing with these nuns we stayed with outside of Venice was definitely a highlight of the trip! They also served very good wine. You can visit their website here.

Cons:

  • Several accommodations were outside of the main cities, so I felt like I had less time than I desired in places like Rome and Florence.
  • The tour ran on a very strict schedule! There was little time for wandering on my own (although, I sometimes created this for myself by splitting off from the group when I knew there was something else I wanted to see or do).
  • Once I got the hang of being in a foreign country after the first few days, I realized I could have planned the entire trip on my own, cut down on costs by staying in hostels and traveling by train, and seen more of the sights I wanted to see!
  • Most of the meals were pre-arranged, which was a real bummer. Although it was included in the tour price (wine was always extra though), this did not allow me the opportunity or freedom to explore as many restaurants as I wanted. I feel like I need to go back to Italy to experience more authentic dining!

All things considered, I still booked my trip to Africa last winter through a tour company. This time, I used G Adventures, based on a friend’s recommendation (thanks DJ!). Even though I was much more comfortable with the idea of solo travel at this point, G Adventures (contracted through Indaba Explorations) provided the overland vehicle for transport, camping equipment, and meals cooked over the campfire each night, making it a sensible decision. This time around, I actually thoroughly enjoyed being in a tour group—everyone was in the 23-35 age range, we had amazing local guides (shout out to Joslin and Francois!), and there was plenty of free time (when we weren’t on an organized safari of course). More on how much I loved my Africa travel group later 🙂

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On safari with new friends in Zimbabwe

This summer, I will be using G Adventures again as I travel through Southeast Asia. However, I will be backpacking in South America with a good friend from NYC, and taking on Europe completely solo for 7 weeks (I will share more on my itinerary later)!!

Have you ever used a tour group for solo travel? If so, what was your experience like?

Why Travel? Better Late than Never!

Hello, blogosphere! Thanks for taking the time to visit my page. I thought I’d write my inaugural post about my background and why traveling is so important to me at this stage in my life.

I did not leave the United States until I was 24 years old. I used to be so embarrassed of this fact, but I am certainly not anymore. In fact, I hope my story can inspire those of you out there who may be looking to travel abroad for the first time, but are just not sure where to start.

Since I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut. I know every little kid wants to be an astronaut, but I was so serious about it! I read every book I could find about space and space travel, and used my telescope in the backyard on a regular basis. I even begged my parents for family trips to visit the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Cape Canaveral (thanks Mom and Dad)! In high school, I began to realize being an astronaut was not the most realistic of careers, and began to focus on other interests. However, I think the deep desire to explore and seek adventure stuck with me.

In my college years, I was surrounded by friends and classmates who were much more well-traveled than I was, and I began to feel ashamed of how little of the world I had seen. I definitely did not have the funds to start traveling then, and I certainly lacked the confidence as well. I thought I could only travel abroad if I had a companion, and the scheduling and funds never really lined up. So, I tabled my travel dreams for another few years.

I moved to NYC in 2013 to start a career in finance. The around-the-clock nature of my work did not leave me with much time to reflect and plan for a trip abroad. Also, I began dating someone soon after moving to the city, which took a lot of my time and focus (in a positive way!). Career, check! Boyfriend, check! Living in a fabulous city, check! Then, New Year’s Eve 2014 changed everything. My purse was stolen at a club in Soho. My driver’s license, along with my phone and credit cards, was gone. Panic ensued, as I was supposed to fly home to Alabama for a friend’s wedding the next week! My then-boyfriend pointed out, “Why don’t you just use your passport to get on the plane?” I broke down sobbing, and confessed, “I don’t own a passport!”

At that moment, my priorities shifted and my lifelong dream of adventure came into sharp relief. I knew it was time to travel abroad, even if it meant going alone and using a big chunk of savings. Within the next few weeks, I had applied for my passport and booked a trip to Italy. My then-boyfriend was in med school and could not go with me. However, I was finally confident enough to pursue my dream alone.

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My first morning abroad EVER! In Santa Marinella, Italy.

Since Italy, I have traveled in Africa and Mexico, and this summer I will be taking 3 months to travel through Southeast Asia, South America, and Europe. I hope to use this blog as a place to share my ups and downs, funny stories, and observations. I also hope to use it as a place to reflect. Lastly, I want to use this blog to encourage others to travel by sharing how I’ve overcome obstacles in my past to pursue this dream.

Before I leave in May, I’ll be sharing about past trips, both abroad and within the USA. I’ll also share about the planning and packing process. Please feel free to reach out via comments or email!

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