What I learnt from my first solo trip abroad
Reflections of the past, present and future...
Travelling solo, lost in the wanderlust is something we all contemplate at some point. Be it before we commit to those years of college, or just before we see ourselves settling down and starting a family-we all want to be out there, putting the contentment of our adventures in the hands of the maps that navigate us.
My first solo trip was something that I had planned for my whole life, within the vastness of my open mind. Yet, when it came to be that very moment, what I saw, heard and felt was something I did not fathom. Not even close. The feelings I felt were in no way close to the adrenaline that pumped eagerly through my veins, nor the sheer peace from just wandering almost lost in the middle of street lit skies, bustling with wanderers just like me. Enacting a fluid like will beyond their control-to continue the road ahead in awe and wonder.
And yet, they all had a wanting to make sense of why they felt so at peace and at home, in a place they had never encountered before.
You will feel as if your whole entire life has been leading up to this very moment
Travelling alone is a very exhilarating thought, before you ever actually first get to do it. Before I flew off and sought my first adventure, the concept of solo travel mirrored a feeling of a cool breeze in foreign lands to me. One that brushed through my skin and body, enlightening me with comforts like no other. A sense of some kind of revitalisation, perhaps from a life I had been merely just existing within; to follow roads already travelled and lived. It was something that lingered in the back of my mind and was constantly pressing on me, like an irritated wound from feeling trapped within a mundane and lifeless setting.
Yet best believe that, the desire to travel and venture into the beyond was a calling that I constantly felt drawn to. I saw it as my ancient calling, whispering to me and drawing me to my destiny-it was just a case of when and where.
After 23 years of patiently waiting, on 12/21/2019, the first stop destiny called me to was the beautiful land of love that was Italy!
Make a checklist one month leading up to your trip with everything you want to do and see
So, a month before I actually travelled to Italia, I took it upon myself to make a list of everywhere I wanted to visit, to make sure that I was fully prepared and did not lose any time, trying to think of where to go when I actually was there. I made sure to list down the top restaurants in the towns and spots I was staying at, methods of transportation from one landmark to another and of course checked to see if there was anything seasonal to happen within the spots I was visiting. Lucky for me, the time I went to Italy, my first stop was in the core of Milan during a winter wonderland extravaganza that was leading up to Christmas.
Try and stay in a place with a kitchen
Deciding on a place to stay is always an important choice to make, as it will be your home for however long you decide to stay in that particular city. I visited quite a few cities across italy for my first solo trip abroad and I made sure to select Airbnb over hotels, to have access to a kitchen. Trust me, if you are staying for more than a week abroad, you cannot afford to eat out everyday-and for every meal! So, by having a kitchen you can compromise and cook breakfasts and lunches at home, with occasional dinners outside. I tended to alternate, only having dinner outside every couple of days, when my outings consumed most of the day. Also if you do your research of places to eat beforehand, you can always budget to what works best for you and possibly squeeze in that magical dinner to end off a day of exploring the city. With a long day of walking, you definitely deserved it!
Use the rail system to see as much as you can of the country
Just because you took a flight to one spot in particular, does not mean you need to stay in the local premises! I visited over 6 cities within a 12 day period and that could not have been achieved without the use of the local rail system. Milan's central station and networking railway trains are surprisingly fast, cosy and good value for money, when you book your tickets ahead of time. I did stick to most of my plans and booked in advance however, I could not help myself without doing a couple of those trips from a complete spur of the moment planning! I am sure most wanderlust seekers are guilty of this too..
p.s Bergamo in the north of Italy is completely breathtaking and a must visit. With a very relaxed 'Dolce far niente vibe', this city will capture your soul and undivided attention. Plus, I only paid €5 for a return ticket from Milan!
Visit restaurants that have got the most reviews online or have the longest queues
Choosing places to eat can be very tricky, especially if you are planning ahead. What I would suggest is making sure you have more than one option to follow up on, within each area you visit. This way being, you can judge on if it's worth the taking or not. Italy's biggest giveaway for how good the food is, is by observing the life of the place. The general atmosphere and how busy it is, will really give away on the kind of food you are missing out on. Reading up on the reviews is another great initiative, to gauge the credibility of the food, so if you see thousands of reviews on Tripadvisor and queues for days-that is where you must go!
Embrace the view with the night sky and stars
One thing I have noticed from many a tourists on my journey's, is that so many people spend their time attached like glue to their mobiles, really forgetting on why they are there-a sense of release from normality and continuity. Sure, capturing the moment is important but taking a picture without letting the surroundings sink in, and immersing yourself within the moment, will lose all value. You will look back onto the pictures with density and no resonating feelings.
I took this picture in Florence after an hour walk and climb through the Giardino delle Rose. The feeling of relief that overcame me, when I overlooked the breathtaking view, gave me goosebumps. It was as if all my heavy burdens that I had carried up to the top with me, had all eradicated and shook off with the breeze. I couldn't stop looking, nor overhearing the lovers embrace of one another and the humming quietness of the city. Even though it was so full of life and movement. Everyone who reached the top just watched in silence, as the sun laid to rest that evening.
Coffee spots and bookshops are a great way of meeting new people
There were many cafes that stole my attention within Italy. In particular there was this one place in Bergamo called 'Giulio Balzer Paticceria', located within an alleyway of Bergamo centre. This place remained busy throughout the day, with many people coming in and out for their daily espresso shots and cute accompanying pastries. One thing I noticed was, while I was in there, people did not fail to smile and strike up conversation. Native Italians speak with warmth and soul; you instantly feel willing and able to continue the conversation, as it has a resemblance to the same warmth that you see within family bonds.
I happened to have many conversations with fellow customers who also wanted to sit and embrace the soul and life of the cafe, with its authentic vintage Italian tunes. Some kindly directed me on where to go, visit and see (places I had overlooked), to really feel the Italian life that becomes them all.
Monzo is great for using abroad and track spending for international currencies
Travelling with a different currency, was definitely a very new thing for me. When I travelled before with family, I never really had the responsibility of monitoring my spending, nor taking any notice of currency changes-alongside the possible charges that accompany them. So, I did some research and asked around from other friends that have travelled alone; they all happened to recommend to me using the monzo app.
This works like every other Mastercard or major card payment system. However what I particularly found useful, was the fact you can monitor all the currency changeovers and spending abroad from your mobile phone. It will immediately show you your local currency value, alongside the currency that you bank with. So, you can visually know and keep on top of all your spending abroad. It will also allow you to create spending limits and caps, if you wish to stop spending above an amount within a day. It really was a game changer for me. Especially since money management abroad is highly important.
Do not let two months go by before you set off again on another trip
Once you return from your first trip, do not waste any time in making plans for your next one. Believe me when I tell you, it will make you restless leaving it for too long, as you cannot be exposed to your nature and then shut off the source. You will feel home sick and completely out of sync.
The image above shows my next trip which I made- literally a month after my trip to Italy. You will soon come to realise that, if travel and living in the uncertainty of the wanderlust does not frighten you, but in fact exhilarates you, then you are of the mighty few that can call themselves, the Antevasin.
Living on the borders of life is a lifestyle and the nature of you, that you cannot neglect. It will seek you out, before you go out to seek it. For it is an ancient calling that wrote you in companionship with the wilderness.
Your destiny is to embrace the world in the palm of your hand, as it does so embracing you for every time you have sought her out.
• Fatima Elmusbahi •