I’ve been threatening to write this article ever since I started my blog but it seems especially relevant now (September 2017). As I mentioned in my most recent post, Flying Solo, I’m leaving for Italy September 21st and will spend the first two weeks alone, living in an apartment in Florence while attending a language school, Michelangelo Institute. So I’m writing this as a form of catharsis in hopes that I’ll leave with the type of adventurous attitude that made my first few trips so wonderful. [Post script: I drafted this article just before leaving but didn’t have time to publish it. I am now in Firenze (September 25th) and the first couple of days everything negative that could happen did; almost missing my Paris to Firenze flight; a hideous hotel room for the first two nights, a huge rain storm on Sunday…but I found a great wine bar that I love, visited a new museum that I liked, spent an afternoon in Fiesole and am now two days into my class which is going well so far. Keep your fingers crossed.]
As I went back through my journals while writing the Flying Solo post, I realized how much my attitude has affected my trips. My very first solo trips were to Club Meds, first in Cancun, then Turks and Caicos and Puerto Vallarta. The first Cancun trip and the Turks and Caicos trip were great fun; I made friends with people who were a big part of my life for a long time. The Puerto Vallarta trip was Ok but a second solo trip to Cancun was one I try to forget.
And my solo European trips seemed to follow the same pattern. As I’ve written previously, my first trip where I met a bike group in Provence will always be my favorite, followed closely by my first bike trip in Italy. Great people, beautiful rides through gorgeous countryside, wonderful food and wine… What could be better? But my last two solo trips-another bike trip and a volunteer trip in Italy–were at best a mixed bag. And part of that may have been because I was trying to have the same experience.
I’ve placed galleries somewhat randomly in this post with pictures that I’ve used in other articles. There are pictures from both solo and family trips both of which have had their difficult moments. I’ve included them both to illustrate and remind myself that trips can start badly–flight delays, unfortunate hotel choices, bad weather–and still end well. And even when the whole trip doesn’t go as planned, there are always unforgettable moments that will last forever.
One thing that you can’t control when joining a group on your own is the mix of people and having a terrific group as I did on those first two trips can be totally serendipitous. I learned the hard way on Italy bike trip #2 that joining a trip for singles can be a disaster. There was only one single guy plus our two guides and about 8 single women all vying for the same men. I would never do that again. Plus the two people I became friends with were a couple.
That said, however, my sister and I joined a walking tour in Tuscany in September 2016 and it rivaled my bike trip for being an odd group. I know my sister was really disappointed, since she wanted to meet some nice people. I think there were 7 or 8 couples, one woman alone, one single guy, 4 women friends traveling together and my sister and I.
The group of four women didn’t really socialize with other members of the group; it seemed their leader was determined to keep them under her control. There were two couples I really liked, one from Boston and one from Houston. Both couples were really funny and Debbie from Houston organized a cocktail party in the Siena campo when we got thrown out of our restaurant. At least half the group agreed to a cocktail party after one of the worst dinners ever at the hotel in Chianciamo Terme and we all had a lot of laughs over the bad food. Then on our last night in Rome, as we were finishing a late cocktail party in our hotel, Debbie took me aside and said how much she enjoyed meeting me and to keep in touch. So I sent her an e-mail with a group picture and never received a response. I also sent an e-mail and picture to the Boston couple and the husband jumped me for not liking our tour guide and basically accused us of stealing the guide’s headsets. Whoa!!
So leaving aside what you can’t control–late flights, weird hotels and weirder people–what you can control is your attitude. Going with an adventurous spirit is great but when my underlying motive was to turn my life around and/or meet a new guy, that was a recipe for disaster. During those first two trips I was working in Dallas, had a great job, lots of friends and rarely spent a weekend home alone. So I think I could afford to go with an adventurous spirit.
In my journal from my second bike trip in Italy, I wrote: I so much want this to be an adventure/to be fun. Other than a couple of trips to Dallas, my last vacation was Spain. What a debacle that was! Running away from unemployment and Garth. If I can only figure out how to turn my life around, it will be worth it. The sensible thing would have been to spend the money on my house and go to Denver for a couple of weeks. But I never do the sensible thing.
On that 2nd bike trip, I was working for a big law firm in Des Moines, IA and hated the job and the city. I had no friends and spent every weekend alone. So my expectations held me back. At the end of the trip I wrote: I’m feeling a little sad now that I’m leaving. Wish I’d been more adventurous and gone to other cities or even gone out on my own more in Florence. Hanging out w/ people I know didn’t like me was pretty pointless. Just because I was too chicken to go out on my own, maybe I missed out on the experience I was longing for. And it’s highly unlikely I’ll be back.
Needless to say that trip did not help my situation and I should have spent the time looking for another job. Instead I jumped from the frying pan into the fire and went back to my old law firm in Denver, which ultimately tanked my legal career. It was during that period that I went on the Global Volunteers trip in the Puglia.
As I started out on the trip I wrote: I’m supposed to be teaching English in a little town in southern Italy. I’m afraid of being trapped with people I don’t like, unable to get away, working every day and having no time for fun. I’ve got to get over this attitude or this trip will definitely live down to my expectations.
And talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy; on the way home I bemoaned the fact that other volunteers had a better experience teaching writing: But maybe I give off such negative vibes, I create negative situations or at least not positive.
I recently received a catalogue from the company that we used for our walking tour of Tuscany this past fall and I was reading an article written by a woman after her first solo trip. She said, “The whole world opens up to you if you’re not afraid to put yourself out there.” With apologies for any copyright violation, I hope to live my next trip by that statement.