UK & Europe 05/06/2017

Solo Adventure Travel

Solo Adventure Abroad

I’m staring at the nice lady behind the airline counter, struggling to stay calm. It’s not her fault. I know this. So I take a deep breath and politely ask, “What do you mean you can’t find my name in the system?”

Disastrous and stressful. That’s how my solo adventure started. Turns out there was a miscommunication between me and the friend who was booking my ticket. I was on the flight the next day. So I booked a hotel for the night, and watched my family drive away. If this was any indication of how my trip was going to go, I was in for some trouble.

My name’s Larissa, and I love to travel. So much so, that I planned on going on my trip to Europe even when I found out none of my friends could come with me. Sure, it was a scary thought, but I quote I found stated it perfectly, “I was never going to go, if I waited for someone.” So off I went, by my lonesome. I guess it’s important to note that I had never travelled solo before. If I had, I was always meeting up with someone at the end destination. This was a foreign world to me, both literally and figuratively. There was no way to test out the waters. I was jumping in the deep end, both feet first.

From this trip, I learned so much: about myself, about other people & cultures, and about travelling solo. Something I will not be repeating, at least not for an extended amount of time. Short trips I can handle. Through everything I experienced, I regret nothing. It was definitely an amazing opportunity…one that I would not trade for the world.

Let’s go through a shortened version of my itinerary…highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly!

**I bought a EU Rail pass, so besides flying in and out of Europe, I travelled to countries via train.**

**Unless otherwise stated, I stayed in host’s places via Airbnb. **

Paris:

I chose to fly in and out of Paris because I had been there before. I figured I would be comforted by the familiarity, and I was proven right. I stayed in Saint-Denis, which is a suburb of Paris. Glad to say my stay here was uneventful. I had a nice first few days of my trip, in my favourite city!

Although I had been here before, I can never get tired of the beauty Paris has to offer. My first day, I visited the Pont des Arts – otherwise known as the official lock bridge. It wasn’t as impressive as the previously seen Pont l’Averache as the locks had started getting taken down. As I was walking through the city, I spent some time admiring the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries. The public garden is massive and is filled with gorgeous flowers and greenery. It’s a great spot to hang out, writing in your journal or reading a book. I even saw several running groups pass through. If only I was a runner! Afterwards, I made my way to Sacre Coeur and oh my goodness…that church is magnificent. I’d have to say it’s my favourite church in Paris. I had the pleasure of attending a service there and it was a truly amazing experience. Words cannot do justice to how great the inside is. And the view of the city from the top of the hill is breathtaking! I made my way back to the heart of Paris, and grabbed a baguette sandwich to eat on a bench next to the Seine River.

The next day I decided to explore the suburb of Saint-Denis. One of my hosts offered to show me around, and I gladly accepted. I was introduced to the ‘supermarche’, which is a very big deal. Every Sunday, people from all over come in order to find good deal on everything –clothes, luggage, rugs, shoes, toys, and even fresh food like fish and meats. There was A LOT of people strolling thorough, trying to find a good bargain! After checking out the market, I was shown the church of the city, and the mall. We didn’t go into either, but admired from the outside. We then made our way to the Stade de France. There was a game happening there that night – France vs. Belgium. We saw lots of Belgium fans decked out in red, yellow, and black. They had on face paint, fake hair, flags, scarves, and other accessories supporting their country of choice. We even saw three guys jump off the bridge into the river below! The game started at 7:00pm, and this was all happening around 2:00pm! The next morning, I headed to my next destination.

Livarot:

This quaint town is so charming. Something like out of a storybook. There is one bus that comes through, to bring you to the larger town of Lisieux. I only had three incidences in this town {I guess to make up for none in Paris}. This is also when I had my first cry. When I first arrived, I arrived in Lisieux and took the bus to Livarot. I couldn’t contact my host, and I couldn’t find the apartment building. I asked a local lady where the building was, and she said she didn’t know, but she was super sweet. She tried so hard to help me find the place, as I had started crying by this point. (I tried so hard not to, but it was flowing like a river). Long story short: Through a series of individuals, we were able to locate the building. My host felt so bad he bought me dinner.

Second incident: Remember when I said there’s only one bus from the larger town to the smaller town? Well don’t be like me and stand at the wrong bus stop, and miss the last bus to the town. I couldn’t believe I missed the bus. I thought about getting a taxi, but the prices were beyond ridiculous. After taking a deep breath, and saying a short prayer, I started the 22 km walk back to Livarot – in jeans and converse. I made it out-of-town, continuing my trek on the highway. To make matters worse, my iPod was dead. I made it 14km before I felt like I was going to collapse. I had a short, internal argument with myself before I committed to hitchhiking the rest of the way. Thankfully, a nice lady stopped and drove me the rest of the way. I have no idea what I would have done if she hadn’t. 

Third incident: My host was super nice, and offered to drive me to the coast to see the English Channel. The view was amazing. On the way back, my host wanted to hold my hand. I wasn’t really comfortable with that, so I had to pretend not to understand his French. To understand how awkward this was, you have to know that my French-speaking levels are intermediate. Some French people thought I was a native. Needless to say, that made the rest of the car ride and the rest of my stay super awkward!

Aside from the incidents, I had a great time exploring this tiny town. Livarot is known for their cheese, and they have a cheese museum/factory that is free to tour. It wasn’t that far away from where I was staying, so I walked there. It was so interesting to learn about the cheese-making process and to see how cheese is made, but at the same time kind of gross! Some cheese sit up to two months before going anywhere; others can sit for even longer! Livarot is exactly what I envision when I think small, French town. The larger town of Lisieux is very easy to walk through, except that hill you have to climb to see the La Basalisque. It’s truly a magnificent church, with gorgeous views from every angle. The Cathedral Saint-Pierre is also one that I visited. I’m always impressed when seeing churches and cathedrals in Europe. They have so much detail and love put into them. It would be amazing to call one my home church!

Marseille:

This was one of my favourite parts of the trip. My host was literally the best. THE BEST. She invited me to do things with her, and included me in dinners with her friends, and even her son. She walked me around the city. She showed me how to cook some recipes. She made my French better. She engaged in intellectual and thought-provoking conversations. She introduced me to new foods and taught me about different cultures. The city. The beach. It was the best of both worlds. No incidents in this town. Yay!

The first thing I saw in Marseille was the Vieux Porte, which means old port. The port was spilling with people, both tourists and locals. On one side of the port was shops and stands and restaurants. There was even a beautiful church, which I spent some time exploring. On the other side is a museum/memorial called the Mucem. The Mucem is dedicated to all those who lost their lives in World War II. It’s an extremely large place, looking out over the Mediterranean Sea, made up of building and land. An odd way to describe it, I know. Some of the rooms were carved out into the surrounding earth, while other parts of the museum were actually built. We only covered about a section and a half before we had to go. The history museum of Marseille is also located nearby, connected to the mall. It’s free for students as long as you have a valid ID to present; otherwise, it’s 5€. The museum is three stories, with each level depicting a different time period. It was very interesting, and lots to learn.

During my time there, I also went on a boat tour to visit Les Calanques, which are beautiful land formations off the coast. They are very hard to reach by foot due to the mountainous terrain, and it is impossible to get there by car or bus, for there are no roads, in order to preserve the land. The views from the boat are magnificent: the waves slamming against the terrain, the steep hills and jagged rocks, the contrast of the colors of nature. There 12 Calanques in total, and for me, it was very hard to tell them apart. Some had mini beaches, while others had ledges where people were sunbathing or cliff jumping. If you ever go on this tour, I recommend you don’t sit at the front. Should you choose to forgo this advice, just know you will get soaking wet, and trying to walk to the back is almost impossible as you’re slipping and sliding across the floor. There are tours where they allow you to get off the boat to swim around and snorkel, but the one I was on consisted of just the tour. I also tried the traditional drink of Marseille, which is called Pastis. I didn’t really like it all that much, and to this day I can’t figure out what it reminded me of. I can’t seem to stay away from the churches, as I went to a service at Sacre Coeur (I didn’t realize there was more than the one in Paris), and I visited the famous Notre Dame de la Garde, which overlooks the entire city. Hiking up to Notre Dame was a workout, but it’s so worth the view! Be forewarned, it’s very windy up there, so maybe don’t wear a dress like I did!

Toulon:

My host left for Paris the next day, as she had a ball to attend with her boyfriend. The town was super cute. The highlights of Toulon, was watching Jurassic Park in French. That was actually kind of cool. And believe it or not, that was the first time I had ever gone to the movies by myself. I also got asked by two different men to have drinks with them. The first time, I was walking through an outdoor shopping center to head to the beach. He stopped me and asked me to meet him at a bar in a couple of hours. I said, yeah okay, but I didn’t meet up with him. I actually had to avoid him on the walk back and ended up getting lost! Two days later, I was debating with myself about going to the shopping center. I didn’t want to run into that man again, but I convinced myself I wouldn’t run into him again. I mean, what are the odds of seeing him again out of all the people in the town? Well, apparently the odds were very high because I almost ran into him again. Thankfully, I noticed him while he was still a ways away, and I managed to avoid him…again. The second guy who invited me, caught me as I was rushing back to the apartment to grab my bank card. I actually would have gone with him, but I had to go before my bank closed. So I declined.

Toulon is a pretty small city, so it’s easy to walk everywhere. The train station is in the middle of town, which turned out to be super helpful to me. In the “downtown” area, stands a statue of liberty. That was pretty cool to see, as the French were the ones that gifted the U.S. with the famous Statue of Liberty that stands in New York. I didn’t realise they had one of their own as well. The beach is technically within walking distance, depending where you’re staying. It was a little far for me, but boy was it a good time. Lots of people flocked there—families, couples, and groups of friends. Unfortunately, all the walking I had done on the trip caught up to me, and I had to take a break during my time here. My hip and my knee were killing me, so I didn’t get out and explore as much as I would have liked.

Rome:

I don’t know why this didn’t cross my mind before, but as I’m crossing ‘the border’ into Italy, I realised I couldn’t read or speak Italian. To make matters worse, I arrived to the city at night. Not one of my better plans. I had instructions via metro how to get to my host’s house. Well, luck would have it that the metros were closed when I arrived. I called my host, and he gave me instructions via bus. I finally found the buses I needed to take, but I didn’t know when to get off. The bus driver was of no help, and refused to acknowledge my plea for assistance. I recognised a word on a street sign from the instructions my host gave me and I got off at the next stop. Guess that’s just the word for ‘street’ or something similar considering most the stops had the phrase. Dogs were barking. I was tired. It was dark. I was spending the night on the street…or at least that’s what I thought. I started crying. A guy around my age had gotten off the bus at the same time, and started walking toward his destination. Bless his soul. After hearing my sniffles, he turned back around and asked how he could help me. I explained my dilemma and showed him the address I need to get to. He told me to wait while he ran to get his roommate. His roommate was a cop and they drove me to my host’s house. Thank goodness for them! On my last full day, I got groped by an older Italian guy. Long story short: the metros were closed again, and I had no idea how to get to the city centre. This guy was going and he seemed nice. He offered to help me and two Chinese girls get to where we needed to go. By the time I started feeling uncomfortable, it was too late to back out, as I had no idea where we were. Thankfully, the other two girls were there with me, so nothing too bad happened. As we were arriving to the city centre, he informed me he had an apartment close to the station. When the bus stopped, I thanked him for his help, wished the Chinese girls safe travels, and bolted off that bus!

Saint Peter’s Cathedral is a must-see! Both the outside and the inside are breathtakingly beautiful. The line to get inside is pretty long, but it moves rather quickly. Inside is massive! The ceilings are so high, and every inch of the church has so much attention to detail. You’re allowed to take pictures, but there is a prayer room where they ask no pictures be taken. I also, of course, visited the Colosseum. When I got off the metro, it’s literally the first thing I saw. I’ve seen pictures of it before, yes; but, it’s massiveness took me by surprise! Its historic walls crawled up to the robin egg blue sky, which is a perfect backdrop for this impressive establishment. There are three levels, with each level giving a different, equally impressive view! I saw the Spanish steps, and the Trevi Fountain. The fountain is beautiful; however, the steps were hard to appreciate for they were littered with tourists. I truly enjoyed walking through the city and people-watching.

Florence:

The third and final time I cried during this trip. I think everything was catching up to me from the previous days. I was so ready to go back home, but obviously I couldn’t. One of the days, I actually felt physically ill, and stayed in bed pretty much the whole day. I ended up changing my flight and moved it up a couple of weeks early. That definitely gave me a peace of mind. As I walking to the train station with my suitcase on my final day, a man offered to drive me there. It was super nice of him. It was a very funny car ride because he spoke no English and I spoke basically no Italian. But we tried to hold a conversation. There was a lot of hand waving and I might have even started speaking French! It was definitely entertaining!

I wish I would have done more research on Florence before I visited. There wasn’t a metro to hop on and explore the city, so it was a lot different than I expected. I saw the famous Ponte Vecchio, the bridge with its brightly coloured shops thrusting out of the side. It was such a beautiful sight. I took one of the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours, and I genuinely enjoyed it. We were given a tour around the city, as well as taken to the nearby city of Fiesole. The views from there were incredible!

Milan:

I LOVED Milan! My host was super awesome! She invited me to eat dinner with her and her boyfriend every single night. She even made panna cotta one night. The previous day I had asked about panna cotta, as I had heard that it wasn’t really a popular dessert anymore. She informed me that was correct, but she’d make me some to try. If you ever have a chance to try it, do it! I thought it was so good! I may be biased though, because my host just happened to be a chef, so all the food she made was amazing! And one night, we even made homemade pizzas.  Not only did she make me food every night, and even offer me breakfast each morning, she also offered to drop me off and pick me up from the train station each day. She, and her boyfriend, really welcomed me with open arms! They definitely provided the Airbnb experience I was hoping to have.

The Duomo is grand, and hard to miss. I also found that it is easy to lose. I was planning on using it as a landmark to situation myself, but I didn’t realize the other buildings further out were just as tall! The downtown area is filled with shops, restaurants, and stands. There’s so many people milling around. I also took a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour here as well. If you keep your receipt from the previous tour, you get a discount! When in Italy, you have to try the pizza. Someone recommended that I try Spontini, and wow. It was so good! The line was long, but it moved quickly. It’s worth the extra wait time.

Brussels:

This was another favourite stop of mine. Brussels is gorgeous. I stayed with one of my friends. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend together, as she had to work during the day, but at nights I would have dinner with her and her mom. I explored the city on my own during the day. Of course I had to try an authentic Belgian waffle, and Belgian fries. Both so amazing! One of the days, I took a day trip to the city of Bruges via train. Exploring this city is like taking a step back into time, with all the medieval architecture. I took two tours. The first was a bus tour and the other was a walking tour. I highly recommend the walking tour. It’s the best tour I have ever taken, and it’s free! Not only do they cover the history, but they also go over the myths and legends associated with the city. I was so interested and captivated!

I mostly just enjoyed exploring the beauty the city had to offer. I saw Manneken Pis, the famous landmark of Brussels. I also enjoyed seeing the palace, and spending time in the gardens.

Paris:

The last night of my trip, I went back to Paris to spend the night before flying home. While waiting for the metro to head toward my hotel, I met Sarah. She came up to me talking rapid French. Now I know French, but not that well! I looked at her helplessly, and she realised I was not a native. We got to talking and she offered to help me find my hotel. Little did I know, she was an angel in disguise. At first, I was really suspicious of her, but in the end she proved to have nothing but good intentions. If I had not met her, I would have spent the whole afternoon and night trying to find my hotel. Thanks to her help, we found it only after a few wrong turns. In exchange for her help, I spent the day with her and we went shopping. It was actually a really nice last day to have in Europe. To this day, we are friends are on Facebook and talk to each other every once in a while!

If you’re entertaining the idea of travelling solo, I say go for it. It’s a truly unique and eye-opening experience! You won’t know if it’s for you or not unless you try. I won’t say that my trip was a walk in the park {although I did take several walks in several parks}, because as you read, there were times that I was sad, uncomfortable, and scared. However, just because that’s what I experienced, that’s not to say you’re going to encounter the exact same scenarios. It’s not fair to base opinions on someone else’s experiences. That’s like someone who might like spicy food, asking me if spicy food is good. I don’t like spicy food at all, so my answer is going to be no. I’m not knocking solo travel at all. I would actually love to do it again, just with a shorter timeline. My advice? Get out there. Form your own opinions. Make your own experiences.

As the kids used to say, YOLO (You Only Live Once), so make it count!

guest-blogger-larissa

If you enjoyed this post, head over to Life with Larissa to read more of Larissa’s blog!

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply

Want the latest travel updates?

Want the latest travel updates?

Subscribe for the latest offers on trips, the latest blog posts and more!

You have Successfully Subscribed!