Weekly TBT Post: Italia! (Part I)

I’m not great at sticking to schedules. My preferred way of functioning is as-I-feel-like-it or in-my-own-time (hence the name of this blog), but I’m gonna try to post weekly about a past trip (until I’m all caught up). So here’s the first Weekly TBT Post. [FYI: depending on how much I have my sh*t together, this will happen on either U.S. Thursday or New Zealand Thursday (U.S. Wednesday).] 😂

Italia! 🇮🇹 August, 2015 (Part I)

Traveling to Italy had been a goal of mine since I was 19 and fell in love with the Italian language at a screening of the film I Cento Passi at UW-Madison. Call me another naive American, but I didn’t have much experience hearing Italian spoken, and after watching the movie, I was In. Love. So in love that I went home and emailed my advisor about switching from Spanish IV (and a language I’d studied since 6th grade) to Italian I.

A little backstory: at this same time, I was sick with mono. Being too tired every day to leave my dorm room except for class (and the occasional movie), studying my daily Italian notes became a passionate obsession. I listened to Italian radio stations online, checked out foreign films from the library, annoyed my friends and family (who didn’t speak any Italian) by practicing the language on them, and attended card nights with Italian teaching assistants to practice conversational Italian. I hoped to study abroad in Bologna for my last year of college, but ultimately decided to stick with my plan of graduating in 3 years and moving to New York.

After living in New York and being pretty broke, and then moving back to Wisconsin and also being broke, and then grad school and–you guessed it, being extra broke–Italy almost became a lost dream. (Che triste. 😥) But then, at 27, with graduation looming just over a year away, a classmate and I started chatting about traveling there once we’d graduated. With that much time to plan, I figured it wouldn’t be impossible anymore to think of being able to afford a trip farther away than Chicago, which was practically all I’d been able to swing for years. I started small: setting up a schedule for my checking account to kick up $25/week to a new savings account. I reasoned, it was money that would be out of sight and out of mind. I’d barely notice the difference, and it was money I wouldn’t be able to spend on dumb stuff. As the months went by and I realized how easy it was to save money if you didn’t know it existed, I switched my weekly transfer to $50, and then $100.

A year and a half later, I had saved enough for a plane ticket, and then some. What I didn’t have was anyone who was able to go with me anymore. As I had never left the country (save for a day trip to Tijuana with a friend), this fact scared me. I REALLY wanted to go to Italy. I’d worked so hard to save, and had been wanting this trip to happen for almost a decade. I just also really wanted my boyfriend at the time, or any friend, really, to go with me–but no one wanted to.

I sat with this dilemma for a few weeks. Finally, a friend recommended Contiki, the travel company for 18 to 30-somethings. She’d gone on a trip straight out of college, had made friends, and had a blast (and maybe too much of a blast, as group trips are infamous for giving everyone a cold by the end from all the running around and late nights). Her experience was enough to convince me to just do it. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t take this trip. I was nervous about being gone over the summer when I would likely be interviewing for jobs for the next school year, but finally settled on the first week in August, taking the advice of an experienced school counselor. Contiki, here I come.

Flying internationally for the first time, and alone, I was worried about what a 9-hour flight would be like. How would I sleep? Would I get bored? Would I get stuck next to a weirdo, or even worse, a crying baby? Luckily, I ended up next to a friendly, hilarious actor from Toronto who taught me about negotiating unlimited wine on Air Canada flights (“This is Canada, girlfriend! Drink up!”) and we had a blast chatting about musicals before eventually nodding off.

And then I woke up and I was in Europe! And as usual, I hadn’t planned ahead about how to use my phone abroad, and didn’t have the correct settings to use wifi at the airport. So there went my plan of looking up train and bus directions to avoid paying for a taxi. Luckily, a girl on the way to baggage claim noticed the Contiki tag on my luggage and we realized we were in the same tour group. *My first friend made on international soil!* She made the mistake of trusting me with directions, though, which led to the correct train, the correct bus, and then the wrong stop and many wrong turns as we zig-zagged with our wheel-y bags on cobblestones for an hour in the sweltering heat until she, the much wiser one, got us a cab to the hotel where our group was meeting.

Another first-timer worry I had was about sharing a room with a stranger for the 9-day trip. This worry was also put to rest immediately, as my roommate became my experienced traveler-friend for the duration of the trip. She taught me about the best banking options for traveling, how to get by on wifi when out of the country, how to take the best tourist selfies, and how to navigate transit when you don’t know the language (my Italian had gotten rusty over a decade). {And I also copied my Machu Picchu trip off of her time spent there.}

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Carina (traveler extraordinaire and my Italy roommate) and I at pasta-making class.

The moral of this story is: (usually) when you’re afraid of something–not because there is impending doom attached to it, but because there are unknowns involved–if you take that leap anyway, the outcomes will not only be positive, but also, they will take you to places and opportunities you never thought of before. So just take the leap.

Check back (or subscribe!) to read the next Weekly TBT Post: Italia! Part II. 🙂

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