International Day of the Girl

Date Posted: 11/10/2019

On International Day of the Girl we have decided to celebrate our very own solo traveller, Rachael Smith. Rachael works as a Social Media Co-ordinator in our Digital Marketing Team and has recently returned from a solo adventure in Europe. We asked Rachael to be our face of International Day of the Girl and share with you her experience and top tips for travelling independently.

So, let’s find out what she got up to!

Was this your first experience travelling solo?
“My first experience of being a solo traveller was in November 2018 when I went through a tour company that specialised in offering tours of Asia for solo travellers, couples, and groups of friends.  We stayed in the same travel group for the tour duration and I made some great friends; this gave me the confidence boost I needed to travel completely alone.”

What made you decide to travel solo?
“As I mentioned, my first solo adventure gave me the confidence boost that I needed and at the start of 2019 I hadn’t made any travel plans with friends for the summer. I was tired of waiting so I decided to take the plunge and do it alone.”

How did you decide where to go?
“At first hundreds of places went through my mind that I wanted to visit but this obviously was unrealistic as I only had around 11 days holiday from work. I asked myself the below questions to help me decide on my itinerary…

• Where have I not visited? (because I wanted to experience new destinations)
• Where can I fly from my nearest airport? (this was more convenient)

“This narrowed down my search to a handful of countries, so I opened up Google Maps and searched for the major cities in each country that I was interested in seeing. I finally settled on France and Italy. I could fly from Newcastle into Nice and back to Newcastle from Florence. From here I then looked at the cities in between I wanted to visit. I based my decision on destinations that had simple to use and cheap transportation links that weren’t too far from home.”

What did you do to prepare for your first official solo adventure?
“Once I had selected the places I was going to visit I researched the best ways to travel between them. Trains are a cheap, fast way of getting around in Europe, therefore, this was the obvious choice for me. On every holiday I always pre-book activities or transportation, so I naturally pre-booked my trains on the Trainline app and made sure that my accommodation was also pre-booked.  At the time this was the most cost-effective way to pre-book my travel arrangements.  I also researched all the information I needed, such as location of the hotels, vibe of the hotel, type of rooms I was able to book, and of course the reviews from previous guests.  Because this would be the first time I travelled solo I opted for the female-only dorms in the hostels as I didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in a mixed dorm.

“I then researched the must-see excursions in each city I was visiting and looked for a trusted booking site. I came across Viator - you can download the app which is really easy to use and most of the excursions could be cancelled free of charge until 2-3 days before the date of the excursion. I did have to pay for them up front but I just paid for them on my credit card so if anything did happen to the company, I would be protected through my bank.”

How did your family feel about you travelling across Europe alone?
“My family didn’t want me to travel alone, they even offered to come and keep me company, but when I told them I was staying in hostels they weren’t so forthcoming and suddenly seemed ok with me travelling solo!

“I made sure that every detail of my trip was planned and that my family knew exactly where I was planning on being on each day.”

What did you pack? Do you have any tips?
“Around four months before my trip I started to think about packing and what suitcase I would take, the amount of currency I’d need, and all the excursions and landmarks I would like to experience. On my trip around Asia I borrowed my dad’s 40-year-old rucksack which was medium size and only had one entry at the top of the bag. This was particularly annoying as I had to empty my whole bag if I needed something that was at the bottom of the rucksack. It was extremely difficult to find a rucksack with an entry point that accessed the main area of the bag. I ended up going to Go Outdoors and picking up a holdall with rucksack straps, this way I didn’t have to empty my bag just to gain access to one item of clothing.

“I always over pack! So this time I made sure I had the basics; trainers for walking, comfortable shorts or day dresses for exploring, and some evening outfits. I also bought travel containers for my shampoo and conditioner so these didn’t take up as much room.”

So what did you get up to?
“I travelled for nine nights and spent:

• 2 nights in Nice, France
• 2 nights in Como, Italy
• 1 night in Milan, Italy
• 2 nights in Florence, Italy
• 2 nights in Pisa, Italy”

Wow! Jealous much…

Can you run through your days and anything you would or wouldn’t recommend?

Hop-on Hop-off bus
“I booked the bus in Nice and Florence. When I researched my destinations, both Florence and Nice had the most attractions to see and this was a cheap way to do so. However, I felt the bus was only useful to see the bridges and Florence centre from the Piazzale Michelangelo - the view was amazing.”

“Nice was one of my favourite places on the trip, not because of the posh shops and amazing beach, but because there are so many other places to visit around Nice. The Hop on Hop off bus took me to Villefranche-sur-Mer, a cute fishing village where you can take a dip in the sea. You can also take the train or local bus to Monaco, Eze, Antibes, and Cannes, just to name a few. You won’t be bored visiting Nice! I only stayed two nights but I would stay for 5-7 nights next time.”

“On the second day of my trip I visited Monaco, I took a bus from Nice old town and it only cost 1.50 Euro one way. Although Monaco is its own province/country/state, you do not need a passport. The journey lasts about 45 min. When I got off the bus I was minutes away from the Prince’s Castle; you had a great view of the harbour and the guards are always fascinating.

“For anyone who love cars and racing then Monte Carlo is the place; you can walk from the Prince’s Castle to Monte Carlo very easily. There are expensive cars everywhere and you can visit the world famous Monte Carlo race track and see some of the best bends on the track. Other sites include the casino and beach - a great day out if you’re staying in Nice.

“On my way back to Nice I decided to stop at Eze; this is a medieval village that gives you great views of the French Riviera coast.”

“I took the train from Nice to Milan then another short train ride to Como. The trains were super easy to navigate, I had my electronic ticket on my Trainline app and never had any trouble with the ticket officer. I arrived in Como around 3pm, I was really tired from exploring Nice, so I walked to the hostel and just lay in the sun for a couple of hours before I went out for tea. My hostel was right on the lake and when I first saw it, it took my breath away, as the landscape is beautiful here. I didn’t research any places to eat so I did the typical thing and went to McDonalds and then went to bed ready for my second day in Italy.”

“You can take the Brunate funicular to Brunate. This cost around 3 Euro return and is about a five minute walk from Como centre. I would recommend you go before 10am as the queue gets really long during peak times. The funicular is 125 years old and was a great experience. Once I got to Brunate I wasn’t sure what to do, so I followed signs to the view point which took around 15 mins to walk, but was not suitable for anyone with walking difficulties as the terrain was very uneven and severely steep. The signs took me to Volta’s Lighthouse where the views were amazing and you could see so much of the lake. I arrived at the lighthouse around 10.30am, so I looked on Maps to see if there was a trail I could follow. I came across Monte Boletto which would take me around one hour, it was all uphill and at times very steep, but the view at the top was more than worth it. However, make sure you wear some bug spray because there were so many insects at the top of the mountain. Como had amazing views but I could experience everything in Como in one or two days.”

“I took the train back to Milan from Como and had one night here. I arrived at the hostel early again so I couldn’t check in but I left my bag at the hostel and looked for the Milan Metro. I had the Duomo booked for 4pm so I looked at the Metro map to see where I could go before 4pm. Shopping doesn’t interest me so I looked for other activities and saw I could get to the San Siro Stadium; I love football and visiting stadiums so this was a great choice for me. The Metro was really easy to understand, quite similar to the north east Metro system. Entry to the stadium was 18 Euros, the trophy room was great, and overall I had a fun time exploring the San Siro. I went back to the hostel to check in then had to go straight to the Duomo. Next to the cathedral is the ticket collection so I went in and pre-booked the electronic guide as I wanted to know the history of the cathedral. When you go inside you have to cover your shoulders and knees. Inside was amazing and I’m glad I had the tour guide phone to tell me all the history. I also pre-booked the roof tour but was a little disappointed, you didn’t get great views so I went round the roof top very quickly.”

“The train took around four hours to get from Milan to Florence so Netflix filled my time in. My hostel was around 30 mins walk from the train station - I would definitely stay closer next time because my shoulders were hurting from carrying my rucksack. Florence is beautiful; full of amazing architecture and history. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is amazing, I didn’t enter the cathedral but it a nice place to sit and have an ice cream. The one regret I have is not booking a walking tour, I was only in Florence one day and a walking tour would have took me everywhere and given me all the information.”

Cinque Terre
“On my second day in Florence I pre-booked a day trip to Cinque Terre. I had to get up around 6am to catch my bus at 7am. It took around two and a half hours for the bus journey to Cinque Terre, also known as the five lands, and we visited four or five places in Cinque Terre. All were so beautiful, the buildings were all different vibrant colours, and the sea was such an amazing blue. In Vernazza and Monterosso you can have a swim in the sea but beware of the jellyfish as a lot of the people on our tour got stung.”

“My last two nights were in Pisa. Again I travelled by train from Florence and it was a really simple process. I treated myself to a hotel right next to the leaning tower and this only cost around £40 for two nights. However, it was another 30 minutes walking from Pisa Centrale station and I should have got off at the next station, but I’ll know for next time! The first day I had a walking tour of Pisa Tower and the Cathedral; it gets extremely busy and I ended up losing my guide for 10 minutes. To enter the Cathedral you had to have your shoulders and knees covered but they supply this if you don’t have any clothes to cover up. I am glad I stayed in Pisa, however, if I were to visit it again I would stay longer in Florence and visit Pisa for the day.”
“I visited Lucca for the afternoon on my second day in Pisa. This was the only train I didn’t pre-book and this was the only train journey I had an issue with. I had lost my ticket because it wasn’t clear on where I had to stamp it on the machine and the platforms weren’t clear either. However, I still made it to Lucca. I would recommend the walking tour, the lady spoke many languages and took you to all the main areas of Lucca. The next day I walked to the airport, which was small but had everything you would need.”

Did you find your evenings lonely?
“I had a jam-packed itinerary and early morning trains to ensure I could make the most of every single day, and I was out of the hostels for 12 hours a day, so when it came to the evening all I wanted to do was eat and sleep. I did go to restaurants alone and I never felt uncomfortable but it was the only time where I wanted to spend some time with someone. If you didn’t have plans or excursions pre-booked then an evening might be more of a priority. The Ostello Bello chain were the hostels where there was more of a social vibe, so if you want to party it’s best to research which hostels promote this.”

Would you travel solo again?
“Definitely. Overall I had a great experience, I never once felt unsafe and everything went to plan.”

What would you say to anyone who is in two minds about travelling solo?
“If you’re uncertain about travelling solo, try group tours first to see if it’s something you enjoy, then you may feel more confident travelling solo.”

What an amazing experience Rachael! And on that note, we’re off to book our flights…

If you want to follow in the footsteps of our brave, free-spirited, Rachael; we have a range of tours to suit your travel needs. Discover the best of Italy, explore the delights of the French Riveria or head over to our website to see a highlight of what else our dedicated teams can help you with :)