For my 30th birthday, my mother says she wants to give me a special gift — a new bag, something for my home, perhaps a piece of jewelry.
I have more bags than I know what to do with, most of what I need for my one-bedroom apartment, and the only piece of jewelry I’m really lacking is not exactly one I want from my mother.
I don’t need any thing; I want an experience. So I ask and she agrees — for this somewhat milestone birthday, she’ll give me passage to a location of my choice.
It takes me nearly a year to decide where to go, and so I am eleven days shy of 31 when I finally board a plane — to Florence, Italy.
I am traveling alone – my choice – and there were a lot of factors that went into determining the location. The first rule: It had to be somewhere I had never been before.
I consider Estonia, Denmark, Russia, Vietnam, India and Morocco before I settle on Italy. I’ve seen the country before, but not the Tuscan region. Still, I feel like I’m cheating a bit. But considering my limited timeframe, this destination suits me best.
Joe, my significant other, will remain at home. I wish he were coming with me, but circumstances don’t allow it this time. Some choices are eliminated simply because I want to experience them for the first time with him. He says he’ll worry about me. It makes me love him even more.
My mother offers to accompany me and I quickly decline. We have entirely different styles of travel — she is organized, precise, making certain to visit the key spots, the best restaurants. She does thorough research and reads aloud from guidebooks marked with Post-It notes. I make minimal plans, booking hotels in advance only because I don’t have time to waste. I wander up and down random streets, eat at places I stumble across or are directed to by innkeepers and shop clerks. I skip over world famous historical sights in favor of people watching or turning down this street or that alley. I’m fairly certain I would drive her beyond the edge of sanity. Besides, I am looking forward to relishing my solitude.
Days before I am set to leave, my father asks me if I have a proper suitcase, and I don’t have the heart to tell him I’m a backpack traveler. I’m not talking camping backpack either. I mean the kind you might have taken to high school. The truth is, I’d probably be more easily mobile with a small suitcase on wheels, but I feel like I move more freely with my backpack.
A backpack is for an adventure. A suitcase is for a vacation. I need more than a vacation.
I’ve made my train and hotel reservations, gotten my Euros from the bank, I am packed and ready to go. I tell Joe I am going to trade in my return ticket for a one-way for him, and God knows I’m tempted to try.
He drives me to the airport in my little green Honda and kisses me goodbye. Here I go… I wonder how I shall fare without my hair straightener. Revolting.
P.S. If I can offer one vital travel tip, it’s this: pack Ziplock bags. They are a godsend. Trust me on this.