How letting my guard down led to my biggest travel misadventure and self realization

I want to tell this story in hopes that it provides inspiration to my fellow travelers. This is a cautionary tale about a girl traveling alone and a big mistake that could have been fatal. In this story the girl gets really happy, a little sad, then a little scared. Ultimately she discovers something deep about herself and has the best night of her life. Last December I was at a low point. Coming off of my life changing trip to South East Asia I had post-travel depression. Most of my friends already had travel plans for New Years and it looked like I would be ringing in 2015 alone. One morning in a daze I was scrolling through the Contiki Last Minuet Deals site when I saw an amazing discount on a 12 day tour of Italy. I debated for a bit and then pulled out my credit card. It was booked. In just a week I would leave for Italy! The day after Christmas I was on my way. Flying to Europe, getting a cab and exploring Rome was so much easier and less scary than Asia so I felt like a travel pro. When I saw the suitcases my tour mates brought (for just 12 days) and compared them to my tiny carry-on I knew I was (a pro traveler). The first couple of days were so flawless, simple and easy that I quickly began to let my travel guard down. When in Asia I had my guard set high. I limited my drinks (although my limit was very high…), always traveled in a group, wrote my hotel down, paid in cash, ect. But Europe is so safe! Or so I thought. On New Year’s Eve our tour rolled through Napoli and to the charming town of Sorrento on the Almafi Coast.

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My roommate and I pre-new years festivities!

As the sun began to set my Australian friend Mollie and I explored the markets where we came upon the beginnings of the New Years parade. Without a thought we decided to join the parade! We danced with the musicians and chanted alongside costumed characters. We followed a large papier-mache Donkey to the town square where Donkey was set on fire using fireworks!

Afterwards our group met up for a traditional Neapolitan pizza feast! Then toasted with Aperol Spitzers at this swanky restaurant right in the center of town. For dancing and more drinks we went to Americano. A Kareoke night club near the festivities.

After a few strong martinis bells rang out to single midnight’s approach. So we stumbled out of the club (stolen martini glasses in hand) and joined the masses in the piasa. Before midnight the locals started shooting fireworks at each other and throwing glass bombs on the pavement. It was noisy, hectic, scary and invigorating!

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Street fireworks!

Finally the countdown began. 3,2,1 HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! The crowd went wild. I felt more emotion, energy and happiness in that tiny Sorrento piassa then I did in New York City!

Music filled the air, laugher, chanting and love engulfed me. Streamers flew and confetti fell. I kissed my neighbor and he kissed my friend. It was all in good fun. Then in Sorrento tradition we broke our stolen martini glasses on the pavement. 10906166_10152891595005813_1466665417180988046_n Then the piasa stage lit up and the DJ started spinning. We dance in a large mob and I made friends with some touchy Armenians. They shared their Grappa and I shared my awesome dance moves.

After dancing for what seemed like an eternity I began to notice that much of 40 person tour group was dispersing. I searched and found a couple of stragglers to join. We celebrated for a little longer before they decided it was time to head to the hotel. It was only 115AM. Our local guide told us that in Italy the party really doesn’t start until 2AM. So I tried to convince them to stick around. But they were done. So reluctantly I began to follow them back to the coach. On the way to the coach we passed tons of Italians who were just heading out for the night. They looked magical and majestic in their sparkly dresses and tailored suits. As we continued towards our bus I got sadder and sadder. I didn’t want to go home. The night was young. I wasn’t ready for bed! I tried again at no avail to get someone to go back with me. “YOLO” I aurgued. “The night is young, no regrets” I pleaded. But they were committed to retirement. As we began to round the last corner I cursed myself. “What was I doing?” I questioned myself. “Why am I following these people? I don’t even know them!” I asked. “I don’t need them to have a good time!” I convinced myself. “Why am I using them as a shield? Don’t be a follower Becca!” I cursed. “Do you! Do what you want!” I boasted. Without another thought I bid farewell and sped back to the town square. On my own.

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When alone you take Selfies to occupy your time.

Back at the the piasa I felt a hint of loneliness and timidness. I swallowed my fear and joined the dance floor where I shook my worries away. I found my Argentinian friends again. We danced the mambo, YMCA and the electric slide. Eventually they retired for the night and I was left alone again. At this point it was around 230AM. So did what all good American girls traveling alone in a foreign city should do…I took a walk. I ventured away from the busy piasa where I found myself alone in a maze of cobblestone streets. I was fascinated by the peacefulness that was just blocks away from chaos. I wandered back to the once crowded market and found myself surrounded by twinkling christmas lights. I was alone, but never afraid. In Sorrento on a mild winter night, I felt at home and at peace. As I walked I reflected on the past year. I wished I could see my mom again. She loved Italy and I remember her recounting her wild adventures in Rome. As I stopped to make a wish at a century old fountain I felt her there with me. I wandered back towards the town square and was met by hoards of drunk young Italians on their ways to after parties and other bars. Their laughter and enthusiasm was contagious. “Happy New Year!” is universal and it chimed throughout. I was got my second wind and wished I could find another party to join. I made my way back to the Americano Bar. I only peaked inside. I thought it was dead, so I turned back. I wish I had gone inside the bar. Apparently the three other Americans on my tour were still partying it up at the Americano! I often wonder what my night would’ve become had I found and joined their party. But I turned away. I went back to the DJ and the main stage. I settled down on a bench and listened to Opera singers and local celebrities belt Italian showstoppers. Around 330AM the festivities began to die down. So I decided it was time to head to my hotel. I pulled out my phone and found that it had died. Stupidly I didn’t write down my hotel or it’s address. I only had the information on my phone. I had no option but to hope that someone would know where my hotel was. So I hailed a taxi. When it comes to Italian Taxi drivers I think I won the lottery.

  • First stroke of luck: Rafael spoke perfect English. Second: He was young and enthusiastic. Third: He was charming and handsome. Forth: He thought I was hilarious.

I flat-out said “I have no idea where my hotel is”. He couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know what my hotel was called. I felt like an idiot. He thought I was super funny. I told him that I knew it used to be a nunnery. That it might be called “Sister’s Hostel”. He hadn’t heard of a hotel like that. So we googled it. Nothing. He called his friends. They didn’t know. So I was up creek without a paddle. I knew I couldn’t lose Rafael. He was the answer. If I walked away and tried to find someone else, they might not have been as eager to help me. So I said “I will pay you anything, just drive and I’ll try to figure out from memory!” He agreed. I hopped in the front seat and we drove. I think we drove all around Sorrento and maybe into Napoli. We navigated the winding streets and whisked past the cliffs and ocean. Rafael asked me to describe the hotel and it’s surroundings. I said “It’s in a very old building, surrounded by orange trees and gardens. It’s on a cliff and has a view of the ocean.” He chuckled “that describes every hotel in Sorrento!” I asked him to drive alongside the ocean. At least we would be in the right area. Finally we turned down a cobblestone path that I recognized. We continued onward. Then I saw a sign for “Phoenix Bar” and I remembered riding in the coach earlier. My friend Molly had asked “What’s a Phoenix?” I knew then that we were close to the hotel! Only moments later I saw what I thought was my hotel. But there were no hotel signs and the large wooden doors were closed. Rafael wasn’t sure so he got out of the cab and went with me to investigate. The doors were locked and my heart sunk. I thought I was wrong. Rafael knocked vigorously and luckily the attendant answered. Once the door opened I saw the lobby and knew I was right! Rafael chatted with the attendant briefly in Italian and they laughed. Rafael told me the hotel was brand new! This was its first weekend open and that it was called “Sister’s Hostel” (I was right!). That explains why we couldn’t find it.

I walked with Rafael back to the cab to pay him and say goodbye. In stereotypical Italian style he begged me to stay with him. I shyly declined. Then he invited me to brunch in the morning. He said “I want to introduce my family to the giggly American”. I was flattered and reluctantly said “I’m sorry, no.” My tour was departing early that morning. I gave him a generous tip (I think I paid like $200 for only an $80 trip). But it was worth it. Rafael was a perfect gentleman and I don’t like to imagine what might have happened if I had been with a different cabbie. My biggest regret was that I didn’t get a photo with Rafael. But my phone was dead so I had no camera. Finally at 430AM I was safe and sound back at my hotel. I passed out fully clothed in my bed. But not before soaking in the extraordinary occurrences on my wild night.

Travel Bucket List

I’ve got a lot of work to do…

  • Sunrise at Angkor Wat
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    Magical Sunrise at Angkor Wat

  • Cooking Class in Tuscany
  • Sing “Don’t Cry for me”  in Argentina
  • Hike Machu Picchu
  • Sail Croatia
  • Cooking Class in Tuscany
  • Snorkel in Belize
  • Zip Line in Costa Rica
  • Carnival in Brazil
  • Rent a villa on the French Rivera
  • Go to the Cannes Film Festival
  • Rent a villa in Capri for the summer
  • Vodka Tasting in Russia
  • Rent a camper and travel across New Zealand
  • Karaoke in Japan
  • Thermal Bath in Budapest
  • Ski Austria
  • One wild night Las Vegas

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    Exploring the gardens of Versailles

  • Visit Versailles
  • New Years Eve in Eastern Europe
  • Visit Lochness
  • Sunbathe on the Gold Coast of Australia
  • VIP Coachella
  • Christmas in Helsinki
  • Full Moon Party in Thailand
  • Visit Auschwitz
  • See tigers in India
  • Hot Chocolate in Switzerland

Where do I want to go in 2015?

1. Peru

Peru is number one on my list of places to visit in 2015 because it features diverse landscapes, friendly people, colorful food and tons of adventure. I want to hike to Machu Pichu, white water raft on the Urubamba River and meet some Alpacas! I’m also going to try to convince a couple of friends to go. I want to share my adventure with others!

Hassle free trips I could take:

– Contiki’s Peru Uncovered

2. Eastern Europe for Christmas

I imagine visiting Eastern Europe’s capital cities of Budapest, Prague and Krakow in the winter will be like visiting the kingdom from Frozen or any other winter fairy tale. I want to visit Christmas markets, snow covered castles and ice skate on real ice! I might even like to do a week of skiing in Austria.

Hassle free trips I could take:

– Top Deck’s Spires in the Snow

– Contiki’s Berlin to Budapest

– Contiki’s Austria Ski

3. Camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I want to go camping with my family in the Virginia Blue Ridge mountains or the Harper’s Ferry region. We can take out my brother’s new Sylvan Sport Go Camper, go tubing or kayaking, hike and roast marshmallows.

4. Los Angeles

Since I work in Film and TV I think it’s about time to make the pilgrimage to Hollywood. I want to crash some celebrity parties, shop on Rodeo drive, take pictures with the crazy costume people at the Chinese Theater and hike past the Hollywood sign. Plus I’d love to catch up with my many friends who’ve made the move to the sunshine state!

5. Hampshire, Southern England

I want to dedicate a week or two of my year discovering Jane Austen’s England. But most specifically visiting my friend Becky in Petersfield! I want to rent a car and try driving on the wrong side of the road. I want to drink a pint of beer in a proper pub. I want visit the Downton Abbey castle, take in the English countryside and just relax with a proper holiday.

New Years in Sorrento

Tonight in Sorrento we celebrated New Years with drinks and dancing.

I was upset when everyone in my group decided to leave at 115AM even though our local guide told us Italy didn’t come alive until 2AM! I tried to convince a bunch of people stay but they wouldn’t listen. So I started walking back to the coach with them. As I walked back to the coach I started to get really sad. I really wanted to stay out and keep partying with the locals. But instead I was folding to peer pressure and going back to the hotel. Then I begun to cry a little. That when I turned around. I decided I would rather stay out by myself then go back to the hotel. I realized I don’t need other people to have a good time. I don’t need a safety blanket.

So I rushed back to the main square and continued dancing with my new Argentinean friends. I walked around the town for a bit. I loved people watching and interacting with the locals. The Italians were all dressed to the nines and the young people were so beautiful. The town was lit up with sprakling lights and fire works went off throughout the night.

Around 3AM I decided it was time to go home. But then I realized I lost the paper with my hotel’s address on it. I asked a taxi if he could take me to “Sister’s Hostel”. He had never heard of it. We googled it…nothing. He called his friend…nothing. With no other options I ask if he could drive me around and I’d pay him for however long it would take. So we headed out of town. I described my hotel to him. On the coast, with a garden, orange trees all around, nuns live in it…he said “that describes almost every hotel in Sorrento”. I was very lucky that my driver Rafael spoke english really well. We had a lot of laughs and even flirted a bit. We drove all around Sorrento and I think even Napoli. It was adventurous, hilarious and only a little worrisome. Eventually I saw a few things that triggered my memory and I was able to guide us to my hotel! Once we found it he offered to keep me out and show me more of the town… after assuring him my night was over Rafael invited me to brunch tomorrow with his family. He said they needed to meet the giggling American. It was a crazy night that I’ll never forget. I’ve never felt so brave or alive. Italy is an amazing, friendly, beautiful place full of life and culture. I can’t believe my luck and blessing to be able to celebrate the new year here.

Isle of Capri

Today we set out via high-speed ferry across the windy ocean to the Island of Capri. We toured around the entire island starting in Capri and ending in Anacapri. I trekked up hills to panoramic vistas perfect for photo shoots and explored a public garden. It was very windy and cold but still charming and beautiful. It would love to return in the summer. I bet its even better in warmer weather.

Then I had pizza for the first time on the trip. My margarita pizza was delicious! Afterwards many people wanted to stay in the restaurant during their free time because they were so cold. So I went to explore Anacapri by myself. I am so glad I did. I ended up finding this charming pathway that went through the old town. Everything was so white, clean and old-timey. It was also very quiet. At one point I realized I was the only one walking down the pathway. I felt alone, but good alone. It was really peaceful. I ended up walking for almost an hour alone before making my way back the restaurant where I found everyone huddled over their cell phones on the WIFI. I felt so satisfied with my adventure I sat down, relaxed and reflected on the adventure I just had.

I feel like I truly saw and appreciated Capri. More so then some of my tour mates. Capri was simply wonderful and I will go back one day!

On a whim I’m going to Italy!

This morning I woke up and started cruising the Contiki Last Minute Deals webpage and found an amazing deal on a tour of Italy! So I bought it.

When I returned from my trip to Asia I didn’t expect to have a job until the end of January. But I got an episode of a show and a commercial, so I had a little influx of money. Then I found out that all of my friends were going places for New Years so I was feeling pretty down. So extra money + no new years plans = going to Italy.

This is most spontaneous thing I have ever done. I was literally shaking when I talked to Contiki on the phone. It’s crazy that I leave in less than a week. I feel so unprepared but very excited!

Here’s the trip I’m taking: Simply Italy 

Where am I going? Rome, Sorrento, Florence, Venice, Milan and La Spezia simply-italy-winter-map-600x600

What am I excited about? New Years Eve Celebration, Seeing the Collosuem, gondola ride in Venice, seeing Pompeii and Pisa!

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Review of the Big IndoChina Adventure with Contiki

I initially chose to go to South East Asia because I wanted to travel to a tropical location for my winter holiday. Other then wanting to catch some rays, I had no other aspirations. But I now have a new love and appreciation for asian culture and solo travel.

This trip introduced me to a completely foreign culture, new (amazing) foods, friendly people, peaceful cultures, exotic adventures and stunning landscapes. This trip put me out of my comfort zone and completely emerged me in different ways of life. I can honestly say I have returned as a stronger, braver and more confident person. I recommend going on this adventure alone. You will meet many like-minded travelers and you will discover so much about yourself.

When I booked this trip I expected to stay in mostly hostels and cheap hotels…expectations were blown out the water. We stayed in mostly 4 and 5 star hotels. Every place was nicer then the last. But my favorite places we stayed we not the 5 star hotels. We stayed at two charming guest houses and on a beautiful junk boat in Ha Long Bay. Every place we stayed had free wifi, water bottles, safes and hot water!

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of fellow travelers. I will forever be friends with many of the people I met. Especially my tour manger Lee (Hailey). I can safely say she made my trip. Lee is super cool, chill and fun. She showed us the best bars, hangouts and foodies in town. She was familiar with the locals and even spoke most of languages. I told her initially I planned on turning my brain off for most of my trip. So it was awesome having her plan most excursions and helping me have the time of my life.

The coolest thing about this trip is you’re not stuck on a bus all day long like many other contiki trips. Don’t get me wrong there are bus trips. The longest was 6 hours. To get through the different countries you will take an overnight train, boats, tuk tuks, buses, vans and jets. I loved our overnight train ride. It really gave everyone a chance to bond.

My favorite things I did on the trip were the Wat Phrathat in Chiang Mai, Thai cooking class in Chiang Rai, Elephant riding, “Kangaroo Sunset” bar and kayaking in Luang Prabang, causing a street dance party in Siem Reap, jumping off our boat in Nha Trang and sailing in Ha Long Bay.

I would recommend this trip to everyone. I always felt safe, culturally submerged and had a blast.

Tips I wish I had been given:
-Bring temple wear (Long pants, t-shirts)
-Pack your bag and then take out half. It’s super easy to do laundry.
-Bring only one swim suit. There are water activities, but not consecutive ones. You only need one suit.
– You should not need more then $25 a day if you don’t plan on doing much shopping.
– Invest good pair of flip flops. You have to remove your shoes a lot and they’re easier to get on and off then sandals.
-Don’t bring a huge suitcase. A back pack is better.
-You don’t need to bring makeup. Most of the girls on the trip won’t wear it. It will just sweat off.
-Bring your own bug spray.
-Bring or be prepared to pull out american dollars. You will need to pay for most excursions with USD. Also Cambodia widely prefers USD over Riel.
-If you’re coming from the states you don’t need an adaptor. All outlets take the US plug!
-Wifi is everywhere. Turn your phone on airplane mode and don’t bother getting a plan. Just Skype and iMessage people using wifi.
-Pack playing cards!
-Pack your own portable charger!

Last night in Hanoi

Where did I stay? Hong Ngoc Hotel

Our final night in Vietnam we went to see a water puppet show and had our final group meal. It was pretty anti-climatic, but it’s hard to top Halong Bay.

I have loved every second of my tour of South East Asia. I’ve met some truly amazing people. A few who I hope to be friends with for the rest of my life. I will honestly miss Becky, Sam, Adam, Rhys, Lee and everyone else too! It’s been an amazing life changing experience. I feel like I’ve grown into a more confident, happier and braver citizen of the world. Every expectation I had for this trip were blown out of the water! Check out my next post for an overall review!

Under the Vietnamese sun

Today was one of the best days of my life. Early in the morning we boarded a boat and sailed to an island of the coast of Nha Trang. On the way there we sang and basked in the beauty of the South China Sea.

Our first stopped was snorkeling off the island of Hon Mun.

The water was turquoise and clear. There were little reefs right off of the beach so it was very easy to see the corals and fish. There were tiny colorful fish and big strange-looking ones too. I snorkeled nearly the whole time while others sun bathed and started drinking.

After several hours on the beach we got back on the boat  and the party started! Everyone was drinking and singing. I started downing my personal bottle of vodka! The boat really started “rocking”. We had a party break and were provided a monstrous feast. After stuffing ourselves our ship pulled up beside two others and then we hopped the ship to have a group karaoke party and music show. Our local guides were hilarious. They sang cover songs and even made some of the guests get up and sing! It was a great time.

10420205_10152771305925813_4724614631742022969_nThen we stumbled back onto our own ship where we took shots before jumping into the water from the roof of the boat! They threw us tubes and then we hung out in the stunning bay. They even set up a floating bar for us to swim to!

Eventually it was time to head back to shore. So settled back into the boat. I put on my headphones, hung my feet off the side of the ship and reflected as we sailed back to Nha Trang. It was magical, beautiful and life-affirming.  10309170_10152771305880813_4727700327185685849_n

By the time we got back to Nha Trang most people (including myself) were extremely intoxicated. We didn’t want the party to stop so we headed to our hotel pool and continued hanging out. I fell asleep (okay passed out) and when I woke up it was night-time.

We went back to the Sailing Club for dinner where we reminisced about the adventures of the day. I loved every second of the day. It was truly amazing. I think it may be one of the best days of my life!

So Fancy in Nha Trang

Yesterday we flew to the Vietnamese beach town of Nha Trang. This is a booming tourist destination full of pale Russians and rich beach goers.

We decided to treat ourselves by heading to Thap Ba Hot Springs for some relaxation and natural spring water treatments. I loved sitting in the warm mineral pools but the mud bath was the real highlight. I’ve never done anything like that before. The mud was cool and grainy. We spread it all over bodies to exfoliate and cleanse. After the mud bath we got into jacuzzi and relaxed with hot water and beers.

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Where did I stay? Vien Dong Hotel

Later everyone got dressed up and we headed to a swanky restaurant right on the beach called Sailing Club. We ate on the beach under a full moon. I had a couple of beach cocktails and a fantastic steak.  Later everyone grabbed bean bags and watched dancers as we hung out around the bonfire.  10600394_10152755321335813_1012120772049136423_n