A busy mom’s backpacking journey.
I've always dreamt about traveling to Italy: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Unbeknownst to me, as I began to plan my trip, there was so much more to see.
Thoughts of this trip began when our family returned from a very "busy" summer vacation. We had just traveled to Kauai, Hawaii and I longed for a vacation where I could simply relax. I thought about taking a local trip with my girlfriends, briefly entertaining travel to Italy. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would eventually embark on a solo, backpacking trek through Italy.
August rolled around and I purchased a tour book by Rick Steves. With each page I envisioned myself touring the Italian countryside. This book, I thought, will become my sole resource and "friend" (as I would come to know in time).
As I discussed a potential trip to Italy with colleagues and friends they reacted with either words of admiration or caution. "What about all the gypsies and pickpockets?" "Aren't you scared?" "You're so brave." I disregarded all the comments, knowing that the more I learned about my surroundings, the safer I would be. I considered the trip either a post-college European education or a mommy sabbatical. I imagined traveling by train through Italy, carrying only a backpack. Was this a midlife crisis, I asked myself? I lingered on these words published in Steves' book:
A "back door" is anywhere you choose to find one. All that is required to enter is an openness to new things, a healthy dose of the ability to ignore unpleasantness, a friendly and happy outlook and a willingness to be outgoing. Even in the midst of crushing crowds and tacky tourist traps you can find wonderful things by watching people.
As the months flew by, I realized that I could not possibly get all the research done in time for a spring trip. I was overwhelmed with family conflicts and sports, therefore my dreams diminished. I booked a family ski trip in November for January and my thoughts of Italy were on the back burner.
Then one early December morning I decided to check on the cost of airline tickets to Italy. By the end of December, I purchased my ticket for an April departure. I continued my research, reading everything I could and establishing email communications, through message boards, with people that had already traveled to Italy. I was able to ask them all the "what if" questions I could possibly imagine. I was amazed at how many women had set out on similar solo journeys.
I prepared a small budget and planned to see Italy in eleven days.
Before I knew it I found myself hiking alongside the Ligurian Sea outside of Vernazza, with only my backpack and camera in hand, early in the morning before other travelers would awaken. I tiptoed through Venice's empty St. Mark's Square, where Venice street sweepers were already hard at work. I purchased pastries in the morning; bread, cheese, salami and wine from local markets for lunch. I found just the right tree to rest under, perched at the edge of a famous statue or monument for lunch and to journal. I sat crouched under an umbrella at a sidewalk café as raindrops fell from the sky in Florence and street vendors ran for shelter. I approached St. Vincoli's church in Rome so early in the morning the Priest unlocked the doors for me to see Michelangelo's Moses and Peter's Chains. I entered St. Peter's Basilica only weeks after Pope John Paul's passing and found myself amidst early morning vespers in the Grotto where he was laid to rest. Quiet, peaceful. I arrived at some of the world's most famous museums, just as the doors opened, to breathe in the grace of world famous artists. I stood in awe, practically alone in the middle of the Colosseum.
These were simple things. I realized that life was right in front of me and all I had to do was reach out and grab it. Life is too short to wait for the perfect moment-when the kids are grown or when retirement finally arrives. I learned an early lesson when I lost my mother to cancer: life is meant to be lived today. Both my parents passed away in their fifties with dreams of touring abroad.
So I am grateful that I decided to take these steps to fulfill my dreams. As I sat atop Castello Doria overlooking the Liguerian Sea in Vernazza, enjoying the wine and pesto from Corniglia, I pondered over the last sentence in the book I was reading,
"I hope your travels will give you a fun and relaxing vacation or adventure. I also hope they'll make you an active patriot of our planet and a voice for people in our country who will never see their names on a plane ticket."
Here's to a truly a bountiful journey!