Since the start of the global pandemic, travel has been out of the question for most of us. My partner and I had planned to spend the summer of 2020 in France, where he is from, but of course, our plans were canceled. Now that we both work from home, indefinitely, we were able to reschedule our trip this last summer – finally enjoying quality time with our French family and friends.
A few days after we arrived at my mother-in-law’s apartment in Chantepie – a village outside of Rennes (the regional capital of Brittany, France), my partner asked me if I still had the idea to take a side trip alone. I had briefly considered this idea before we left the United States but hadn’t made a plan. It was a Tuesday evening, and he pointed out that every weekend of our entire summer was already booked – except the one coming up. So, if I wanted to travel somewhere it was now or never.
Ok – now!
Only, I hadn’t traveled alone outside of the United States in over 20 years! With less than three days to plan this solo trip, I was a bit nervous. Fortunately, in 2021, all you really need to travel is a smartphone and a credit card.
Curious how I did it? Ready to hop on a plane this weekend? Then here are the tech tools I used to enjoy a week in Italy – visiting three cities with three day’s notice.
Where To Go
First I had to decide where, in Europe, to go. I Google searched the latest Covid-based travel restrictions, then used Google Flights to compare flights to Greece, Spain, Malta, Portugal, and Italy. As I browsed YouTube for tourism videos about each location, I landed on Italy. It had always been high on my bucket list, flights were affordable, and the videos I watched about gelato, pizza, and ancient ruins won me over!
How To Get There
I booked the perfect dates at the price I wanted using the Google Flights Price Graph. I downloaded my airline company’s app to ensure I could access my boarding pass, even offline. Next, I needed transportation to and from the airports. In Europe, intercity trains and buses are plentiful but booking ahead is important (especially if you’re trying to catch a flight). A quick Google search showed me the right trains and buses to take to Paris Orly airport and from Rome Fiumicino airport to the city center.
With tickets I booked in advance, I always downloaded the transportation company’s app so I could save the ticket to my phone and receive notifications if anything changed. This came in handy when an airline employees’ strike caused a four-hour delay in my flight back to France, which meant I needed to book a new train ticket from Paris to Rennes.
Where To Sleep
With limited time to plan and an open schedule, I didn’t want to lock myself into staying too many nights in one place. Rather than book a traditional hotel, I opted to book my first two nights in a hostel in Rome. Using the Hostelworld app, I found a place with great reviews just near the train/bus station and close to the city center.
As for the rest of the week, I booked places to stay as I went along – usually two nights in advance. Using additional apps like Airbnb and Bookings.com, I was able to find a great vacation home in Salerno and a hostel in Naples.
Beyond getting there, I needed transportation between cities and from one attraction to another. For this, I relied on Google Maps plus apps from the national and regional train/bus companies (like TrenItalia), local ride-sharing apps (like FreeNow), and even scooter services (like Helbiz). Of course, I also wore (out) my best walking shoes!
What Not To Miss When Traveling
On my first day in Rome, I picked up a tourist map at the train station. This was the best way to literally see the big picture and to identify the must-see attractions without wasting time (and energy) backtracking. Beyond the map, I used Airbnb to browse for interesting tours and experiences. In Rome, for example, I booked a skip-the-line ticket to the Vatican museum that included a helpful audio guide. And in Amalfi, I arranged an incredible guided tour of a seven-generation lemon grove owned by the family of Salvatore Aceto (www.salvatoreaceto.it). And, in Naples, I met 5th generation hand-crafted umbrella maker Mario Talarico (https://www.instagram.com/mario_talarico_since_1860/). Of course, I also followed my senses – anyone smell pizza?
Speaking The Language
I am fluent in Spanish and speak beginner French, but didn’t speak a word of Italian before I left. I picked up an Italian phrasebook once I arrived, but didn’t use it much once I memorized the most critical words and phrases like please and thank you, where is, excuse me, etc. When needed, I used Google Translate to help me communicate more clearly. Plus, if you download the Google Translate app, you can point your smartphone at text and automatically view the translation!
The Best Travel Souvenirs
It’s a good idea to travel light, especially when traveling alone. So, the best souvenirs are often photos. I love Google Photos for the ability to easily share an entire album and even map the exact location of a photo at a later date. I also love using Marco Polo to share my journey with a few close friends and family members with short, private video messages. It’s fun to look back on a conversation thread to relive the journey! Finally, Instagram turned out to be the best way to connect with and get to know new friends I met on the journey.
Additional Travel Tips Before You Go
- Be sure you understand your phone plan, your ability to access a network outside your normal home base, and the cost. In my case, my Google Fi phone works normally as long as I have WiFi access. If not, I can turn on and pay for mobile data anywhere in the world.
- Always carry cash! You never know when paying with a credit card is not an option, or when the purchase limit is higher than the cost of your item.
- Keep your phone and your credit card secure! Without these two items, it may be game-over for your trip. When in doubt (for example, deciding whether or not to take your phone/wallet to the beach), leave these items locked up in your room and carry cash and an “in case of emergency” contact card instead.