The Importance of Traveling with Like-Minded People

Aleida Fernandez

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My week-long trip to Italy started out as a disaster. Not only was our train to Florence canceled two times due to snow, but our first encounter with staff from the Austrian train company, Ã–BB, left a rotten taste in our mouths as they helped everyone but us get a refund. Our vacation was looking grimmer and grimmer as we lost two full days in Italy, our day trip to Rome, and a night at the hostel. It could’ve been easy for me and my two travel companions to have this experience set the tone for the entire trip. What I learned this week, however, is how important it is to travel with like-minded people.

My partners and I at a spot overlooking the entire city of Florence.

My partners and I at the top of Florence.

My partners and I at the top of Florence.

When I travel, I love to explore, and I don’t like to spend a lot of money. These two seem like contradictory statements, but they aren’t (read Rick Steves or Lonely Planet if you want proof). Sure, the tourist spots are a must, but what I really enjoy is finding the local hotspots and people watching. Finding a neighborhood bakery or restaurants filled with residents are always cheaper and better than the ones near the tourist centers. People watching shows me that even though I’m thousands of miles away from my loved ones, families here aren’t so different from mine. To find other travelers who like to find these areas can be hard – it usually requires a lot of walking and a little bit of research to find them.

My partners and I at a spot overlooking the entire city of Florence.

This week, however, I really lucked out. After the Ã–BB troubles, we made it to Italy Sunday evening, tired but very excited to be in Italy. In Florence we death marched to every single tourist site in the city (Uffizi? Check. Pitti Palace? Check. Ponte Vecchio? Check. Statue of Michelangelo atop what can only be described as a hill aspiring to be a mountain? Check. Teatro Verdi? Check). But because we saw literally everything the first day, we were able to explore the next two days. During that time, we found the indoor market, a flea market, a leather market, an artists’ neighborhood and the best – and cheapest – gelato in Florence.

Sundown on the Ponte Vecchio.

Sundown on the Ponte Vecchio.

When we arrived in Venice, it could have been very easy to become overwhelmed. The entire city is a tourist town. Each road is crammed with people; don’t even think about trying to easily glide your way through the San Marco’s plaza. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, we walked around the city finding a little college town, a neighborhood bakery with the best canoli I have ever eaten, and a gelato place where we went back four times. Yes, duh, we rode a gondola and went to the Rialto Market, but we also just sat in plazas or on bridges and watched and absorbed.

A canal in Venice.

A canal in Venice.

I got extremely lucky with my travel companions. With them, I felt like we saw and did just about everything touristy we could do in both cities, but I also feel like we experienced a piece of what it’s like to be a local. And, it’s because of them that we were able to laugh off the earlier debacle and have a great week.