Travelling Alone For the First Time: Frightening or Exhilarating?

Hello lovely people,

After making the decision to travel alone to Milan I had a mixed response from my family and friends. Some thought I was insane for undertaking a week of loneliness and danger, others thought it was a great choice to explore a new place exactly how I would want to. Regardless of what people thought though it felt like the right decision. I’m a pretty seasoned traveller at this point, and I don’t want to restrict myself from seeing new places just because I don’t have anyone to travel with at that point in time. So, here’s how I feel after my first trip alone.

travelling alone

My journey to Milan was, quite frankly, a bit of a trek. I had to take a 2.5 hour train to Manchester Airport, go through the airport experience on my own for the first time, fly to Bergamo, take a 1 hour bus to Milano Centrale, and take the metro to my hostel. It was time-consuming, but I can’t say I found anything too difficult. It’s really not that different to being in a group, you’ve just got to have more awareness of your surroundings. My main tip for this part is to account for the possibility of things going wrong, because when there’s only one brain working solving problems can be more difficult. My train to the airport was cancelled whilst I was on it (love our fully functional privatised rail network), but I was able to get on another one and still had time for a drink in the airport because I’d accounted to have spare time.

I opted to stay in an 8 bed mixed dorm at Meininger Milano Lambrate for a number of reasons pertaining to being a solo female traveller. I know and trust the brand, so I had the peace of mind of going to somewhere I knew would be safe. This particular hostel was located across the road from a train station too, so it meant I never had to walk too far at night. Staying a dorm was a new and interesting experience. I didn’t feel unsafe or uncomfortable at all, as most of the other people in my room were young solo travellers too. I even got chatting to a few of them, shoutout to the linguists from Oxford who quizzed me on my degree a bit too much for it to be normal. I obviously kept my belongings padlocked away at all times to make sure nothing was stolen or lost.

Being able to do exactly what you want whenever you want is such a liberating way to travel. I’ve travelled in a big group before, and whilst it’s obviously so much fun to hang out with your friends, it’s also enjoyable to be completely on your own agenda. I was able to go to museums that my friends perhaps wouldn’t have enjoyed, and didn’t feel like I was ever letting anyone down by things like getting up earlier or later on a certain day. I was also a big fan of sitting on benches or in cafes and watching the world go by for far too long, something I doubt other people would tolerate!

Eating and drinking surprised me as being one of the hardest things. I didn’t eat out very much as I felt the social stigma of being in a restaurant alone and I have a bit of anxiety surrounding ordering food (sounds ridiculous because it is). I also didn’t like that I couldn’t drink as much as I usually would on trips, because I definitely didn’t want to be even slightly drunk whilst alone. I did save money as a result of this though, so it wasn’t all a loss.

Now for the important bit – safety. I don’t think I once felt at risk. Obviously Italy is a very safe country, but it’s still dangerous to be alone anywhere at certain times of day or in certain places. I was catcalled a little bit here and there, but the sad fact is that I almost expect that now when I’m in a big city, regardless of if I’m alone or with female friends; #whyimafeminist. To stay safe I just took the normal precautions you would expect – not being out late at night, not having valuables on show, not walking around with earphones in and not giving away personal information. It can be more dangerous to travel as a woman alone inevitably, but I think as long as you take suitable measures to protect yourself you shouldn’t let it stop you.

I actually thought I would be a lot more lonely than I ended up being, as in the end I really enjoyed my own company. I was still in contact with friends and family back home as well which helped, but I was mostly distracted by all the culture and exploring so I never really got lonely. I also chatted to a lot of people in my hostel. I spent most of my evenings chilling in the communal areas, and got chatting to travellers about where they’d been and where they were headed – my favourite kinds of conversations. If I had spoken Italian I’d probably have spoken to more people when I was in the city, so perhaps socialising would’ve been more likely if I had been somewhere I spoke the language.

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Look at me with all my pigeon friends

So if I were to sum it up – travelling alone was the best thing I’ve ever done. I learned a lot about myself and how I cope with things, as well as growing in confidence even after such a short length of time away. It really was the best bit of relaxation before university and spending almost all my time with other people. Have you ever travelled alone? Would you, or would it worry you too much?

-Megan, listening to Brave New World by Iron Maiden (I rediscovered this album today and remembered how much I love it)

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Chez Moi; The September Edit

Hello lovely people!

September has been a strange month, and being honest I’m quite glad that it’s over now. October will be filled with the challenge of starting my second year at university, and I cannot wait to get fully involved with everything Durham has to offer. But until then I want to reflect on my start to autumn.

Life

The month started with some pretty intense personal stuff that had a hugely negative impact on my mental health. As a result I ended up moving to Durham quite early, meaning I’ve spent most of the month living alone with no friends in the city. It has been simultaneously amazing to have that level of independence and time to care for myself, and deeply lonely. I’m very much looking forward to having my friends back.

I also visited my best friend at uni up in Edinburgh this month for his freshers week. I had a great time exploring the city and meeting a bunch of new people, but my main highlight was ending up in a gay club with the LGBT society. There’s something special about dancing around like an idiot in a place where you really shouldn’t belong, but ultimately feel like you do.

When I got back to Durham I mostly spent my time decorating my student house, binge-watching Netflix and going to the gym. I dedicated time to self-care and self-improvement, and it really did me some good. It wasn’t too long however before I jetted off to Milano (GUYS I WENT TO ITALY DID I TALK ABOUT IT ENOUGH??), and had the most amazing few days to round off my summer.

 

Blog

I definitely set my goals too high this month, considering I was taking a week off for my trip. I was quite surprised how long it took to build my views and interactions back up when I got home, but numbers aren’t everything obviously. My final stats are 146 WP followers (so close to that 150 goal), 1,816 views (lol 2,000 was a bit excessive), 765 visitors (not far off 800) and 397 Twitter followers (again, so close to the 400 goal). Here’s to making more realistic goals next month.

My most popular post this month was A Day in York, England, and I’m so glad to see that! It’s such an amazing city and I loved sharing my day with everyone. I also really enjoyed finishing off my University 101 series, and writing about my Music Taste. Music is something I really want to focus on more in the coming months, as I really enjoy writing about it.

Music

It’s been a fantastic month for new releases, and my list definitely reflects that.

Mantra – Bring Me The Horizon; I love the lyrics of this new song and it makes me so intrigued as to what the band are going to do next.
Villains – Emma Blackery; After absolutely loving seeing Emma document the production process on her new album it’s really great to hear the final product. A sassy, energetic, damn good pop record.
Proper Dose – The Story So Far; This album may be a bit less heavy than their old stuff, but this was the soundtrack to my Italy trip and it’s lovely.
Sincerity is Scary – The 1975; My favourite tracks by The 1975 are the stripped back jazzy ones, and this is exactly that.

I also saw Halestorm play live at the Manchester Apollo this month, and they were insanely good. Lzzy’s voice is not done justice on any of their records, which when coupled with some awesome solos made for a great show. I might do a gig review of this in the coming weeks.

 

TV

So this month I finally caught onto the Brooklyn 99 hype and I’m completely obsessed. It’s probably the most diverse comedy on TV, but in a somewhat quiet way, as it doesn’t try to force stereotypes or shoehorn in characters for the sake of representation. It’s also absolutely hilarious and one of those comedies that starts off lighthearted and then suddenly gets very wholesome, which I always love. I marathoned half of season 5 yesterday with a friend and I’m hooked on what happens next, can’t wait to see it.

I’m in the process of watching season 6 of Homeland too. I loved the show when I started it, because it does a great job of being a really gripping political drama without going too far into the realm of ridiculousness. However, my gripe with it now is that it’s just gotten so complicated that sometimes it’s hard to keep up. I’m far too intrigued to give up now though.

Books

I finished 3 books this month, because towards the end I’ve taken on some pretty hefty reads that will take me a while to get through.

I received Coraline by Neil Gaiman as part of an Instagram bookshare, and was surprised about how much I enjoyed it. It’s a children’s novel about a girl who finds another world through a cupboard in her house, becoming quite dark at times. It was a good quick read and very well-written, with a great fantastical element. Then I picked up Regarde Les Lumières Mon Amour by Annie Ernaux, as I’d read La Place for my course last year and wanted to read more of her work. The book is a social commentary that all takes place within supermarkets, looking at people’s buying habits and work lives. Sounds very boring, but it’s honestly so good! She has a great social lens as an author and I loved how diverse the people she commented upon were. Finally I read Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire for my course this year.

 

And that’s the end to September! I’ve left the month feeling very motivated to start university in October, and had some great experiences along the way too. What did you get up to in September? What should I marathon to fill the Brooklyn 99 hole in my life?

-Megan, listening to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly album (one of my faves)

Milano, Italy; The Ultimate Travel Guide

Hello lovely people,

Milano is considered the fashion capital of Europe to many, but I think it’s Italy’s best kept secret when it comes to backpacking. Situated in the Northern Lombardy region it is a vibrant and thriving city, with everything from urban neighbourhoods to Italy’s largest church. Whether it’s relaxing with an aperativo or taking a ride to the nearby Lake Como, Milano has something for everyone.

Quick Facts
Currency: Euro
Language: Italian (very few people speak English, which is great to see!)
Airports: 3 – Bergamo, Linate & Malpensa
Public Transport: Metro, buses & tram (€4.50/day)
Safety: 4/5, I travelled here alone and never felt at risk, except a few catcalls

Visit Duomo Cathedral
Duomo is far from underrated. The building is quite the feat to behold, with some beautiful white architecture. You can enter the cathedral and attached museum for €3.50, but I chose not to because whenever I looked the queues were always pretty long. I still loved sitting in the square and just taking in the architecture instead (because we all know I love a nice building).

Walk around Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Now, you can probably tell by the way I dress myself that I know virtually nothing about fashion, so it might seem unusual for me to reccomend the main high fashion shopping mall. However, to bang on about architecture again, it’s a stunning building. I adored the glass roof and intricate wall design, so just walking around was definitely worthwhile. I’d also reccomend going to the nearby streets for cheaper shopping, you’ll find the awesome European brands Bershka, Pimkie and Pull & Bear.

Explore Santa Maria Delle Grazie
I love me a good church, always necessary to pray the gay away (too spicy?). This one is much smaller than Duomo (obviously), so I was able to visit the quieter interior and grounds easily. Inside there were lots of different Catholic shrines and art, which I actually found really interesting.

 

Eat & walk in Semipone Park
This is a fantastic place to eat a picnic lunch and watch as people cycle through the park (why do Europeans cycle so much?). After eating my lunch I wandered a little and it was really lovely to be back in a green space after the bustle of Duomo.

Discover Isola’s street art & the Bosque Verticale
Isola was one of my favourite districts. It’s a working class area with a huge community feel that has progressively been gentrified with the introduction of industry. The Bosque Verticale is a pair of residential towers that appear to have trees growing out of them, and it’s so cool to see nature in the middle of an area dominated by skyscrapers. However, the real gem of Isola is the street art. There’s some truly stunning pieces that are best discovered by wandering, but if you’re short on time head to Porta Garibaldi station and see the way artists have made it their own.

Eat gelato at Artico Gelateria Tradizionale
Could you really go to Italy and not try out the ice-cream? Located in the heart of the Isola district, this gelateria is family-run and classically Italian. There’s lots of choice and the gelato is so tasty!

 

Visit Lake Como
Como is around an hour away by train, and definitely worth a day out. I want to write a full post on this truly stunning location, but for now I’ll just say DO IT.

Drink aperativo (tbh I’d go just for this)
The Italians have got this one right. At around 6pm bars and pubs begin to fill with people going for a post-work cocktail, but there’s an amazing catch. Buying a drink means that you’re entitled to a pre-dinner buffet! I don’t understand how this only happens in Northern Italy, because it’s fabulous. I paid anywhere from €2.50 – €6 for my aperativo depending on what drink I ordered and where I was. You cannot miss this one.

 

Head to the Navigli district to see the canals
Fair warning, this area has become a little overrun with tourist traps, but the canals were so worth it. I visited at sunset and loved seeing the sunlight reflect on the river, truly stunning. There are also a lot of small artists’ studios alongside the river to watch out for. This is considered a “good” location for aperativo, but I found that the prices were ridiculously inflated in comparison to less touristy areas, so I’d say it’s one to avoid when you’re drinking.

Learn something new at the Museo Nazionale de Ciencia e Tecnologia
This was a really interesting museum, and absolutely huge. I specifically loved their exhibits on nutrition, the history of CERN and television. As a pansy humanities student science is usually quite foreign to me, but this place was very accessible for those of us who aren’t scientifically minded. Furthermore it was housed in a great building, and I loved the way the exhibits were laid out. Definitely one to remember your student card for, as the entrance fee goes from €10 to €7.50 when you present one.

 

So it’s safe to say that I absolutely loved my trip to Milano. It was the perfect balance of relaxing and adventure before university begins again, and I would really reccomend it. Aperativo has absolutely ruined me though, when is the UK going to wake up to that one?

Have you ever visited Milano or Italy? Where should I go next?

-Megan, listening to Radio X and writing with my housemate BECAUSE I HAVE HOUSEMATES NOW AND IT’S EXCITING

My Top Packing Tips for a Short City Break

Hello lovely people,

By the time you’re reading this post I will be on the first leg of my journey to beautiful Italian sunshine in Milan. After the whirlwind of Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Truck Festival in July I couldn’t bear the thought of my summer adventures coming to an end, so I did the age old trick of searching for flights to “everywhere” on Skyscanner. £35 on a flight and £50 on a hostel later I was all set for Milan and my first ever experience as a solo traveller just before the new university term.

It’s two days until I leave right now so I thought I would share some of my top tips for how to pack light for 5 days on cabin baggage. I’m a self-confessed packing phobe, and usually leave it until the very last minute, but over the years I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

packing

Write a list

This one seems pretty obvious, but it’s something I only started doing recently. You only ever have to do it once, because aside from changing the amount of clothes you need every trip has pretty much the same essentials. Make sure you tick things off as you get them out and as you put them into your suitcase, to ensure nothing gets behind.

Invest in a good suitcase or backpack

I’m usually a backpack kind of person (I went on a week long exchange trip with a hiking backpack this year… other students were very confused), but when it comes to cabin baggage, I’m opting for a suitcase. I could have invested in an adequately sized hiking backpack, but they’re quite pricey and heavy. I also like being able to carry my “daypack” in the airport, to keep my flight essentials and clothing etc separate. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s durable and easy to transport.

Make use of staple clothing pieces

Much as the stripy top and floral shorts might look great, you’re never going to wear them together. That means you’ll end up having to take extra items to match them with, which is an unnecessary waste of space. Opt for things you can wear multiple times and combine with different items to make new outfits, such as plain denim shorts.

Wear what you can to the airport

Now, I’m not saying I’ll be trekking up to the train station with 3 jumpers and a coat on, but I will be wearing some of my more bulky items such as jeans. Chances are if you’re flying from the UK you’re probably going to need the layers on this side of your adventure too!

Keep things organised

When it comes to security obviously you’ll have to be removing all electrical items and liquids. It’s 1000x easier to do this if you know where they are and can simply pull them out of your suitcase. I also like to have all my cables in a ziplock bag, so that they don’t clutter up my bag and they’re easy to find.

Roll your clothing

This saves so much space! I even do it when I’m moving back to university after holidays, as you can pack so much more in without folding things.

Buy a microfibre towel

These are the very thin types of towels that dry much more quickly and take up way less room. Standard towels are bulky and a nightmare to get dry on the day you leave your trip, so I never take them. You can pick these up in the likes of Home Bargains for just £5, or many sports shops have them too.

 

My most important tip is HAVE FUN (cringy? yes. do I care? no). City breaks are my favourite kinds of holidays, and they’re pretty easy to pack for because they’re often so short. I probably won’t be around much for the next few days as I’m going to try and take a bit of a break whilst I’m away, so if you see me on Twitter too much please remind me to go and enjoy myself!

 

-Megan, listening to a Spotify Daily Mix (it’s really not an exciting music day today)

 

A Day in York, England

Hello lovely people!

My travel posts have been few and far between recently, because as I said in the August Edit, I just haven’t been anywhere. But eventually sitting inside your house and doing nothing all day gets really dull, so myself and my friend decided to take a trip to York a couple of weeks ago. This is what we got up to!

york

We arrived in York at around 11am, after a couple of hours of driving and a shuttle bus. I don’t usually opt for park & ride schemes as I find them a little cumbersome, but this one was too cheap to say no to in comparison to the extortionate city centre parking prices. I know you all love a good parking-based money saving tip, that’s what you came to this blog for right?

York is much like Durham. It has a cathedral, cobbled streets and a river running through it, so I felt very at home. More importantly, its traditional vibe means the city has absolutely beautiful architecture. It’s definitely one to just wander around and see what you can find, whether that be the ancient city walls or pretty side streets. The big attraction of the city however is York Minster, an extremely impressive looking building. We didn’t pay to enter the Minster, but it’s worth walking into the area before the box office to check out some of the stained glass windows, which are just stunning!

 

I wish I’d had more time to check out the city’s coffee shops, as there were some awesome looking espresso bars and places with locally roasted beans. I’m a bit of a coffee nerd, it has to be said. We did make time for lunch however, at the cafe attached to the Lawrance Apart-Hotel. It’s vibe was a little more corporate than I tend to prefer, but the prices were surprisingly acceptable and the staff very friendly! I had a mozzarella, pesto and tomato panini (vegetarian cafe staple), while Thomas opted for a bacon sandwich, which was commended for it’s value for money!

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I took a picture of my food! Am I a real blogger now?

Our main love in York however was the bookshops – God bless my bank account. The city is full of amazing second-hand bookshops which have books on everything from the history of Unilever (one of Thomas’ choices) to the specifics of what the communists were up to in Paris during the second world war written in French (no prizes for guessing that was one of my purchases). We spent a good couple of hours wandering around these places and uncovering some real gems. I’d highly reccomend Ken Spelman Bookseller for their second-hand stuff and Minster Gate Bookshop for their bargain basement (£3/4 for brand new novels? Yes please!).

 

It’s not just bookshops that York is great for though, it’s the shops in general. If you shy away from the high street you’ll come across some really quirky independent places with really friendly staff. Of course The Shambles is included in this; York’s famously narrow medieval street which is lined with some of the most fabulous smelling food shops ever! Just off The Shambles there’s also a lovely market which was again nice to wander around.

 

In conclusion if you like walking around and looking at pretty things, York is for you. For the bookshops and cafes alone I’ll definitely be making a return very soon – it’s so worth the trip!

-Megan, listening to…. actually nothing for once – THIS IS A FIRST!