Destination: Pisa, Italy
Recommended Airlines: Ryanair
Accommodation: NH Pisa https://www.nh-hotels.com/hotel/nh-pisa?gmb=new
Attractions: Leaning Tower of Pisa, Church of Santa Maria della Spina, Pisan Mountains, River Arno, Pisa Cathedral and Pisa Baptistery.
Overall Experience Rating: 🎒🎒🎒
Well, to be perfectly honest with you, the answer is: not a lot. But ironically, that’s exactly what makes Pisa a great weekend getaway or day trip; if you plan your time efficiently, you can cover all the importance sights of the small city within a day, 2 tops.
This was such a monumental trip for The Black Girl and Her Backpack because not only was it my last trip of 2018, but it was also my first official solo trip. Not for the lack of trying though, previously booked solo trips just seemed to always fail last minute. So, this time, I booked my ticket in an adrenaline-filled whim (forget Redbull, Lucozade gave me wings… quite literally) but after all the sugar had worn off, I became apprehensive about things. I quite like my own company, so I don’t think my nerves were because I was going to be alone, I simply started brainstorming all worst case scenarios – both the logical and illogical. It really didn’t help that horrendous weather was forecasted for that particular weekend too.
Nevertheless, let me break everything down…
Pisa had been a thought sashaying at the back of my mind for a while, but as I mentioned, the actual booking of my tickets was not planned. Luckily for me, my job allows me to take annual leave under relatively short notice; this allows me to allocate my AL according to cheap flight deals, as opposed to booking off dates and then having to find cheap tickets within them. That being said, I still don’t get enough AL, but that’s a fight for another day.
Thought tangent – what exactly constitutes as ‘enough annual leave’ for a traveller though? 25 days? 30 days? Or maybe even flexi-time? To be honest, I don’t think I’ll be completely satisfied until I’m 100% working remotely – from my lips to God’s ears. Amen? Amen!
Anyways, after doing extensive homework on sites such as Trip Advisor and booking.com, I booked a central hotel close to the train station, namely because torrential downpour and I categorically do not mix. The rest was (and always is) soft work. I simply write an extensive chronological list of everything I need/need to do for the trip and execute accordingly. This time I also purchased Ryanair’s nonsensical priority cabin bags in advance, because I cannot come and die (a Nigerianism); if you can spare a few quid, I would recommend you do the same to avoid unnecessary stress on the day. With regards to packing in general though, I’ve got 3 magic hacks for you:
- Rolling > folding: Roll your clothes instead of folding them! Giving credit where credit is due: I learned this hack from my sister, but this method really does maximise minimal space within small suitcases.
- Dancing + packing: I know, packing can be an absolute chore, but I’ve found that playing music in the background eliminates approx. 89% of the tediousness. I personally blast Afrobeats (because they’re fia fia), Dancehall (because yes a so mi like it) and every now and again a bit of chart music, but play whatever you know will keep you on your feet. If you’re anything like me, the only issue that could possibly arise is dancing more than packing, but it’s all part of the process.
- Home > airport: when it comes to budget airlines, I always (without fail) pack my liquids at home; it will save you a world of trouble at the airport. Just the thought of scrambling for plastic wallets before airport security gives me palpitations.
I am yet to miss a flight in this life and in fact, it’s not my portion for the future either. I’m Nigerian, so I’ve been culturally programmed to get to airports at an obscenely early time and Pisa was no different. However, in true Ryanair fashion, boarding was slightly delayed… but once we were in the air, that was the least of our worries! The turbulence was ridiculous. Like “am I about to meet my maker?” kind of ridiculous. One passenger was genuinely so scared for her life, she had tears in her eyes and was screaming at the top of her lungs. But dearly beloved, won’t the Lord always do it? We landed in Pisa safely. Hallelujah.
Then we were held hostage in the aircraft for 45/50 minutes. Remember in the beginning I said bad weather was forecasted for the entire weekend? Well by the time we arrived, there was a red-alert thunderstorm warning in place and the airport was closed because of it. I’m no Einstein, but I don’t think keeping us in massive chunk of metal during forecasted lightning was the wisest idea? But when in Pisa, act like the Pisans. Once we were freed, getting out of the airport was a breeze; my journey from the airport to my hotel was even breezier. I just hopped on the Pisa Mover (€2,70 one way ticket) to Pisa central station and the NH Pisa was situated literally across the road.
The bottom corners of my walk-in shower desperately needed a deep clean, but apart from that, I don’t have any complaints about the NH Pisa. They had me at hello… they left a personalized welcome card with a complimentary cookie in my room. It’s like they had known me forever, I’m a hella sentimental and I like to eat.
I was so surprised by the feedback I received on Instagram – quite a lot of people didn’t know that The Leaning Tower of Pisa was climbable. Well it is! I don’t know who sent me, but I climbed all 297 steps (huffing and puffing my way up to the top). That building will throw your bodily equilibrium out of whack, but it’s very doable. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for those who struggle with stairs (due to the historical nature of the building, there is no step-free access); suffer from claustrophobia (the staircases are incredibly narrow); or experience vertigo (just don’t play yourself). Use https://www.opapisa.it/en to curate your itinerary and purchase tickets, because other sites will try to rip you off.
Quick shout out to Australian backpacker, Hannah, for taking this legendary shot:
Aunty Mo’s Solo Travel Advice
- Baby steps: “you’ve got to learn how to walk before you run” and solo travelling is no exception to this rule. If fundamentally you aren’t comfortable with being by yourself, a foreign country is not going change that. Take yourself to lunch, go to the cinema by yourself, do a weekend trip to another part of your own country, then branch out into your continent and then beyond. Practice truly makes perfect, so don’t prematurely pressure yourself into solo travelling if you aren’t ready.
- Hotel vs. Hostel: I’m not even trying to be bougie, but I’m not cut out for the hostel life, my personal space is sacred to me. However, hostels have major social and financial benefits for solo travellers. Many hostels also offer gendered dorms.
- Loneliness: although natural and even inevitable, I’ve come to find that no matter what country you’re in, the feeling of loneliness can be exacerbated when you’re idle. To combat this whilst travelling, jam pack your itinerary with activities to keep your mind occupied. In your downtime, find peace. Utilise the time alone to rediscover parts of yourself that have been lost to the mundanities of everyday life.
- Go with the flow: the beauty of solo travelling is that you are in control; a part of that blessing is knowing when to relinquish control and just go with the flow. Yes, have an itinerary or list, but don’t be too rigid to the extent where you hinder spontaneity.
- Open your mouth and ask: “If you don’t ask, you will never know”. There is only so much the internet can tell you. Whilst abroad, ask the experts – locals. They’re the best source of authentic information and they’re usually always willing to help tourists.
- Be present: trust me, I get it, I’m a ‘travel blogger’ or whatever. I know you want to capture scenes and give it to them on the ‘gram, but I think it’s such a shame to physically be in a foreign country, but not be there psychologically. I remember when Emotionless dropped and Uncle Aubrey damn near snatched all of our wigs when he said “I know a girl whose one goal was to visit Rome, then she finally got to Rome and all she did was post pictures for people at home, ‘cause all that mattered was impressin’ everybody she’s known.” It’s such an easy trap to fall into, so make a conscious effort to be present in that moment.
- Be smart, self-aware and safe: these are not your ‘ends’, you’re a guest in another country. In many instances, tourists stick out like sore thumbs and not to scare you, but this can put a target on our backs. Just be cautious of your surroundings at all times, after all “Prevention is better than cure.”
I hope the tips shared in this post can help someone prepare for their first solo adventure, regardless of whenever they plan on taking it. If you end up choosing the same destination as I did, I hope you find peace and pizza whilst in Pisa.
P.S: I’m clearly not the Mr Miyagi of solo travel yet – so seasoned solo travellers please drop some additional pearls of wisdom below – grazie! Lots of love, Mo xo