It’s amazing how daydreams can manifest into reality. Give it a little time and your wildest hopes can come back around full circle. As a lover of cinema, I fantasized about traveling the world and seeing all the sights depicted in some of my favorite films. I wanted to ride the double decker bus like in Spice World, frolic through the countryside like Elio and Oliver in Call Me By Your Name, and eat the finest cuisine with my girl Samin in the Netflix smash Salt Fat Acid Heat. At the end of the day, I’m just a Lizzie looking for her Gordo. All the narratives that I created in my mind seemed so far out of reach, but little did I know that I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
This past summer, I was extremely fortunate to spend 11 days in London accompanying my job as the social media lead and marketing consultant during their recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios. But wait, it gets better. Not only would I be stepping on British soil, but I was able to extend my return flight in order to spend a week in my ultimate dream vacation spot—Italy! Yes, you read that correctly. A 2-for-1? He won! “Hey now, hey now. This is what dreams are made of,” indeed.
I was beyond excited yet a little terrified. While this was my first European excursion, I would be doing it alone. Are hostels a safe option? Is it easy to get around in a foreign country? Would I make friends? I just had to shake off those nervous jitters and focus on the blessings ahead. My flight would leave the day after my 26th birthday. Lord knows that I needed some time to focus on myself and live life. My passport was ready to get stamped, and I’m not gonna lie: I was starting to feel like Rickey Thompson. “I’m going overseas!”
Before I get into the overall experience and lessons learned, I wanted to share some advice that truly resonated with me. If you are considering traveling abroad and you’re hesitant about doing it alone, keep these words of wisdom in mind. On the day of my trip, one of my closest friends shared five tips that I used throughout my entire trip:
- The hardest thing to do will be leaving your hostel/Airbnb on your first morning, but once you do it, you are free to explore and the fear fades.
- Be safe. Save the number and address of your hostel. When in doubt, simply duck into the nearest hostel.
- Try every dish/drink you can get your hands on. Spoil yourself.
- Dating apps help to have someone to go out with at night. Have fun. Be safe.
- Soak in as much culture as you can. Sit and simply bask. This is a trip by you and for you.
These tips were so simple yet the value was immeasurable. At the end of the day, I didn’t have to worry about meeting the expectations of a group or compromising with others. The itinerary was all curated by me, and it was time to be a little selfish. With these gems, I was invincible and ready to seize the opportunities before me.
When I tell you that London is so damn clean? That’s one of the first things I noticed when I hopped into my cab. It seems like all Londoners are on board for keeping the city clean. Also, the parks were absolutely serene. I took a stroll through Hyde Park and saw the most majestic herd of swans. Like they actually looked happy to be there, unlike all the New York animals that create a tinge of guilt and sadness inside when you see them. The amount of greenspace was extremely comforting as a suburban kid from Georgia. It’s actually one of the main things I miss about home, so it was nice to establish a connection from the start.
Despite my hectic work schedule, I was determined to explore and sightsee as much as possible. I was able to squeeze in some of the main tourist attractions like Buckingham Palace, seeing shows on the West End and the Globe, and visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum. However, the biggest priority was reuniting with a collection of friends who I haven’t seen in ages. It’s amazing to see where life leads you and how two wandering paths can reconnect yet it’s like you’ve never parted. That’s the sign of a genuine friendship. From talking about music and cultural acclimation with Aidan, to grabbing drinks at Nine Lives with Olivia, to laughing over Jamaican food in Brixton with Jamie, to enjoying a quaint brunch near Camden with Malin, each moment felt like an extension from our last encounter. I’m forever grateful for the memories created and cannot wait to see them all again.
A friend suggested that I sign up for one of the street art walking tours that London offers. Let me tell you that it was one of the best decisions ever. My guide was a street artist himself and extremely knowledgeable about the scene and the evolution of the form. Exploring the alleyways near Shoreditch, I was deeply immersed into the culture and learned how artists gained notoriety and respect. The tags were so bold, edgy, and utterly beautiful in how they complimented the overall area. It would be hard to imagine the buildings and street poles without their plastering decor of political statements, cultural influences, and striking designs. I definitely left with a newfound respect for tagging and murals.
However, the greatest honor and most unforgettable moment was my time at the renowned Abbey Road Studios—hands down! Words cannot describe how visceral and emotional it was to walk down the main hallway and immediately see photos of the late Amy Winehouse with Tony Bennett, Mark Ronson, Sam Smith, and of course, The Beatles. So much history breathes in the space and it felt like my musical idols were my guardian angels over those four days. My job was lucky enough to record in Studio One where film scores for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Skyfall came to life. The space was absolutely massive. I’ve never seen anything like it. To be in the same room as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain was insane. The musical excellence was of another stratosphere, and I learned so much about the recording process for live musicians. The patience, dedication, and precision of everyone in that space inspired me to become a better artist. It was just really fucking surreal. While being a spectator was a joy, I hope to return to Abbey Road to record my own music. I got goosebumps at the thought alone.
Where do I begin with Italy? Like my, my, my. Everything about Italy was a dream. Everywhere you looked was a camera-ready moment. It felt like I was literally walking through a painting. Never had I seen a place so drop-dead gorgeous with a calming yet vivacious energy. The people were extremely kind and most people spoke English, which was great for me. I tried to prep by listening to a podcast to learn Italian, but honestly, full immersion is the best teacher. With each city I visited, I soaked up as much of the culture as possible—taking a crack at the language, learning about the history, and being introduced to the hobbies and lifestyle of the people.
My first stop was the beautiful city of Venice. I was only there for a day, which was the perfect amount of time for me. It was the perfect place to wander and get lost in the labyrinth of alleyways and shops along every corner. The architecture was captivating with the rustic, Tuscan-inspired orange buildings that glistened in the sun. Riding in a vaporetto (or water taxi) along the Grand Canal was breathtaking and cost effective. Ain’t nobody got time to spend 80 euros on a gondola ride. No, thank you. Holla at me when I’m not single, haha! While I did enjoy the panoramic views of the city from the top of the San Marco campanile, the shining moment was having authentic carbonara at this restaurant along the Canal. The best pasta that ever graced my lips. Oh, I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
If there’s one place that has my heart, it’s Florence. Possessing more artistic and philosophical institutions, the region felt more intellectual with a somewhat suburban flair. Immediately, I got the sense that it wouldn’t be difficult to start a family here. And let me tell you, I’ve been considering it. My three days in Florence were the most adventurous, unforgettable, and exciting excursions of my entire life. I can’t go into all the details—a man has to keep some things sacred—but the main catalyst behind my undying love for the region was the people I met along the way. I hit it off with one of my hostel mates, a German girl named Sophia, who was extremely lovely and kind. We talked about the differences between our cultures, education, politics, and the like. It got deep, honey. I’ll never forget grabbing gelato and watching the street performers on the Ponte Vecchio. Amazing!
I met Tristan, another German, on my Tuscany-in-a-Day bus tour. Fast friends, we enjoyed a wine tasting in Siena, got lost in San Gimignano (a story for another time), and chatted on the quad outside the Leaning Tower of Pisa. One of the nicest dudes with a passion for photography and travel, he became my travel partner for the day. What I appreciated most about him was his willingness to have an adventure. He was down for anything and helped me step outside of my more planned demeanor. Also, we each finally had someone to capture photos or (in my case) twerking boomerangs of ourselves, haha. No more selfies! He later introduced me to Ana from Brazil, who was also on the tour with us. The newfound three amigos decided to grab dinner afterwards and ate the most delicious gluten free pizza and tender steak while planning our next reunion in South America.
Now, I told you that I did have some wild nights in Florence. I honestly don’t think I got home before 2 am any night I was there. That’s because I met my Italian ride-or-die, Filippo. Connected by our mutual friend Jamie, Filippo introduced me to nightlife and the bar scene. I won’t go into too much of the details, but let’s just say that I had the time of my life. Such a great guide. I’m forever grateful for his kindness and companionship. Thanks for the memories.
Roma—the last stop on my escapade—was full of checking boxes off my list and embracing all the historical sights. You know your boy had to see the Colosseum, stroll through the Roman Forum, and marvel at the vast glory in the Vatican. It’s amazing how these ancient ruins are still standing yet my New York apartment can’t seem to withstand a little water from my upstairs neighbors. But I digress. Luckily, I was able to experience the capital in true Roman fashion, thanks to Angela. The cousin of one of my close friends from college, Angela introduced me to aperitivos. I can kind of compare it to grabbing a drink after work with friends and having a light snack to go along with it. Many aperitivos are served at outdoor cafes which are incredibly relaxing as the sun sets and the temperatures start to cool down. Sitting back with an Aperol spritz and enjoying good company—who could ask for anything more?
I will admit that Rome was not my favorite. Yes, it’s absolutely stunning and I had some of the best wine at all hours of the day (when in Rome). However, it was extremely hot and some people weren’t as friendly in comparison to my previous destinations. It was also the first moment of my trip when I felt lonely. Florence and Venice were full of so much interaction and new friends, while Rome was more solitude. In those moments, I was able to reflect more on my life and hold a mirror up to some of the harsh realities. For example, I learned that I can be very needy at times. I also realized that I still hate eating alone in restaurants. Furthermore, when I feel anxious, I tend to exclude myself from interacting with others. And for that, I owe Rome a huge thank you. So much growth happened in that magical city. Now I know that I can overcome these bad habits by making a conscious effort to recognize and accept these insecurities.
Overall, my first European vacation was a magical moment full of memories that I’ll cherish for a lifetime. And in case you were wondering, I did toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain. So this is only the beginning.