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A solo trip to Northern Italy on a first visit to Europe was the brave choice our guest took, when her friend had to pull out last minute. We hear from one of our listeners, who followed her dreams and went on that trip to Northern Italy. She tells us about her experience of planning her trip, how it went when she finally got there, lessons learned and things she’d do differently. We’re going to do more of these listener experiences, as it’s always great to hear different perspectives on how others plan their travels.
In this episode, we talk to Canadian Valerie Hansen of Maple Leopard, a Travel and Fashion blog based in the Seattle area. A member of our Italy Travel Planning community on Facebook, Valerie had planned a trip to northern Italy (her first-ever trip to Europe), with a friend but at the last minute her companion was unable to go and she had to do some quick thinking and reorganizing (with lots of help and encouragement from our Facebook group) to get things back on track and took the brave step of travel solo. We hear about her highlights, her lessons learned and also how sometimes not knowing can lead to unexpected and fun adventures.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- Using a city as a base to stay in, rather than moving accommodation, can be a great idea. Doing a day trip one day then exploring and hanging out in the city the next is a great way to organize your travel and avoid burn out
- Milan is a great base for day trips by train – you can visit so many places on a day trip, including Lake Como, Venice, Verona, Cinque Terre and even Switzerland! For more info on getting there by train, how long it takes as well as where and how to buy tickets, see our Italy Train Travel Guide. Tours are also available if you don’t want to go it alone there are lots of tours available
- It’s worth doing research on the Milan public transport system ahead of a trip – as it’s a big city and has a multitude of ways to get around
- Corso Buenos Aires and Vittorio Emanuele are fantastic areas of Milan for shopping
- Take in the city views from the Milan Duomo/Cathedral – make sure your tour of the Duomo gives you access to go to the top to take in those spectacular views as getting the extra ticket when you are there, can take both time and hassle
- Starbucks may seem like a strange place to head on an Italian trip, but the Milan Starbucks Roastery is in the historic turn-of-the-century Palazzo Delle Poste building and is a homage to all things coffee
- Even if you like to travel independently, sometimes it’s difficult to do as much in a day as a tour can provide. The day tour from Milan that Valerie took, took her not only to Bellagio, around Lake Como, but even over to Lugano in Switzerland
- Not only can you fit in a lot on a tour, but you can also get great tips from the tour guide – on what food to try and other little gems of tips
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast – maybe build in some flexibility for your trips to avoid some unexpected terrible weather/a storm scuppers your day
- As Valerie accidentally found out, Venice has a beach! If you’re spending more than a couple of days in Venice, it’s definitely worth exploring some of the less obvious/well-known areas
- Buying a SIM on arrival might not be as simple as you think. Not only can it be tricky to put in yourself, but you can also lose access to various apps that are hooked up to your phone number. A separate old phone to use, or something like the SkyRoam (recently renamed to Somo Solis) can be a great idea or buying a SIM to be sent to your home before you travel can all work well if your provider doesn’t allow roaming – see more details on these options here
About our guest – Valerie Hansen
Maple Leopard is a Travel and Fashion blog based in the Seattle area. This website specializes in solo/girl trip travel for women 50+, and destination style. It’s a community to share, grow & engage in. Valerie was raised in Vancouver B.C. Canada, born in Medicine Hat Alberta . She loves her Canadian roots, maple syrup, leopard prints and being on the go!
Maple Leopard hopes to empower women in the middle years to experience the best of life by exploring the globe. They work with travel/fashion brands and tourism boards, to encourage fun and unique adventures, reaching travelers all over the world.
Valerie is a professional travel writer and author of the website Maple Leopard. Over the past 6+ years, she’s been published on 45+ websites, blogs and in hard copy magazine. She’s had the opportunity to partner with 70+ travel brands/tourism boards and fashion co’s . Valerie has traveled extensively in the US, Canada, Mexico and recently in Europe.
You can find Valerie Hansen on these channels:
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/mapleleopard
- Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/mapleleopard
- Clubhouse: @mapleleopard
Food & Wine
- Perche on a bed of rice – a wonderful fish dish to try in a restaurant near Lake Como
- Cannoli – Italian pastries consisting of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta—a staple of Sicilian cuisine
- Coffee – if you just ask for coffee in Italy, by default you will get an expresso. Learn about the different types, when they are drunk and other Italy food tips in 101 Essential travel tips for Italy food and eating section
Places mentioned in the show
- Sforzesco Castle – Castello Sforzesco in Milan originally built in the 15th century later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries to become one of the largest citadels in Europe. Much of it was rebuilt in the late 1891–1905 and now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections
- Milan Duomo – the city’s majestic Gothic cathedral. Well worth a tour as the interior has incredible stained glass windows if you venture up onto the roof you get great views of the city
- Navigli – charming canal district in Milan
- Prada museum – Milan
- Lugano, Switzerland – some day tours include a trip over the border into Switzerland, and if you have enough time you can also take the Bernina Express which goes to St Moritz
- Lake Como – world famous and home to the rich and famous for a reason – a boat trip on the lake is wonderful and there are many beautiful town in which to explore, shop and dine, such as Bellagio and Como itself
- The Cinque Terre – a coastal area within Liguria, comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore
- St Marks Square – Piazza San Marco, is the central and most famous square in Venice
- Lido – a beach in Venice which you can take the Vaporetto water bus out – great location to enjoy a wonderful seafood lunch
- Trenitalia – one of the main train services in Italy, along with Italo – both tickets can be bought on the Omio site and app
- Rome to Rio – a great site that has info on how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry & car
- Vaporetto – the Venice public waterbus system. There are 19 scheduled lines that serve locales within Venice, and between Venice and nearby islands, such as Murano, Burano, and Lido
- Somo Solis (formerly known as SkyRoam – a portable wifi device for up to 5 devices
Resources from Untold Italy
- Find more about things to do and see in our Milan and Venice guides
- Listen: discover episodes on the places Valerie visited – Episode #030: Highlights of Milan, Episode #010: Venice highlights and Episode #035: Venetian secrets – uncovering the soul of Venice as well as Episode #054: Solo travel tips for an exciting Italian adventure for more tips on solo travel for women in Italy and some other trip reports in Episode #074 Travel Italy – Top-to-Toe, Episode #078 Family adventures in Rome and Sorrento, Episode #082 Returning to Italy again and again and Episode #084 A walking tour of the Amalfi Coast
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.