Adventure while traveling comes in every shape and size. Sometimes it’s climbing a 14k foot volcano, sometimes it’s snorkeling with whale sharks or trying fried tarantulas or even spending a day with a remote hill tribe. A first trip to Italy typically involves a whirlwind experience of a handful of provinces, sightseeing and eating as much pizza, pasta and gelato as humanly possible all whilst sipping jugs of vino. Adventure comes in the form of climbing the stairs of the Colosseum or Pantheon, backpacking in northern Italy, or taking a ride to a winery to, dare I say, try some young vintages! Gasp! Embracing a nontraditional adventure led me to a unique experience, a new skill and a lot of laughs.
My first trip to Italy took me to the province of Friuli Venezia Giulia, about an hour by train North of Venice and an adventure that was a bit unconventional. I was housesitting for a friend of a friend. I’ve read some horror stories about housesitting but I’ve got to try everything once right? The house came with a resident pup and cat who had very vibrant personalities. I swear the cat creepy meowed my name around the house one night as I was falling asleep! And the dog lost so much fur I could have made a snowman after the first day!
But other then some quirky pets, housesitting proved to be a great free housing option to see a lesser-known side of Italy!
The little town that the house was nestled in held some great, traditional, small-town flair like a restaurant boasting a two-course lunch deal for 11 euros with table wine. I bet you can’t find that in Venice proper. The next town over had a great flea market a few times a week that had some neat, one-of-a-kind relics. There was even a pizza restaurant that had gluten free pizza!
If I had stayed in the city of Venice, I would have been slapped in the face with tourists every time I left the hotel. Staying in a quiet town gave me the option to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city on the water.
As a hilarious piece of the puzzle, in order to get to the train station to Venice, I had to take a 15 minute drive. The owners of the house I sat, luckily left me their car to use for the week. Only problem, it was a manual. I had fully intended to freshen up on my stick shifting skills before touching down on the Italian lands, but, alas, time escaped me.
A friend had joined me in Italy for the first weekend and we had budgeted about two hours to master our driving skills again and get to the train station so we could spend a full day in Venice. Well, that wound up being closer to 6 hours and included a lot of frustration, a glass of wine to calm the nerves and some close calls with peeing our pants from laughing so hard.
After the 251st stall, I finally managed to get the rhythm of the car. And after a close to 45-minute drive and a few red light stalls and honks from angry Italians, we made it to Venice as the sun was setting. I steadily improved my driving skills over the week and stalled less and less and even braved putting on the radio while I was driving by the last day!
Many people get hung up on seeing the sights or doing the thing in a place but isn’t it the funny, unique stories that make your experience memorable? Everyone that visits Venice has a similar picture of a boat going under an infamous Venetian bridge over the grand canal but how many people learn to drive a stick shift when visiting Venice!?
Housesitting was a great way to stay in a small town that I would have never gone to on my own, look into opportunities like this to get a different sort of experience in a well traveled place. With Airbnb becoming more and more popular, there are options all over the globe for staying with a local and having a more off the beaten path experience.
Adventures can still be organized and be unique, as well. Try signing up for a class to learn a new skill like cooking classes or gardening or calligraphy while visiting a new place, the options are really limitless. I’ll never forget the way Italians drive having gotten down and dirty with them on their turf. If I had stayed in Venice I may not have even seen a car all week!
And bottom line, say yes! I didn’t know much about what my experience was going to be like when I agreed to housesit and drive a standard, but I said yes anyways! I knew it was bound to be an adventure and an experience I wouldn’t be forgetting anytime soon.