Ciao, reader! Benvenuto!
In my now 4 years on YouTube I’ve come to realise that my travel content is my absolute favourite. I love visiting new places and sharing my experiences there through the medium of film. Lately I’ve been trying to draw that into something subtly educational as well, and document my travels through an LGBTQ+ lense. I’ve done that through my ‘Being Gay In…’ series, where I’ve covered Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Gibraltar, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. My Morocco video especially caused quite a stir – and it has my most dislikes on a video to date, mostly from conservative Moroccans who thought my message was too pro-LGBTQ+ (which is ironic since my portrayal of that conversation was relatively objective).
My latest adventure has brought me to Italia – and specifically Rome, Venice, Florence, and The Vatican City for the first time. The vlog below, which I made of the trip, is my most ambitious travel vlog yet – and quite possibly the biggest project I’ve ever put together on YouTube. It might not seem like much, but the hours of footage, shots, and work it took to create that ten minute video was extensive! So give it a watch if you haven’t yet, and check out the bloopers here… But this isn’t just to plug my video! Following a tradition I started in Portugal, I wanted to talk about the details of my trip that got left out of the vlog, from the expenses of the journey to fun little stories!
My parents had messaged me late last year to say that they were going to Rome and that it would be great if I could join them, since I’m much closer. They informed me they were going on a tour with their church, and that it would be fine for me to join the tour (which was, by the way, a paid tour). I said that I would love to see them in Rome, but that tour’s weren’t really my thing (they’re really not), and also that I couldn’t afford the money. But it ended up being an all or nothing situation steeped in church politics; so before I knew entirely what I’d signed on to, I was a member of the tour, and my parents were covering my tour fee. On top of that, they’d offered to pay for the AirBnB and at that point, not only was I getting a cheap holiday to Europe, but I was also getting to see my parents – and both prospects greatly excited me.
Mind you my expenses were still hard for me to cover. As I’ve said elsewhere, I make less than minimum wage – so even travel expenses are hard for me; but luckily travel in Europe is crazy cheap. My tickets came to about £100, and my only expenses on top of that were my trains to Florence / Venice, pitching in to our one night AirBnB there, and other things from shopping to food. In total I estimate my expenses at about £250 or less. For a trip to Europe, well, that’s not a lot… but I also got lucky with accommodation. In general though, if you’re interested in travelling, I recommend making friends throughout the world. I often get the opportunity to travel cheaply simply because I don’t have to pay for accommodation, and then my only expense is travel – which makes a HUGE difference. People sometimes wonder how I can afford to travel, and assume I make tons of money – but the reality is I travel quite a lot on an income of less than minimum wage – and while I’ll be the first to say I’ve been blessed with some pretty amazing opportunities, such feats can be doable!
Anyway back to Italy. I found out early on after arriving that the tour we’d been booked on was, in fact, a Christian tour of Rome, exploring spirituality through Roman-Christian history and monuments. Now that shouldn’t be surprising since it was a trip organised by the church, however, it hadn’t quite been advertised to me like that and I was a little surprised by the prospect. If you don’t already know, I consider myself agnostic, relatively detached from my Christian roots. And although I have a lot of respect for Christianity and those who practise it (with notable exceptions), it was still rather awkward being a part of a tour where we were all assumed to be Christian and ‘our spiritual journeys’ and ‘relationships with God’ were constantly referenced as if we were all on the same page. I was not.
That said, the group were a number of people quite close to me that I’d grown up with – and it was delightful to see them again. At no point did I feel judged for being gay or a nonbeliever, and I was far more disgruntled with the idea of the tour than the fact that it was a Christian tour. And I feel the need to specify further that I would have been disgruntled with any tour whatsoever; I just don’t like them. Our tour guide was a wonderful German man, and there was nothing wrong with the tour – this is just very much my own personal relationship with tours and how I like to travel, which is to say, very independently and free from structure.
So throughout the trip I navigated participating with the tour (in which case I did benefit from some great historical stories, I will say) and running off and doing my own thing. Running off and doing my own thing almost immediately led me to the gay district, as it often does when I travel. I found a quaint little 24/7 cafe called Coming Out which ended up being something of a centre point for me the entire trip. A close friend of mine from Cardiff happened to be in Rome at the same time, so we met there for coffee (pictured left), and on a separate occasion I also met a lovely group of strangers there. I had overheard them discussing a politician in a very American accent, and I couldn’t help but jump into the conversation. It turns out one of them was a part of Mums Demand Action, fighting for gun reform in America – and I quickly became friends with the lot of them. The bar staff, too, were wonderfully friendly and in this little coffee shop, I felt at home.
Speaking of meeting strangers in Rome (and no, I don’t mean the Grindr sort of meeting strangers lol) I made another friend there as well. A lovely Spanish boy named Beni. We became fast friends, and before I knew it, he had become something of a secondary tour guide. Whilst I would traverse Rome’s Christian landmarks with the church group by day, Beni would show me Rome’s authentic and marvellous culture by night. We would grab gelato from the best places, see the sunset over the city, and explore the famous, culture rich streets of Trastevere – and because of Beni I feel that I really saw Rome. Free from the swarms of tourism, Rome is a beautiful and fascinating city.
That, of course, explains the Espagnol in the title. For a trip to Italy, I think I rather ironically ended up learning more Spanish… Beni also helped me film scenes for my vlog, as he is a photographer and aspiring journalist who happened to have the same camera as me – so we made a great team, and I’m super grateful to his help with ‘Being Gay in Italy.’ Even though he did lick my camera while filming!
I’ll finish with a few words about each of the cities we visited, starting with a silly story from Rome. I tried to pick up some Italian while there, as I always like to do when I travel to countries with languages other than English. One of the days I confidently got into a taxi and said to the driver, ‘Ciao, come va?’ But pronounced ‘come va’ like it would be in English, rather than ‘koe – may vah.’ He looked at me funny. I proceeded to ask that he take us to ‘il coloseo’ (the Colosseum) and butchered that as well. He continued to stare at me funny. ‘Where is that?’ he asked. Finally he laughed and started going. At the end of the trip we left the car and he smirked and yelled after us ‘bye bye!’ in a hilarious mock American accent. Once I got over my embarrassment, it was comic gold.
I was only in Florence for two hours, but I have to say I rather fell in love with it, almost as much as I loved Venice. It was beautiful, the coffees were less than two euros, and everyone else seemed to also be wearing beautiful black coats. I felt right at home. Out of all the cities we visited I think it was the cheapest and yet just as rich with culture and stunning architecture, and I’m excited to return.
In Venice we stayed the night in a AirBnB right near the water, just a short walk from the central station. I had found the AirBnB myself, and it had shown numerous pictures of beds, with the description claiming up to 4 people could stay there. When we got inside, however, not only was there only a single bed, but there wasn’t even a single bedroom. The one double bed they had was attached to the kitchen, which was in turn attached to the incredibly small bathroom. Where’s the third bed? I wondered, frantically hoping I wasn’t going to be on the floor or the tiny couch, as my parents eagerly eyed up the double bed. That’s when we found a dresser with a sign that said ‘third bed’ on it. But it was a dresser. It turned out the dresser folded into a bed unlike anything I had seen before. I had a place to stay, and I was certainly grateful for it – but I had a word or two to say on the review I left about misleading advertisement.
This trip to Italy was eight days long but I really feel that it changed my life. I felt more bonded than ever to my parents, made some incredible friends, and got to experience places I have always wanted to experience. I’m so grateful to the journey, and I hope that you all enjoyed following it with me. Thank you so much for reading – and until next time!