That is – when traveling independently. Whenever my husband and I travel, there is always some independent travel element. Often it is at the beginning and/or end of a cruise. We like to fly into a city and experience its sites on our own.

Our first taste of independent travel was in 2007 when we flew into Rome for three days prior to our Greek Island cruise. We walked to the Roman Coliseum only to find long lines. I know we are all warned away from allowing people to approach us at these sites but in this case we ignored the warnings. A young college student sold us on a guided Coliseum tour that skips the lines. Our guide was a young history student who provided a first rate tour of the structure. But what sticks in our memory was an add-on tour of the Palatine Hill – the birthplace of Rome. We learned about the mythology of Romulus and Remus as well as the history of the Roman Emperors who called the Palatine Hill home. I definitely recommend that you consider touring this area on a visit to Rome. In addition to John Lateran Cathedral, we also visited the Basilica of St. Clement which is three layers of Church – the current basilica, a 4th century church, and a 2nd Century Mithraic Temple. Neither stop was something generally found in a group tour.

Basilica of St. Clement in Rome with three layers of churches going back to the 2nd century or even earlier.

Our next vacation was a three-week independent trip through France with a close couple of friends. I prided myself in my somewhat limited understanding of French. What I could not translate was a sign that apparently warned that the road ahead was closed due to paving. We reached the hilltop town only to find that the center of the road was closed and there was no other way to go through the town. The only time our Garmin ever set us on a bad route was that day. We drove over Montagne Noir (Black Mountain). There was a several thousand foot drop at the edge of the road and I was convinced that, if we went over the side of the road, they would never locate our bodies! We made it to the top and stopped to pay respect to the memorial of the World War II resistance leaders – an unexpected but welcome surprise.

Montagne Noire (Black Mountain), Dordogne, France WWII resistance fighters’ memorial.

These are a few examples of the joys of independent travel. Even when traveling with a group, I urge you to take a little time on your own just to explore. Some of your best memories might be these unexpected encounters.