This post was contributed by Jordan Bonadurer
I woke up to an ant biting my ear.
The ant war (as I began to call it) started about halfway through my summer in Italy and lasted until I rolled my portable home back into my suitcase at the end of the season. But stepping out into the hazy morning light in Italy, catching a glimpse of towering Vesuvius, and taking a stroll to get a cappuccino at the nearby cafe, made my insect roommates worth it. But let’s start from the beginning.
The first time I ever held a tent I was five thousand miles away from sweet home Chicago, in a campsite right outside Pompeii. I unzipped the little bag it came in, looked at all those strings and tarps and poles, and then realized: I had no idea how to set this thing up. (Yes, foresight is not my strong suit. Or camping, really, either. But hey! You gotta at least admire my ambition here.)
I’m used to subways and air conditioning, foam mattress toppers and internet connection, but sometime in the eight weeks I lived in that green tent beneath an orange tree, I learned to live (and really love!) sleeping on the ground. If me – a born and bred, allergy-ridden city girl with a cell phone addiction – can do it, I think anyone can try taking a more rustic route on their travels.
The first huge advantage of camping while traveling is that it is cheeeap! I paid about 5 euros a night to stay at my site. For about the same price as a bougie coffee or a footlong sub at a chain restaurant, you have your entire lodging for the night covered! Plus, there were some internet spots around the place, so I saved on the cost of buying a phone plan or international data. The campsite was pretty glam, in the fact that it had bathrooms, showers, and washing machines.
The money I saved meant I could do tons of other cool things. I was located literal steps away from the train line that brings you all around the coast – called the Circumvesuviana because it, well, circumnavigates that hulking volcano Vesuvius. For a few euros I took trips to the iconic Sorrento (limoncello tasting for days, y’all) and could even get to bigger cities like Naples shortly. Even just a quick dinner to my favorite location Vico Equense meant I could splurge a little bit on some Spaghetti alla vongole and an Aperol spritz at a nicer place and not have to worry about paying for a hostel or hotel.
There’s also a sort of instant friendships that comes from tenting it up with people.
I worked as an intern for an archeology project in Pompeii (which, yes, was probably the coolest experience of my life) and every evening we’d go back to our respective tents. It gave us a nice amount of privacy, and after staying in an eight-bed hostel I really appreciated having four walls for just me. (Okay, I mean they weren’t exactly walls per se, but the sentiment still applies!) It also helped us all get closer because we all had the same experience… you never really know someone until you share clotheslines.
We also got close with the people that actually lived and worked in the area. Luigi, one of the owners of the campsite, invited the dig team for a dinner where I probably ate my weight in pizza; ya’ gurl wasn’t missing any meals. To top it off, we also would get bottles of homemade wine over the summer – fondly nicknamed “Luigi Wine.” Hostels are a great option for meeting a ton of people while traveling, but I must admit that there’s something about meeting Italians at a campsite.
- Pick out an easy to carry tent! I’m by no means an authority on tent selection (I got the cheapest one I could find online), but I was glad that my tent was light enough to squeeze into the corner of my suitcase.
- On a similar note, you don’t need every kind of camping travel accessory; you’re not going to know how to use ’em all!
- A small clothesline and clothespins are useful to have, plus a flashlight for seeing at night. A bit of bug spray goes a long way, too.
- Also, consider a site that’s close to an attraction and public transit. Like I mentioned, I stayed a minute’s walk from the train line- that meant saving on a taxi and having great access to other things to do. And not having any long walks back at night. Sleeping basically outside the ruins of an ancient city was another super cool (and convenient!) plus side.
Going with the attitude of expecting the bare minimum allowed me to be excited about even the little luxuries and appreciate everything more. There’s nothing so dreamy as a cafe freddo when you’ve been a little too toasty the night before. Spotting a vending machine? Pure luxe.
And somehow, even though I went a little crazy when I started finding ants in my sports bra, I miss it when I’m back in an air-conditioned classroom or office. Living in a tent for the summer taught me to embrace a true travel lifestyle and embrace a love of minimalism.
Meet Jordan: I’m an art-loving, local cuisine eating, blog-writing senior undergrad student from Chicago. When I’m not taking pictures of a perfectly photogenic city skyline or ice cream cone, I’m probably in an art museum somewhere. You can follow her adventures in galleries on her blog or IG.
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