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Trip report – total of 68 days including the RS 17 days Best of Italy, Solo Female traveler

I took the RS 17 day tour September 11, 2016. There are enough reports out there that have the day to day information so this is more of summary of an out of shape, slightly physically challenged solo female traveler. First, I want to thank Yosemite1 for all the great and detailed information he provided to me before I left on my trip. He was such a great resource and had some awesome suggestions as he and his wife had taken the same trip a year before. Thank you Yosemite1! Also, to all the wonderful people on the forum whose ideas I used, followed, and modified to work for my trip, I thank you.

I was in Europe for 68 days. I started on my own in London, Paris, and Milan before joining the RS tour in Varenna. After the tour I stayed in Italy and then went to Greece. I took the RS rolling convertible backpack. My packing list was light on the clothes: 4 tops, 1 sweater, down vest (for return trip), rain shell, 2 pants, pjs, 2 pair of shoes, 8 undies, 3 sport type bras, 3 socks (this includes my plane clothes). The usual small sizes of personal care items such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, Febreeze, toothpaste, etc, med kit (too many things in it), spare glasses, hearing aid batteries and cleaning cloth and Forever New soap. My comfort items were a duel voltage immersion heater, titanium coffee mug, Starbucks Via packets, tea, and a spiky roller ball for my feet. I used a very small sling bag for my Sprint phone, Kindle, wallet, Kleenex, paperwork etc. I also had the DTR bag in my suitcase for day trips and laundry. My bag at departure was 18.4 pounds. On return it was 17 pounds. I only bought a few small keychains while traveling and dumped any remaining personal care items and most of the med kit before I flew home. The ability to have coffee and tea in the room was the best thing I had in my suitcase. I used everything I took except for the over-packed med kit. Next time I’ll reduce it to a few band aids.

In London I stayed at the LSE Bankside House. The room was adequate for my needs and close to the Tube. I don’t know that I’d stay there again. It was cheap, but without any amenities. I did all the usual touristy stuff in London. I did several London Walks programs and was pleased with them overall. On one, there were only two of us, and the guide walked so fast that he often had to wait several minutes for the two of us to join him at the next stop. It was off putting to be several blocks behind him. The other woman was in decent shape and she had trouble keeping up with him as well. Minor inconvenience, but frustrating.

Eurostar to Paris was uneventful. I met several off duty French police officers on the train and we had a good discussion about immigration and politics. I ended up at one of their houses for dinner and met the family. Was a wonderful Paris home life experience. I stayed at the Hotel Jeanne d’Arc in the Marais area. Perfect little gem of a hotel. I did all the usual tourist stuff in Paris, including several Paris Walks programs and a day trip to the Palace of Versailles. The Private Kings Apartment tour was well worth the cost. I also did the behind the scenes Eiffel Tower tour. Was very interesting to see the elevator rooms.

Upon leaving Paris I did the overnight train to Milan. I paid for a solo sleeper compartment and had an enjoyable time. No issues with noise or other common complaints about the overnight train, but I am sure that the private sleeping quarters was a big part of that. Expensive, but worth it and I felt very safe.

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I spent the day in Milan seeing the Cathedral and The Last Supper. I stored my bag at the train station without incident and getting around the city was easy on the metro. I then caught the train to Varenna to stay at the tour hotel the night before the RS tour started. I was disappointed in the tour hotel, Villa Cipressi. It was the most expensive hotel I paid for during my two months in Europe that was not part of a tour. The room was large, but overlooked the patio where wedding receptions were held each night. The music was loud and often lasted until early morning. It was difficult to sleep even with ear plugs and I am partially deaf and wear hearing aids. I am glad I was not suffering from jet lag while at that hotel as sleep was difficult. The walk from the train station to the hotel is a bit further than it appears but was manageable even with my physical limitations.

The RS tour started the following day. As many have reported about their tours, it is really true that you start off a group of strangers, but by the second day, we really did start meshing as friends. Our group was amazing. As a solo female with some physical limitations, I worried about fitting in, but there was no need to at all. Everyone was wonderful and flexible. I paid for the single supplement and I’m glad I did as there was one other single lady who was traveling with family. I befriended the other single lady (who became my buddy), but I really did like my own private space.

The RS tour part of my trip was amazing. We did so much and saw so many things that I would never have been able to on my own. I am glad I took the plunge and did the major parts of Italy with the tour. After having been traveling for several weeks before joining the tour, I realized that sometimes it’s very nice to have someone else do all the work. I struggled with amount of standing that was involved in the tour. I though walking would be the hardest part for me as I have bad knees and suffer from extremely sore feet, but I found standing the most difficult. I am a slow walker, but the group did the typical spread out in a line and regroup that most often occurs when traveling with a lot of people and I never felt I held the group up, except once when three of us got separated from the group at the Rome metro station. So for those who may not be in the best walking condition, you can do this tour. It is demanding and you stand a lot, but the stairs and miles each day were not overly daunting.

After the tour ended in Rome, I stayed at the tour hotel, Aberdeen, for an additional night to go to the Vatican and Crypts. When I left the hotel I left a bag in storage as I was going to Sorrento and returning a week later.

I took the train to Naples and stored my bag at the Archeological Museum while I toured the area. After leaving the museum I went to the ferry dock via taxi and the driver tried to rip me off, but I just did the Rick thing and put my hand out and asked for my change. I’m glad Rick talked about keeping the taxi drivers honest in his book. It worked, got my change and onto the ferry to Sorrento.

I stayed at the Marina Piccola 73 right on the harbor. Lovely place but quite a hike to Sorrento and the train station. The elevator from the harbor to the town area was 1.80 euro round trip for those, like me, that could not do the stairs. I did three Mondo Shared tours mentioned in Rick’s book. The entire process with Mondo Tours was easy and well run, except that the Amalfi Coast trip is not in a van as described in the book, it’s in a bus with close to 25 other people. Overall the three tours were excellent.
Returning to Rome and the Aberdeen hotel was like coming home. The front desk staff not only remembered me but had moved my stored stuff to my new room. The hotel really is a great place close to the train station and metro.

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I left Rome and flew to Athens. On the two hour flight I was surprised to be served a hot meal in coach. I worked with a travel agent in Greece and had purchased a tour package so was met at the airport and escorted to my hotel. I used Matt Barret’s (discussed in RS Greece book) recommendation of using Fantasy Travel and was pleased overall at the arrangements made. I took a four day trip to Olympia, Delphi and Meteora. The tour was okay – but having just come off a RS tour, nothing can compare. Greece was amazing and worth the visit. The people were exceptionally kind and I befriended a taxi driver who introduced me to his large family and I enjoyed a couple of meals at their home. Overall Greece is a close second to my new favorite place – Italy!

So what worked? Packing very light! I used my immersion heater nearly every day, often several times a day for coffee or tea. I came home with only 3 of the 100 packets of coffee and 1 tea bag out of the 20 or so I took. I used my spikey ball a lot as I have very sore feet. I wore all of my clothes and did sink washing nearly every night. I had my laundry done once during the RS tour. Traveling solo was not an issue and I met a lot of locals in all of the places I went except for when I was with the two tours. I find that I am much more outgoing on my own. The RS tour is set up wonderfully for solo travelers. The Sprint phone plan worked well all over and there were not hidden fees to use the phone texting and data. I made two calls home and charges were what I expected.

What did not work? I took way too much stuff in my med kit. Although I got sick during the RS tour and had to visit a pharmacy, it was easy to do. I did not need all OTC meds, multiple sizes of band aides, extra mole skins, etc. in my med kit. My sling bag is also something that I will rethink for the next trip. It was the right size, but I need something more versatile and comfortable. I would also add a pair of sandals or slip on shoes for bus and down time – something that allowed my sore feet a bit of a change and a chance to breathe.

Gosh this is long! I hope it’s not too much or too little information. If you have specific questions, feel free to email me through the link. I will try my best to answer them.

Posted by
11613 posts

Love your report, tons of useful info! Where to next?

Posted by
32 posts

Hi Zoe: I'm thinking Hong Kong. I'd love to go back to Italy and maybe add in Serbia. Oh but there is also Hungry and and and... Honestly I am not sure. But I do know that I'll certainly look to these forums for help. I have not posted much, but I read often and I have gotten wonderful ideas and suggestions that made my trip so much easier. Thanks for your kind reply.

Posted by
1039 posts

Thanks for the kind words. You had an amazing trip. I was really impressed on all the places you visited. My first trip to Europe was a solo trip and it was a real confidence builder. I hope every who has had thoughts of going to Europe, but did not go because they were afraid to travel solo will read your trip report and reconsider. You will have fond memories of this trip that will last a lifetime. Well done!

Posted by
682 posts

What a great trip you had, Tracy! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and am glad you had a great experience.

Posted by
1845 posts

Gosh, Tracy, what an amazing trip! Obviously you prepared well for this journey. I love your stories about sharing meals with locals and their families. What fun! And also quite an education, I'm sure. Great report; I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and thank you for posting your experiences-what worked, what didn't, what you'd change, etc. Lots of valuable info here!

Posted by
1568 posts

Tracy,
Thanks for your report! I, too, went on the Best of Italy in 17 Days tour - 10/09 - 10/25. I paid for a single room, too and was glad for the privacy. I loved the tour and Italy.
Are you retired and that is why you could go away for 68 days? I am glad for you but wish that I can do that someday.
Judy B

Posted by
7680 posts

Wow, what a great trip report! I love all your detail. Thanks so much for taking thr time to post.

Posted by
32 posts

JudyB: I am retired. I started taking longer and longer trips in the U.S. before I ventured to Europe. I find that I do better with longer trips as I get out of my shell and more willingly engage with locals. I have had several encounters with wonderful people while traveling and greatly enjoyed spending time with their families. It's a pretty amazing experience to see how others lives compared to us in the United States. I have grown to admire the closeness of the family unit and the pure joy that most of them display at spending time with each other.

I had worried that my report was too long and not enough detail of the day to day stuff, but I'm glad to read the positive feedback. I figured day to day for 68 days would put everyone to sleep.

Posted by
4213 posts

This was fun and interesting to read, and also inspiring. Makes me feel optimistic about future travels. I'd be interested in knowing what your favorite and least favorite sights were in London and Paris. Thanks for sharing your great trip.

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32 posts

@Dick: My initial response was I loved it all! But I went back through my notes and realized that while in London and my day trip to Stonehenge, I wrote that I was disappointed. I wanted more from the site. My hippie side with a new age kind of tilt wanted to "feel" something there. The stones were lovely and the site is well maintained, but I wanted "more" of something. So I guess that would be least favorite from London although it was more a loss of my teenager vision of what Stonehenge should be and not of the site itself. My most favorite from London in my notes is the Tower of London. I loved the history and stories and the Beefeaters really make everything come alive. My notes said "seeing the crown jewels was pretty amazing but I could not help but think that there was enough money in those jewels to pay off the national debt of most nations." I laugh at myself now for writing that but it must have really stuck me at the time.

In Paris, my absolute love was the Louvre. I spent 12 hours over two days there. I wish I had spent more time as it was impossible to take it all in before overload hit me. My least favorite was the Picasso Museum only because on the day I was there, 3 of the 5 rooms were closed. It was very disappointing.

Posted by
158 posts

Thanks for posting such a great trip report! It sounds like a wonderful time.

Posted by
272 posts

Wow Tracy! That was a wonderful report. It's fun to read trip reports because I get to live that trip with you when I read it. I can't imagine being gone for 60+ days. I was gone for 23 days this Summer and that is the longest I have ever been gone. I'm curious about what all you did before leaving so that bills are paid, lawn is mowed, grass watered, house checked on etc. Some of those things are hard for me to "let go of"

I have also been on the RS Best of Italy in 17 days. Loved it. Sorry that you have foot issues. I use the same RS rolling backpack and have packed an additional pair of shoes in the bag. It really does help to change shoes in the evening after walking all day or when you're on the bus.

Where are you headed next year?

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32 posts

@Janet: As far as maintaining the house while I was gone, my adult son lives in the home so security was not an issue. My house and personal bills are on auto pay, and I have a yard company that takes care of my property. Water is automatic sprinklers and I have long given up on house plants; sadly I am now without furry friends and I decided not to invite any more into my home as I plan on traveling often. I also had my Kindle Fire so had access to the internet and banking. The hardest part was making sure that everyone did their part but I had Sprint cell service which has free texting and data while traveling so it made it easier. My only issue when I returned home was a dead vacuum cleaner and my son conveniently forgot to keep the house clean. Good thing he's moving out soon! Once he's gone, I will either sell the house and move into an easier to maintain place, or use house sitting sites like House Sitters of America or Trusted House sitters (can I mention those services on here?)
I am not sure where my 2017 trip will take me. The airfares right now from the west coast to Europe are amazingly low so I think I might just buy a ticket and then plan around it. I would like to do Hong Kong, but Italy and destinations north and north west of there are calling. Hungry and Serbia are on my want list. Italy is on my I HAVE to go back list. I am reading the forums and getting ideas as to where the next trip could be. As a single traveler, I have the advantage of not having to make plans around the schedules of others and am really glad to be freed from the 2 or 3 week vacation days a year. Now only if I could win that lottery....

Posted by
293 posts

Thanks for your detailed notes, Tracy! 68 days - sounds so great.

Posted by
924 posts

Tracy - what a fabulous trip report! The various tours sound interesting, but I love it most that you were able to visit and dine with local families. Looks like overall good experiences and we all appreciate you taking the time to write a useful report.

Posted by
7144 posts

Like others, I really enjoyed reading your report. Really well done. Thanks!

Posted by
1250 posts

Thanks for the update. I'll be in London the first week in March and I'm looking at a few London Walks. Which walks did you take?

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32 posts

@Joel: I did the following London Walks - The Secrets & Splendors of St. Paul's; Past the Hidden Places and Hidden History; Jack the Ripper Haunts (was very good but this is the one where I was left blocks behind the guide); Tower of London Walks; British Museum Tour; The West End Ghost Walk; The Secrets of Westminster Abbey; Haunted London; and Brunel's London Boat Trip, River Walk and Tunnel Descent. The groups sizes ranged from 2 to about 25; all were well run; and the guides were amazing. I did have issues hearing some of the guides but I wear hearing aides and when the guides were walking forward, unless I was near them, I could not hear. With the exception of the Jack the Ripper guide, it was easy to keep up with the guide's walking speed. I think my favorite two programs were the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. At most of the places visited with London Walks, I stayed after the walk and used the RS guide for more information, I also downloaded most of the audio programs from RS site so used either the book, audio, or London guides in concert with each other. Additionally, I watched a lot of PBS , BBC, and Travel Channel programs about the places and history as well.

Be sure to contact them or look at their website for their March schedule. I emailed them and asked for a pdf document of the summer program so it was easier to hi-light the ones I wanted to do. I hope you enjoy your trip - London is a wonderful place.

Posted by
2235 posts

What a great trip Tracy, and a wonderful, enthusiastic and helpful report! Thanks. For your next trip, you might look into the RS Bulgaria Tour -- wonderful country; terrific tour and guide; rich and diverse history, architecture and art; beautiful countryside; lots of great food; and very friendly and helpful people. And, very few tourists around, except at one or two of the Black Sea towns. What really made the tour special, however, was the opportunity to interact with so many everyday Bulgarian people, who are not involved in the tourist or visitor business at all. These contacts are programmed into the tour.

Posted by
177 posts

Loved your report, Tracy. I too fantasize about 63 days in Europe. In 2014, my husband's company sent him to Cambridge for a month where we lived, which was wonderful. Then we did a 3 week driving vacation around northern Europe. But it's never enough! The more you go, the more you want to go! I've been to a number of European countries, but I gotta say...our 2016 trip to Tuscany, Lago Maggiore and a crazy impulse overnight in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland was really, really special. Desperately want to do a southern Italy trip now...although I think May 2017 will be a driving trip through France. I really loved being off the tourist grid in tiny small towns with inexpensive and amazing food.

I love that you connected with locals so well. Perhaps easier to be invited home for a meal as a solo traveler? As an exchange student in my youth, I actively seek out those experiences. Airbnb was really great that way in Italy. We stayed in a tiny village of 100 people about a 30 minute drive from the Cinque Terre and our hosts, a young couple with a two-year old invited us often for coffee in the morning and wine in the eves (and even baked us a birthday cake!) I'd love to do an RS tour one day....

Posted by
596 posts

Wow, I can't imagine being gone for 68 days! I am impressed with your stamina and your courage to travel so much alone! That is awesome! I loved the Italy tour in 17 days as well, we went on 9/25 and had the best time! We are hoping to do Greece in the next few years, so I enjoyed your report. Thank you for sharing!

Posted by
13961 posts

Hi Tracy, I am so impressed with your trip report. You've kept it interesting and added lots of fun details and anecdotes without getting bogged down in the mundane details. I wish I could do a quarter of that.

If you decide on a trip to Hong Kong, see more of Southeast Asia. There are cheap flights that get you anywhere you want to go. It's easier to travel through Thailand as a single woman, it's one of my favorite places. Vietnam and Cambodia both have great sights too, though it's a little harder to get around, it's doable. The best time to go is the dry season, December - February.

P.S. I used to drive to Harvey & David every time I went to OSF in Ashland. Gorgeous part of the country.

Posted by
12099 posts

Hi,

Very enjoyable reading your report...informative too. You're a good trooper doing this 68 day trip solo. I like the long trips and did one like yours solo in 2009 for 67 days

Posted by
967 posts

Tracy, I really enjoyed reading your trip report.
Last month I spent 20 days traveling on my own to Amsterdam, Paris, Nice, and Barcelona. This Spring I am signed up for the RS Best of the Adriatic and trying to figure out what to wrap around the tour, probably Italy for about a week on each side.
Your report is really encouraging me to make the most of those extra weeks, and even possibly extend them.
(I'm also recently retired and have never been able to travel for more than 3 weeks at a time, so it's a stretch for me in more ways than one!)
Thanks for posting your experiences.
SharYn

Posted by
87 posts

Tracy,

Your travel report was wonderful and inspiring. I am going on my fist solo trip May of 2017 to Scotland for 3 weeks. It will be only my second time overseas. I did a RS Tour to Italy in 2014. You have put to rest some of my concerns and given me courage to "go for it". I am in my 50's and in good shape for the most part, aside from some feet issues. Could you elaborate on what you took to help your feet?

Happy Travels,
Kathleen

Posted by
32 posts

@Kathleen:

A few months before I left for my trip I had a visit with a local foot specialist who measured my foot, instep and arch and recommended an over the counter shoe insert. He also told me to stop buying off shelf cheap shoes from Walmart. I purchased a pair of Keens walking shoes and Brooks Tennis Shoes, both more than I generally spend on shoes, but with the inserts it was like learning to walk all over again as they corrected my over-pronunciation. The shoes helped a lot but the nerve damage from previous injuries still hurt so I order spiky massage balls from Amazon. I got the four pack size so I could determine which worked best for my feet and which packed the easiest in my carry on. I ended taking the smallest one for more pressure relief and the larger one for overall massage. As far as the inserts, you should talk to your doctor about what would work best. I used the Powerstep Protech Control, but your needs might be different. The balls can be found here ; spiky ball. I used them several times a day and carried the larger in my day bag so if I had down time, such as watching a documentary at a museum or a sitting on a park bench, I'd quietly take off my shoe and roll my foot a bit. I have server nerve damage and the balls provided relief while out and about. I also took a small packet of Epson salts and asked for a trash container and liner. I would soak my feet, drain the liner and dry for use the next day. I ran out of salt from so much soaking, but it was easy to find at a pharmacy. Next time I won't pack any and just buy it there.

I know how important it is to hear of other ladies traveling solo so I'm glad that my review helped. Go for it! Don't let yourself be afraid to hop on the plane and go on your own. I found that even though I was solo, I was always part of something going on in some way. In a busy restaurant or a street cafe, its normal to share tables and once they learn you are traveling, alone or not, the conversations happen. It's such a rewarding and blessed experience. If your spidery senses start to tingle, pay attention. Use the common rules for safety and if you ever feel at odds, walk into any hotel, shop, cafe or office building and ask for help. No one will turn you away when you need help. Have fun and safe travels!

Posted by
955 posts

You truly are an inspiration, Tracy! I hope one day to be brave enough to travel solo. You have done such thorough research as well. Good luck on your next trip!

Posted by
769 posts

Such a great report on your wonderful trip! You saw and did so much! I love that you were invited into people's homes.

Posted by
672 posts

Tracy, you're an inspiration for all of us! Thank you so much for posting this wonderful report.

Posted by
68 posts

Tracy, thank you for sharing your story! As a fellow solo female traveler, it's really encouraging to hear about your experiences. I'm so glad you had a great trip, and hope you have fun planning and dreaming for the next one!

Posted by
67 posts

Tracy, thank you for your great trip report! I'd love to do some solo trips and I'm so refreshed to read about your adventures!

Posted by
655 posts

Great trip report, Tracy! Thanks for taking the time to report back!

Posted by
230 posts

Tracy, thanks for posting this great trip report and giving added details to those with questions. I recently retired and my next trip is Spain for 33 nights....my longest trip to date. I'm working on an 88/89 <90 day trip for next year. Why wait? My tripping is also solo. As you say, it's easier than working with another's schedule and it seems easier to talk to strangers.

I am curious about your dinners with local families. I think my first reaction would be caution. How did those come about? Were you surprised to be invited to another's home? Did you turn down any invitations because your gut said 'no?'

Posted by
32 posts

@Becky:

Always trust your gut. Always. If you feel any odd things then walk away. I am always cautious, maybe not always smart, but always cautious when traveling by myself As far as meeting locals and eating in their homes, it really is a gut call. The off duty police officers, who were in full uniform when I encountered them was sort of an easy decision. The taxi driver encounter just felt right. From the moment I met him I felt comfortable with him. There was a part of me that admits I threw caution to the wind but I'm glad I took the opportunity to have such a wonderful welcome by his family. You will have to judge at the moment if it feels right. I have often been giving phone numbers with invites for lunch or dinner. I take it, thank them for their kindness and toss the number when back at my room.

I applaud you on planning your solo trip! I just purchased a ticket to the UK for just a few days shy of 6 months leaving middle of August. I plan on three months in the UK/Wales/Scotland/Ireland and then three months spread between Paris, Prague, Germany and Belgium. This time around, I am only planning my first few nights (land in London, train to Bath) and will play the rest by ear except I will rent an apartment in advance in Paris for Christmas and New Years. I've been reading about places I'd like to go and kind of mapping out the ideas from Rick's ideal car trips, but only those that can be modified for public transportation. I have been in touch with the family in Paris to let them know I'd be back over Christmas and received a reply that I am expected to be with them for Christmas dinner! The idea of not planning every detail or train trip is a bit exciting and stressful. It's a bit off my normal way of travel but I figured it does not work out and I need the structure of knowing every detail in advance, I'd take a few days in my trip to plan. I realize I will be spend more on transportation between areas due to the lack of advance purchase, but I just get the feeling with so long in country, I might do better just going with the flow.

I love the information I get from the people on this forum. Such wonder suggestions and ideas of places I'd not consider before.

Posted by
489 posts

Tracy, thank you for sharing your experience. Your determination to go your own way and to travel solo is inspiring.
I'm glad you received some home invitations, must have been amazing to get closer with the locals. Happy travels!

Posted by
489 posts

PS: So did you use your phone also as a camera? and Congrats on the 18.4 pound departure bag.

Posted by
5435 posts

Wow, I'm really behind on reading this wonderful trip report -- Tracy, you really went out there and SEIZED THE DAY! And when I read about ALL the London Walks tours you did -- and that you made friends with French police and got invited to their home for dinner?!! That is just so cool!! Love how you sandwiched your RS trip with travel on your own.

I totally agree about the need for a second pair of shoes to let your feet breathe a little in the evenings or on off days. I just went away for a week and couldn't have done it without two pairs of shoes. I have some great Clarks sandals that give wonderful support, but then somehow all of a sudden after hours or days they become so TIRING and I am SO grateful to have a looser pair that my feet "use" differently. Makes all the difference in the world.

I can highly recommend Hungary; I used to live there so it has a special place for me. Larry's recommendation of a RS Bulgaria tour sounds intriguing as well . . . . please do keep us posted with what you decide to get up to!

Posted by
112 posts

Thanks. We are scheduled for a RS BOI and appreciated the insights. This was one of the better well-written reviews I've read. We've had some personal experiences such as those mentioned ... very memorable and meaningful ... the essence of a good travel experience.