“I’m getting bolder as I get older,” Simon Falvo told me in perfect English, spoken with that summery, sunny lilt of an Italian accent. She is a self-confessed “happy fifty-something” who has followed her dream – travelling the world for over 25 years after quitting a job in investment banking. I wanted to find out more about her travel highlights and ask her advice on getting the most from travel.
It soon became clear that Simon is a highly experienced traveller who had found her way around the planet before today’s high-tech travel hacks. “When I started travelling I had to find a payphone to tell my friends and relatives I was alive!“ she recalled. “I took travellers’ cheques. Everything is easier now thanks to the internet. I can stay longer in a place with airBnB or house-sitting.”
When I spoke with Simon on Skype she was cat-sitting in Switzerland. I waited as she moved her computer outside onto the balcony so we could avoid interruption from what she referred to as “constant meowing.”
Simon isn’t one of those nomads who roams continually. She likes her home comforts too and retains a base in Milan because, she says, “you can’t travel all the time.” Her post-banking years working in digital marketing and PR mean she knows how to get her blog, Wild About Nature, seen by tens of thousands of followers.
The success of her website means that she doesn’t have to fill it with commercial messages in order to fund her travel. Simon is often invited to review destinations or advise tourism boards, and they pay for her expertise and experience. She’s tried to keep her website adverts to a minimum, preferring to concentrate on story telling. And Simon is a good storyteller.
“I started solo travel by chance,” she explained. “I had just split from my partner of ten years. I didn’t want my passion for travel to be limited by the fact that I was alone so I thought ‘let’s give it a try’ and see how it goes.“
But her first trip to Morocco could have put some people off solo trips for life. “I was hassled frequently,” she says. “It was one of the most difficult places. I pushed a chest of drawers against the room door to make sure that nobody could come in while I was sleeping.”
“There was also a guy following me all over Marrakesh. I had to shake him off so I went in a shop and explained what was happening. They let me leave the building from the secondary exit.” Tough. But luckily for us, Simon was undeterred. “Solo travel doesn’t mean being alone or lonely,” she said. “When you travel solo you meet a lot of people on the road and you tend to be more open to other people.” Her site lists dozens of beautiful destinations from South Africa to New Zealand’s South Island.
I wanted to know what qualities Simon looks for in a place. “I like somewhere different. It can be in terms of scenery or nature. It could also be a different culture or way of life. The most memorable trips I made were in Japan and Yemen,” she told me.
Yemen is off-limits to most travellers currently. But I wanted to know why Japan was so special. “Japan is probably the country with the highest number of contradictions,” says Simon. “Apparently they’re very similar to us as a first world country. They have advanced technology and people are highly educated. “But the Japanese think very differently. Nothing in Japan is as it seems. It’s very difficult to get inside their culture. When I came back I started reading books to try and better understand it,” she told me.
Simon feels that Japan is different because everyone has a very precise role. “Personal identity doesn’t count as it’s all about society as a whole. They are the kindest people I’ve met but if you asked them to do something which is just one inch beyond their duty, it’s just like talking to a wall – you won’t get anything.”
She started recounting a story to back-up her observation. “I was in Kyoto and I needed to go to the toilet. It’s not a problem in Japan as there are toilets everywhere. Everything is written in Japanese of course, and in very technological Japanese style with lots of buttons. I didn’t understand what they were for so I pressed one, convinced that it would be the flush. It was actually an alarm! It sounded and I was so embarrassed. I thought somebody would come rushing in. Nobody came, though. When I went outside there was a guy nearby attending somebody else. It was not his job, so that was it!” I told you Simon was an engaging storyteller.
She has a section on her blog that describes the most charming towns she’s visited. “I love small places,” she told me. I was interested to hear why she’d selected Pesche, in the Molise region of Italy, as one of the best. The tiny town of 1,300 people is a two-hour drive – 182 km – from the centre of Rome, or an hour-and-a-half north of Naples. “It is quite impressive. There are pastel coloured shutters on the crumbling buildings. It is said to be the last undiscovered region of the country,” she explained.
I asked Simon for her best travel tip. “Be open to what is different. And don’t plan too much.” Good advice that I’ll take on board. But next time I am in Japan I’ll plan to use the loo before I leave the hotel!
You can follow Simon’s travels at Wild-About-Travel.com and you can listen to our full conversation here: