The main reason that I decided to solo travel in the first place is that I’m broke. I went on spring break with three friends who decided to spend one of our days in Italy on a day trip to Venice. However, while analyzing my bank account and seeing cobwebs instead of gold coins, I decided that I would not be able to go with them. And so, with a slight pit in my stomach, I did not buy a train ticket. No backing out after that.
Once we got to Rome though, I knew I couldn’t simply stay in the hostel all day. The city was absolutely gorgeous and enticing. It pulled me along its cobblestone streets with the alluring aroma of pizza and pasta, the neon signs advertising the best gelato I would ever taste, and the men calling out “selfie! Selfie sticks!” (Seriously these guys were everywhere. More on them later). We spent one afternoon in Rome together as a group, and though I speak zero Italian and am notoriously horrible at reading maps, I decided that no matter what, the next day I was going to explore Rome, all by myself.
First step to solo traveling: don’t stick out or look “touristy.” Tourists in Rome were notorious for wearing obnoxiously bright tennis shoes, shorts and skirts with bare legs, backpacks on the front of their bodies, and anything that was branded with “USA” or some kind of American sports team. For safety reasons, avoidance of pick pockets, and personal desire to maintain some sort of dignity, I tried to dress like the locals as much as possible. This meant that I was finally free to embrace a European trend I had been yearning to try: tights and shorts. It felt weird at first, but it’s really big in Europe! And I found that throughout the day I did blend in pretty well with the other Italian girls walking the streets, although my blonde hair was a bit of a tip-off. Another perk of solo traveling: your companions cannot judge you when you try and look international and posh.
Next step of solo traveling: use your free visitor’s map as infrequently as possible. If you do have to use it, be discreet and step off the busy roads to figure out where the heck you are. Visitor’s maps are the saving grace of every tourist, but that doesn’t mean that you want the locals to see that. Pickpockets and pushy salespeople (like the selfie guys) will target you if they see you with a map out. Another perk of solo traveling is that I was on my own schedule, with no time restraints. I could wander to my heart’s desire, and if I got lost, so what! I wasn’t in a hurry. I could check out whatever I wanted to and not have to worry about inconveniencing whoever I was with by getting horribly turned around. Because of this I didn’t use my map all that much and even got stopped a few times to get asked for directions. The tights were clearly working their magic!
That brings me to my next perk of solo traveling: the ability to see what you want to see, and see it for however long you want. I personally am not a huge museum person. I love walking around and being outside, being in nature and admiring architecture. I prefer not to be in more than one museum a day, and if I do go to one, it’s usually not for very long. I loved Rome because I was able to see everything just by meandering my way through the city. I went to the top of Palatine Hill for a spectacular view of the Roman Forum and the Coliseum, I talked to the locals as much as I could, I took lots of pictures and didn’t worry about slowing down the rest of a group, and I ate cheap street food instead of sitting down at a touristy and expensive restaurant. This is my favorite way to travel, although a lot of people might disagree with my methods.
I can honestly say that this day of traveling by myself might have been one of my favorite days of my study abroad experience so far. Solo traveling allowed me to do what I wanted to do, and though it may sound selfish, it really did give me a great day. I got to break free of my comfort zone, and navigate a foreign city, take public transport, attempt (key word, attempt) to learn some Italian, made a few new friends, absorbed my experience with some journaling and reflection along the way, and take a million selfies without being judged (except by locals who happened to catch me doing this).
Solo traveling may not be for everyone. It can be lonely for some, and you do miss out on shared experiences that you can talk with others about and reflect on in the future. However, solo traveling is definitely for me. I never felt as capable and independent as I did that day, and I’m already looking forward to my next solo adventure. This day helped me get to know myself better, and made me realize just how much I can do on my own without someone else helping me.
Who knew I could transform into a tight-and-shorts-wearing, bus-taking, Italian-speaking wayfarer in just a few short months?