Remember Lessons from Solo-Venturing and how I was talking about the importance of doing things on your own? Here’s an old blog post I dug up that I wrote in 2010 about the lessons I learned on a solo trip to Italy. So without further ado…
Exactly a year ago, on August 5th, I set off on a two-week solo adventure to Italy, the land of my mother’s birth. I had been there twice before with my family, but never alone. It seemed fitting to journey there again in a time of transition. I had just graduated college and knew that with my new job as a VISTA, it would be unlikely that I would have the opportunity to travel outside of the country in the foreseeable future [Update: I ended up going to Haiti while I was still a VISTA, 21 months after going to Italy]. So with my trusty suitcase “big blue” packed, self-made itinerary in hand, and plenty of money in my bank account, I set off through Rome, Cinque Terre, and Milano only to find myself learning several lessons along the way.
1. It’s important to take risks.
I’ll be honest; one of the main reasons I set off to Italy was to see a boy in Roma. I’m a Márquez, which means by default, my emotions often run off with me while my rationality hangs out in the foyer until I return. Even though nothing ever really developed between the said boy and I, I do not even regret for an instant heading to Italy on a whim. The time I spent with my final college crush allowed me to view the country in a new way, experience the nightlife, and enticed me to return to a country I came into the world knowing in my soul.
2. When you find yourself in situations where the words you speak are not understood… then you’ve got to find other ways to communicate.
After leaving Roma, I took a train to La Spezia. Having no idea where I to find my seat, I walked through the train cars toting along “big blue,” finding people who knew what they were doing and pointing to my ticket with a few scattered Italian words thrown in. They were able to point me in the right direction until I got to my 6-person cubicle. When I got there, a kind man saw me with my suitcase, stood up, and placed it effortlessly above the seats for me. After sitting down and peering out the windows at the passing countryside, he took out a pack of gum, looked at me and gestured for me to take a piece. This was all done in silence, but the gesture of kindness was understood. You don’t always need words to communicate.
3. If you have enough determination, you can accomplish anything.
Upon reaching Cinque Terre, I set out to hike from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. The only problem was, I only had my $10-falling-apart “Jesus sandals,” I was out of shape, and I knew the journey would take six hours of hiking up and down rocky terrain, stairs, hills, and cliff-like edges. I was going to hike it though, even if my shoes or I fell apart in the process. So the next day, my newly found friends and I woke up at daybreak and walked the entire route, stopping to swim and snack along the way. It was tricky in some spots with my shoes and lack of breath, but I would do it every day if I lived in Cinque Terre. The view of the Mediterranean, the fresh produce and rich vegetation growing on the hills, the brightly painted homes, the colorful murals, and the lapping of waves against the rocks sung to my soul.
4. It’s fun to travel alone.Traveling solo allowed me to move at my own pace, head out the door at sunrise raring to go, meet new people, and take the time to reflect on my life and my journeys. I suggest that everyone take a solo trip at some point in his or her life, just to see what it is like, since it is such a different experience.
5. With a little effort, you can meet a lot of great people.
After staying with my very social guy friend in Roma, a person who chats with everyone and truly listens to them, I was able to pick up on some of his acquaintance-snagging skills and decided to take them with me. In Manarola and Milano, I made a concerted effort to talk to the people in my hostels, introduce myself, and find out more about them, As such, I was able to make some phenomenal travel buddies like Ingrid from Australia, Andy from Austria, and Marlene from Costa Rica/LA. It didn’t stop there though. When I returned to Connecticut, a place where I knew almost no one, a place where I would be spending my next year as a VISTA, I determinedly stepped into a coffee shop, chatted with the barista, and we’ve been friends ever since [Update: That barista and I have been married for nearly two years!].