Solidarity is not my forte.
With the exception of an afternoon spent studying for an exam, completing coursework, or writing….I’m rarely alone.
Traveling alone? Needless to say, this is out of character.
….which is exactly why taking a holiday, solo, was a specific intent I set out to fulfill when I arrived in Europe.
It’s something I would never do, therefore, something I felt I must do in the time I have left abroad.
I’d like to tell you I methodically selected specific destinations and travel locations prior to moving halfway across the world. I’d like to tell you I strategically booked plane tickets and accommodations. I’d like to paint the picture of a planner who mapped their journey. But realistically, there is no method to my madness. Essentially, it’s organized chaos.
Thus, having yet to fulfill this personal goal, I booked a last minute ticket to Rome, Italy to celebrate Easter weekend.
And, for the first time in my short life, I spent more than a day in my own company. This was both rewarding and really, really challenging; an experience laced with quirky occurrences and rare, meaningful moments of clarity.
With that, I give you Three takeaways from this eye opening experience:
- GAMBE LUNGE // Long Legs [tips for American women traveling alone in Rome, Italy]
- FUORI DALLA GRIGLIA // Off the Grid [destinations beyond the tourist eye]
- I RAGAZZI IN VERDE // The Boys in Green [ On visiting a city of romance, alone ]
Tips for American women traveling alone in Rome, Italy
“Gambe lunge,” (which translates to “long legs” in English) was the cat-call adjective of choice in my five days spent in Rome.
There’s a stigma associated with women traveling solo; particularly in Western culture. All too often, the concept is wrongfully deemed as a safety risk. And while some of this alarm is rational, in my experience, the majority is simply a matter of sensationalist media tactics. Vigilance and awareness squanders much of the risk generally associated with traveling alone in Europe.
Random stuff happens to me, on the reg.
I am a radar for out of the ordinary occurrences. I didn’t ask for this (although it makes for some good stories.) I spent close to a week in Rome, and in that time, found myself in a number of settings and situations. From this stems my advice to women traveling alone in Rome, Italy.
1) Adjust your vocal tone, volume, and clarity.
I’ll say it, so you don’t have to:
AMericans are loud.
….very, very Loud. At least, in comparison to many cultures.
The American accent and vocal tone can, at times, be overwhelming. While holding fast to authentic identity, it’s important to size up the individual you are speaking to and address them accordingly.
Chatting up a rowdy British Lad? The nasal-undertones and over exaggerated vocality that is typical of an American woman will surely do. If anything, I’d argue it may be to your advantage. They have Netflix, too….you’re in the clear.
Lost? Need directions from an elderly Italian woman? Soften your tone. Speak lighter. Approach with confidence, but compassionate caution.
In an unfamiliar,questionably safe area? Silence is golden. When you speak, you immediately draw attention to yourself. That WhatsApp call can wait.
Making a personal connection with an individual of another culture is an act rooted in self-awareness and situational observation.
2) Look the part.
90 % of travel safety, while solo, lies in appearance.
Ditch the selfie stick. It’s the solo-travelers equivalent of taping a sign on your back that says: “Here, take my wallet. I didn’t need it anyway.”
Put on real pants. Leggings are a lovely innovation, and a trend I readily embrace while on American soil (….and in Brighton. I’m quite positive you could step into the streets here wearing a morph suit, and no one would do a double-take.) However, the oversized sorority t-shirt, Nike tennis shoes, and stretchy fabric typical of my culture is a look that’s strictly reserved for exercise in most of Western Europe. A simple pair of black pants, turtle neck, and boots are a comfortable alternative that allows for wardrobe immersion. Dark tinted sunglasses are a personal favorite, as well.
Invest in some international cell data. International cell service, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t have to be costly. Vodafone, a cell phone carrier available throughout Europe, offers temporary international data for the equivalent of 5 USD per day. For the solo traveler, this adds up to roughly the price of one cab ride. Carrying a physical map draws attention to uncertainty. Using a GPS is a reasonable, effective alternative. Furthermore, the tool allows you to walk to many locations, saving funds that otherwise would be spent on transport.
3) Learn A Few Phrases in the native language
Today, a large part of the developed world speaks English as a second language. That being said, learning key phrases in a country’s native language is not only beneficial, but a gesture of respect.
“Grazie, non sono interessata.” (Thanks, I’m not interested) and “Aspetto mio fidanzato” (I’m waiting for my boyfriend) can serve a woman traveling solo well.
Italian men, in my experience, are all bark and no bite. While they’re rather vocal and expressive in their advancements, they’re quick to respectfully retract when rejected.
FUORI DALLA GRIGLIA
Off the Grid
While in Rome, I visited ten churches, nine landmarks, and two museums.
I attended Ash Wednesday mass, Holy Thursday mass, a church service led in German??? (still not entirely sure how, it in a city 900 + Italian parishes I ended up there….but I wouldn’t have understood the language either way, so I went with it.) and a Sunday Easter Service.
Furthermore, I stumbled across a number of parks, open markets, architecture, street performers in Trastevere Square, and fab food.
There’s a catch, though. Like many destinations, Central Rome is laced with tourist traps. It’s Marketing-101, if you will; appeal to the target market. Vendors and businesses, in every country, recognize the visitor demographic that frequent popular regions. Many locations, specific to major landmarks, may compromise authenticity in favor of tailoring their food, products, and atmosphere to tourists.
Here, you’ll find a few my favorite locations “off the grid.” Pack some cash, plan to trek slightly off track, and pursue cultural authenticity.
I Rigazzi En Verde
The Boys in Green
Put simply, Rome is a rather romantic location.
This didn’t occur to me when I spontaneously booked this trip. It wasn’t until I settled into a seat nestled on a quiet street side, ordered a glass of house red, and looked around that I came this inevitable realization. Couples regularly passed by, holding hands and pausing for the occasional peck on the lips. The expressive, affectionate tone that the Italian language carries echoed through the streets.
ON a surface level, this situation sounds lonely…depressing, even.
At 18, I would have agreed.
At 19, I would have obliged.
At 20, I would have stood in favor of this claim.
IT took 21 years to come
I refuse to call it “full circle.” I don’t believe in the phrase. My hope is to grow, learn, and evolve with a continuity that is never ending. If there’s anything I do know, it’s that no one really knows what they’re doing. We’re all learning as we go, in every stage of life.
However, as a self proclaimed extrovert having had the experience of a holiday alone, I can say this with confidence and transparency:
Loneliness is a state of mind, not a state of being.
It took 21 years to recognize that-while difficult at times- occasional solidarity and reflection is essential in learning to be content in your own silence, and ultimately, better loving those around you. To this new perspective, I credit my time spent living in Europe.
you see, On the evening of Good Friday, I attended Stations of the Cross.
Pope Francis led the traditional Catholic ceremony outside the historic Colosseum, illuminated by the glow of a wooden cross set entirely on fire. A four hour que, two pat downs, and an ID check later, I found myself just below the Pope’s elevated presentation space; close enough to nearly make out his facial expression. The ceremony was rustic and simple. While Rome is recognized worldwide as an Easter destination, and draws thousands during the holiday weekend, the celebration was not eccentric; there was direct emphasis placed on a specific, centralized focus. I feel very fortunate to have heard Pope Francis speak in person….religious affiliation aside, the Pope is undoubtedly a powerful figure in today’s world policy.
The pope is also a pretty witty guy…Man’s got a few puns up his sleeve. But I digress….
The crowd was shoulder to shoulder, and to my left stood an Italian family. Their two young boys, bundled in matching green coats, clapped vigorously along to the hymns played leading up to the ceremony. “Papa Francisco!!!” the little boys shouted, oblivious to the atmosphere the tunes were meant to establish. Those around us grinned ear to ear, unfazed. As time passed and the evening grew later, the little boys began to grow tired.
As one brother quietly flipped through the pages of a booklet illustrating each Station of the Cross, the other casually laid his head down in my lap, closed his eyes, and snuggled up for a rest.
He didn’t care where I was from.
He didn’t care where I’ve been.
He didn’t care where I’m going.
And in that brief, casual moment, these things were secondary to a childlike affection; innocent affection that existed without hesitation or judgement.
As 20-something millennial women, we’re regularly fed a common phrase:
“YOu have to learn to love yourself, before you can really love someone else.”
I see the words quite often; in writing and in conversation alike. And while there is much truth in this statement, it also leaves much to be desired. Because if you choose to look at love through lenses that solely view it as a matter of romantic pursuit, you bypass so many incredible moments that add substance to the definition; moments that ultimately, can add strength to relationships in a romantic context.
Romance is the delicate balance of meeting your own needs and desires, while still recognizing that love is so, so much bigger than our personal pursuits.
EVEN IN SETTINGS WHERE IT’S ABOUT US, IT’S STILL ABOUT SOMETHING BIGGER.
Love has many faces.
And in the eyes of an Italian child during Stations of the Cross, of this I was reminded.