Three days into 2018 I departed Albuquerque, alone, at 8:55 AM for a final destination of Rome, Italy. Other people who’ve traveled alone had told me how life-changing this trip would be, but I had no idea what I was about to embark on. Over the next 12 days I would confirm to others dozens of times that I am by myself, for nine days, just in Rome. No, I’m not meeting anyone here, or studying abroad, I’m just, here. Doing this exploring alone. While I wasn’t hiking a mountain with only a rope, and I have taken solo trips before, I’d never been completely on my own for almost two weeks out of the country.
During this trip, I learned more about myself and the world than I honestly expected to. I thought I was just going to explore Rome, have fun, and eat great food for a bit. The following are some of the lessons I learned during my solo trip this winter break.
1. You become more competent at travel things.
This was the first time I’ve been out of the country since I was around 8 years old, and the furthest I’d been before Italy was Mexico. Arranging flights, transportation, and even planning sightseeing all on my own was vastly different than doing it with someone else. I quickly learned that signage matters, the metro system in Rome is quite simple, and if I don’t make a decision on what to see and how to get there, I’m not going anywhere.
I also learned that bringing your own locks, towels, or any other necessities to a hostel is a great way to save money, and that blanket scarves are the best item to have in an airport or on a plane. While I’m still not a pro, I feel like I can certainly navigate the travel world far more efficiently.
2. There’s so much time for reflection.
Doing everything by myself for a sustained period of time helped me learn so much about who I am, what I like or don’t like, and how I function. For example, I realized that I talk to myself much more than the average person, and I probably looked pretty strange mumbling under my breath about which way to turn or where to eat. I also learned that while I don’t mind staying in a room full of strangers, I really appreciate having control over whether windows are open or closed, and what the room smells like. This was an important experience because I learned to like myself and my own company, become more self-sufficient, and step out of my comfort to meet new people.
3. Language barriers are a real struggle.
I’ve taken 4 semesters of Italian in college, plus another 2 years in high school, and while I knew my speaking skills weren’t that great, I had no idea how much they needed to improve until I got there. It is very difficult to file a claim for your lost luggage when you don’t fully understand what someone is saying to you, or don’t know how to answer them. (It’s also difficult to use a self-checkout in a foreign language). The first couple of days were difficult for me while I adjusted to listening and trying to understand Italian, as well as reading signs and speaking to strangers. After a few days it got better, but I still had to ask people to speak English on occasion. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for people to move to a new country where they don’t speak the language at all.
4. Rome is everything people say it is and more.
Rome is called “The Eternal City” for good reason. To our knowledge, Rome was founded in 753 B.C. That’s a whole lot of history. Even the cobblestone streets are ancient. Around every corner was a new statue, an old fountain, or some ruins from another time period. There was so much to take in, even 9 days wasn’t enough to experience the beauty that is Rome. Each day was spent wandering backstreets, getting lost, stopping somewhere for delicious food and gelato, observing street artists, and eventually finding my way back. I saw all the major tourist attractions but also got to take in the culture, language, sounds, and everyday lives of the modern Roman society. It’s an experience I’ll not soon forget and I hope to one day return, perhaps with a friend or two.
Written by Serena Mickens