10 Things I’ve Learned Traveling Alone in Italy

Have you thought about traveling solo but not yet pulled the trigger? These are the 10 things I’ve learned while traveling in Italy solo that will inspire you to take the leap.

travel alone in Italy

Introduction

Less than 2 years ago, I had never traveled solo and was pretty intimated by the idea of it. My first solo adventure was when I moved to Italy at 29 years old to get my Italian citizenship and to have a new experience (background story here). 

Based on several metrics (Google search trend as well as reports from tourism services), solo travel is become more and more popular, and I think for good reason. 

I want to share what I’ve learned to you can be more informed for your first solo trip and maybe even inspire you to go if you’re just considering it. It’s an amazing opportunity for personal growth, so I’m always excited for people who are interested in going solo for the first time.

Keep in mind: solo travel is not a good idea for everyone. I love to be optimistic and encouraging, but the reality is that some people just aren’t cut out for it. Having self awareness and knowing your level of common sense is key.

Where you decide to solo travel is also important, as safety risks vary across the globe. I happen to think Italy is a great place for solo travel, but all individual experiences are different.

Some relevant details:

  • Almost all of my solo travel has been in Italy. So most of my cultural learnings and experiences are Italian. 
  • I am a straight, six-foot-four (1.93 m) tall, white male. 

If you’re interested, I have a separate article specifically for female solo travelers, in the words of some of my friends. 

1. Solo travel teaches you to problem solve.

Where do you buy a bus ticket? You pull out your phone, but it’s dead. You have to ask someone who speaks a little English to show you where the machine is. Did you miss the train, or did it just not come? You’re in Italy after all, so there could be a strike. Now how do you get to your next destination? What other options are there? Can you take a bus? If you had to walk, how far would it be?  

A more minor example: I was living in a small village in central Italy, and an Amazon package was supposed to come but the driver couldn’t find the building. He called me, and was talking so fast in Italian that I couldn’t understand a thing he said. Just when I thought my Italian was getting pretty good. I ended up running down to the town center and finding someone that could talk to him on the phone and tell him where to meet me. It was embarrassing, but the woman who helped me was very kind and my bath towel delivery crisis was resolved.

Just by the nature of being on your own, you’ll learn to think on your feet. 

2. Solo travel teaches you to be calm. 

This ties in to item #1. Things will inevitably go sideways, at least for a moment. Maybe you got on the wrong bus. Or it’s the right bus line, but it’s going the wrong direction. Maybe the restaurant is cash only and you don’t have enough to cover it. If you are the type to freak out in moments like this, relying on a more level-headed friend to be your emotional sedative, you will have to learn to relax and know that you can figure it out.

3. Solo travel sharpens your awareness.

Call it street smarts. What are common scams in major cities? Is a money belt necessary? Are you an easy target?

For example – you’re traveling in a crowded tourist area in a major city, so you know the risk of pickpocketing is high. You know where all your valuables are on you person. You know when you get on and off a crowded bus or subway, that’s when the risk is the highest, so you’re hyper aware, yet calm. 

Note: this is not to be confused with being paranoid or neurotic. You can still be calm and operating at a normal heart rate, yet be aware. But this takes time to develop. The 25 year-old-me was a ball of anxiety on pubic transit. 30 year-old me, not so much. 

4. You’ll become a master of public transportation. 

At least in the country you’re traveling. I’ve gotten to the point in Italy where I can buy train tickets in my sleep, and can find bus routes with relative ease. With Google Maps especially, bus travel is so easy, for the most part. You’ll occasionally come across bus or train lines that seem to not exist on the internet, or at best have some obscure PDF timetable. But roughly 95% of my public transport in Italy has been integrated with either a dedicated app or Google Maps. 

In sum – once you figure it out in one country, you can probably figure it out in another.

5. Solo travel gives you freedom to follow your own desires. 

This is an obvious one, but once you experience it, you’ll appreciate it more. You want to sleep in a little and take your time in the morning? You want to go hike? Or go find a cooking class? Or maybe you change your mind last minute and go to a museum instead, and you want to spend an extra 10 minutes in the Sistine Chapel or Uffizi Gallery without worrying about how bored your friend is. You were going to make a day trip to a nearby town, but you decide to instead do it tomorrow. You don’t have a plan and that’s okay.

I like to try the local food (which is different all over Italy), no matter how weird it is. Picking a restaurant is never easier than when you’re solo. 

6. Solo travel gets you comfortable talking to strangers.

Let’s say you don’t understand the train schedule and need help – so you ask a nice Roman couple at the train station. Maybe you’re traveling in a hostel and want to meet some people. You will quickly learn, either out of necessity to get information, or out of desire to be social.

7. Solo travel forces you to meet new people.

I am of the belief that if you do solo travel right, it won’t really feel like solo travel. At a certain point, you will be dying to be social. Without your own travel partner(s), you’ll have no choice but to outsource. So you’ll find a local event like a food tour or wine tasting on something like Meetup or Couchsurfing. Or maybe you’ll get on a dating app to find someone to hang out with, even just to explore the city together. Or you’ll just go to a bar and chat with strangers. 

Additionally, if you’re staying at a hostel, you’re in the perfect place for finding other solo travellers to hang out with (see my article 15 Practical Tips For Staying in Hostels for some recommendations here).

8. Solo travel teaches you more about the local culture.

This dovetails with the last point. Obviously, more interaction with people outside of your group usually means you’ll probably be talking to more locals. Note this isn’t always the case – for instance if you’re staying in a hostel, you’ll likely be surrounded by other international travelers.

But this all goes back to the point the local culture. In my case, traveling in Italy, I have learned that while Italians are generally friendly, helpful, and very generous, they are not quick to bring you in as a friend. As a result, almost everyone that I’ve met while traveling solo, whether it be out at bars, social events, dating apps, and in hostels, have not been Italian. Italians generally stick with their own. 

9. You can better learn the local language.

If you’re an English speaker, you’re very lucky. We as English speakers can go pretty much anywhere in the world and if there is an international group of people, the default language is English. This is a double-edged sword, however, because it makes it harder for us to immerse in another language.

If one of your goals is to learn the local language, know that this will be inhibited if you’re traveling with someone who you can not speak with in your target language.

In Italy, English education is not as strong as it is in places like Germany. So if you leave the heavy tourist areas like Florence, Venice, Rome, you can find smaller towns where almost nobody speaks English. This is especially the case in southern Italy. Being in a town where I’m the only English speaker is truly one of my greatest joys. 

10. Solo travel teaches you to be comfortable with and by yourself.

I have always been comfortable by myself. I have never felt, as many do, uncomfortable going to a restaurant solo. In fact, I think there’s something special about eating at a restaurant by yourself.

If you’re one for meditation or someone who strives to be in the moment, this is your time. Imagine yourself on a restaurant terrace in Cinque Terre or Calabria. You’re enjoying a simple spaghetti with clams with a glass of some local white wine. The tables are full but it’s not too loud, so you’re able to hear the conversations among the waves of the Mediterranean Sea gently crashing against the rocks. Take pause, take it all in, in silence. La dolce vita. It’s a great thing. 

This also means that you’ll be often be alone with your thoughts. If this is something you struggle with, consider this a learning opportunity. This is a good time to reflect. 

Additional Tips

  1. If you’re walking and relying on Google Maps, start the navigation and hold your phone in your pocket or hand. It will vibrate with patterns telling you to turn left or right. This is one of the best things about Google Maps that nobody knows about, the best way to look less like a tourist while walking.
  2. Don’t plan on the last train or bus – plan on the second-to-last, in case you miss it. 

That’s All For Now

I sincerely hope you found value in this article, whether you’re a solo travel expert or you’re preparing for your first trip. I strongly believe that it’s a great way to travel, and Italy is one of the best places to do it.

If you’re a female traveler, check out 7 Questions for Female Solo Travelers to Inform and Inspire You.

If you have recommendations of your own or have suggestions on what else you would like to see covered here, please write in the comments below. Additionally, if you’re planning to travel Italy solo and need one-on-one support or guidance, check out my services page where you can get in touch with me.

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