This is a guest post by Sara Harenchar. Sara is the Audience Development Manager at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh, PA. You can learn more about her at www.saraharenchar.com. Follow her on Twitter @Sara_pittPG.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit, but until this past year, I’d never traveled solo. I always thought it would be too risky and a little lonely. But a week before the fall trip abroad I’d planned for 2011, I found out I’d be traveling to Italy and Croatia alone. My friend’s student visa got held up in UK Customs and she couldn’t leave England.
Should I really do this?
At first, I panicked. I was meeting up with some Italian friends and also planned to meet my relatives in Italy for the first time. Now I’d have to worry about navigating everything, and finding a safe place to stay – by myself. Although I’d been to Italy, I’d never been to Croatia and had no sense of the culture or navigating the area.
I could have easily gotten out of traveling alone by opting to stay in London. But what was so wrong with trying it on my own?
After a short day spent in London, I tried to sleep for a few hours before a 6AM flight. I had a panic attack, not knowing where I would stay, if I would reach all the destinations I wanted to, if I would make it back safely. And then something inside me said, you have to just DO this. Had I been all over the world, even on the Great Wall of China, just to chicken out over a little Eurotrip? By the time I got in that 4AM cab, I was exhausted.
The relief and the reward
When you see Venice, you will never want to see a representation of it again. I chose a group hostel after reading reviews online, and asked for a single room. I ended up being placed in a group room and met people from all over the world. Best of all, I got a good night’s sleep and heard about other’s adventures.
I met up with my friends in Vicenza, Italy, exploring the culture, trying to communicate through our language barriers, sharing delicious meals and each other’s company.
I met my ancestors Udine for the first time, and stood in the church where my Great-grandparents were married. It was better that I was on my own: how could anyone else appreciate in the same way I could, seeing my 85-year-old cousin Carlo point out the graves of my ancestors in an Italian village in the alps? Or eating homemade spaghetti and bread made by his wife, Stefania in their tiny kitchen? Or sharing gelato with my 5-year-old cousin Fabio?
I spent a day in Trieste, a beautiful coastal city near Carlo’s house where a bus would depart for Croatia. I could no longer go to Zagreb as originally planned – It was too far away. So I chose the coastal city of Pula. I kayaked on the Adriatic sea, ate delicious meals, enjoyed the hotel’s daily brunch, and spent time just basking in the sun – perfect for the wandering traveler. I spent a few final days in London – best parts? Cheese at Gordon’s wine bar, strolling through shops in Islington, and Gordon’s Market.
When hitches come up in your plans, you always have to make choices. The key with travel is to ask not “Why now?” but “Why not?”
Important Tips for the Solo Traveler:
- Luggage drop offs: really, its ok. Try it.
- Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night.
- Be careful about where you use an ATM or computer.
- Purse/bag on front of body, passport on your person. Repeat.