When in Rome

When I arrived in Rome the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I had a phone that didn’t work, a huge suitcase, and a head of red hair that screams ‘I am not Italian’. After a nine-hour flight and another half hour on the train, I entered the streets of Rome with some trepidation. I was a 20-year old woman alone in Europe for the first time in my life. I spoke not a word of Italian and in general, have a poor sense of direction.

 

I was definitely a little scared.

 

Luckily for me, Rome, overwhelming as it can be, is full of English-speakers and free wifi. With some help, I was able to find my hotel and get myself on the correct train the next morning. When I returned to Rome about eight weeks later, also alone, I had a touch more confidence. I’d picked up a handful of Italian words (admittedly, mostly for groceries), and had a phone that worked. With a suitcase almost too big to fit on Rome’s narrow streets, I tramped across the city to my hostel, lugged the suitcase up three flights of stairs because the elevator was broken, and checked myself in.

 

I spent four nights and three days by myself in Rome and it was one of the strangest, most exhilarating, loneliest, most wonderful experiences of my life. Utterly without responsibilities, I went to whatever historical sites I wanted during the days and wandered the city at night. I ate what I wanted when I wanted, and those three days remain some of the most vivid of my life.

From the taste of the hard lemon candies at the hostel desk and fresh watermelon I bought from a street vendor to the smell of roses and sewage to the sound of street musicians playing over the babble of more different languages than I could identify, there were so many new experiences. Walking along the Tiber River, strolling past the pop-up bars and restaurants and people-watching after a day spent exploring Ostia Antica or the Castel Sant’Angelo was mind-blowing. I distinctly remember being rocked more than once by the realization that right there and then, at that precise moment, no one at home knew where I was and no one around me knew who I was.

 

It was the wildest, most melancholy, most freeing feeling I’d ever had. There is something inexplicably frightening but intoxicating about traveling alone. You are the only one responsible for you, but you aren’t responsible for anyone else. You have to be a bit more careful--you’re more likely to be approached by strangers when you’re alone and clearly foreign, especially if you’re a young woman. But for all that extra caution, there is enormous payoff too. You get to do whatever you want, visit the places that are at the top of your list, and you can meet some really interesting people.

Traveling alone may not be for everyone, and does require some planning and a good deal of common sense and caution. But it’s so worth the experience. Looking back, as much fun as I had with my friends traveling in Europe and living in Rome, I value the days and afternoons spent alone just as much. I had never done anything quite like it before, and I certainly had moments of doubt. But ultimately, traveling alone gave me a grasp on the city of Rome, confidence in my own independence and capability, and the opportunity to do some serious soul-searching. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything, and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone!