An American in Italy: Tips on Travelling Internationally and Solo

This past month, I got the chance to visit one of my best friends who’s currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Having never left the country before, and venturing to a place that required two plane rides was definitely a feat in itself - doing it alone made for an even more fear-induced experience. During my trip, I definitely learned some tips and tricks that will help you when you embark on your own journey!

Booking Your Flight

Florence is a well-known city and a popular tourist attraction in itself, but it’s still smaller than other major Italian destinations like Rome. When booking my flight, I learned that means Florence’s airport is too small to charter large planes coming in from overseas forcing me to land elsewhere and take a second connecting flight. Having never flown internationally before, I was worried about navigating a foreign country’s airport that wasn't my final destination. Would airport personnel know English if I needed help? Would I have enough time to make it to my connecting flight? These were all questions that flooded my mind as I booked my tickets. While they may be daunting and overwhelming thoughts at first, they shouldn't hinder you from traveling.

As I was choosing the country my connecting flight would be in, two primary considerations came to mind: 1) How well do I know the country’s first language? and 2) How safe would I feel staying in that country should one of my flights be canceled? My final choice, France, boiled down to my knowledge of French and the fact I had a different friend studying abroad in Paris. I felt comfortable knowing that I would be able to communicate with airport personnel if needed, or  at least read signs (At the end, everyone knew English). It was also nice to know that if my flight was canceled and I had to stay overnight, my friend was only a metro swipe away. If you find yourself in the same situations, asking yourself these questions is a good place to start!

Navigating the Airport

While I had enough time to make my connecting flights, be cautious of the time you allow yourself to do the same. A couple of factors to consider when making the reservation are how the layover duration will impact the length of your trip and how it will impact ‘at-home responsibilities’.

I left on a Wednesday night and chose a connecting flight that only left me an hour and twenty minutes to navigate France’s airport and find my next flight. While a longer layover would have been nicer, a later flight meant I wouldn't get to Florence until 2pm, rather than 9am with the earlier option. With that being said, it may be best to choose the earliest flight despite layover duration fears. Not only will you arrive to your destination earlier should everything run smoothly, but even if there were some sort of delay you’d be likely to get on the next flight out. Rest assured that the airport personnel will properly guide you to your flight, as was the case for me.

For the flights home, I also selected a short layover time. Aside from wanting to make the journey home as speedy as possible, I had class Monday morning. By choosing an earlier flight, I knew I would be getting home with a sufficient amount of time to rest and do any uncompleted work, in addition to knowing that if there were any delays I would still make my classes the following day.

Going Solo

Like I said, I embarked on this journey alone. While I luckily was meeting up with a friend in my destination, getting there was solely up to me. In addition to the tips above, the best way you can prepare yourself is by being as informed as possible on your destination beforehand. Prior to leaving for Italy, I printed out directions I found online on how to change terminals once I reached Paris. The pictures provided in the directions gave me a sense of familiarity as to where I was going ahead of time, rather than having to figure it out in a short time span.

Before you go, you also want to make sure you have notified both your credit card and phone companies that you will be traveling abroad. While this does not solely apply to solo travelers, taking care of these little tasks beforehand makes all the difference and prevents tons of stress when you are abroad; the last place you would want to be is in a foreign country without a working phone or credit card.

With that being said, I hope these tips will help international travelers, especially those flying solo, in the future. Despite being a seemingly fearful feat, you are capable of more than you think… it may just take flying over the Atlantic to realize it!

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