Five reasons to take a solo trip this year

travelsolo

In the not-too-distant past, there seemed to be a stigma against solo travelers, especially nomads of the female variety. But then came The Blonde Abroad, Alex in Wanderland, Anna Everywhere, Globetrotter Girls and a whole host of other brave, blogging trailblazers…and suddenly, to a new generation of travelers, striking out on one’s own didn’t seem so scary after all.

If you thought solo traveling was only for lone wolves, photographers or teens taking a gap year, think again—it’s for anyone who wants to see the world and isn’t afraid of a little self-discovery along the way.

Here are 5 reasons why you don’t need a companion to take that dream trip.

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It’s your party; you can lounge by that Vegas pool if you want to.

Reason #1: Your schedule is totally up to you.

If you’ve ever traveled with a companion, you know what it feels like to get frustrated when the two of you fall out of sync. Maybe, on a previous trip, you’d have preferred to check out the 6 a.m. cafe scene in a new city had your spouse not been more amenable to sleeping in. Or perhaps you’d have liked to take your time exploring that museum over the course of a whole day, but your friend insisted on sprinting through two more museums before noon.

When you travel alone, you’ll never have to run on any schedule but your own. Celebrate freedom of choice by taking that mid-afternoon nap you wish you could have taken on your last trip. Or, once your feet start to hurt, don’t hesitate to loiter on a park bench and people watch rather than bravely soldiering on for the sake of your companion. Where you go and what you do is completely and totally up to you…no more compromises!

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Perks of traveling alone: no one’s there to complain about the Friday night museum line.

Reason #2: You can follow your heart.

When you travel alone, not only is your schedule yours alone, but it’s also free from any outside social pressure. When I visited New York for the first time on a solo trip, I had no desire to see the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building or Times Square, and I wanted to keep things as simple and cheap as possible. Had I traveled with someone else, I may have felt obligated to visit these NYC hallmarks and splurge on a nice hotel room. But because I was alone, I didn’t hesitate to reserve a bunk at a centrally-located hostel or to follow my heart to funkier, lesser-known locales like the Cloisters in Inwood, a gritty, greasy diner on the Lower East Side and a used designer clothing shop in NoLiTa.

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Backpacking with new friends in Trieste.

Reason #3: You’ll meet cool new people.

While part of the allure of solo travel is the alone time it affords you, sometimes it’s nice to get out of your own head and strike up a conversation with someone new. Traveling solo is the perfect way to meet interesting new people, especially other solo travelers your age.

Think of the world like a high school cafeteria: When you’re a new student, you’re more likely to walk up to a friendly-looking table of one instead of the boisterous group of popular kids. In the same vein, when you travel with someone else, strangers are less likely to approach you (and sometimes that can be a good thing…see: creepers). But when you’re alone, other travelers will find you less intimidating and more approachable.

If you want to make friends but have concerns about aforementioned creepers, your best bet will be to stay in casual environments where you’ll be surrounded by lots of people, like pubs, museums, low-key concerts and popular parks. Open your mind, take off your sunglasses and flash your pearly whites.

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Reflecting from a canoe on the 4th of July.

Reason #4: You’ll learn to depend on yourself.

When you’re alone and you get a splitting headache, you can’t stay under the covers at the hotel while your companion runs to the drug store. When you lose your passport, no one else is there to help you find the nearest embassy and navigate the complicated waters of international bureaucracy. While that may sound somewhere between daunting and downright terrifying—and to be honest, it is, at least in the moment—it’s also hugely educational. Those mini (and maxi) crises you face alone become defining moments in your life, moments you can point to and say, “That’s when I really became an adult,” or, “That’s when I overcame my biggest fear.”

When you weather storms by yourself, you feel like a total confident badass…like you literally CAN take on the world. And—bonus!—you usually get a great story out of it.

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Exploring my own backyard.

Reason #5: You’ll get to know yourself better than ever before.

Comments from friends with whom I’d traveled in the past made me think my travel preferences skewed heavily toward arts, culture and snobbery. While I won’t deny that I love a night at the symphony, traveling alone made me realize some of my preferences were less upper-crust and more serflike. Now, when I explore a new destination, I know to create loose itineraries that combine the high-class with the lowbrow. If I were in Paris, I might don a sundress and spend the morning at the D’Orsay, spend lunch on the Seine with a grocery store baguette and a juice box of wine, and change into ripped jeans for a night at a hole-in-the-wall hangout in the Latin Quarter.

Finding your unique style as a traveler is great, but even better are the discoveries you make about yourself as a person when you’re on the road. Traveling alone allows you to discover your limits, physically and emotionally, and sometimes put them to the test. It illuminates your strengths and establishes your weaknesses. I’ve never felt more self aware than at the end of a solo trip.

Have you traveled alone? What tips would you give to aspiring solo wanderers?

 

Waiting at the Venice Mestre train station

I’m ready for a vacation!!

It’s down to the wire here at the Istituto Filippin. There are four academic days left until we leave the CIMBA campus for good and jet to our homes back in the States. We’re getting weepy, but surprisingly, we’re also glad to be going home. We’re all, as we’ve said to each other for the past week or so, “over school” and for the time being and we’ll be happy to get a little ( or in my case, a lot) relaxation time before hitting the books next term.

Budapest Hungary Chain Bridge

I never knew how much travel could take out of me. The fact that, during this whole program, there was never really a “break” in terms of mental or physical relaxation because we were either studying or traveling the whole time, has really gotten to me. My back is sore. I’m probably sleep deprived, but I can’t tell anymore. This week, made up of three days of classes and three days of finals, has pushed me even further to the limit. I’ve been typing nonstop for three days, and I’ll probably continue to do so until Friday, the day before my last paper is due. In the meantime, I have to figure out when (and HOW!!) I’ll pack, where to get a hotel near the Venice Mestre train station for easy access to the airport in the morning, secure a CIMBA yearbook, fax my course syllabi to my home university and–tear!–say goodbye to everyone. Wish me luck.

This term, though it was technically much longer than any term at U of O, has gone by faster than any other. I feel like it was barely a month ago that I came here, sweaty and confused, with my huge suitcase and my shy smile, dubious about whether I’d be able to call this place home. I needn’t have worried. In fact, I should have been more concerned about how I would leave without pulling out a generously sized Kleenex box. I’ve gotten to know 89 American college students, four tabacchi employees, a pastry shop owner, two taxi drivers, a pizzeria owner and a jewelrymaker, and to have known these people so intimately for three months and then to never see them again seems so odd.

Waiting at the Venice Mestre train station
I’ve seen nine countries, flown on 15 planes, taken a dizzying amount of train trips all over the place. (And even with all that travel time, I still learned valuable things in my classes!) I should feel worldly, but instead I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the world has to offer. I’ll be back–I hope–to conquer Rome, to ride the train all the way down the Rhine, to discover the undiscovered parts of Eastern Europe, to freeze my butt off in the Scandinavian countries, and to revisit every inch of London.

In the meantime, I’ll be glad to return home, where Mexican food tastes good and where my pillow-top bed awaits. I hope to see all of you soon.

An epic American night…in Italy

It’s now 2:30 p.m. in what will probably pass as one of the most important political days in my young adult life, but there’s a good chance I won’t remember a minute of it.

Last night, I stayed up without sleeping until 6:30 a.m. (9 p.m. on the West Coast) to watch all the states’ returns come in and to see what everyone already knew was coming–Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. I’ll remember the excitement I felt every time a new state flashed on the MSNBC virtual map, leading us closer to a conclusion to the stat-packed night, and I’ll remember watching the interesting patterns developing in the form of blue and red clumps in the counties of battleground states. And I’ll most certainly remember the first address of the first black president, one delivered with such determined fervor that I could tell Obama knew the serious trouble he was getting himself into and knew he could conquer it all.

It seemed like as good a time as any to #ThrowYourO.

But my memory will probably go fuzzy after the time that I fell into bed at 6:30, especially considering that I had to wake up a mere three hours later. All the more reason, then, to document my findings from newspapers from all over the world in this blog.

I looked up the online translated version of Il Messaggero, the most widely read newspaper in Rome, and my beliefs were instantly confirmed: that most of Italy was overjoyed by Obama’s victory. The paper proclaimed Obama won “by an avalanche of votes”; a reader in support of the outcome wrote in a comment “long live REAL democracy.” European leaders hailed the new president’s election as “a turning point” that made the year a very strong one for democracy in the U.S. and the world (EU president Jose Barroso), a “wonderful example of democracy given from the United States to the world” (Nicolas Sarkozy), and a testament to new “progressive values and a vision for the future” (Britain’s PM Gordon Brown). Even Russia welcomed Obama with open arms, assuring him a “full partership of trust.”

It’s a shame I couldn’t have been right in the middle of the action–say, celebrating on campus with fellow U of O students or dancing on tops of cars with other Santa Cruzans (yes, they really did do that)–but in a way, being in a foreign country for these elections has made me see the importance of the perspective of the world, not just that of the U.S., in these elections. I think the American media focus so much on Americans’ reactions to the election results that they don’t immediately take into account what foreign leaders–and foreign equivalents of the average joe–are saying. Thus, had I been in the U.S. while this was happening, I wouldn’t have thought to read up on foreign perspective.

Thank goodness for the Internet–and thank goodness for study abroad!

Back in Eugene, just for a moment

Sure, it’s rained enough in the last week to rival Oregon’s rainfall record, but let’s face it: Paderno del Grappa, Italy is nothing like Eugene.

I know, I know, I’m not exactly in a position to complain. I couldn’t imagine a more idyllic place to study—right at the foot of the Alps, surrounded by villas dotting the countryside, an hour’s train ride away from the romantic canals of Venice. But even so, now that my time here is two-thirds gone and I’m stateside bound in just a month, I can’t help but think about everything I miss about Eugene, where I’ve lived for the better part of two years, and how excited I am to return.

In those moments when I get what I’ve started calling “hippie withdrawal,” I’m lucky to have more than 10 fellow U of O students to turn to. We all feel the same way, torn between the excitement of traveling and new experiences and the familiarity and comfort of our home away from home. We talk about our favorite cafés on campus, study spots we like and great professors at dinner sometimes, but even after getting some of it out of our systems, we still yearn to return.

But something fortuitous happened on Saturday night that eased the chill of the Alpine foothills and made me feel a little more at home: a barbecue. We all skipped dinner in the cold, cavernous cafeteria that night and instead broke out the barbecue. There were French fries, hamburgers, hot dogs and baked beans, and we gathered it all up on our plates like ravenous pigs. We chatted among ourselves as we dove into the all-American fast, and amid conversation, someone mentioned an Oregon game was scheduled to play on TV tonight. And suddenly four of us, decked out in Oregon shirts and sweatshirts, were parked in front of the television in the campus lounge. Then eight. Then 10. And then the Oregon faculty members were there too.

University of Oregon alumni at a CIMBA dinner in Italy

All the Ducks in a row…er, two rows

The game was at UC Berkeley, not on home turf, but what did it matter? We could see our team, up close and personal, and we identified our yellow-clad fans in the stands as if we were there with them.

We gave loud whoops when the game was in our favor and groaned, heads in hands, when our team let us down. We yelled in unison and held our hands above our heads in “O” shapes at the kickoff. We tried practicing other traditional game chants even though the band wasn’t there to back us up.

Practicing a U of O tradition, even when we were nearly 5,600 miles away from U of O itself, staved off my homesickness enough to make me feel buoyant even at the end of the game, when we lost to Cal and the rain in Berkeley fell harder than ever.

Photo by Jill Kimball

The weekend’s whirlwind tour!

Being a student in the CIMBA program means you’re constantly throwing yourself into one thing after another. This weekend, Lynn, Mark and I threw ourselves into Trieste, Padua and Venice. When we returned Sunday night, we threw ourselves back into homework and haven’t had time to breathe until now.

The first leg of the trip was a CIMBA-run Friday trip to sights near Trieste. First, our super-touristy buses stopped at Redipuglia, a World War I memorial and former battleground. It’s a huge, concrete-and-marble expanse that holds all the graves of the 40,000 known soldiers who died in the war, plus the remains of 60,000 unknown men, in a terraced motif. What struck me about the memorial was the stark contrast between its very white and cold expanse and all the trees and little houses dotting the countryside around it. After staring at a sea of green interspersed with little yellow and orange houses, the brightness and unnatural quality of the memorial was a little shocking–appropriately so.





Next, the bus stopped at Castello Miramare, built right on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea in the late 19th century. We didn’t get to go inside (we were only there for an hour, so the 4 euro admission price didn’t seem worth it), but we saw the pretty grounds via many staircases and even a little tunnel, and we made our way around the perimeter of the castle to the expansive balcony overlooking the ocean. The view of Trieste from the castle was outstanding, if a little hazy.

Photo by Jill Kimball



Photo by Jill Kimball

Then, after the bus dropped off the 3/4 of the student body who had decided to visit Ljubljana, Slovenia, three of us strapped on our backpacks and wandered around Trieste proper for a while. The city was full of beautiful, crooked alleyways that were perfect for the casual wanderer. The city clearly bore the mark of many different Western cultures, as it should given its location and involvement in so many land disagreements. In the same square was a canal that recalled Venice’s reign over Trieste, a church with Roman columns that hearkened back to its Roman roots, and a Serbian orthodox church, which reflects its interesting east-meets-west geographical position.


Photo by Jill Kimball
Photo by Lynn Hurley

In the late afternoon we caught a train to Padua and got to our B&B by nightfall. The couple who owned the little hotel, a large converted house, barely spoke any English–good news for me, because I got to practice my Italian; bad news for my friends, who knew not a word. Also staying at the hotel was a handful of students from Cal Tech, backpacking around Europe before the school year began. (I still can’t believe that most of the CSUs, UCs and U of O haven’t even started yet!) One girl was originally from Bucharest, Romania, but in the first five minutes of conversation with her we could barely pick up any accent at all.

When we woke up in the morning, we set off for the Cappella degli Scrovegni, where we had to reserve tickets online ahead of time to see Giotto’s famous frescoes. Much of his art had been damaged by a combination of centuries of neglect and exposure to polluted air, which caused the paint to peel. Since the 1960s, preservers have been trying to restore the frescoes. They’ve set up a complex system of air-churning machines and special waiting chambers to make sure the doors of the chapel aren’t opened and exposed to the elements for extended periods of time. They only open the doors for visitors every 20 minutes, and photos aren’t allowed…although we took a ton in the chapel’s lovely green grounds while we waited.

Photo by Jill Kimball
After the chapel, we found our way to the historic city center and took to street wandering for a few hours. We stumbled upon a few blocks of the biggest Italian names in fashion–Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, etc.–then found more affordable goods at an outdoor market in Piazza delle Erbe, one of the city’s main squares. I was glad to see there were very few tourists; everyone in the city center seemed to be locals or area visitors taking a day trip to go shopping.

Photo by Jill Kimball
Photo by Jill Kimball

We saw and went inside several churches, but the most impressive by far was the Basilica of St. Anthony, where the actual remains of Padua’s patron saint sit in a tomb inside the sanctuary. The church, as you can see from the picture, is impossibly huge inside and out. It had about 20 chapels inside, and at every one there was at least one person kneeling or stopping to whisper a “Hail Mary”. The basilica is obviously considered a sort of Catholic pilgrimage destination to Italians.

Photo by Jill Kimball
Photo by Jill Kimball
Photo by Jill Kimball

Hilariously enough, we were so sick of Italian food that night that we decided to forsake pizza and pasta for bar food at Le Chevalier, an Irish-style pub with a French name, Italian menus and good ol’ American food. We watched a pathetic Rome soccer game while we munched on french fries and burgers.

Photo by Jill Kimball
Photo by Jill Kimball
Photo by Jill Kimball
Sunday’s adventure: Venice.

Photo by Jill Kimball

Let me just preface my impressions of Venice with this: we knew from the beginning that we were crunched for time and that we’d only be able to spend four or five hours in the city. On top of that, the weather was crummy and prevented us from doing some things we had planned, like wandering around for hours and grabbing a coffee in St. Mark’s Square.

That said…Venice is overrun. It’s Disneyland. While it looks exactly as I pictured it, and while no other city looks anything like it, there are so many people there that it’s hard to remember to look around you when you’re pushing through the crowds. There are lines everywhere: we waited 20 minutes to check our backpacks for the day at the train station, 10 to get tickets for the vaporetti (water taxies), another 10 to actually get on a vaporetto, 20 to go up the bell tower in St. Mark’s Square, 10 to get into the Doge’s Palace…and the line was so long to get into St. Mark’s Cathedral that we skipped it altogether, something I wish I hadn’t had to do.

Photo by Jill Kimball
Photo by Jill Kimball
Photo by Jill Kimball

I sincerely hope anyone else who goes to Venice has a better experience than I had on Sunday. It’s a beautiful city, and I think if I’d had more time to enjoy it, I would have found different parts of the city that were less crowded by foot traffic. I also would have found places where English was not the primary language, since the whole point of visiting a foreign country, to me at least, is experiencing a culture different than your own. I didn’t get that foreign experience in San Marco, or on the Rialto Bridge, or on the vaporetti, so I hope to return closer to winter and find that Venice really is the beautiful, romantic city I always pictured it to be.

Photo by Jill Kimball

UP NEXT: A NIGHT OUT IN BASSANO DEL GRAPPA

Photo by Jill Kimball

…But I’m not a business major!

Our second week at the Istituto Filippin has been as crammed with business-related leadership seminars as it was last week. On Tuesday we had to sit through a “basic beliefs” seminar in which we determined what was most important to us–learning, love, spirituality, what have you–and how that tied into the decisions we’ve made in our lives. It encouraged us to use our core values to solve tough problems. One question the lecturer fired at us: would you rather be a hangman, someone who electrocutes convicts on death row, or a member of a firing squad? My answer: no.

The most painful seminar, though, was Wednesday’s lecture on strengths. We were told we’d be more successful in business if, instead of focusing our energy on improving weaknesses, we put most of our efforts into honing our strengths. It was all going well until the lecturer split us into groups, gave us a tricky business scenario, and asked us to figure out how we would handle it based on our greatest strengths. When one of the groups went to the front of the class and gave their presentation, the lecturer paused and said, in the most condescending way possible, “Sorry, my bullsh** detector’s going off.” We all looked at each other, horrified.

Luckily the day got better from there. The entire American population turned up for the CIMBA vs. Istituto (us vs. the Italian high schoolers) soccer game on what we call the Jesus field. Needless to say, we got stomped; the ending score was something like 9-0. The fans in the stands, however, stayed enthusiastic to the end.

Photo by Jill Kimball

The “Jesus field.”

That night, I also experienced my first Italian language-barrier problem since arriving. We were at a cafe, and I thought I’d order a “sorbetto”, a lemon drink I remembered one of my teachers recommending to the class. I went up to the woman at the bar and asked, in my best accent, for the drink. She threw her head back and laughed, and I was confused. She explained to me, first in Italian and then in English when I began to look confused, that “sorbetto” wasn’t considered a cocktail drink; it was a palette cleanser that Italians drank between meals. Oops!

I got another chance at Italian on an impromptu afternoon walk to nearby Crespano del Grappa. After we saw some of the sights in the tiny town, we stopped by a gelateria to finally get some Italian gelato–and I totally blanked on all the Italian words I knew that related to ice cream. After I ashamedly ordered two scoops of Nutella and Wafer-flavored goodness in English, I realized all the vocabulary I needed was written down on a menu two feet from the counter. D’oh!

Photo by Jill Kimball Photo by Jill Kimball
Everyone’s looking forward to the weekend, when we can escape tiny Paderno and finally start to see the world beyond. Almost the entire student body is heading to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. We had initially thought of going there, but we didn’t want to get to the Trieste train station and find out the train ticket would cost us upwards of $100 each–and now we’re glad we didn’t go, because all the trains are full and the entire hostel will be flooded with crazy Americans! We’ll hold onto our B&B reservations in Padova, thanks very much!

Read next: Adventures in Padova, Trieste and Venice

Photo by Jill Kimball

First post!

My overseas flight was four days ago, but I’m still wrapping my mind around the fact that I’m in Italy. The evidence is all around me–beautiful landscapes, little yellow-, orange- and whitewashed houses, scary drivers and crucifixes everywhere–but I’m still catching up on sleep, so half the time I forget where I am because I’m so focused on just staying awake.

Photo by Jill Kimball
The Istituto Filippin, an Italian boarding school where all of us American students are also staying and taking classes, is beautiful and a nice change of pace from the expansive University of Oregon campus. It used to take me 20 or more minutes to walk all the way across campus; now it hardly takes me five. Our dorms are expansive, with tall cielings, huge old-fashioned windows with thick wooden shutters, and a private bathroom with a bidet (?!). Once a week, maids come to change the towels and linens. There’s also a dining hall that serves all three meals every day, but so far it isn’t very popular with students–most meals consist of pasta, some sort of pork dish and a cup of pudding or yogurt. We may never eat pasta again once we leave here.

Photo by Jill Kimball
The campus is divided in two: one half is for dorms and classrooms, and the other is for athletics. Today I spent most of my day in the latter half for the Da Vinci Challenge, a leadership and team-building series of exercises that demanded cooperation, trust and all the strength I could muster. With my team of ten, I climbed over a 15-foot wall and made my way through a tangled web of ropes. I even fell from a high tower to demonstrate that I trusted the eight boys below to catch me.

Going through the day, which included other difficult strength exercises that tired us all out pretty quickly, was difficult, but I felt proud at the end. All those trust and group exercises proved to me that I’m no longer that shaking sixth-grade girl who can’t muster the courage to complete the ropes course at science camp.

The rest of the week, including Saturday, will be taken up by seminars and leadership workshops. Two friends and I hope to take a day trip to Venice on Sunday, but it may rain, so we may stay in the area and go somewhere closer instead.

READ NEXT: TALK OF TRAVELS AND RAIN