My two-week trip to southern Italy was originally supposed to take place in May 2020, but my plans were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and postponed until November 2021. On the bright side, the pandemic’s uncertainties definitely made me appreciate my ability to travel internationally more, and allowed me more time to teach myself a bit of the language, and research and plan where I wanted to go when I finally set foot in Italy. While I expected to learn a lot about Italian culture, I also came home with a new perspective on many aspects of life. Here are a few things each region of Italy taught me as a solo traveler.
Lesson 1: Humility
Surprisingly, Rome was the city I was least excited about visiting ahead of time, as it was the most tourist-friendly city I visited. After being cooped up for so long, I was craving an adventure and a challenge, which is why I opted to only spend two nights in Rome. Although my stay in the city was short, I managed to meet four young adults in their late twenties from Jordan while sitting at an outdoor café and drinking a Limoncello spritz. As they spoke nearly perfect English, which was only one of the many languages they spoke, and told me stories about the various countries they’ve lived in while studying and learning languages, I quickly realized that I am a very boring, yet fortunate, individual. American media infiltrates so much of the rest of the world, and these young people from Jordan were speaking their second or third language solely to include me in their conversation. By luck, I happened to be born into an influential and privileged country, and am able to travel freely to most destinations with the comfort of knowing English will be spoken to a reasonable degree. The grace these four individuals showed me was undeserved, and their kindness in inviting me to join their conversation was touching.
Lesson 2: Perseverance
Traveling from tourist-packed Rome to the lesser-traveled regions of Basilicata and Puglia in the south of Italy greeted me with a figurative punch in the gut when I realized English was few and far between. Traffic became more chaotic, and I nearly missed my bus from Bari to Matera when I struggled to find the correct bus stop. In fact, being inexperienced in using public transportation in general, I ended up taking the wrong train in Bari on one occasion, resulting in a 20-minute walk of shame back to Bari Central Station where I initially started. The difficulty of navigating ancient streets along the cave-dwellings of gorgeous Matera at night, adjusting to dodging motor scooters in bustling Old Town Bari’s alleyways, and the embarrassment of forcing myself to poorly speak what little Italian I knew made my visit to the Puglia and Basilicata regions my favorite. By the time I was ready to head to Naples after a week in Matera and Bari, I felt like I had grown tremendously and gained a newfound bravery and confidence in myself as a traveler.
Lesson 3: Flexibility
My trip to Naples was actually an impromptu trip, after I received a phone call from a hotel regarding a reservation I completely forgot I had booked earlier that year. As it turned out, if I hadn’t checked into the hotel in Naples by midnight, I would be charged for five nights, regardless of whether I was staying on the property. Within two hours of my phone call with the hotel, I packed my backpack, booked a 3-hour bus ticket to Naples, and checked out of my Bari Airbnb a day early. My original plan was to head north to Florence, but my forgetfulness resulted in a surprising turn of events for the better and a five-night stay in Naples. Had I not pivoted and rolled with the punches, I would have never learned how to use a metro, missed out on seeing bucket list sites such as Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii, and I wouldn’t have made myself feel a bit uncomfortable in the process – which is exactly the experience I wanted to gain out of my solo adventure abroad.