I’ve always wanted to go on a solo adventure on foreign soil and the beautiful Reid wedding in Tuscany seemed like the perfect opportunity to put that plan into action and do a bit of solo travel around Italy after all the fun of the wedding week was over.
I’m currently in Rome Fiumicino Airport waiting for my flight back to Glasgow and I really thought I’d be desperate to get home by this point but I’m really, REALLY not. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot in the last five days and the experience has also confirmed a few things I already knew about myself too. For me it hasn’t really been a massive journey of self-discovery; a little less ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and a bit more ‘Eat, Drink and Repeat’.
The prospect of travelling alone really didn’t phase me and I definitely think I get that from my gran. She went to New York by herself when she was in her late seventies back when The Big Apple was considered the most dangerous city in the world. I also have quite a few friends who have travelled lots on their own all across the world so a few days at the end of my trip to Italy (a country I’ve visited four times previously) really didn’t seem like that big a deal.
In saying that, I did actually felt really empowered by the whole experience and I know so many strong, independent, confident women who would still feel quite intimidated by the thought of going it alone. And I get it – things like this are definitely a little more intimidating being female but I thought I could pass on some practical tips and advice that I picked up that would maybe be quite helpful.
I arrived in Florence with lots of the wedding guests on Sunday 30th of June and we all had two days in Florence before travelling to Greve together, where we stayed in a fabulous villa nearly, in the beautiful Tuscan hills.
We had five amazing days at the villa and the wedding to end all weddings (seriously the most magical, beautiful day everrrrr) but, before we knew it, our week was over and I was just delighted that I hadn’t yet booked a return flight as it went in WAY too quickly!
As everyone either headed back to Scotland or on to other destinations in Italy, I went back to Florence to The Student Hotel (where we’d stayed on our first two nights in Florence) for another couple of nights.
This was the only thing I had booked by this point but knew I’d probably fly home from Rome later that week as flights were much cheaper than flying back from Florence or Pisa.
SOLO TRAVEL – FLORENCE
The Student Hotel in Florence was the perfect place to start my solo travels and I’d definitely go back there again. There is an amazing rooftop pool and, even although I had only booked a single room, I ended up in a huge room with and amazing view, really powerful air con (bliss after five days of no air con in the villa) and a HUGE double bed all to myself! Before we arrived, I was a little worried The Student Hotel would feel like a hostel or that everyone would be really young but it wasn’t like that at all. There are lots of communal areas for doing a bit of work (perfect for my digital nomad lifestyle) and cute little street food stalls and a good bar/restaurant area too.
It also felt really safe the staff were super friendly and helpful too. Florence would actually be the perfect destination if you’re looking to test the water in terms of a solo trip. There are direct flights with BA from Edinburgh to Florence, the airport is only about 15 mins away from the city centre and you can walk everywhere! The Student Hotel is located right next to university so there are lots of students around so you really don’t look like a tourist, much more like a student!
It’s a really easy city to navigate your way around and I felt completely safe the whole time I was there. I’d definitely recommend walking up to Piazzale Michaelangelo for the most amazing views of Florence. There are amazing shops if you’re feeling spendy but I’m really glad there was a rooftop pool at the hotel to soak up the sun, enjoy a little glass of vino whilst taking in the beautiful views over the city.
SOLO TRAVEL – PLANNING
As I mentioned, I had only booked two nights in Florence so I quickly had to figure out a plan for the rest of the week. I’m quite a chilled person (to put it mildly) so this didn’t really stress me out and I quite like being spontaneous. On the Monday, I spent a bit of time looking up trains from Florence and decided to head to Rome on the Tuesday morning. There was a high speed train for about €55 to Rome from Florence on Tuesday which took about 1 hour 30 mins but I also noticed there was another train which took about 3 hours for only €23 so I decided to go for that one instead as I had work to catch up on anyway so it would force me to be productive!
I used the Omio app (it’s free to download) and I’d definitely recommend downloading it if you’re travelling around Italy. It lets you work out the best route, lets you compare prices, gives you the platform details and also keeps all your bookings/tickets in the one place without having to print anything off.
I also found a hotel I liked the look of in Rome and, because I was booking for the following day, I got an amazing, last minute rate. As I would be travelling to the hotel from Rome Termini (the main train station), I wanted to make sure my hotel was in a location that was close to a bus stop I could get from Termini.
The google maps app is great for working out the best route between places when you need to use public transport. There were a few buses which went close to my hotel but there was one which stopped right across the road from my hotel which is so much easier when you’re travelling alone with a big suitcase! In Italy, you buy bus tickets from newsagents and it costs €1.50 for a single bus journey. Once you get on the bus, make sure you validate your ticket using the machine on the bus (you don’t need to show your ticket to the driver) or else you could be fined.
I just booked my first nights’ accommodation in Rome so that I could check out the area and make sure I felt safe. It gave me the option to move the following night if it wasn’t in the best area etc and, like I mentioned earlier, I’m quite chilled about these things so I was happy with only having the next nights’ accommodation booked.
SOLO TRAVEL – FLORENCE TO ROME
I headed for my 9am train from Florence to Rome (the train station is a 10 min walk from The Student Hotel) and easily found my platform/got through the barriers with my Omio app. One thing I would say about Italians is that I didn’t find them the most gentlemanly. Don’t expect anyone to help you with your case, even if they see you struggling alone so make sure you can carry it up and down stairs etc. It’s quite common for people to barge past you when you’re trying to get on/off buses and trains etc so don’t take it personally.
I’d already looked up exactly where my bus stop was for my bus to my hotel so that I knew where I was going once I got off the train in Rome. I think one of the key things about staying/feeling safe is to always know, or least LOOK like you know where you’re going. You’re much more likely to be distracted and leave yourself open to pickpockets etc if you’re trying to juggle cases and bags whilst looking at a map and trying to find the right bus stop etc so have your route planned out BEFORE you get off the train etc, especially in busier areas like train stations.
I got my bus to my hotel without any problems and found the Suite Art Navona Hotel, which I was relived to find on a busy, well-lit street.
SOLO TRAVEL – ROME
I checked into my hotel and, much like in Florence, I actually got a far nicer and bigger room than I had actually paid for. I ditched my case and headed back out for a wander around my new surroundings.
I actually visited Rome about 14 years ago but our hotel was really quite far outside the city and I was also there in late November (it rained all weekend) so I couldn’t wait to properly explore and get to know it a little better in the sunshine!
The Suite Art Navono was about a 30 second walk from Piazza Navona and a really busy, bustling area, close to the main attractions in Rome with plenty of dining options close-by too.
I wandered around and quickly stumbled upon the Pantheon and then headed along to the Trevi Fountain too to soak up the atmosphere. Read on for my tips on getting the tourist pics even when you’re travelling alone… and no, it absolutely DOESN’T involve a selfie stick!
SOLO TRAVEL – TABLE FOR ONE
One thing that SO many people have mentioned to me when I mentioned that I would be travelling alone is that they didn’t like the idea of eating alone. It honestly didn’t bother me in the slightest. Give me a good people-watching seat and I can happily sit there for hours eating pasta, drinking wine and watching the world go by. Not one single person asked me why I was alone or questioned why I was sitting by myself. I think it’s definitely a bigger thing in your own head than it is to anyone else so don’t even think about it.
SOLO TRAVEL – STAYING SAFE
Like I mentioned, I think it’s important to try and not look too much like a tourist. I actually think most people assumed I lived in Rome, especially as I was on my own. The only time I really encountered anything a bit weird/creepy was around the really touristy places where the weirdos are obviously on the lookout for naive tourists.
At the Spanish Steps, I noticed a guy on his own hanging around me for a while. He was a bit of a lurker and as soon as I moved 10 feet, he followed me, very unsubtly! When I started to head up towards Villa Medici, near the top of the Spanish Steps, I noticed he had followed me. This was, again, a really busy area so as soon as I made sure he was following me (he literally followed me around a fountain) I started shouting at him to stop following me. He said he wanted to “ask me a question” (had this a few times but don’t engage in conversation with them at all – be as rude as you need to be!) but I didn’t even let him get his question out!
Once he realised I wasn’t maybe the vulnerable prey he had hoped (swearing is a universal language and gets the message across in no uncertain terms), he quickly skedaddled! I waited around a big group of people for a while to make sure he hadn’t come back before heading off, always keeping an eye out for him and sticking to busy streets.
The only other slightly uncomfortable experience I had was at St Peter’s Basilica when another guy tried to stop me to ask a question. Again, I just had a feeling he had ulterior motives so I just pretended I couldn’t understand him and then walked away.
Unfortunately, there are weirdos in every city in the world so don’t let this stop you travelling. I’m sure you wouldn’t put up with any shit in your home town so just keep your wits about you and trust your instinct and you’ll be absolutely fine!
SOLO TRAVEL – KEEPING THE COST DOWN
Obviously, hotel rooms are much more expensive when you don’t have anyone to share with but, luckily, there are far more single rooms now available in lots of hotels. On booking.com, it also gives you lots of suggestions of places that have been recommended for solo travellers which is helpful. Booking hotels last minute is also a really good way to get the best rate and I also found that using the booking.com app saved me 10% on all my hotel bookings too so make sure you use that rather than the desktop site.
I actually didn’t spend a great deal of money in either Florence or Rome. I walked absolutely EVERYWHERE and didn’t pay to get into any attractions so the only money I spent was on food and drink.
I definitely found Rome more expensive for food and drink than Florence but you can still get a pizza or pasta for about €10 and a glass of wine for about €4 so it really doesn’t need to cost a lot of money.
SOLO TRAVEL – BEING SENSIBLE
When you’re by yourself, I do think you need to be a little bit more cautious when it comes to your belongings. For example, if I was with someone else and I lost my bank card, it would be a pain but I could just cancel my card and transfer money to the other person and it would be fine. Obviously you can’t do this when you’re by yourself and if you lost your phone, you’d find it even more difficult to cancel cards or access your bank account. I always made sure I didn’t carry both of my bank cards at the same time and also made sure I carried my drivers licence with me but left my passport in my room. If something was to happen to you, make sure you have some ID on you but I prefer to keep my passport in my hotel. It’s just common sense really but solo travel and not having anyone else to rely on means you need to think a little bit more so that you don’t end up up shit creek without a paddle, as they say!
SOLO TRAVEL – LOOKING LIKE A LOCAL
The good news is that being a female on your own immediately makes you look much less like a tourist, I was asked by people for directions quite a few times so I think people assumed I lived in Rome and Florence because I was on my own.
Standing in the middle of the street looking for a street name and with your map open in your phone is a pretty good indicator to people that you don’t know where you’re going and I think the less like a tourist you can look, the better! When you arrive at your hotel, I think it’s always a good idea to look up and get your bearings by finding a familiar tall building that you’ll be able to see from afar so that if you ever get lost, you know what direction to head in.
SOLO TRAVEL – MAKING SURE YOU GET THAT INSTA SHOT!
It’s probably lucky for anyone that follows me on insta that I wasn’t there with Rach as I’d probably have taken a million more outfit pics but I was still keen to get some solo travel snaps (other than selfies) of my trip. I’ve never asked a stranger to take my picture (and don’t think I’ll be doing it regularly in Glasgow somehow) but I definitely picked up some tips in Rome.
Firstly, do your research of the shot you want before you even get there. For example, I’d searched for the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Coliseum by the location tag on Instagram. I found some pictures that I liked and tried to work out where they were taken from before I even got there. I also saved them in Instagram so that I could refer back to them when I got there to make sure I had the right spot. I then took a little test shot without anyone in it to make sure the lighting was okay and got myself into position before kind of pointing to my phone and saying “can you take my picture” to a trustworthy looking individual (even better if they have a good camera around their neck – more likely to notice details).
Don’t expect them to take a million pictures and then let you check them before they go. Just let them take as many as they feel comfortable taking and then thank them when they hand your phone back. If you see people struggling to get a group selfie, offer to take a pic for them and then they’ll be happy to take a few for you in return.
I was quite happy with how my first three ‘stranger’ photographer photos turned out, what do you think?
SOLO TRAVEL – THE VERDICT
As I mentioned, this was my first solo travel period of more than a day or two and I wasn’t sure if it was one of these things that I’d just want to do once to get out of my system or something I’d plan on doing again. But I can honestly say that I loved my experience and I’m already thinking about where I can go next.
Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have as many laughs when you’re by yourself as you don’t when you’re with other people but it’s a great way to get to know yourself a little bit better and it’s actually very liberating just completely suiting yourself.
I could easily have just come home at the same time as everyone else after a week in Italy but I don’t think anything good ever came from my comfort zone and I’m SO glad I stayed in Italy for an extra five days – life is far too short to put things off and solo adventures are a great way to tick things off the bucket list!
Let me know if you have any recommendations for places you’ve visited alone or what’s stopping you going it alone.