Most people balk at the idea of travelling alone. We’re comfortable commuting alone, studying at a coffee shop alone, even living alone. But we don’t travel alone. There’s something about the word “travel” that has to involve other people. Saw the Colosseum on your own? Why on earth would you do that?! Florence by yourself? How unromantic.
View of the Colosseum from park on far side. Almost no tourists on this side. One kid wouldn’t stop throwing cherry bombs which I mistook for gun shots. Gave him some very nasty and very evil glares.
The prevalent mentality is alone = loneliness. What a load of bull, eh? Being able to spend time alone is a form of luxury. You have the opportunity to figure out what makes you tick (just because you’re you doesn’t mean you always know yourself very well).
My first solo journey was in Rome, specifically Vatican City, in January. The Holy See was all glittering stone. Endless rows of towering columns marked the entrance way, pearl-white marble statues adorned every corner and cornice, and people jostled for a chance to photograph St. Peter’s Basilica. With its imposing structures, Vatican City was a visualization of power. I felt insignificant, like a speck in the universe. It was a humbling moment.
Vatican City at Christmas.
The sheer size of everything in Rome is astounding. Almost as if the gods came down themselves to erect the columns.
The atmosphere was electric. A sense of expectation charged the air. I thought it was normal for Vatican City to be packed to its edge. I snapped some photos and sat on one of the stone steps, breathing it all in. Then I decided to leave since I had seen what I came to see. Inexplicably, something held me back. An instinct. I exited the city but walked back just in time to hear cheering and applause and wondered what the fuss was about. That’s when I saw the Pope poke his head out of the window of the Apostolic Palace and make a speech. I was ecstatic. As Matilda said when she first discovered her power of telekinesis “I was flying past the stars on silver wings.” In my mind I was flying but I thanked my lucky stars that I was rooted right there, in that moment, among thousands of spectators gaping in holy reverence to his High Holiness.
The Pope giving a speech from the Apostolic Palace. This experience made my whole trip to Europe.
With travel partners, there’s usually a “what’s-the-next best-thing-around-the-corner?” mood. Sometimes when things are rushed it can render the experience into a commodity — another product off the shelf. If I hadn’t been by myself in Rome, I would’ve probably missed seeing the Pope.
Travelling on my own gave me time to reflect. In Florence, I accidentally stumbled into a church that housed the original Annunciation painting. The exterior was unassuming, bland even, but the interior made me catch my breath. It was gorgeous, intricate, and royal. I underestimated the building based solely on its outward appearance. Another humbling moment. Mass was in progress and when the priest told the worshippers to go and spread the sign of peace, we all started shaking hands while repeating the phrase”may peace be with you” in Italian. The ceremony was in a language that I didn’t comprehend but the rituals were familiar. This was a reaffirmation that affection and appreciation are universal values.
The Santissima Annunziata church in Florence. Interior was breathtaking. Another reminder that outside appearances aren’t everything. It’s always what’s inside that counts.
One of the chapels in the church. The most intricate one in my opinion. Ceiling adorned with cherubs and the two angels perched on a mausoleum caught my eye. Flowing robes, flowing hair, and porcelain skin. I wonder what these angels are looking at …The Santissima Annunziata church’s front façade. A VERY unassuming exterior. A true hidden gem.
I admit that travelling on your own can get lonesome. Self-consciousness can be at an all-time high when you’re in a foreign country. In Florence, I hiked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, a hill known for its view of the entire city. I was sipping hot chocolate on the steps with other travellers while relishing the beauty of the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo. I was enchanted, enthralled. I was also lonely. I noticed people with their sweethearts, newlyweds on their honeymoon, new graduates on their Euro trip with their buddies, while here I was by myself.
Sunset and view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo hill. Looks as if the city never left the Renaissance age. The Duomo on the right and the Ponte Vecchio is the first bridge on the left (closest one to view).
There’s also all the tiny, morbid tasks that lone traveller’s go through. Dining alone can be daunting. Figuring out which way the subway goes in an indecipherable language can be downright heart-stopping. Being smirked at because of your accent can be humiliating.
But what you stand to gain is unquantifiable.
At the end of the day, travelling is more than just sightseeing. It’s more than just checking off boxes on a bucket list. It’s a true test of your mental strength and adaptability; a moment to be in awe of the world around you for its own merit and realizing that most of the barriers that you’ll face are only psychological. It will change you.
And in my opinion, it’s all worth it.