This is a recipe that I have perfected over time, learning from mistakes, discovering the best shortcuts, whilst still always being surprised by the delights waiting for me.
Although stashing away the map and wandering down the narrow alley can be una delizia (a real treat) also knowing where to likely find these diamanti (gems) is an important part of my pre-travel research.
I always think, ‘why leave it to chance when the internet is bursting with tips for must-see neighbourhoods, the local’s bar of choice, and the perfect but unexpected photo opportunities?’
I know what you are thinking…doesn’t this take the fun out of exploring a new place? Let me assure you, Italy IRL is never a disappointment. Trip advisor, google, and other travel sites, provide only a splash of what is to come when you visit la nostra Italia. Web images just do not capture the complimentary colours of Capri, the rustic atmosphere of Rome or the modest charm of Modena.
A little bit of a plan helps me get the most out of a trip, especially if it’s a short one. It’s almost like creating a bespoke, dream tour that includes all your favourite things to do!
Disappointment when you’re exploring a new place is like a pizza with pineapple, no one wants it! Allora, here are my tips for the smoothest solo travelling:
Know your neighbourhoods
Heading for some of the need-to-see neighbourhoods, is the perfect way to experience the most unique spots and local treasures, whilst still maintaining a little mystery.
It’s like getting invited to a party..you know it’s gonna be fun, but you have to start first by turning up at the right place! Oh and bring Wine!
We’re talking Navigli in Milano, Trastevere in Rome, and Sant’Ambrogio in Firenze, just to name a few. A quick search for the coolest neighbourhoods in your chosen location is the best way to experience local delicacies, the strongest Negroni and the most energetic evening atmospheres.
To get more unique recommendations for unique neighbourhoods and what you can find there, I get googling, knowing how to search is a real art.
Just as an example of what zero planning can get you, I met two women in a hostel in Rome who told me they had eaten dinner at a restaurant just two minutes from the Fontana di Trevi. When I asked them if they had fallen in love with those ‘lazy white figures lounging by that sparkling pool of water’, they said they didn’t even know it was there! Che Peccato!
Living la Vita Lenta
Travelling solo is perfect for slowing down, allowing the magic of Italy to sink into your skin it becomes a part of you forevermore… IF you really take the necessary time to soak it up.
That is what Italia is all about, Vita Lenta, slow living, enjoying life’s simple pleasures and releasing those material expectations into the soft wind; you could almost float.
My favourite part of travelling alone is just this, sitting in a spot with an espresso and a sketchbook, listening to a language so spirited, it could be music. No one is there to say: ‘Okay what shall we do now?’ or ‘Shall we do something else?’
It’s kind of like meditating but your eyes are open, watching gli Italiani show you how life is done and eating an AMAZING risotto all at the same time.
For la vita lenta in real time, set aside a day with zero tourist attractions or major sites and head to a local bar for breakfast, stopping off at una edicola, a newsstand, and sift through the rotating racks for an interesting looking magazine, or newspaper.
The newsstand in Italia, is an artefact in itself. Little shacks packed with glossy supermodels, the latest news on Scuderia Ferrari, and the classic, graphic titles of regional and national gli giornale, are not to be ignored, if you want to immerse yourself in Italia.
Grab your Vogue Italia or Corriere Della Sera and make no plans to move for the next 30 minutes, stop multi-tasking, stop answering e-mails and just relax… classic Italia Style!
Enjoy first, photograph second
Whilst phones and cameras capture our memories as we travel, it can sometimes become just a habit to take photos as soon as we see something beautiful or spectacular… before we have even let our own eyeballs have a look!
Giving yourself the time to enjoy the wonders of Italy, in tutta gloria, and not through a screen, will enhance your experience, in a way we have forgotten about; this is a habit that helps soloists in many ways.
Primo – Nothing says ‘sono-ovviamente-un-turista’ (I’m obviously a tourist) like whirling an iPhone around like a windmill, taking 300 photos of a stray cat asleep on a pizza box.
Secondo – Just a few, carefully taken snaps will end up being so much more valuable to you than 42 very slightly different angled pictures of ‘The Birth of Venus’.
My recommendation is to try out a cheap disposable film camera. You get only 35 shots to capture your whole trip, but the results can encapsulate the true experience of Italia.
Since using a 35mm film camera, I see things that I never took the time to see before, a stall filled with pasta in all colors lined up like soldati, or a hand-painted shop sign so gorgeous, it should be in the Uffizi!
Ultimo, ma non per importanza (last but not least), get into the spirit! Try the local dishes, even when they dont sound as appetizing as you may want…In Florence go for the lampredotto, in Rome la trippa and le frattaglie, L’Erbazzone in Emilia Romagna, Gnumariedd in Puglia…don’t aks, just order. Walk the 8 am streets and greet the early birds, gl’anziani, get your first dose of caffe al bar, and give your broken Italian a shot, the effort will be appreciated, keep exploring and remember: A buon intenditor poche parole