BY LISA MARIE BASILE
I wanted to write this after I’d returned from solo travel — not right after, and certainly not during — because I wanted to make sure the insights I’m providing aren’t either totally obvious (“Google the location first!”) or incorrect.
Last month, I spent a little over two weeks in Europe alone. It wasn’t the longest trip I’d taken abroad, but it was the most notable in terms of personal transformation. In the past, I’d gone to Mexico on my own for a while as part of a volunteer group (no, not a missionary group!) with a group of global volunteers. I was alone — and the only American — but I was surrounded by people, so there was no sitting in my thoughts. I’d bunked with two young women from Seoul and one from Quebec, and we’d stay up all night chatting and laughing. I remember experiencing overwhelming pangs of loneliness then, but I was so young and so concerned with ‘fun’ that I let the night and my new friends whirlwind me away from my inner thoughts.
But traveling alone is so worth it, so empowering, so revealing. It goes without saying that solo travel is a journey in more ways than one. It’s a sojourn of place and self.
On this past trip, I spent a few days in a little green village just outside Windsor, England and then I took myself to Sorrento. I flew into Naples (where some of my family is from) and then drove the hour and a half into the mountains, up to what felt like the very top of a mountain in Sorrento, to a tiny bed and breakfast (converted from a 7th century church) in a silent commune. Where I stayed had just a chapel, a tiny market — where I’d by water, mortadella and lemon beer — and two small restaurants. If you closed your eyes where I stayed, you’d hear a few birds, a barking dog, and the chatter of a few people down the road. No bars, no centro, nothing.
Looking out, you could see only blue — never knowing where the sea stopped and the sky began. Only knowing that out there loomed Vesuvius, and if she exploded you’d never escape. There was one single road down the mountain and into Naples — much of it through mountains. Let’s just say it makes you think. And that was the entire point.
But onto what I learned during my solo travels…
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Cannot believe it was just a week ago I was in this fantasyland ~ that actually exists ~. I confess it; despite the beauty and magic, my Italian trip was not easy; I was alone and I fell into the well in my mind. I became weak and vulnerable. I witnessed my shadow in full force. I was unable to get out of my head, mostly at night, alone. But I’m grateful for when the daylight hit, when I watched the birds and swam; by day, everything shifted and I fell in love with every street and shoreline and untouched alleyway. I essentially wrote an entire book while there (my @clashbooks novella), rewriting huge parts of it — which take place in the exact place I visited in Italy. So, despite the cruel summery slog through my deepest and darkest thoughts and anxieties while traveling alone (we don’t give enough credit to solo fucking travelers), it was everything and more—transformative and illuminating and generative. Even if I dragged myself through long nights. My forthcoming @clashbooks novella is the product of my being holed up in an Italian room high up in the mountains, all alone. Did you expect anything less dramatic from me? . #travel #wanderlust #travelphotography #positano #amalficoast #solotravel #solotravelling #solotravelgirl @solofemaletravel @solotravelblazing @travel__etc @sorrentoitalia @sorrentovibes @amalficoast_italy #travelblogger #travelgram #wanderful_places #naturephotography #italy #italia #campania #writing #writingcommunity #bookstagram
Cover the logistical basics first and never, ever make assumptions about anything
Before I get into what I personally learned, here are some foreign travel basics. If you’re traveling to any location — even popular tourist destinations — you’ll want to ensure that you understand cultural basics and prepare for logistical issues. You can still be spontaneous (like me) and impulsive and do your due diligence.
Are there accessible routes, travel options or places where you’re going? If you’re a wheelchair user, how friendly is the area? If walking is difficult for you, are there many steep hills or roads? Is everything cobblestone? Are the restaurants and churches all up steps?
Here are some useful resources for people who want to learn more about accessibility-friendly cities and countries for travelers: Curb Free With Cory Lee (here’s his list of most accessible beaches in the world, for example) Nomadic Matt, and Wheelchair Travel.
Important for women, people of color and non-binary or trans individuals: How does the culture treat marginalized identities? Is it safe for you travel in the area, and if not, what steps can you take to ensure safety? This a good starting point and website regarding this all-important issue.
Learn a little bit of the language. This helps immensely. Just get a translation app on your phone and don’t be a afraid of using it.
Register your trip with your embassy before you go. If you are American, you can do this here.
Do this location have Uber or Lyft? If not, can you catch a train or bus — and do the buses come regularly and show up at the spot they say they will? This came up a lot for me, so be prepared ahead of time. I recommended googling specific questions. I got most of this useful information ahead of my trip via forums like TripAdvisor and Rick Steves forums (most of the time you can simply Google the question, find the forum link and read it versus signing up for the forum). You’d be surprised what you’ll find when you do a little Googling. Someone somewhere took the very bus you think you need or traveled the same itinerary as you plan to.
if you have connecting flights, where do you connect? Is the terminal huge and are there usually short connections? If so, can you learn a little bit about how that specific airport works? Many airports are equipped to handle short connections, but some are notorious for causing passengers to miss flights.
If you’re going swimming, for example, can you find free or public beaches ahead of time? Most beach or coastal tourist areas will peddle pricier beach tickets. Is the free beach unsafe? (Usually, I’ve found that they’re not).
Are the footpaths near your bed & breakfast or where you’re traveling safe?
Can you drink the water from the tap or in fountains?
Is there a nearby hospital? Do pharmacies offer medication (in Europe, for example, most people go to a pharmacy). Is there a service that sends doctors to your hotel or bed and breakfast?
If you use a special kind of medication — like a biologic that needs to be kept refridgerated, or, say, insulin — are there special pharamacies where you can get medication? This is especially important for longer-term travel.
What kind of money does the country take? Where can you get it without getting charged an arm and a leg? One rule of thumb is that you’ll usually get the worst exchange rate when you convert money at your bank or at one of those airport money changers. Only convert smaller amounts if you’re going to. I usually use my debit or credit card to get a better exchange rate — so be sure to ask your bank about a card that doesn’t come with a wild foreign transaction fee. Some of these cards actually reimburse foreign ATM fees, otherwise you could be paying a good amount every time you withdrawal money. I’d really suggest googling this sort of thing ahead of where you’re traveling.
Oh, and be sure to let your bank know when and where you’re traveling. Being hit with a freeze while abroad is no fun.
Look into tipping etiquette for the country you’re visiting. It differs place to place and according to each service (car drivers, hotel staff, waiters, bartenders).
This goes a long and includes issues of diversity, race, and gender — but it goes beyond that. What are some general customs that must be remembered where you’re going? What’s considered impolite or left-field? How do people see tourists from different countries? What sort of local behavior might you consider “rude” even though it’s perfectly normal? Knowing this sort of thing is helpful because we have to de-center ourselves when we travel. We can’t enter every country or culture with a myopic us-centered lens. Not only will it sully you’re experience, it’ll keep you from personal expansion.
An example: Although this wasn’t a major issue, I was made to cover my shoulders in many churches throughout Italy and Spain. Say what you will about modesty, shame, religion and all of the other stuff bubbling under that boiling surface, but knowing this before I arrived was helpful. It’s a custom that I had to understand and accept if I wanted to see the churches. Period.
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On the way to Amalfi and Positano we pass Li Galli, also known as The Sirenusas — an archipelago of little islands surrounded by cerulean water. This is where Ulysses’s sailors were sought out by the sirens, thought to be named Parthenope, Leucosia, and Ligeia. They played the flute, the lyre, and of course, they sang. Their story goes back to the 1st century, sang, and another played the flute. They are mentioned in the 1st century by the Greeks. I imagine them as women-mermaids, although the sirens were also depicted as having a bird body with human heads. . In my bed and breakfast I stayed in the Parthenope room, decorated in light blue, gold, and ivory, and of course, as a water sign — Scorpio — this was initiatory, a blood welcoming. A ritual of water and lineage. I am a siren, a descendent of Parthenope, perhaps? 🌊🧜🏽♀️ Parthenope sadly was said to throw herself into the sea when she couldn’t please Odysseus with her siren song. Her body was found on the shore of Naples, where my grandfather comes from. Other stories say that a centaur fell in love with Parthenope, but Jupiter couldn’t have this — and so he turned her into the city of Naples, while the centaur became Vesuvius. And when Vesuvius couldn’t have her love, he would erupt. . Virgil wrote that Parthenope nurtured him. 💧
Connect with the local mythology & poetry
In Sorrento, I visited the Costa Amalfitana, and it was a land of mythology and story — and researching it helped me connect to the sky, the sea, the land, and the people. In my piece on my personal travel experience, I wrote that I stayed in a room called Parthenope, one of the sirens that sung to weary sailors (and to Odysseus, who was said to not love her voice). After that, she was said to cast herself into the sea and whose body would become the city of Naples.
This watery mythology carried me through my trip (especially as a water sign), also giving me pause to reflect on the rich history of place and the magic of the sea where I swam and daydreamed and played.
Connecting with the local mythology not only lets you experience the space on a more profound and deeper level, it can clue you into cultural behaviors and beliefs.
And please — find a book by a poetry from the region you’re visiting. I may be biased but I believe that poetry speaks the language of the people. It expresses the nuance of the land, the heart of its people. Poetry also shares what the textbooks, headlines, and tourist industries sometimes don’t. Poetry is war and sex and food and god and soil and the grittiest of truths.
Keep a journal of your experiences
There are feelings, moods, realizations and reckonings that can’t be captured on camera. There are things you won’t want to share on Instagram. There are late-at-night ideas and feelings you’ll want to better understand later. Often time, as I say, a place slices a piece of you and keeps it for itself long after you leave. That shedding happens without us noticing it, but we get glimpses of it from time to time — and all of that is worth writing down. That moment of sorrow or loneliness or fear or exhilaration or pure and total elation? All worth capturing in your own words. A place sometimes becomes more and more real after we leave it; your notes and written memories may help you decide what that place really meant when you were too stuck within the eye of the storm to really decipher it.
Be open to chatting with the locals and other tourists, but know the difference between loneliness and being alone
One of the things I learned while traveling is that i frequently thought I felt “lonely.” I was alone, yes, but I wasn’t truly lonely. I think of the generous Italian family who made me pasta and invited me to sit with them at their family table when I arrived to my bed and breakfast during siesta — without any food and no place to go to eat. I think of the Irish family who had me sit with them during a visit to a local farm at which we were plied with pasta and wine after the tour. I think of the English tourists who gave told me the best spots to see in Capri as we jumped into the sea during our boat tour. I think of the sweet young women who waited on me every night at one of the two restaurants on our little hill — who, by night three, practiced their English with me and let me speak to them in Italian. I think of the time we broke down on the mountain side coming back from Positano. I was with a group of Spanish tourists who cracked a few beers and chatted with me about global politics (and then offered to buy my book!) as we waited for a new car to pick us up.
How beautiful. Talk. Ask questions. Introduce yourself. Be open and receptive. The world is an empathic and naturally generous place if you show some vulnerability.
Listen to the birds. To the wind. To the sea. To the traffic. To the dialects. Listen to your own heart beating. Try and take a few moments each day not to experience everything and collect as many tourist stops as possible, but to be inhabited by and inhabit the spirit of the location. Let it seep into your blood and change you. Breath into the country and keep it there. All the spreadsheets and photos and Instagram poses won’t matter years from now. What will matter is how you remember the light, how the wine ran through you, how the birds seemed to follow you wherever you went.
Set an intention for your trip
Even if your intention is open-ended — to learn something new about yourself — an intention can turn your trip into a ritual itself. Acts of exploration, waking up, talking to new people, traversing new roads, trying new wines or foods all become sacred, parts of a pathway toward your intention. My intention for my last trip was to write — to get into a space where I was fully inhabited by peace and free time and my purest sense of self. And write I did — I finished my Clash Books novella. Somehow. Travel is magic.