Lone travel sparks mixed responses among males and females, young and old. Whether or not to go it alone when hitting the road is a difficult question particularly for female travellers. As a girl myself I can say that lone travel sometimes causes confrontations that may not necessarily arise for our male counterparts.
I was first presented with the opportunity for lone travel over a two week period in Europe. Friends wanted to go to Greece, for two weeks of partying around the clock as one does when visiting the Greek islands. I had already been there, done that. I could fairly say that I’d had my share of dancing on tables and riding on quad bikes at all hours of the morning. This time I wanted to cover some new ground.
I had heard mixed reviews on lone travel and although only for two weeks I was torn on whether to go through with it. Being able to do whatever I wanted, on my own schedule was the main draw card. I was looking forward to finishing my book on the beach, treating myself to a few gelati and wandering the streets of Italy at my own pace.
On that note, I flew into Napoli and headed by train to The Amalfi Coast. Headphones in, I enjoyed the ocean views passing by my window and sunk into ‘lone travel mode’. I was already familiar with the Italian train systems and the general area. Being able to speak the language also gave me a confidence that I may not have had else where.
So far so good. I successfully arrived in the small coastal town of Atrani in one piece. The first thing I did after checking-in to a hostel was go to the beach.
Problemo Numero Uno presented itself. Who would watch my bag on the beach when I wanted to swim? I left my stuff in the room and went down the hundreds of cobbled stairs to the beach, towel and book in hand. Alone. With no phone and just 10 Euro in my pocket I decided to take full advantage of being ‘disconnected’.
Face down on my towel, I un-tied my swim top to prevent unwanted tan lines like any one would. Droplets of sweat gathered above my top lip as I got hotter with the afternoon sun. My face felt as red as the stripy umbrellas that lined the small beach. With no watch and therefore no sense of time I was starting to enjoy the ‘loneliness’ of lone travelling and began to doze off when I heard- the voice. It said, “hello madam.”
Enter Problemo Numbero Due. Those two words I tried to ignore but with relentless repetition “madam, madam,” I had to look up.
A guy wearing the tightest speedos known to man squatted right down to my eye level and said with a strong Italian accent, “I’ve been watching you all day and you’re getting sun burnt, can I put lotion on your back?”
Re-living the memory now, I don’t know what disturbed me the most. Was it the angle of those speedos in a squatting position or the fact that this man had been watching me all day? Both aspects of this encounter I did not appreciate. No, I did not want a strange man to rub sun lotion on my back. No, I did not want to have a conversation with my swim top dangling free around my neck and sweat dripping down my face.
My stranger danger radar was now on high alert and I felt increasingly uncomfortable. My zen totally shattered, I walked back to the hostel with eyes glued to the pavement trying hard not to catch anyone else’s attention. I showered and regained my courage to go out for dinner. Table for one, book in hand once again, I ordered a Caprese salad and a glass of red, content with me, myself and I.
Admiring the view and the sweetest tomato I’d ever tasted, I turned as the waiter approached my table and realised… it wasn’t the waiter. Problemo Numero Tre introduced himself. His opening line was; “Why is such a beautiful young lady sitting all alone? May I join your table?”
Although the compliment was flattering and some may have welcomed the opportunity to share their table with an overly confident Italian man, I was not thrilled. I didn’t come to Italy to find myself a lover or a holiday fling. I felt like my personal space was being invaded and I didn’t want the attention.
Is it such a crime to enjoy ones own company? I politely declined the offer, knocked back the rest of my wine and left. I was now questioning how I was going to survive the rest of the week batting off Italian men every where I went. The pizza was giving me enough cheese without the addition of their one liners.
It was becoming quite clear that staying alone while lone travelling is not as easy as expected. I thought my biggest problem would be trying to make friends. Instead it was trying to avoid unwanted friends. Was I unintentionally giving off a vibe that welcomed strange men? Surely this couldn’t be my fault?
I finally arrived back to my hostel after a lonely walk looking over my shoulder every 50 meters to make sure no-one was following me. Paranoia obviously in over drive. Two American girls had moved into my dorm room. I vented to them about my experience of lone travel so far and they asked if I wanted to join them at a celebration for the local patron saint in a neighbouring town. Safety in numbers I figured.
Food trucks lined the street selling local cuisine. Fried calamari, spicy Italian sausage rolls, warm donuts, and Limoncello. Live bands played Italian folk music and crowds gathered to watch a large procession. We bought Peroni’s for 2 Euro and sat on the rocks to watch fireworks over the beach. It was the perfect way to experience the town at its busiest time of year when both locals and tourists come together to enjoy the festivities.
The night wouldn’t have been the same without the girls from my room who ended up being much appreciated company. Friendships were made that may not have if I had been travelling with my own group. I also spent the rest of the week visiting places that they had recommended.
The balancing act of lone travel is about trying to enjoy your alone time while still being open to new experiences and new people. Being able to gauge when it’s ok to let your guard down and when there might be potential dangers at hand is a fine line. The main thing to remember is to trust your gut. If you feel something isn’t right or you’re in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, have the confidence to walk away. Say no when you need to say no. Say yes when you feel you’ve found like minded people who you can share good times with. Don’t let the horror stories stop you from travelling alone. Most people mean well and you will probably gain an independence that you didn’t know you had!
Take the good with the bad and enjoy the not so lonely nature of lone travel.
For the Gap Maps tips on budget travel to these destinations visit the Italy and Amalfi Coast pages.