Ciao Bella: The Art of Traveling Solo in Italy

Written by Shnane Liem

There are times when you puff your chest out, roll your shoulders back, and take on whatever life throws at you head-first. Then there are times when you quit your job, rent out your apartment, and take off to Italy for a month. I chose the latter.

To make a long story short, it was time for an escape. I felt Italy beckoning a year ago, and not just because I am obsessed with celebrity chefs like Lidia Bastianich, David Rocco, or Giada De Laurentiis. Not wanting to let newfound singledom deter me from experiencing this inner calling, I chose to leap across the Atlantic and head for the Boot.

My first time embarking on a European adventure alone, a mixture of excitement and a glint of nerves were abundant as my plane touched down to Bologna, Italy’s culinary capital. A city rarely frequented by tourists, I immediately fell in love (even with 40 degree temperatures). From there I headed to the largely tourist populated and honeymoon destined Cinque Terre, then caught a train to Sorrento, sailed to Capri, and trotted along the Amalfi Coast.

Line-ups, tour guides, and oversized foldable maps were not on the agenda. Frankly, I went for the food, the beauty, and the culture. I had a mission to ‘get lost’ in every city, soaking up the atmosphere and finding simple things to fall in love with every day. And I did just that.

So if you ever find yourself in a situation where irresponsibility is something you can cope with, and an adventure with lessons you will never forget is the right move, I highly suggest you follow your instincts. Ladies, don’t be afraid to head to restaurants and sit at a table for uno, or lay on the beach next to couples kissing for hours beside you. Lucky for you I was the guinea pig, and am here to share a few lessons learned so you too can embrace a solo adventure.

Food is to Enjoy, Not to Rush
At home I regularly stocked my cupboards with organic quinoa, almond milk, and other hippie food trends that require half my paycheck. Once Italian bound, the stress of “diet” and food no longer applied. I purchased produce, fish, pasta, prosciutto and mortadella (never call it baloney, or the Bolognese will be sure to correct you rather abruptly) from food stalls ran by the same families for hundreds of years. I embarked on a cooking school where I learned how to make fresh pasta cooked perfectly al dente, desserts made of freshly picked berries enveloped in mascarpone, and drank local wine that complimented each and every bite. I soon remembered that good food is not complicated, but rather simple: love what you eat, and eat what you love. Forget calorie counting, cutting carbs, and all of the other restrictions we regularly dwell on. Food is to enjoy, to savor, and to relish, so make quality a priority.

In a Word: Relax
Though Vancouver is known for it’s laid-back Westcoast attitude, pre-Italy mine certainly was not. Caught up in deadlines, appointments, and meetings, I would constantly stress about falling two minutes behind schedule. If I misread the train schedule or hopped on the wrong bus, I just had to remember one thing: I’m in Italy. I adopted the attitude that I was never really lost because I was always experiencing something new: a café, a cobblestone street, or old Italian men playing checkers while smoking cigars in a nearby park. I replaced my iPhone that I once held on to for dear life with a beautifully aromatic, bold, and perfectly frothed cappuccino. Perhaps being on vacation was a major factor that caused the stress and anxiety that plagued me to dissipate; however, I am quite pleased to report that it has continued to linger throughout my veins now that I’m back on Canadian soil.

Act Like You Know What You’re Doing, Even When You Don’t
I knew that Italian men were known for their, er, passion, which they regularly expressed through cat-calls, bella bella’s, and air blown kisses. This kind of attention basically makes me cringe and run – make that sprint –in the opposite direction. Though my dark hair and tanned skin allowed me to blend in, a large part of it had to do with mastering the Italian woman’s attitude: head up, shoulders back, and walk with a purpose (even when I didn’t have the faintest clue where I was going). The only problem was that this seemed to work a little too well, as locals would assume I was Italian and then ask me directions or when the next bus was arriving . Unfortunately, conversation quickly blew my cover.

Tune In by Tuning Out
Foregoing cell phones, iPods, or other technical devices that are designed to isolate us from our surroundings, I discovered a culture very much tuned-in to one another. The streets are alive and ringing with passion. The sound of people conversing reverberates throughout cities riddled with architecture so beautiful that every block deserves a photograph. Socializing is a necessary part of the day, and takes place over Aperitivos and Campari. Even on public transportation, I cannot recall seeing one person fiddling with their phone or bopping their head to whatever beats are blasting in their ears. They love life, food and wine, and celebrate it through simple yet often forgotten rituals. So take part.

Though I am extremely fortunate to reside in one of the most livable cities in the world, sometimes you have to leave to remember what you have. While jet setting to Europe may not be a feasible reality for many, taking a weekend or even a few hours alone to slow down and soak in your surroundings will remind you of the important things in life. A few Aperol spritzers and a bowl of steaming hot pasta covered in a blanket of Parmigiano-Reggiano never hurt either.

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About the author

Shnane Liem

Shnane Liem is a freelance writer and social media consultant to small businesses throughout Vancouver. Her company helps brands speak to their target audience by developing an online voice, create interesting content, and organically develop brand loyalists through 140 characters. An avid foodie with a passion for health, fitness, and travel, she resides in Vancouver as it is a perfect place to eat well and live healthy.