A few years ago, my best laid plans went awry: that is to say, I went through a divorce. Despite the fact that I was still in my 20s, and young enough to “start again” (as some of my mother’s well-meaning divorced friends said) it took quite a long time for things to be alright. There was a period, post-divorce, when I was doing a job I wasn’t right for, and I was in a relationship I was very unhappy with. I felt at the time that I’d made a lot of mistakes- with the divorce especially, I felt that I had messed up really, really badly. I was unsure how I was ever going to put my life right again. I felt very lost, and in retrospect I wish I’d been braver then: I wish I’d realised more fully how many opportunities were really open to me; that I didn’t have to accept a relationship that made me feel unloved just so I wasn’t alone; and how, at 27 or 28, my life really wasn’t over.
It was a sad time, but it was also during this period that I discovered some of the pleasures of travelling alone. I was partly inspired in this by an old friend, who, following a painful breakup of her own, decided to take a trip alone to New York. My first trip, as a solo female traveller, was to Stockholm:
I went in October, during a break from work. The first day or two, I spent walking through the city, making sure I’d eaten a good breakfast from the buffet in the (former) prison hostel first. Incidentally, I really recommend that hostel- it’s got a unique selling point in terms of its macabre history, is in a really pretty location, and the staff were really nice. Seeing that I was dining alone one night, the waitress in the restaurant paid extra close attention to me, even bringing me little extras to taste for free.
The second or third day, I met a man, a local. He worked, I think, for a pressure group or for local government- I’m not sure which. But having met him, I was suddenly taken off the tourist trail and was visiting trendy bars under bridges, restaurants where everyone was a local, and even a coffee shop in a log cabin in the woods by a lake (I wish I remember what it was called). When I left the city, I knew I’d never see him again, but that was fine- it was what it was. It’s not an experience I’ve had again, but the freedom of those few days, and the escape from my routine, were powerful. It felt like a rite of passage. Having lived a timid youth, and having married young, this trip for me was kind of a redemption, and a chance to live again- and I wasn’t so scared this time. It was important, and I’m glad I did it.
My second trip alone came less than a year later. I’d quit one job, and had another lined up, but inbetween I had a two week break. Where to go? I decided on Florence.
Oh my goodness, how I loved Florence.
First of all: if you’re planning on going to Florence and want to visit a few museums, I can’t recommend the Firenze Card enough. At the time of writing, the cost is 72€ and it’s valid for 72 museums, for 72 hours. The best part is that the card allows you to skip the horrendous queues at the Uffitzi and the Academy- seriously, you can be waiting hours outside. It’s almost worth it for that alone. I’ve written a full review of the Firenze card here.
I have heard plenty of women travellers complain about Italian men’s lack of respect for boundaries, but I have to say, my trip to Florence was free from any trouble of that kind. (The one Italian man who did annoy me was a waiter, who asked if I was sure I wanted half a litre of red wine with my dinner. Yes, sir, I am sure).
Now that I am with someone I love very much, who makes me feel loved (and whose job includes lots of travel opportunities, many of which I can share), I’m reluctant to go off on my own again. Since my novio moved in, I have passed up the opportunity to teach English for a week in Austria, and I have cancelled plans to study for a week at a Spanish language school in Valencia. The truth is that my trips to Stockholm and Florence just wouldn’t have happened if I’d felt more happy and settled in my life at the time- and they meant so much to me. Arrivederci Firenze.