A mutual friend introduced Sara and I shortly after my relocation to Chicago. Originally from the Windy City, Sara was then living in North Carolina after a stint in Italy. During our first phone conversation we found we had more and more things in common and our hour on the phone was definitely not enough, so we continue to talk and email until Sara returned to live in Chicago in the early winter. Sara is a true Italian living in an American body and offers a unique perspective of my country based on her frequent solo travels to Italy:
Chiara: Sara, tell our readers a little about yourself and how you fell in love with Italy
Sara: It was serendipity. A colleague of mine was about to start taking Italian lessons and asked me if I’d like to join her. I said yes, even though I had never even thought of it before! My first lesson felt like I was going “home.” I loved the language and never wanted to stop learning it. So I booked my first flight to Italy about 6 months later, and I have not stopped going back since. That was 13 years ago. Every time I go back I feel like I am going to my rightful home. Every time I return to the US, I cry a little. Italy is magical. It has captured my imagination and my senses and won’t let go.
Chiara: Over the last few years you have travelled on your own in Italy several times and you’re just back from your latest trip. What word of advice can you give women solo traveler planning a trip to Italy?
Sara: For solo traveling in Italy, my best advice is: Educate yourself, plan well, and try to make contacts before you go. I’m a big believer that to travel well, you have to rely on other people. It enriches your experience and also takes the edge off of uncertainty. For example, I always try to book my first night or two at a B&B or someplace more personal than a hotel. That way, I feel like I have a personal relationship with someone even before I get to the place. I also make sure I have either an Italian SIM card for my iPhone or a cheap Italian cell phone (not web enabled) that I can use for calls wherever I am. It’s amazing how much peace of mind that provides. Also, bring a small Italian dictionary or phrase book with you if you don’t know the language. People are always willing to help you if they see you are making an effort to communicate in Italian. Never be afraid to try.
Chiara: Do you feel that traveling solo enhanced your experience in Italy, and if so how?
Sara: Traveling solo definitely has enhanced my own experience in Italy because, from the start, I wanted to be immersed in the culture and learn the language like a native. Being alone, I was forced to meet and talk to people, ask for help, and be vulnerable. And having done those things, I learned the language and began to understand the social and cultural norms much more quickly than if I were not forced to do so. Traveling solo also greatly enhanced by own understanding of myself. Nothing makes you learn about yourself faster than being in a challenging situation in a foreign country with no family or friends in sight! I learned very quickly how to count on the kindness of strangers, and how to rely on myself and my own ingenuity when my original plans fell through. My flexibility in life came as a direct result of my traveling alone, and Italy is a pretty safe place to do so. I feel much more threatened when I am traveling alone in America than I ever, ever feel in Italy. If anything, there is something in the Italian culture or social fabric that makes people want to help women, rather than hurt them. That said, to be a smart traveler you have to be aware and rational, and follow your instinct when it tells you something feels wrong.
Chiara: What do you find the most “odd” or different about Italy lifestyle and culture as it compared to the US?
Sara: The thing that always strikes me, even after having spent so much time in Italy, is how no one does anything alone. Ever. In America, we are so independent—we do most things alone. But the opposite is true in Italy. I still feel like a unicorn when I go places alone in Italy, especially as a woman! It’s something you just have to accept and get used to. Besides, people are not judging me for being alone, they are just curious. Whereas in America, no one really notices any of us on a daily basis—and they certainly don’t think twice if we are doing something alone.
Chiara: What do you like the most about Italy?
Sara: The sensuality. It stimulates all of my senses, all the time. My eyes are treated to beauty (the architecture, the people, the fashion, the landscape) at all times. My ears can enjoy silence, the ocean waves, music, or birds chirping. My tongue revels in the intense natural flavors of the freshest food on earth. My nose appreciates the many scents (baking bread, fresh basil, blooming flowers, the sea air) that fill the air, day and night. And my skin is stimulated not only by the sun, but by the close physical proximity that Italians seem to share with ease: Holding hands, walking arm in arm, hugging, giving the customary “2-kiss” welcome—it’s rare to go out with Italians and not be touched. We don’t get enough of these things in American culture, and Italy gives them all to us without asking anything in return. Every time I come back to US, I miss these things the most.
Chiara: What is your absolutely favorite place in Italy?
Sara: This is impossible to choose! Recently I have fallen in love with Puglia, especially Lecce. But every time I arrive in Rome, I feel my heart fill and my spirit soar. It’s just a magical place. So I have to go with Rome. The Parco degli Aquedotti is probably my favorite place within Rome, but that, too, is nearly impossible to say! It’s a giant park that stretches for miles. Families and friends play, have picnics, walk dogs, and get in some exercise right next to these immense ancient structures that have persisted for centuries. It blows my mind when I see them, and I can’t believe I am still within the city limits when I’m there, enveloped in the silence. I took this photo when I was there last summer, right as the sun was setting. Just looking at it makes me want to go back, now…
Sara is a certified yoga teacher and wellness coach, and specializes in functional movement and back care. She teaches yoga, empowerment, and her signature back-care methods throughout the U.S. and Italy. To know more about her amazing work visit her website: www.sarahauber.com