Roaming Rome On My Own

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

I was feeling pretty good.

Six days into my ‘solo travel experiment‘, I realized this title was a bit of a misnomer. I may have been on my own, but I was rarely alone thanks to the wonderful people who took care of me I hung out with at the travel blogging conference. I’m looking especially at you, Katie and Laurel.

I came away from the whole conference inspired and confident. I arrived in Rome with less than a full day before flying back to Turkey and I was anxious to take my new-found fortitude to the streets and explore.

However, if there is any city that can cause paralysis in the face of too many choices, it’s Rome. There were a few things that I had seen before, but so much that I hadn’t. Monuments and must-sees were jumping off the map in front of me, yet I had no idea where to start.

Then my route became abundantly clear.

Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum. I had seen them before, on a rapid tour with Pete almost ten years prior. Thanks to a transit strike we were stranded on the outskirts and left with only a few hours in the city’s core – we caught glimpses of these three magnificent sights at full speed. Run, gawk, snap photo, run again.

Rome Colosseum 2003
Don’t judge the hair please.

I decided to retrace our steps. I wanted to see it all again, measure the current effect on me, and remember back to what it was like a decade ago. Being my first trip overseas, the Colosseum at first sight had literally choked off my breath. I remember gasping out loud and immediately reaching for Pete’s hand to squeeze.

This time, I had no one to reach for. I doubted there would be any reciprocal loss of breath either, having seen and experienced so much more in between. But I was anxious to find out.

Fully prepared to walk the entire route, the hostel receptionist said I should count on three hours round trip. I returned to the hostel six hours after I left it. I was exhausted. My feet ached, my legs wobbled. My brain was tired from continuously fiddling with the camera settings that Pete usually sets for me.

Inside the Pantheon I found a quiet place to just sit and absorb the incredible architecture and art that dates back to B.C.

Inside the Pantheon

Statue inside the Pantheon

I had thrown a coin in the Trevi Fountain the first time we visited, guaranteeing my return.

Trevi Fountain

Enroute from the Trevi Fountain to the Colosseum, I rested on the steps of the The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument for some colorful people watching.

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, Rome

The Arch of Constantine near the Colosseum.

Near the Colosseum

While there was no recurrent shortness of breath, visiting the Colosseum still had me a little weak in the knees.

Sun over the Colosseum

Despite the crippling exhaustion I felt at the end of such a long day, I was floating. I was bouncing off the walls with a glowing energy I didn’t know I had.

It wasn’t from Rome itself. Without question it is unequivocally beautiful and worthy of thousands of poetic declarations of such, but that is not what induced my immense gratification.

For someone like me, someone who has been completely spoiled by the companionship of her husband in three years of travel, I had never experienced such personal satisfaction from travel as I did that day. I sat near the Colosseum and stared up at the mammoth structure with the most ridiculous smile on my face.

I just felt damn proud.

I discovered that I’m not so bad at navigating on my own. Or at allowing myself to wander aimlessly without worry of where I may end up. I even stumbled spectacularly and picked myself right back up again and carried on (true story, I took an epic spill and laid face down on an uneven cobblestone street, but somehow miraculously saved the delicious piece of pizza I had just bought).

I proved something to myself – that solo travel is entirely achievable for a sheltered wimp like me. And that the satisfaction that comes with it can make it worth all the lonely or scary moments, and then some.

(Sidenote, I also proved that I am awful at taking self-portraits. So maybe I’m not entirely cut out for more of this just yet.)

Self portrait, Colosseum

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  1. Self-portrait cut-off aside, I think you took some pretty awesome photos. Be careful Pete, you MAY become disposable.

    1. Thanks! Truth be told, I sneak the camera from him sometimes, there is usually at least one shot in every post that is me! I got some skillz too! 🙂

  2. Dang. Every man’s worst nightmare. The woman figuring out that what we do really isn’t as hard as we make it seem. I hate it when they figure that out.

    Oh well, at least there’s still spiders.

  3. Haha, one of the biggest downsides of solo travel IS the bad autoportraits. Because let’s face it – very few of them are actually good.

    I really undestand where you’re coming from – it’s the same thing for me. Even though I am the GPS, he sets the fancy camera for me, and grips my arm when I attempt to cross a street with a car coming, he carries the money, he holds my hand when I marvel at things like a little girl.

    Solo travel is possible, and can be great – but I will always prefer the option of traveling with my hubby. And that doesn’t make me less of an independent person, despite what other solo travelers might say!

    1. I’m with you. I’m SO glad I did it, and probably will do it again (in short spurts only!) but I still think nothing beats sharing experiences and places with hubby. 🙂

  4. Gorgeous photos! WOW…Six hours around Rome? You have a ton of travel stamina! Please tell us you stopped for nourishment every now and then…Solo travel is indeed very enlightening 🙂 Glad you experienced that!

    1. Oh, there was a lot of just sitting and people watching along the way, and of COURSE a stop for gelato. I really was enjoying it and didn’t want the day to end!

  5. That satisfaction you felt is one of the greatest things about traveling alone. I know it’s not for everyone, but I definitely think every person should try it at least once.

    1. I agree Alouise, and I’ll probably suggest to Pete that we do it again (although, similarly for just a short time frame!) It is an entirely different experience.

  6. Wonderful pics… I lived in Milan for a while… love Italy… where do you stay on your travels ? House-sitting or what… ? I am thinking of doing the same thing, just not sure where to start…

  7. Re: the self-portrait; this solo travel thing is all about baby steps, right? 😉

    The first time I saw the Colosseum, it took my breath away too. I haven’t seen as much of the world as you have, but I had seen some impressive things and I still felt stunned by this testament to history and civilization. I am glad I had a friend to share that experience with, but I think there would be something special about standing before it alone.

    I’m glad to hear that traveling by yourself has been so positive and empowering. It’s funny how suddenly things like successfully navigating from point A to B become all the sweeter when you know you did it all on your own!

    1. For me, the first time I saw the Colosseum it was just so humbling. As a North American, it’s rare to see buildings more than 100 years old – so the Colosseum was really something I could never have even imagined possible until I stood right in front of it.

  8. “I had never experienced such personal satisfaction from travel as I did that day.”

    I KNEW it! So glad you experienced that priceless feeling of knowing you CAN do it on your own.

    Solo travel might not be for everyone, but it most certainly offers a surge of self-pride impossible to experience when always traveling with another person.

    Come to think of it – I believe the main reason I so ardently beat the “solo travel” drum, is because… Sadly, I see/have seen so many lasses put off their travel dreams, simply because they don’t happen to have someone they can travel with.

    I mean, it’s rare to find two people who share the same fervor for skipping ’round the globe, and even harder to find a partner that can take off when you can, for as long as you can, etc.

    Shoot, if I’d waited til I had someone to go to , I’d likely never have experienced even HALF of them.

    I guess what I’m saying is – solo/paired, no contest, no matter. The important thing is to not let “solo” stop you from following your travel dreams.

    P.S. I even ADORE the self-portrait. You truly have an eye for great travel pics, my dear!

    1. Ack! I foolishly placed pointy HTML angle brackets (as opposed to benign parens) around the gist of my “…til I had someone to go to…I’d likely never have…”.

      So of course my “(fill in any number of amazing places I’ve been)” got lost in techno translation. ;(

    2. You are a rockstar, Dyanne, and when you beat a drum, EVERYONE should listen!

      You know, perhaps it’s because Pete and I have been together so long, but I don’t think the concept of “solo travel” even crossed my mind, EVER. Travel always had to be done with someone. Now, seeing you and other brave ladies out there doing it on their own, it is very inspiring. And I’m glad to have done it, even just a wee bit. 🙂

  9. Wish I can visit Rome once in my lifetime too! It all looks so surreal. Thanks for these wonderful pics. And its great to hear that you did not have that hard a time travelling alone! Have a wonderful week ahead:)

  10. Aside from the self portrait, your photos looked pretty good. Solo travel isn’t too bad. Glad you enjoyed yourself and retraced your steps. Not often that we get to relive some of our best memories!

    1. In the end, I actually enjoyed my time out on my own. I of course prefer to do everything with Pete, but we may try this again sometime (in short spurts only!)

  11. That satisfaction you feel at the end of the day and knowing you CAN do it on your own is why I love solo travel. Now that I have Andy, I love traveling with him more than being on my own, but it’s great to have those solo experiences now and then. (Glad you didn’t lose the pizza!)

  12. I can relate! I’ve only taken one real solo trip, but I definitely felt proud that I managed to enjoy myself and not get stuck feeling lonely or worried. I’m glad it was a success!

  13. Wow. I have always dreamed of just going where I want without the consultation/compromise part of the journey! I love my hubby, but your day sounds sublime. Makes me want to strike out solo too! Beautiful photos, you certainly don’t need camera help. Love the way you write. I feel like you’re talking to me over coffee. You had me laughing to myself the whole time. Can’t wait to read more solos!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! And I think it is a worthwhile thing to head out on your own every once in awhile. I think we will be doing more of that in small doses. 🙂

  14. Amazing photos (good settings!) and sounds like an awesome day of solitude (except the stack, I find it’s not falling but not having anyone to laugh about it with that hurts most!).

  15. A few poignant blog posts have piqued my interest about traveling solo recently, and I think I might make a solo excursion someday! Oh, the freedom to see whatever my little heart desires, without fear of whining males! Sounds lovely!

    1. I will heartily endorse it! Traveling solo just brought a whole new set of emotions, and they were good. We’ll definitely try this again someday!

  16. It strikes me that Rome is the perfect place to begin solo travel experiences! I first went in the 60s with my parents and fell utterly in love with it. It was 30 years before I returned with my teenage son and as a surprise birthday present for my father. The last time was with a bestie, ten years ago already … all some of the best travel of my life ….. but I would love to go alone, to slow down more, maybe just to sit and watch, now that it’s kind of familiar. I found the last time it was so easy to find my way around, and there is just so much to see. I mostly travel solo, and the worst times for me are when I get a bit bored for some reason, and there is no-one with whom to chat and decide on the next experience. In Rome, as you say, there is enough for a lifetime! It’s hard to say when I haven’t had the experience of having a partner like that, but I guess that doing anything alone is good once in a while if you aren’t used to it, just to touch base with yourself.

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