First solo Adventure: Roma, Italia
Roma, Roma, beautiful and historic Roma! It’s been almost a decade since I visited your historically captivating and complex ruins. In case you are new to my blog, welcome! My first solo Adventure: Roma, Italia; I first visited Rome when I was in an exchange program during Undergraduate.
I had studied 2 years equivalent of Italian language in the USA and literally wanted to “see” what Italy was actually like!
Was it like how many of our outdated Italian 1 and Italian 2 textbooks showcased it to be? Or were there more nuances that textbooks could not convey via text?
Was Italian culture static and archaic?
So many questions yet back then I had little information, it was in 2012, the internet of things was still in its infancy. You couldn’t just go on Dr. Google, AOL, or Yahoo and search.
Very few travel blogs existed but many people were not connected to the web hence information on Roma, Italia was manly found in cheesy bulky travel books. Travel books that seemed overpriced and information were outdated!
What was a solo traveler to do?
What was Rome like? How would people interpret me? Is racism or xenophobia an issue there? No lie, I did think of all of these questions and I had valid reasons to do so.
It’s easy for us to assume that every part of the world is “safe” and that most people are “kind” however, I firmly believe that danger exists everywhere though certain dangers will be experienced by certain types of people.
I will write another post about my theory. For now, let’s continue to explore my first solo travel adventure.
My undergraduate institution had a robust international program which included exchange programs, international internships amongst other global outreach opportunities. I was curious and visited their office one day. I obtained a brochure for a popular and well accredited exchange program.
Immediately upon reading the pamphlet I saw glossy photos of young happy students, read excerpts of their experiences abroad, and I immediately wanted to share those experiences!
I dashed back to my dorm and read the requirements to enroll in the program, it included: having a certain GPA, tuition costs, recommendation letters (2), letter of interests, etc.
Throughout those following weeks I supplied each of the documentations and spoke with my family about the program.
I was now a sophomore in college, somewhat more mature than many of my peers; I was living out of state alone, and I was the first girl in my family to do so! No pressure though, right?
Initially my mother was against me studying abroad, due to her own fears about “me being too far away from her” and the chilling unfortunate tragedies she had seen on the local news about exchange students getting kidnapped, etc.
Luckily, I won her over by making a PowerPoint (PPT) to argue why this particular exchange program WILL provide more benefits to my future; it will enhance my education which will benefit our entire family because I would be more fulfilled with my life achievements and my abilities as an independent woman.
OMG! If I could still find that cheesy ass PPT lol!
It was maybe 5-10 minutes long, I vaguely remember wearing a blazer and dressing up semi business casual to sell this idea to her- sis! It worked though, ahah! Haitian mothers are quite difficult to win over! =p I am grateful that my mom is an educated woman herself.
It was now summer and I fortunately was selected as the only student in my entire Uni to go abroad the following semester, I had selected Rome. The other options included England, France, Ireland.
I was uber excited and grateful and as that spring semester came to its end, I flew back to my hometown and begin researching as much as I could on Italian culture.
I watched several of Rick Steves traveling series episodes on PBS, it was from him along with my originality that I learned how to master packing my life into 1 luggage. Click here to learn this awesome travel hack.
As random as this is going to sound, I actually met one of his son’s when I was in Rome during an excursion, he too had been traveling alone but as a hitchhiker throughout Europe.
I worked all summer doing odd jobs, cutting grass, washing dishes, anything you can think of that was legal, I probably did it to earn some cash.
My mom was still a little stubborn about me wanting to go abroad and did not help me at all financially. -____-
I grinded for 3 months yo! Sweating my butt off and saving every penny to fund my dream of traveling to Roma alone.
When I wasn’t working I was watching Rick Steves, binge watching Eat, Pray & Love to mentally prepare myself for Italian culture, and I listened to Andrea Bocelli’s music.
I searched the web too but felt at the time that Hollywood movies was easier to consume and didn’t require too much work or time.
I also watched the Italian Job a couple of times and the rest of my research involved searching the Exchange Program to find more information from alums.
I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t have fears or doubts about the program, I did.
However, I am an optimist by default so I usually am on the “everything will be just fine” side of things.
The weeks now were passing by quickly, my money was stacking high, I was telling more and more of my friends about my upcoming travels. I was visiting Barnes & Noble more to skim Italian Travel Books and finally purchased a small English to Italian translation dictionary. I felt that I was on top of the world lol!
Sto bene, como va?
Grazie. Ciao Bella/ Bello! Sto Americana. lols, do you want to hear me speak Italian ? I still got it in me. =p
Step 1: Read the fine print & ask questions
After being accepted into my University’s exchange program I had to apply for a tourist visa by myself. Fortunately the process was pretty straight forward and there was an Italian Embassy in my hometown.
The exchange program detailed the entire process and I read each word verbatim and provided all of the necessary documents during my scheduled appointment.
The Italian Embassy was pretty small and they worked on a tight schedule so I knew it was imperative to read all of the details in advance and obtain everything so that I wouldn’t be an inconvenience to my mother’s busy work schedule.
We went there together, the Embassy personnel called my name, I approached the window and I provided my boarding passes, my bank statement, my passport, and Uni transcripts.
They verified the documents and returned some to me and informed me to return in a few days.
There was another young girl in line with her mother who I assumed was there to apply for a tourist visa. I overheard the Embassy personnel asking her for copies of her passport photos and she stated she didn’t have any.
I shook my head because she would unfortunately have to make a second trip to that Embassy.
Step 2: Exchange your money to the foreign currency in your home country
Several weeks before my flight to Rome, I exchanged my US dollars to the Euro. Many travelers argue that it may be more convenient to exchange your money in your home country to prevent being scammed or ripped off but you can choose which ever method is better for you. I personally prefer to exchange to foreign currency in the country I am currently residing in (i.e. US, China, Haiti) prior to going elsewhere to keep my life simple.
Nowadays, I also check the daily currency exchange rates prior to heading to the bank so I can have an idea of what I should be receiving from the bank teller. Guess how much money I had saved?
I traveled to Rome with only 500 euros which is ($607.07 today). I was a broke college student and despite the low amount I stretched each Euro out! Ahaha!
Step 3: Pack my life into 1 bag
I had to pack my 20 and a half year old life into a medium sized luggage that had a weight limit of 25kg.
It took me hours to pack the necessities, because I was low on cash so I had to take advantage of a free check bag- period!
I did not need any additional expenses! I had packed up luggage several times on end it was either too heavy, or it couldn’t close properly.
Click here to learn this simple packing hack. I reopened it and removed the heavier items to make space, etc. It was time consuming but I was focused!
I played various scenarios in my head in terms of the most effective way to pack my bare necessities (i.e. undergarments, several outfits, my laptop, one pair of sneakers, college textbooks, school supplies, socks, etc.
At last! I figured it out. I was now physically ready to travel to Rome, I was only waiting for my visa.
Step 4: Pick up your visa and review all of your documents
I went back to the Italian Embassy and picked up my new tourist visa. I analyzed every aspect of that shiny sticker, it was so beautiful- this was my entry pass to Europe.
A few days after my parents drove me to the airport, I wore a brightly colored fanny pack, I had my one carry-on luggage and a backpack.
My mind was in Italy, I had never been on an adventure that would take over 12 hours to reach my destination before.
I thought, should I go to sleep or stay awake? I kissed my mom on the cheek as she began to cry -__- lols, moms, gotta love em! I made it a mental note to text or call her as soon as I arrived in Fiumincino airport.
I said goodbye and went to check in.
The story continues, what was your favorite part, why?
Comment below and share!