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First time solo traveler - Italy

First time solo traveler - Italy tour
Posted by sarah on 04/29/15 01:22 AM Jump to bottom
I am interested in joining one of the fall (or possibly spring 2016) tours to Italy. After looking at all my options, I'm leaning heavily towards the Heart of Italy tour.

I'm a single woman and this would be my first time traveling out of the country. I really enjoy planning and doing things independently, but I definitely do not feel comfortable traveling to a new country all by myself. I thought a tour like this would be perfect.

I've seen mention in other forum topics of the excellent tour guides providing ideas and options for free time and making sure to take care of the singles in the group. I'm honestly pretty nervous, and I was looking for some reassurance! People who have done these tours before, are there usually a lot of singles? Do you find that you make friends on the tour that you share dinner and free-time activities with?

Thanks for any responses! :)

Posted by
5180 posts

Sarah,

You may get more responses if you post on the Italy forum.

I have not taken any tours but there are many women on this forum who have or who travel solo & they will give you good advice.

Happy trails!

Posted by
1209 posts

Hi, Sarah. I have taken 8 RS tours as a solo traveller, 4 of them in Italy. My first tour was the now defunct 7 days in Venice. On each and every one of the tours, I was able to make friends and share dinner and free-time activities with others, whether other solos or couples. I always book the single supplements since I value my own space in the evenings.

Usually, I approach a tour with some ideas of things I want to see or do that may not be part of the itinerary. First time in Venice, I really wanted to see some of the locations from the novel, Miss Garnet's Angel. Second time in Venice, one of the other tour members and I set off to find the Questura, workplace of Commissario Brunetti, in the Donna Leon series. That was lots of fun. I did not know this tour member beforehand, we just connected and were interested in exploring the same fun quest.

Although I enjoy joining a group, I often undertake a additional solo venture before or after the tour. I gravitate to the alpine areas or the UK for those - just my preference, probably based on language abilities. Overtime, my ability to successfully navigate travel challenges on my own has grown. I now know I am able to get where I need to be despite Icelandic ash cancelling my flight, or being re-routed with no luggage, or train strikes.

My last Italy tour was Village Italy. I too am considering Heart of Italy. In Village, I did things a bit my way: I took a day off from the group during our stay at the agriturismo (a few others did, too), and I spent the Cinque Terre day on the beach (with some other tour members) instead of going with the main group hiking the trails. Note, when I found myself taking time off from the group and then saw other tour members doing the same, we had never planned it in advance, and for the most part were just in the same place at the same time. You can mix it up and take some time for yourself. I have never had to eat alone unless I chose to do so. Even on the My Way Alpine tour, full of many independent folks, groups always gravitated together for activities and meals.

Hope this helps. Enjoy Heart if you go. Debbie

Posted by
13702 posts

Like Debbie I have several Rick Steves' tours under my belt. I've done 2 solo and 3 with family members. For my/our first International trip in decades my brother/SIL, their 2 20-something sons and I chose Heart of Italy. I loved this tour! It was a great introduction to Italy and such fun. There was one solo woman on that tour and she mingled with everyone and seemed to have a great time. I love the division of group time along with independent time on Rick's tours and it works great on this tour.

One excellent thing about Rick, his tour guides and his/their mission is that they work on teaching you travel skills. For those that have traveled a lot this is no big deal. For those that live in a big city with public transportation this may not be a big deal. For folks like me who have never lived where there is a metro, bus or train system, this education was huge for me! It really helped to have the guide do a bus lesson our first night in Rome on the way to our walking tour. The next day after the morning with the group we were able to zip around like we knew what we were doing! I was especially surprised that my nephews looked like they had taken subways for years. At the end in Florence she took everyone who wanted a lesson in buying train tickets to the train station and helped them get tickets for their next destination.

I am also entirely comfortable as a solo traveler on any of Rick's tours. The groups are usually made up of people who are interesting, active and welcoming. On the 21 Day BOE I did solo I drifted from group to group and had a wonderful time. Sometimes I spent time with the other solo travelers. Sometimes I spent time with other couples. Sometimes I spent time solo if I had something I wanted to do/see. Sometimes the whole group spent free time together. (I am thinking balcony, wine, Switzerland!!) I also never ate alone unless it was my choice. I am FB friends with maybe a dozen people from that 21 day tour. I would travel with that entire group again in a heartbeat! But then, I think most of the groups are like that!

FWIW, I do have some suggestions for people traveling solo on Rick's tours in my Trip Report if you care to look at it.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/21-day-best-of-europe-8-26-14

Overwhelmingly I have seen people post experiences like Debbie and I both seemed to have. Occasionally someone will post that they did not enjoy being a solo on a trip and it is good that they post. It would not be believable if the reports were always 100% positive. From my experience and from observing the solo travelers on the tours I have taken, most people enjoy themselves and find they were worried about nothing. You will never know how many solos might be on any trip, so I suggest you pick an itinerary that interests you and go with it.

Also...plan to arrive in Rome at least a day or 2 ahead of time. Stay at the tour hotel so you don't have to move. They will have maps at the front desk and they will give you restaurant suggestions. Take a taxi (or in Rome a shuttle) from the airport if you are anxious about finding the hotel or managing on public transport. I just put that in my budget because I don't like to cope with public transportation when jet lagged. You may want to stay a day or 2 extra in Florence. There is so much to see there!

I also have experience with traveling solo on 4 Road Scholar tours, 2 international and 2 US based. They were fun and had more solo women but I found the Rick Steves groups more active and the people more mixable, if that is a term.

Have we convinced you yet?

Posted by
32159 posts

sarah,

Don't be "pretty nervous"! You won't have any problems, and I suspect this will be one of the most interesting and memorable travel experiences you've every had. As other posts have indicated, the guides are indeed exceptional and they'll make sure you're well looked after.

I travel both independently and with RS tours (as a solo traveller), and like Debbie have also been on eight tours. I typically combine a tour with some self-guided travel before and after the tour. I'd suggest travelling to Italy a couple of days prior to the start of the tour, as that will give you some time to recover from jet lag and perhaps do a bit of light touring on your own, and will provide a "buffer" in case of any flight delays or whatever.

There have been many single travellers of both genders on the tours I've taken, and everyone gets along well. One decision you'll have to make is whether or not to pay the single supplement to get your own room. If you decide not to do that, you'll be paired with another female tour member, and if there are several single ladies the guide will rotate them so that you're not with the same room mate each night (FWIW, I usually pay the single supplement).

The RS tours seem to attract people with a similar travel philosophy, and everyone seems to get along whether travelling as a couple or solo. Tour members often get together during free time to go for dinner, visit a local sight or whatever.

As this is your first trip to Europe, I'd suggest reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to departure, as that provides a LOT of good information on "how" to travel in Europe. You should be able to find a copy at your local Library. You'll have to do some "homework" to get up to speed on things like money, travelling with technology, using public transit, etc. and the book will help a lot with that.

That tour will give you a good "taste" of Italy, and more importantly it will provide some travel skills to help you travel independently in future. If there's room in one of the fall 2015 tours, get cracking and get it booked!

Posted by
558 posts

Hi Sarah,

Do not hesitate to sign up! You will have a great time. RS tends to attract like-minded people who are friendly, accepting, fun, and often outgoing. I have traveled on four RS tours so far and there have always been singles on them. My first was Village Italy. I was one of four solo women, so we rotated roommates at each stop (this was before single supplements were an option). On my second and third tours (Scotland and Istanbul) there were three other solo women, but two of them paid for a single supplements. That left me with one other person to share the whole time. On all these tours, sharing worked out fine. :) Last year, I went on tour and there were 5 singles other than me (5 women; 1 man). All of them had met each other on previous tours (in various groupings). The others had all paid supplements, so I lucked out and got a single room for free (there was no one left for me to share a room with).

During the day, I spend time with assigned roommates and/or couples who I was on tour with. Since the tours are fairly small (~25 people), you can quickly get to know others. I have found other tour participants are really open to having solos join them for dinner or during the activities. As I said, most RS tours attract like-minded people!

Other people have asked this question before, so I've included a link so you can see what others have to say as well!

GO FOR IT! You won't regret it!

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/general-europe/solo-traveler-which-tour

Let us know if you have more questions.
Enjoy!

Posted by
4405 posts

Sarah, I don't know if you've seen the Tour Experience video that Rick made a few years ago; if not, you can also order a free DVD copy to keep along with his Tour Brochure.

GO FOR IT! I think after watching that 45-minute video, you'll start looking at tour dates ;-)

(The full-length video is first; all of the other videos are clips from the full-length version.)

Posted by
796 posts

Hi Sarah. I have taken 4 RS tours, 2 with friends and 2 on my own, I am booked this fall on Best of Spain on my own. I did Village Italy on the own; it was fabulous. I also did Best of Paris on my own; since then I have returned to Paris by myself or with friends 4 times.

When on my own, I usually found a tour member to have a meal with, or joined a small group, with another single or with another couple. I am ok to have meals on my own, I bring a small journal that fits in my day bag with me and my RS tourbook to read about the next days plans; that really helped me get over the fact that I was sitting by myself.

The RS guides are so helpful; you may want to confide in the guide early that you are not too comfortable doing things on your own. Perhaps you could tell the whole group that when you first meet, saying that you would love to have company during free time.

I spent a lovely meal and a concert in a church in Italy with another couple, that was marvelous. Not sure I would have done that on my own.

I usually do a lot of pre-planning before I leave for possible things to do on the free time, making lists to take with me. Then I listen to suggestions made by the guide and decide what to do depending on my energy. The tours are often busy though free time is given, that is why I like to read up on what might be available during free times before I leave. Free time is specifically spelled out in the tour info. I have found the tours include more than what the tour info states, which is fabulous! A couple of guides accompanied us during free time, that was wonderful.

Before the trip I will compare info in Rick's book with other guides from the library, like Lonely planet.

Have we convinced you yet???

Have a great trip.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all so much for your thoughtful responses! I am not just convinced, but overly eager now. ;) I just have to convince my granny not to worry...

Posted by
13702 posts

Laughing, Sarah, convincing family/friends that this is a good thing to do is sometimes harder than the actual trip! This is especially true if the person doing the talking is not a traveler and has never been to Europe. They are not going to believe a forum of your new best friends knows anything. (Hint, we DO know lots and have been there, done that!)

So...here is how I think about it. Rick had a thriving business in European travel and has provided tours and tour guides for what, 30 years? He actually TRAVELS to Europe for months every year. He is there now if you look at his FB page. He talks to his guides and apparently, according the guides I've spoken with, listens, lol. He in no way is going to sell a trip to an area he knows will endanger his customers, his guides or his reputation. His guides are extremely capable and able to flex their plans if something comes up. Sit your Granny down in front of one of his PBS programs and tell her he is arranging the trip for you with his most trusted guides. If she's up for it, watch the tour DVD others have mentioned (to get it, ask for the Tour Catalog to be sent to you). Then see if Netflix has Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. I am sure she remembers that!

Do not let talk of terrorists, pickpockets or unknown/unpredictable natural disasters deter or frighten you!

Posted by
32159 posts

sarah,

It might help to alleviate Granny's worries if you call her a couple of times when in Europe, and tell her what a great time you're having. If she's up to speed with modern technology, you could always make a Skype / Google+ / Facetime call and show her what you're doing. A perfect place to do that would be in the Cinque Terre at your hotel. Pan the camera to show her the incredible views. Who knows, maybe she'll want to go along too!

Posted by
58 posts

Sarah, I encourage you to book it. I have taken six Rick Steves' tours solo and enjoyed each one. There are usually four or five single women on the tours and the couples are usually very friendly. I would never have visited so many fantastic places with out the RS tours. My only problem is I have fallen in love with Italy and have taken almost all the Italy tours.

Posted by
2455 posts

Sarah, here's the scoop on getting Granny on board. Tell her there's a big world out there, and you are going to start exploring it next year, taking your first trip overseas. And, that you have two great opportunities, and would really appreciate her guidance in choosing. One is a chance to explore some wonderful cities and towns in Italy, with a group of about 25 other wonderful people, mostly experienced travelers, organized by Rick Steves, famous for his PBS educational shows about travel in Europe, his dozens of popular travel guide books, and his many years of organizing group travel through Europe, especially Italy, using top notch professional guides dedicated to the safety and positive experiences of everyone in the group. You would travel in large and comfortable buses, driven by experienced professional bus drivers, noted for their safe driving. Your other opportunity is a solo back-packing trip through Yemen, where you would get to know first-hand the lifestyle of that interesting country. You would hike a lot, but when fortunate might catch a ride in some guy's jeep or maybe on a camel. It would cost more to fly to Yemen, but then probably less to travel there, since you would mostly not have any hotel expense, and would mostly have free transportation in those guys jeeps or on their camels. Which of the two opportunities would Granny recommend?