In London, my phone is used for Google Maps, music and sudoku. My preferred no-service-friendly app to use on flights, on the Tube, in a queue, sudoku is conducive to zoning out and reflecting while I absent-mindedly fill in the dependencies. And, dear reader, I have played a lot of sudoku in the last two months.
I carried this habit over to Rome. The problem is, however, that when you try to fill in every spare moment with stimulation from your phone, you really don’t experience the world around you. Unlike during group travel, no one is going to point out the cool sight you are passing, no one is going to engage in conversation with you during a meal. It’s up to you to put the phone down and not miss out on anything.
There is definitely a social pressure to mind one’s own business by being on one’s phone. As a woman, I feel like there is a social benefit to being on my phone in public. I’m not going to accidentally make eye contact with someone and invite trouble.
One of my fellow Tufts travelers is not afraid to talk to strangers, a trait I genuinely respect. While traveling with him in Venice, he spoke to the man checking tickets for Museo Correr on St. Mark’s Square. The man had jokingly asked to keep the conversation going since his job was boring. And so my friend continued to speak to the man, taking museum and restaurant recommendations and getting the perfect sunset point where locals split a bottle of wine. The following day, we ran into the man at the sunset point.
But I digress and return to Rome: Hostels are an excellent location to meet new people, and I happened to choose a youthful and grungy location in the neighborhood of Trastevere. Doing homework late at night led me into conversation with a Peruvian graphic designer working remotely. One night, my roommate was a French woman completing a “pilgrimage” across Italy, with Rome being her final spot. I woke up on my final morning to a conversation with a 35-year-old sales manager from Brazil doing a five-week, hiking-focused trip. She kept calling me a badass for spending the night alone in the Ciampino Airport and at some point, I began to believe her.
During lunch, in an attempt to save my phone battery but still entertain myself, I journaled. The waiter began to ask if I was a writer and shared his band name (Reverseage, if anyone was wondering).
Overall, I had a great first experience with solo travel. At some point, it hits you that you aren’t sharing your location with anyone and that to everyone else, you are just “in Rome.” As I plan my travels over winter break, I will be investing in a better power bank and increasing communication with both the people I run into and the people back home.