Last week, Norwegian Ayla Vinje Fagerland traveled Italy with her mom.
This was the first destination on her three-month, four-continent world excursion. It was also the only destination she’d have with her mother by her side.
Ayla’s solitude started off rocky.
In Italy by herself for a few more days, Ayla had to fend off the aggressive guys and ignore the trash on the streets. But support came in the form of new friends from her hostel, and Ayla learned that traveling alone exposes one to the bad and good of the world.
Enjoy this week’s Ayla adventure with word, photo, and her own video (below).
In China this guy from Chile asked me why in the world I was traveling alone. I remember not understanding the question, and answered that he traveled alone too, so what’s the difference? He replied that I was a girl. I just started laughing. Why should it stop me? I hadn’t met any problems with it, except Italy…
Italy proved to be a challenge. Italy is the scariest country I’ve been to my whole life. I’d never given it a thought that it’s more dangerous for a teenage girl to travel alone than a boy. I guess that has a lot to do with being Norwegian. Gender differences aren’t really big here. Even though I really love Italy (it’s one of this world’s finest diamonds), I won’t go there alone again.
I met a lot of great Italians. I have a lot of Italian friends. But I couldn’t get used to the men shouting insulting things at me. They shouted in Italian, but I could see on their friends’ faces that it wasn’t anything nice, basically things like “Hey! Come on over here! Let us talk to you!” Then when walking away, they started shouting angry at me. And lots of sexual comments. The thing that scared me throughout Italy was the sense of entitlement men had over me. I felt like an object more than a human. I’ve never felt this way anywhere before, and it truly frightened me. It took away some of the experience of walking the streets of Naples.
Most of the streets were narrow and crowded. And walking around, pretty much every third guy felt the need to slap my butt. (Still, I know my self-defense. I was rarely in danger. Only one actually made it thanks to my karate training! As a competitor, I’m used to blocking punches. The Italians didn’t seem to like that as much.)
It might be culture shock. It might be the feeling of suddenly being alone. But no one should be treated this way.
The street of my hostel was also filled with garbage. I think it was just a place people put their trash for pickup, but people in the streets went around taking what they could find. So it was a really poor area. Also there were people constantly trying to sell you stolen stuff.
I have to add: this was also my only scary experience being a girl traveling alone on my three-month-long journey. So don’t you make this an excuse to not travel alone!
Traveling alone gives you so much. I think Italy was scary because I didn’t expect it to be. It was Europe. It was home. Also it was my first stop, the first realization that I was on my own now for the first time. But now I have so many friends now from all over the world. I don’t think I would get that many friends and be this impulsive if I traveled with someone else.
An example was the hostel in Naples my first night. I was going to bed when this Australian girl marched in. She was 18 and had been backpacking for nine months alone in Europe. We ended up getting pizza with a Brazilian girl.
I would never have done that if I had someone with me. Then I would properly go across that street way earlier with that person, never ending up on a crazy night run for pizza with two amazing girls from my hostel room. The two other girls in the room who were traveling together didn’t join, because they already ate and they had each other. They didn’t need any other friends.
The backpacker community is such a tight society. We look out for each other. We understand the situation we’re all in. We all have great stories to tell. We all have advice for each other. We all have contacts in different countries to help you out. I view hostels to be the safest place on earth. There is always someone to get to know, and it only takes about five minutes to get at least four new friends!
There’s something special about traveling alone. The freedom, the responsibility, and the feeling of accomplishment. I’ve had a lot of people telling me it isn’t a good idea, that I wouldn’t have anyone to share my experiences with. But I’ve never been so social in my life. I wasn’t alone one single day of my travels before coming to Cuba, but that’s another week’s story.
Next week, Ayla takes us to Malta!
Until then, please enjoy Ayla’s video #3–Traveling Alone in Italy
And in case, you can’t watch it from here, here’s the link:
Ayla is a 20-year-old Norwegian who loves to learn new things and study new cultures. She’s Christian, and in her more normal life (when not eating donkey sandwiches in China and taking trains across Italy), she does dancing and karate. For any questions for Ayla or about travels, please comment below.
And if you’d like to share your story on The Periphery, please email me at Brandon@ThePeriphery.com. We’d love to hear all about your adventure.