In Praise of Solo Travel in Italy for Women

Solo Travel In Italy For Women

Italy is the perfect place for solo travel for women. But when I told people that I had recently travelled through Italy myself, they looked at me in disbelief and the usual response was — “ Well, that takes balls. I wouldn’t do that.”

But why not?

Travelling solo is a liberating and exhilarating experience. It fills us with a sense of adventure, opens our minds and relaxes the soul.

Interestingly, the majority of tourists that I saw in Italy were aged 40 plus. And the majority of those were women. But I rarely saw women in this age group travelling alone outside the major cities.  My first thought was – there must be a hell of a lot of women sitting at home because they couldn’t find anyone to travel with.

If you have someone that you enjoy travelling with, that’s great, but if you don’t, then it’s is not a reason for staying home.

But as women we are afraid to travel alone because of a bag full of fears that include:  fear of loneliness, fear for our safety, fear of the social stigma that brands an unattached woman, organisational fear – how will I be able to organise a whole trip by myself and how will I know where to go and what to see?

The first step is to decide – it’s my time now.

I get to choose where to go and what to see. That, in itself, is pure pleasure.

Italy is such a welcoming country and Italians are very gracious and courteous. I wasn’t hassled or made to feel uncomfortable or strange.  And whenever I asked for assistance or directions, no matter how busy the people were, they would always take the time to help me. Language is also not a problem as many people speak English.


There are times when you wish you could share your experiences with someone and that you feel lonely. No question. But Italy offers so many distractions and compensations. The first thing you can do is go out and buy yourself a gelato or some delicious street food. Then you take a walk down a medieval street, lose yourself in a busy market, gaze at glorious paintings and marvel at the magnificent buildings. Being filled with the beauty of Italy does wonders for loneliness.

Then you remind yourself that if you were with someone else, you would lose that most precious and rare pleasure – the freedom of not having to compromise. Not having to fit in with someone else’s plans. Not wasting time visiting monuments because that’s what the person you are with wants to do, when all you want to do is drive through hills covered in olive trees. You get to do exactly what you want and it is something you probably haven’t done in very long time.

Keeping a diary of your travels is an excellent way of dealing with loneliness. There is a joy in writing things down, capturing them. And that remains as something you can always refer to.

One of the most memorable days I had was sitting on a roof-top terrace gazing out over the boats in the harbour, the sun shining on the water and the bright red geraniums, drinking a cold beer and writing happily in my travel diary.

I also found that when you are travelling solo, people tend to strike up conversations with you more readily than if you are in the closed confines of a couple or a group. So you are always meeting people and chatting.


Italy is very safe for women travelling alone. I was able to walk around the streets, go to cafes or to dinner and return late at night and was not molested or bothered. Perhaps young girls might have to fend off advances, but for women over the age of 40, it’s just not a major issue. I had also been warned about pickpockets in Palermo, but had no trouble.

Social Stigma

Actually, no matter where I went in Italy, I never hesitated to go into restaurants to eat lunch or  dinner alone. To be asked in Italian by the waiter at the entrance if you are dining ‘solo’, doesn’t sound as pathetic as being asked – “Is it just you?”  as happens in Australia.

I have written about the problems of eating out alone in Australia in a previous blog. ( ‎). When overseas, it becomes much easier because you really don’t have to worry about what other diners think.       You are a tourist.

“ I’m having a great time – so who cares what people think!”  If at our age, we still don’t live our life the way we want to because we are afraid of what people will think, then perhaps it’s time to ditch this barrier.

Another blessing of overseas travel is anonymity. No one knows you, so you don’t have to live up to any image or expectation.

As to the question of where to eat?  You may have a good guide book, but  several thousand other people have that same guide. I find the most effective way is to brazenly, but politely go up to a local and ask them  “ Could you recommend a good place to eat around here?”  Italians know and love good food, so you can bet they have their favourite places. All the most sensational meals I had came about because I just asked the locals.

Organising The Trip

If you are unsure of how to go about it, then certainly get a travel agent.

You may also decide to spend part of your trip in an organised tour and the other part on your own. Another option is to take a short course as a way of connecting with other travellers. For example, there are Italian language and cooking courses available throughout Italy.

The internet has made organising your trip very feasible. It is however, time consuming. You need to start as far in advance as possible. Do the research and make the comparisons.

Finding hotels is made easy by websites such as TripAdvisor,, or Trivago. One of the useful features on most of these hotel booking sites is that you can make a reservation on a room and not have to pay a cancellation fee until as little as two days in advance. This is great if you are not sure of your itinerary. It means you pay a little more for the room, but the flexibility is worth it. Just make sure to check the date by which you must actually pay for the room.

If you don’t mind taking chances, then there is usually some last minute availability on hotel rooms closer to the date because people cancel their reservations. The prices are usually also cheaper then. But it is a bit of a risk and not advisable if you like things organised in advance.

The major cities in Italy – Rome, Venice and Florence, need to be booked well in advance due to the very heavy demand in high season. If possible, it is generally advisable to avoid high season for any travel in Italy as that way you can avoid the crowds, queues and heat.

Knowing Where To Go

The advantage of tour groups is that they have experienced guides who take you around. But you can travel solo and organise your own guide. By googling for local guides, I hired a local guide in each of the major cities I visited. The 4 guides I found were outstanding. They were all women who were official Italian guides, had a breadth of knowledge, accommodated themselves to what I wanted to see, and were very pleasant. Their English was excellent. I will be giving the names of each of these guides when I publish the various posts about the cities I visited.

In addition, hotels and local tourist offices also offer lots of group tours that you can join for a day. And you can book these tours in Italy and not necessarily before you leave Australia.

When Things Go Wrong

Even with the best organisation, things can go wrong. For example, when Emirates kept all passengers on the tarmac for 6 hours because there was something wrong with the plane we were in, and consequently I missed my connecting flight; other flights were cancelled; the hotel which looked great on the website had a faulty sewer which caused the room to smell; my train to Florence was massively delayed by a fire on the line.   Being alone when these things happen may appear a challenge but in my experience, it wasn’t. Single status had no bearing on the re-arrangement of flights and the airlines’ responsibility. Rely on your own resourcefulness and often the kindness of strangers.

Getting Around

It is very easy and convenient to get around Italy using public transport. The train system offers high speed trains as well as slower ones, with good connections. The punctuality and frequency of the trains is usually reliable. Trenitalia ( is available for checking train timetables and booking tickets online. All this information is available in English if  you choose English in the top right-hand corner of their homepage You can even book from Australia and tickets booked in advance online are usually cheaper. This is a good a good idea as it avoids lengthy waits in queues.

You can also choose to fly instead of taking the train within Italy.

Unlike the rest of Italy, public transport in Sicily is bad. While there are lots of inexpensive flights to Sicily from the mainland, once you get there, there are few internal flights, poor train services, and the buses are very slow and often not available on Sundays. The only option for long distance travel there is with hired cars or taxis, and taxis can be very expensive. So instead of trying to  cover much of the island, you may choose a particular part and focus on that.  But don’t let that stop you from going there. Sicily is beautiful, as are the other places I visited in Italy.

The slideshow above gives you a glimpse of the places I visited  in Venice, Bologna, Cinque Terre, Florence and Sicily.




Nellie Bly – Around the World in 80 Days

It is the 125th Anniversary of the Race Around The World.

Who was the first person to race around the world in 80 days?

It was not Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg. It was in fact a young American woman called Nellie Bly. She made it in only 72 days. Four days later, a second young American woman, called Elizabeth Bisland made it in 76 days.

14 November 2014 marks exactly 125 years since they set out on this record-breaking race.

In 1889, they covered 28,000 miles from New York back to New York, travelling by steamship, train, sampan, rickshaw, horse and burro over 4 seas and across 2 continents, an extraordinary feat in the age before aeroplanes.

The global race of these two women made international headlines and captured the imagination of peoples everywhere. But since then, their feat has faded into obscurity.

WomanGoingPlaces would like to recount the remarkable story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland – two women who had the courage to go places in every sense.

Women in journalism in the 1800s 

Women did not have the right to vote when Elizabeth Jane Cochran adopted the pseudonym Nellie Bly, and began working as a reporter. Not only were there few women in journalism at that time, but she also pioneered what later became known as investigative journalism by going under cover and risking her life to expose important social issues.

She came from Pennsylvania coal country and talked herself into a job at ‘The World’ in New York under its renown publisher Joseph Pulitzer. She soon showed her courageous and intrepid spirit by persuading her paper to let her feign mental illness and be locked up in insane asylum. Her exposé of the cruelty in the asylum prompted a reform of the institution. Nellie also arranged to be thrown into prison so she could expose the treatment of female inmates; worked in a factory to reveal the shocking conditions of working women; placed herself in great danger in order to lead to the arrest of a sexual predator; and bought a baby to uncover the trafficking of babies in New York. The irony is that today she would most probably have been awarded one of the Pulitzer Prizes, named after her employer. But in the 1880s, she gained more recognition for her travels than for her journalism.

Elizabeth Bisland came from the South. Like Nellie Bly she had come to New York almost penniless and talked herself into a newspaper job. All the money she earned had been through her writing.

Both women struggled to carve out their positions as writers  at a time when journalism was almost exclusively, a male domain.

Unlike Bly’s exposés of social injustice, Bisland’s focus was on literature. She became the literary editor of The Cosmopolitan, a monthly magazine, and wrote essays, reviews, feature articles and poetry.

The race begins

Nellie read Jules Verne’s description of an imaginary trip around the world in 80 days. It made a profound impression. It sparked her decision to take on the challenge and record her own story, an experience she hoped would outshine Verne’s fiction. She also determined to do it in 75 days.

However, when she raised the idea with her editors, they dismissed it for two reasons. They told her it was unthinkable that a woman should travel around the world alone without a chaperone. And second, that as a woman, she would need so many trunks to accommodate all her finery, speed would be impossible.

But a year later, fearful that other newspapers might take up the challenge, they called the 25 year-old Nellie Bly into the office and told her to start a race against the clock around the world  – in two days time.

Elizabeth Bisland was given even less notice. Having read about Nellie’s upcoming trip in the morning paper, the editor of the Cosmopolitan magazine called the 28 year-old Elizabeth into his office and asked her to leave that evening to beat another young woman in a race around the world.

Clothing & Luggage

Nellie dashed home to assemble her clothing and luggage. She chose to go around the world in only one dress – a two-piece blue suit with a long skirt, a plaid coat and a cheeky cap, of the same style that years later would be adopted by the Sherlock Holmes character.  She would carry a single small leather bag that contained everything from personal items to writing materials.

Bly developed the concept of ‘carry-on’ luggage a century before it became common. With her extremely tight schedule, she didn’t want to be delayed – miss a boat or train – by waiting for her luggage.  “ If one is traveling simply for the sake of travelling and not for the purpose of impressing fellow travellers, the problem of baggage becomes a very simple one, ”  she remarked.

Bly’s photo in this outfit became an iconic image – splashed on front pages of newspapers and illustrated on posters around the world.

Elizabeth had only 6 hours to organise herself. She took 2 dresses, a winter coat, a Gladstone bag and a steamer trunk for the rest of her belongings that would not fit into the carry bag.

And they are off….

On November 14th 1889, Nellie Bly stepped aboard a passenger ship in New Jersey and the official timekeeper started the clock as her ship steamed east across the Atlantic to England.

Totally unbeknownst to Bly, eight and a half hours later, Elizabeth Bisland stepped aboard a train and began her journey in the opposite direction.

She took the train overland to the west coast of America and then a steamship across the Pacific to Japan.

The journey

They crossed through all four seasons around the globe and travelled on seas made treacherous by storms, typhoons, icebergs, and the loss of a ship’s propeller.

Bly travelled nearly 16,000 miles on sea and was not seasick once. Bisland was not as fortunate. Their frantic schedules left them little time to enjoy the places they rushed through, but wherever possible they would try to snatch a glimpse.

Bly however, made a deliberate departure from her route by insisting on visiting Jules Verne in Amiens, France. The writer who had envisioned this adventure, was quite patronising to the young woman who sought him out and thought her too slim, frail and unattractive to break his imagined 80-day record.

Wherever possible, Bly and Bisland would send through their reports of their travels by telegraph. But Bly was not made aware until about halfway through her journey that there was another young woman racing her in the opposite direction. Nor was she aware that her newspaper was running a competition which tens of thousands of readers entered and that sold out editions, to guess the precise time of her arrival back in New York. The World made a packet with the boost to its circulation. Bly received no monetary reward whatsoever.

The record

Bly completed her race on January 25th,1890 – exactly 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds after she started.

More than 10,000 people were at the train station in Jersey City to give her a tumultuous welcome and her success was hailed in American and European newspapers.

But there were no crowds to meet Bisland when she returned after 76 days, 16 hours and 48 minutes. Storms in the North Atlantic had cost her an extra 4 and a half days and consigned her arrival to the back pages of the newspapers.

Both Bly and Bisland then faded from public memory despite their record-breaking feat.

And it was only a hundred years later, in1998, that Nellie Bly was inducted into the American National Women’s Hall of Fame for her pioneering work as an investigative reporter.

*  *  *  *   *  *

  • A very good detailed account of the race is in the book by Mathew Goodman ‘Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World’ Ballantine Books
  • Nellie Bly’s book about her trip: ‘Around the World in Seventy-Two Days’ -published by Pictorial Weeklies Company of New York
  • Elizabeth Bisland wrote an autobiographical novel ‘A Candle of Understanding’
  • Nellie Bly’s undercover articles for The World:
Nellie Bly's route in the race around the world in 72 days

PBS map of Nellie Bly’s route in the race around the world in 72 days





Australia’s website for women’s travel, activities and adventure – Why we set up the WomanGoingPlaces Website?

WomanGoingPlaces is Australia’s website for every woman from 30 to infirmity seeking information and inspiration for travel, activities and adventure.

We set up the WomanGoingPlaces website because we recognize that there are many women like us. Women who want breaks from our everyday lives, or who want to do and see things we’ve put off while working or raising families, or both. Many of us are beyond the age of backpacking, but we still have the same enthusiasm for travel. We just want to do it more comfortably and safely. Women’s travel is now an exciting trend across the world.

Australia is our home and our focus. It is well-known for its many attractions, its extraordinary beauty and diversity. We want to share with you the things that appeal to us as Australian women, and that we think will be of interest to other women.

We will show you these places, people and activities from our distinctive perspective. We will also reveal places, people and activities that you would not otherwise hear about.

And we will do it in the most dynamic, colourful way through videos, pictures and posts.

We’re able to do this because together, we have many years of professional experience in journalism, media and the arts. AUGUSTINE ZYCHER is a speechwriter, and was foreign correspondent for The Age, Melbourne, a producer for CNN, director and producer of documentary films, and an investigative journalist. ROSALIE ZYCHER was an actor, theatre and opera director, New York International Arts Festival organizer, dramaturge, and is a business communications consultant.

Ours is the independent view of women who have lived and worked in different countries and cultures, and have frequently gone places on our own. We are not a travel or tour agency. We are writers and photojournalists.

Although Australia is our primary focus, we are nevertheless interested in overseas travel experiences, particularly those less well-known. So we’ll call on women in different places in the world to contribute posts and pictures giving their perspective on places that are special to them.

And we invite your contributions and comments. Let us know of places you’ve discovered and love.

You can send your submissions to our email address [email protected] or from the WomanGoingPlaces Contact Us page.

Let’s share our experiences and encourage a community where everyone can be a woman going places.




Why are women terrified of dining solo?


Why are women terrified of dining solo?

When Australian women travel overseas on our own, we know that part of that experience means eating out alone. But when home in Australia, a woman dining out alone is considered a rarity, and may even be treated as an oddity. We seem to view it as an uncomfortable if not humiliating experience. It can be such an ordeal for women, that few feel brave enough to put themselves through it.

I don’t mean grabbing a sandwich in your lunch-break or going to a cafe. I mean if by choice or circumstance, you find yourself alone for lunch or dinner – would you take yourself out to a fine restaurant?

Most probably not.

Even women who travel for business and are undaunted about representing their companies  find it difficult to face eating solo in hotel restaurants. “I’d rather call room service for a cheese sandwich than have to walk into the restaurants downstairs, unaccompanied,” said my friend Jean, a senior executive at a multinational company.

Brave women, women of intelligence, strength and capability are intimidated by the prospect.

But why is it, when we have overcome so many obstacles on the road to equality, our bravery deserts us when it comes to eating dessert on our own?

Here’s what happened to me when I went to a very trendy restaurant in town for lunch.

I was greeted by the maitre d’ with the question “Is it JUST you?” with the decided emphasis on the ‘just’.

So I put on my biggest smile and confirmed happily “Yes, it’s JUST me.”

I was led past the crowded tables all the way to the back to a place on the bar near the toilets. I looked around and saw that out of more than 100 people, I was the only woman there on her own. However, there were several men eating lunch on their own – not an uncommon sight.

While other people were served around me, even those who had arrived after me, somehow I had become invisible. No-one approached to set water or bread before me. No-one brought a menu. I waited and tried to signal to the waiters but their attention always slid away towards groups of patrons. I noticed the chef working next to me in the open kitchen looked over at me with growing concern. I signaled and waited fruitlessly for more than half an hour. Finally, the chef called to a waiter to attend to me. By that time I had lost my appetite and I walked out.

This type of experience would make women choose to eat at home or seek anonymity with a sandwich in a coffee shop.

But I’ve also had a few surprisingly good experiences in dining out alone.

On a hot summer’s day as I walked into the vineyard-restaurant, I felt that there was no way I would get a meal. Groups were packed around all the tables and spilling out onto the deck. I stood in dismay at the entrance, and then the proprietor came up to me. Instead of saying “Sorry, we’re full”, he said “Wait a minute.” He went out the back and brought out a small table and chair and placed them in the best position overlooking the vineyard. He then offered to prepare me a special version – suitable for one person – of the share plates that were their speciality.

He was gracious and accommodating, just as a good restaurateur and host should be. I became absurdly grateful for being treated in the same welcoming way as other patrons who came as a couple or a group would be treated.

What then is it that prevents greater numbers of women from going into a restaurant for dinner alone, as a man might? Is it the occasional bad experience or is it something else?

There are no restrictions mandating that we always have to be accompanied by a male, as is still the case in many societies. So there is no social prohibition. But there is a very powerful self-prohibition. And it’s based on fear. What will others think of me?

Perhaps we are afraid we are signalling that we have failed to acquire a companion, and that we are objects of pity. Or it could be we are afraid that people will misinterpret our being alone as being available.

We put up this barrier of negativity, so we don’t have the confidence to walk into a restaurant. Walking alone into a restaurant  becomes as frightening as walking onto a stage. It’s as though everyone is looking at us. We feel completely exposed with hundreds of critical eyes focused on us. We build it up in our minds into a 3-Act drama when in truth, how much scrutiny is there really going to be? A few seconds as the waiter leads us to our seat. Most people are too absorbed in themselves to give you more than a passing glance.

But it’s all about women feeling at a disadvantage in social situations when alone.

Many women don’t have the nerve to walk confidently into a restaurant and order from the staff without feeling they have no right to be there. Perhaps we feel we don’t deserve the kind of attention, and even fuss, that other patrons would expect.

Sometimes we are made to feel we are inconsiderately occupying a table that could be earning twice as much. So frequently we are not offered a table, but a seat at the bar or are squeezed into a corner.

We might help change that treatment by patronizing restaurants that welcome solo women diners. After all, in terms of numbers, we are actually an economic force, not a liability.

The reality is that the more we dine out solo, the less of an oddity we will be, and the less of an ordeal it becomes.

There is reason to be optimistic. I remember reading that Ruth Reichl, the famous New York Times restaurant critic, would always visit a restaurant several times before writing her review of the dining experience. So I decided to do the same and re-visited that trendy restaurant that I had walked out of 6 months earlier. This time however, even though the place was packed, I was greeted warmly and instead of being led to the bar, was shown to the only available table, right in the centre of the restaurant. The service was prompt and pleasant, and the food was good. A totally different dining experience! Why? Who knows, perhaps a change of staff with a better attitude.

But to begin with, we need to change our own attitudes. So let’s not hesitate to take ourselves out to lunch or dinner when we feel like it. Let’s savour our freedom, enjoy a beautiful meal in pleasant surroundings, and not waste a second worrying about what other people think.





Home Alone – Not Necessarily!


I’ve just read an article that again confirmed why our new WomanGoingPlaces website was created.

In a piece entitled ‘Home Alone’ in the Age’s Sunday Life Magazine, writer Dianne Blacklock, divorced and mother of four grown children, wrote about finding herself on her own after raising her children. After giving priority to her family for all those years, she was now excitedly looking at how she could enjoy her life as a single woman.

“I’m meeting new people, broadening my career in all kinds of interesting ways, and next year I’m planning to travel – to the places I want to go, to see things I want to see, without having to consult anybody else. I think I’m entitled to it, especially after all those years of ‘eating the burnt chop’, of putting everyone’s needs before my own.”

She loved child-rearing but refused to accept that she couldn’t go on independently to enjoy life.

“I’d like to think there are also many happy years ahead of me, with new adventures and different challenges. And I refuse to miss out on opportunities because I’m single – in fact, I suspect that many opportunities are available to me precisely because I’m not tied down.”

Dianne has perfectly described the way many of us feel – that there’s life after child-rearing and other family responsibilities, and to live that life to the full is entirely possible as well as necessary.

The question is how to go about making the most of your independence? That’s where WomanGoingPlaces comes in.

Some of us want to take the plunge into a grand adventure, an overseas trip to exotic or unusual destinations. Others are more inclined to build on smaller adventures nearer to home. All of us want to engage in experiences that pique our interest and absorb us in activities or surroundings that fascinate us and bring us delight.

Whatever the scale of your ambitions, we’re here to offer ideas and suggestions of where to go and what to do. Things that we have found engaging and perfect to do whether on your own or with others, but are particularly suitable if you are going solo. We want you to get a taste of what we experienced through extensive videos and photos, as well as reports of what we found.

Although Augustine and I have traveled a lot and lived in other countries, we are now discovering exciting developments in our own home city, Melbourne. For example, the tour of Melbourne’s laneways sparked in me an interest in street art.  I found so much of it inventive, vibrant and compelling. So much so, that when someone I spoke to recently dismissed it without having seen it, as graffiti, I was a bit offended that the creativity I saw on the walls of Hosier Lane was reduced to sheer vandalism. In fact, street art is now fetching thousands of dollars.

Recently, the City of Melbourne blackened over all the existing street art on Hosier Lane to give a chance to new artists to make their mark as part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Melbourne Now project. It’s a reminder of how ephemeral this art form is. Our WomanGoingPlaces Melbourne Laneways Street Art video captures the work on display at a particular point in time. See

Augustine’s yachting adventure was another unexpected find. Amazingly, it’s an opportunity to go sailing that’s open to everyone all around the Australian coastline wherever there are yachting clubs.

And if you want a rewarding encounter with Australia’s unique ocean environment that’s less well known than the Great Barrier Reef, see our Ningaloo Reef Australia for Solo Women Travelers. (

We’re new, but we’re adding destinations and activities all the time. We welcome your comments, suggestions and stories. If you know of a special place or activity, tell us why you found them particularly suitable to go on your own.

I leave the last words to Dianne Blacklock on going solo:

“The hardest thing about being single is the perception that there’s something wrong with you, that you’re incomplete. But I’m happy to just go my own way and do my own thing. And the best part is, I don’t have to explain myself to anybody.”


Dianne Blacklock’s article can also be read at .