Europe & Britain | People & Stories

“I am so proud of myself” - Sandra's story of solo travelling in Italy

Recently updated on July 6th, 2023 at 12:08 pm

Travel is a powerful force. It can connect us with those we love, re-ignite our inner flame, and fill us with a feeling of self-assurance and strength. This was made so very clear when we read Trafalgar guest Sandra’s inspiring story, submitted in the Trafalgar Unlocked Awards. After losing her husband to cancer, Sandra embarked on a solo trip to Italy as a way of celebrating what would have been her 10th wedding anniversary. We had to follow up with her to find out more about her remarkable story:

Read more: Solo traveller, Joanne, on why travelling solo as a woman doesn’t have to be scary

The colourful Cinque Terre town of Manarola

When did you first get the urge to take your trip?

In October 2019, before the world came to a halt, I had an urge to travel like never before in my life. Perhaps it was that I was coming up on what would have been the 10th anniversary of my wedding, had my spouse not passed away. I wanted to celebrate our love in a big way. My intuition was screaming at me to do this now, that I may not get another chance! I kept quoting Anais Nin: “I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.“

What was telling you to just go and book it?

I’m not sure, but there was an excitement vibrating in my solar plexus that meant something had to be done. And now that I was alone again, no one else was going to do it for me. I could hear my late-husband’s voice saying, ”WWJD! What would James do?“

This is something he would often say to me when I became timid or nervous about something. And I knew – James would book the trip and start packing! I Googled the best ways to travel to and around Italy, the top of my bucket list places to go.

It was your first time traveling alone. How did it feel?

Around mid-September I started checking in with friends and family. I knew they would be fun to travel with and would appreciate the significance of this journey for me, but with only a few weeks’ notice they couldn’t swing it.

I went back and forth about going. I was hesitant to travel as a woman alone in a foreign country, but following the urgings in my heart. I had never travelled for vacation by myself before! Would I even enjoy it? Then I thought of joining a group tour. Although I would be “alone”, I wouldn’t have to worry about really being alone. I had not traveled with Trafalgar before but I certainly recognized the name.

The Rome and Tuscan Highlights tour would have me in Italy during my 10th wedding anniversary. It was within my budget, and all the places on the list sounded perfect! That was the trip! I typed an email to the travel agent to book the trip and… my finger hovered over the Enter button. A million what-ifs swirled through my head. A moment of hesitation, I closed my eyes and everything went quiet. I heard my husband’s voice again. “What would James do?” And click! I was going to Italy solo! It was exciting and scary! I am so proud of myself for doing something so out of my comfort zone. I know, for sure, my husband is proud of me, too!

Read more:Think solo travel is a young person’s game? Think again

Lucca, seen from Guinigi Tower

Did you and your husband enjoy traveling together?

When I met my husband, he had never been on a plane and had only left our province of Nova Scotia a few times to visit family in nearby provinces. My brothers live in Arizona and, due to distance, one of my brothers had not had a chance to meet my husband before we got married. We planned our honeymoon for Arizona so we could spend time with family. I could show James places that I loved and we could check out places new to both of us. He had a child-like wonder of all things new and it was so fun viewing revisited places through fresh eyes. 

After that first trip together, the travel bug bit him, too. We, unfortunately, spent our 7th anniversary in his hospital room as he battled cancer and a few, too-short months later, my adventure partner was gone. Our last trip “together” was when, at his request, I took a vial of his ashes to Sedona so that, as he said, “I will always be waiting for you when you return.” He made me promise to live my life with hope, happiness and adventure. He promised to be with me every step of the way. He is deeply embedded in my heart, so really, anywhere I travel, he is with me in spirit.

Sandra and her husband James in 2014

How did Trafalgar support you on your tour?

Italy was always top of my bucket list so that was the logical place for me to go. Because I was taking this journey without any friends or family, in search of a reawakening, I named this journey my Soul-Oh Tour (a.k.a. O Soul-oh Mio)!

Trafalgar took care of the details so that I could take care of me! There were afternoons or evenings when we could do our own thing, join up with others on the tour and take a side venture, or sign up for an optional guided tour or dinner that Trafalgar arranged. Each day, someone else did the driving so we could sit back in our comfy bus seats and quietly take in the lush countryside, chat with tour-mates or join in an impromptu Dean Martin sing-along. That’s Amore will always remind me of wine-infused vocal bravado under Italian starlight as we made our way back to the hotel from yet another spectacular meal. Special moments that I will always carry with me.

Since I was by myself, I had a choice to room with another lone traveler or, at an additional charge, have my own room. I signed up to room with another traveler to save a little money. However, as luck would have it, I ended up with a room to myself. Each night I could relax, listening to Italian conversations and laughter outside my open window while posting photos to Instagram of my day and send messages to the folks at home. They all wanted to live vicariously through me while knowing I was safe.

Without Trafalgar, I would not have felt comfortable enough to go on my dream trip to Italy, nor met such a wonderful group of people from other parts of the world!

Sandra enjoyed the countryside views from the comfort of the coach

What was your favorite part of your Italy trip?

As wonderful as it was to meet and enjoy the trip with others, the quiet, reflective moments helped me reconnect with myself. To walk streets that have been witness to history; view sculptures, paintings and architecture of masters; and sit on foot-worn stone steps and press my palm on sun-warmed buildings where greats like da Vinci, Puccini, Michelangelo and so many others had been… It stirred my soul and reminded me why I love art and history.

Did you make any new friends on the tour, and if so do you still keep in touch?

It didn’t take long to start making friends with fellow travelers on our first night. At the first dinner we shared dishes, chatted about where we were from and talked about what we were looking forward to on the tour. I had not previously signed up for any optional add-ons, but once my tour mates were talking about them and encouraging me to join in, I signed up for everything! I am so happy I did.

On the tour bus, I was purposely seated next to the one other solo traveler. Laura and I quickly recognized each other as an Italian adventure partner. Both of us loved the old churches, climbing towers for the best views, and getting in our fair share of treats like gelato. We shopped the Ponte Vecchio and purchased matching leather bracelets to remember our days spent together in Italy.

By the end of the tour a few of us who had shared special moments, delicious meals, and many laughs became Facebook friends or now follow each other on Instagram. It was partly to share photos of our trip with each other more easily. But also to stay in touch and continue to cheer each other on in our day-to-day lives. Maybe someday in the future we may even meet up on another tour!

Read more: ‘This magical place was so healing’: how Ireland helped past guest Michelle

Sandra and Laura bought matching bracelets in Florence

Has this started in you a new love for traveling solo?

Although I would prefer to share the experience of travel and new things with a friend or family member, I now know that I’m good-to-go if no one can join me! Solo travel can be quite liberating. I can do the things I want to do on the trip, whether that is join a crowd for drinks after a day of sightseeing, wander a museum, or relax in my room and reflect on the day. Life is not meant to be lived in a box. Life calls for us to expand our mind and our horizons. And with Trafalgar, I don’t have to be alone on my journey!

You told us it was one of the best things you ever did for yourself. Why was that?

It was about two and a half years after the loss of my spouse and, as I mentioned, close to what would have been our 10th anniversary. I was still grieving, missing my husband as well as a piece of myself, and in need of a soul revival. If I was going to be solo the rest of my life, it would not be a life lived in one place! That was a promise I made to my husband and to myself. My soul ached for new adventures that would help me reconnect with my soul and the things that inspire me. 

The day after I arrived in Rome, I left the hotel for a walk and discovered the sunlit fountain of Piazza della Repubblica, the beautiful 16th century church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri and the sculpture-strewn Baths of Diocletian. People who travel more often may roll their eyes. But I was so proud of myself for working up the courage to just get myself out of my hotel and take that walk, to take this whole trip by myself!

Although I deeply miss my companion in life, I now knew that I could do this! Even if I were to be alone for the rest of my life, I will honor my husband by living a life with a spirited outlook at each new discovery and adventure.

Read more:‘Egypt was life-changing for me’: Karen’s Trafalgar Unlocked story

Sandra is proud of herself for choosing to travel solo

We are so grateful to have been a part of your journey in honoring your husband. Where’s next on your wish list?

As the world continues to open up, I am ready to look up at airplanes and dream once more! With my interest in ancient history and art, I’m leaning towards Greece, Croatia, Romania, Spain, Egypt, Scotland or Ireland. Of course, a return to Italy is not out of the question as there is still so much to see, do, and eat! “My hair is being pulled by the stars again!” and I have a dart, a map and Trafalgar!

Read more inspiring stories from the Trafalgar Unlocked Awards at https://www.trafalgar.com/real-word/trafalgar-unlocked-awards/

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