Saturday, July 06, 2013

52 at 52

Please welcome guest blogger, friend and colleague Sherry Stanfa-Stanley (or as I like to call her, SSS—one more S than Suzy SoulĂ©). Her 52at52 Project was born as a way of shaking up her quotidian life in response to celebrating her arrival at age 52. She’s in the midst of a year of trying 52 things she’s never before done—a year of weekly experiences well outside her comfort zone. Today she’s going to share her adventures on her solo trip to Italy last—which sparked the idea.

While being interviewed for a newspaper article a couple weeks ago, I was asked how I got the idea for undertaking 52 new challenges. I initially answered the same way I have before: that it followed putting my house on the market and losing weight.

But as I gave it more thought, I realized the idea had been brewing longer. It actually started with a trip to Italy last summer.

I spent half of that trip with my youngest son, who was serving an assistantship there. The other half, I traveled the country on my own.

I'd never been to Europe. I'd never ventured outside the U.S. at all, except to Canada. And besides having to go through customs on the Ambassador Bridge, which is just an hour's drive away, that hardly counts as international travel.

I plotted an itinerary. I scheduled flights. I booked hotels in Rome, Florence, Siena, and Venice. I researched train and bus transportation, but was advised to wait and arrange that after I arrived. Here's an interesting tidbit about traveling in Italy: they seldom ask for your ticket or announce where that particular bus or train--on which you are already seated--is going. So you'd better be damn sure you're on the right one.

Somehow, I managed to arrive at all my planned destinations, find my hotels, and see all the major sights--without a tour guide or a travel companion to set me on track when I second-guessed myself (which was often). I also enjoyed fabulous meals and wine, without speaking a word of Italian.

In fact, I never did learn how to ask, in Italian, "Where is the bus station?" or "Where is the bathroom?" The only phrase I did master, by the end of the trip, was "Un altro, per favore." (Another one, please.") That proved sufficient.

I came away from that trip realizing I was far more independent, capable, and courageous than I'd ever imagined.  One of the things that stayed with me while I traveled solo was Cheryl Strayed's experience on the trail. I’d finished reading "Wild" the day before I left, and remember thinking throughout my trip that if she could get through that, I could manage several days in Italy on my own.

Most of us are, I would guess, more capable than we think, if only we choose to step outside our safety zones and challenge ourselves.

This year presents a new set of challenges in my life. Many are much smaller in scale than solo-traveling through a foreign country. But they're all exciting and enlightening, in their own way.

I hope a few of you are finding this 52/52 Project helps you to challenge yourselves. You may find that frightening or sometimes frustrating. But at the same time, you'll discover how reassuring and liberating it can be to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

After the first couple times, you may just find yourself saying to yourself: "That wasn't so bad after all. Un altro, per favore!"
Sherry Stanfa-Stanley pens fiction, humor, and human interest stories. She was recently published in the anthology, Fifty Shades of Funny: Hook-Ups, Break-Ups and Crack-Ups, and received a national fellowship in 2011 by the Midwest Writers Workshop. She is currently changing her life through 52 enlightening, frightening, and sometimes humiliating new experiences. Follow along on Facebook at


  1. Anonymous8:14 PM

    What a handy Italian phrase. We lived in Germany for a year, and all I managed to learn during that time was, "How much does this cost?" Amazing how far that one little snippet could take me.

  2. Downith12:51 AM

    Well said, Sherry! I may have to join Fakebook under an assumed name to keep up with this.

  3. Sherry, your project is so inspiring. Traveling solo in a country where you don't know the language is not only brave, but, in a weird way, life-affirming. I mean, our every day ruts and hamster wheels, over time, has this kind of deadening effect that we're not even aware of.

    Interestingly, so many of my women friends are embarking on major adventures this year. I can't help but think there's extra oxygen being emitted into the atmosphere (like when you plant trees...)Honored to have you stop by!

  4. Sorry for the delay in commenting here, Suzy. I'm in the midst of (dis)organized chaos as I move from my home of 21 years to my new place. I think everything on my entire 52/52 list is easier than cleaning out my basement and transporting my cat menagerie...

    Anyway, thanks so much for the hospitality of sharing your terrific new space!

  5. I think that's such a brave thing to do. I have to admit I'm a bit inspired. I'm rather timid with regards to new experiences but your post here is rather inspirational! I may not be up to flying across the world on my own but maybe I'll try a short road trip first!


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