The silent moments

I’m back in Florence again, and Puglia was simultaneously one of the best and strangest trips I’ve taken so far (although maybe not stranger than that one time in Croatia, thankfully). Highlights include reading in seaside caves and dancing with a stranger to tarantella music on the port of Brindisi. Lowlights include that one day in Otranto where it was too cold and windy to do much of anything, and the only others that dared to venture into the streets were German tour groups and cats. On a weird note, a very intimidating Hungarian barista also tried to marry me off to the only other patron in the cafe, who apparently has a thing for American girls… yeah, my life is rarely boring.

Without fail, solo travel forces you to reflect (especially if la tramontana has given you no choice but to hang out in your room for a day thinking about your life choices). There is a fine line between solitude and loneliness, and sometimes I have a hard time identifying when that line has been crossed. I’ve always enjoyed my own company, and on the whole, I’m good at traveling alone. Still, as I get older, I’ve admitted to myself that there are times when I wouldn’t mind having a companion just for an evening. In addition, there is also a lot of downtime that comes with travel: layovers in airports, stuffy bus rides, trains, meals alone, the list goes on. Unfortunately, though I do have practice with being by myself, I’m not very good at downtime. I feel like I need to be always doing something… starting a project, working towards a goal, doing anything productive. l rarely let myself sit still.

Over the past 3 years, I’ve been to 12 countries completely alone, and I tend to only capture the livelier side of these trips when I take photos. The images from my trips are often about everyday life and interactions, which does represent a part of my experience as a significant portion of my time is spent watching other people. Still, that’s only a fraction of what these trips are for me. If my images serve a personal purpose as visual notes and memories, I’m doing myself an injustice by ignoring the other side of travel.

Trust me: there’s plenty of quiet moments, solitude, and sometimes some loneliness when you’re eating dinner by yourself surrounded by couples and families for the 7th night in a row. I’ve become quite familiar with empty streets and middle-of-nowhere bus stops and hours spent alone in airport terminals and in trains. There are almost-but-not-quite connections with other people, or people you’d like to introduce yourself to but are too shy to do so. These trips are filled of quiet moments in which I’m forced to sit still.

None of this is good or bad; it’s simply the way things can be when you’re running around a foreign country by yourself. With that in mind, I gave myself an assignment to document this aspect of solo travel. I guess you could say that it’s my own attempts to embrace the quiet and the solitude that sometimes morphs into loneliness when I’m not paying attention. There are two sides to every trip: the warmth and excitement that comes with experiencing a new culture and community, and the moments where I’m forced to sit with myself and lean into the silence. The aforementioned side of my Puglia trip looked like this. This is what the latter looks like.