What makes one travel experience more memorable than another? More pleasurable? Challenging? Just as three people who grow up together can have entirely unique memories and ideas about what their childhoods were like, the same can be said for solo travel- If I was experiencing this exact trip as the Christy of 2009 or 2005 or 1999, each one would be completely different. Weather, company, locations visited, emotional state, time of year, what happened right before departure, physical health, functionality of one’s camera and/or laptop all play a role in how my days go. I would like to say that I have achieved such a state of consciousness that any external occurrences would have no effect on my mood, or how I view a particular place that I’ve stayed- sure, any of us can say that we control our emotions, in theory. Yes, our intelligence tells us that we can turn a given situation around for the better, but in the moment, sometimes things are just generally crappy.
The point I’m getting at is I don’t want anyone thinking that I go away and don’t experience loneliness, or that each person I encounter is suddenly a lifelong friend, or that my depression goes away when I’m in another country. That simply isn’t true. I am here, living with another family and cleaning up their kitchen and eating meals with them and witnessing their arguments…and the last few days I have been depressed. I know, this is unorthodox– have you ever read a travelogue about a depressed person? Someone who feels a sense of isolation, inexplicable loneliness and blankness, and yet chooses to travel alone anyway? This is not a perpetual emotional state, of course, but the feelings are always there waiting in the wings, eager to creep up on me when I let my guard down, when I’m not keeping myself busy enough, when I don’t have enough contac t with certain loved ones, etc. This trip seems to have been a particularly challenging and introspective one. It’s the first time in a long time that I am actually looking forward to returning to New York, not scrambling around trying to figure out how I can stay longer. But it’s okay! Of course I love traveling, and I appreciate that I strive to plant myself in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. For every positive experience in Italy, it seems like there have been at least five negative/stressful ones. I look back on those situations and shake my head, swearing that next time I really will do it better. At least they make moments like arriving at a lovely new host’s home or enjoying a particularly satisfying homecooked meal that much brighter.
If travel is a process that helps you ‘find yourself’, it’s because it leaves you with nothing to hide behind- it yanks you out from the realm of rehearsed responses and dull comforts, and forces you into the present. Here, in the fleeting moment, you are left to improvise, to come to terms with your raw, true Self. –Rolf Potts
And here’s an amusing picture from Prunecchio to lighten the mood a bit: