I’ve never been on a trip alone. Wherever I’ve traveled it’s always been with a partner, family, or friends and I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. I think it’s the norm for people to travel in packs and it’s only the rare wanderer that sets out on their own – a lone wolf to wonder at. Is it because we want to share in the experience of a new place with someone close? Is it for comfort and familiarity? Is it because we’re naturally social creatures?
At the end of last year I was feeling a bit burned out and so decided that I needed a holiday for one. I imagined a week in the Grand Canaries with nothing other than a stack of books and a parade of cocktails to see me through the days. Then I found out that an old friend was going to be in Europe and that she was planning a side trip to Italy. What if I could visit her and have some days to wander the city at my own pace? So that’s how I found myself in Venice – both alone and not-alone.
I had both a fantastic time and a miserable one and by the end I was grateful to return home to the Isle of Man. Alone in a foreign city seemed at first exciting, then daunting – especially in the heat and humidity and the language barrier on my last night. As soon as I was safely home I announced that traveling solo wasn’t for me and it was my intention to share some holiday snaps, tell you how beautiful Venice was (and it is stunning) and leave it at that. But after looking through my photos I see my trip with new eyes. To think, if I hadn’t have brought my SLR camera along, I might not have truly understood the difference that ALONE makes.
My friend Lyndsey and her colleague Alysha were with me during a day and a half of my five day trip. The photos I took of that time are ordinary holiday pics – of us reuniting, having drinks, eating ice cream, posing together and goofing around. We were focused on us and the environment was more of a secondary element. One where we dodged the heat, unscrupulous vendors, the throngs of tourists, and generally talked and had fun. It’s mainly the photos I took when I was wandering around the city on my own that I’m sharing in this post.
It was uncomfortable traveling without a companion. People would look at me more, or at least I was more aware of them looking. I would find myself lost in the warren of tiny passages that is Venice and on one occasion I was afraid that I might have walked into the wrong area. My heart hammered inside my chest until I eventually spotted people and a busy alleyway.
It was also very freeing – I didn’t have to wait on anyone or to compromise on itinerary or menu. In retrospect I see that I was mainly uncomfortable because I was out of my comfort zone and uncertain of myself. How often do we place ourselves in situations and environments where we need to rely completely on ourselves? It’s incredible how my idea of a relaxing beach holiday morphed into a trip of self-discovery.
I feel ridiculous saying it but I’ve just now made the connection between photographers ranging around ‘finding stories’ and the fact that you often spot them solo. When it’s just you, you’re less of a part of the picture and more an observer – you begin to see what’s happening around you without YOU getting in the way.
My stories are mainly simple and quiet and now that I see them again I feel my eyes opening. I remember walking the oven-like passageways of the city wondering what on earth I was thinking with planning so many days on my own. All the while my subconscious snap-o-matic self recorded pigeons bathing in a bucket, steps that beckon from across a canal, and the crumbling walls of an ancient building, the water creeping ever higher up the door. I remember taking the photos but actually seeing them for what they are moves me. I’d have missed these moments if I hadn’t been alone.
Venice is a beautiful city, there’s no denying it. You can walk along a deserted passage and then spot a gondolier paddling by at the end – because walkways often end at a canal. Couples walk hand in hand and dance to the classical music filling San Marco square. Everywhere you turn you see buildings that have stood for hundreds of years, bridges built by artists, and a past so deeply entrenched that it seems as if the people who commissioned and built Venice are still there. You can’t help but take amazing photos and I’m so glad that serendipity helped me discover something new about myself in such an amazing place.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel alone again but I know that I’ll have more awareness of that experience when the time comes. Awareness of place, of events, of self. This trip wasn’t so bad at all actually and I feel that I was being close-minded when I judged it so harshly to begin with. Sometimes the new can clash with our expectations though and it takes experiences like this to shake them up. It’s not despite the challenges but because of them that I thank you Venice!