“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
With that little snippet lurking at the back of my mind, I booked a week in Italy for mid-September. I had wanted to get away to celebrate graduation and to take my first real vacation in a couple of years.
But where to go?
I’ve long had a fascination with Ireland, but the details wouldn’t come together in the timeframe I needed. So I daydreamed about some past trips and came up with Sorrento, in southern Italy. I had spent a single day there (less than that, actually) about five years ago when my family took a cruise that included a day in Naples. That morning, we had explored Pompeii – fascinating – before taking a bus on the scariest, most winding and steep drive I’d ever seen.
Sorrento is small, with about 20,000 residents. Much of the town is built into the side of mountains that fall dramatically into the Gulf of Naples. Two small marinas are full of fishing boats and ferries bound for Capri and elsewhere. And the food? I’ve long said the lunch I had in Sorrento that day was one of the best meals I had ever eaten: fresh pizza (from the birthplace of pizza), seafood, and local wine.
I found the right airfare and a hotel that suited, near the marina but only a 20 minute walk from the medieval town center. I packed my bags, dropped the cat at my parents’ house, and set off for Italy.
Traveling alone forces you to really pay attention to all around you – which opens your eyes to amazing things that are often relatively subtle. A natural introvert, it’s rare that I’ll strike up a conversation with strangers. But while traveling, there’s a certain camaraderie fostered among those who share a language in a strange land. I found myself talking to Brits (so many Brits), Aussies, Germans, Canadians, Malaysians… united by a common language (and in a place with very few Americans, since school has started again). Plus, I’d watch for people trying to take pictures of themselves and offer to snap one if they’d return the favor, which lead to several little chats about travels and destinations.
I unplugged from my daily life, where train rides are spent with Twitter and email, instead people-watching and scribbling notes and thoughts in a small notebook. I’d booked a room with a tiny balcony, so at night, I’d sit outside and sip wine, wrapped in a pashmina against the evening chill, watching people stroll to their homes and the restaurants along the marina.
Ideas bubbled. And I exhaled, at long last.
A week is a long time to spend completely alone, but I’m so very glad I trusted myself enough to take the leap. I had no major catastrophes, though a few funny (in retrospect) stories and linguistic snafus.
I’ll share more in the next few days, roughly organized by day: