An Argument for Silence


Much of my work is spent traveling with people on vacation, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it is that travelers love to talk— talk, talk, talk. 

It’s natural, of course, this inclination to verbalize the wonder and awe of being somewhere foreign, experiencing exciting adventures, and meeting new and interesting people. 

I wonder, though, how much potential joy, insight and observation is lost amid the cacophony of the nonstop chatter. 

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I was once on a trekking vacation in one of the wildest, most pristine and remote places on earth with a small group of adventure travelers including three young Manhattan housewives who marched past delicate wild orchids, primeval forests, and turquoise ribbons of glacial rivers consumed in a conversation about private schools and yoga instructors. 

On a train in France I sat behind a gaggle of gap year Brits who jabbered nonstop from Paris to Avignon while pinging text messages and snapping iPhone pictures of themselves. 

At an island eco-lodge in Nicaragua, I overheard a young American couple, presumably honeymooners by the look of their shiny new wedding bands, ask the manager if they could get a refund and check out early because it was “a bit too quiet.”  

I’ve never considered myself an apologist for quiet, but there’s a lot to be said for silence. Honestly, I’m beginning to think talking is highly overrated.

I know it’s a little strange, a bit of a contradiction, that a person who once earned a living as a talker (a.k.a. teacher) and now as a writer, should say that speech is tiresome, but that’s how I see it. 

Nor is the irony lost on me that I’ve moved to Latin America with hopes of learning to speak a new language only to conclude that I prefer to listen. 

The thing is, I adore adept conversationalists and storytellers. Interesting, compassionate and witty people are everywhere and I love little more than to listen and laugh and share. I’m not a total teetotaler when it comes to conversation. Far from it.

But sitting on a park bench in Mexico today watching a funeral procession make its way from the church to the cemetery, a peppy brass band leading a parade of somber men and women, teasing children and scruffy dogs, I think of the Manhattan housewives, the gap year Brits, the American newlyweds, and feel grateful for the solitude and silence of my own company.

What about you? How do you feel about silence? Share a comment below, on my Facebook page, or tag me on twitter to continue the conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".