Living Outside the Boundaries
Life on the Road! What is it really like?
People who hear about the year long journey I am undertaking generally respond by assuming that I am having a ball partying around the world. They think I am meeting exotic men, going to great parties, eating fantastic food, and exploring remote places. They assume the nomadic lifestyle is easy-peasy and fun times are abundant. Well I can honestly say that all of this was true about twenty years ago. I powered through 40 or more countries when I started my job overseas. We all partied like rock stars. However, the world of travel has changed dramatically and so have I.
Younger, and a little wilder, I often found myself landing in a country with a long list of things to see and do. Exhausted and tired at the end of the day I would flop onto my bed in the evening and take a nap. Refreshed and ready to go it was time for the nearest club, party or concert. After a week of constant activity I would arrive home exhausted, cranky, jet-lagged and frustrated because I had to go to work the next day.
Currently, travel finds me in a mellow place with a zen-like wonder and curiosity about the world that I didn’t have when I was twenty-five. Travel is nice and slow now. I no longer rush through airports to catch a plane. Long layovers helps to avoid the rush. I take more time to understand the culture. I meet people, not to find the next party but to find out about their lives. I want to know how much they love their country; what’s the best local food; what is going on in the community that tourists aren’t aware of and most important, where to find a good cup of coffee. Settling in for a month makes it easier to satisfy my natural curiosity and connect with the local community.
What do I do when I’m not playing tourist?
I hang out in parks looking at trees Go to farmer’s markets
Find a good cup of coffee Take a cooking class
Eat Strange foods (fried worms) Volunteer
Chill out at the house (Mexico) Find the local pharmacy and stores
Is this journey exotic and exciting? Yes, but not all the time!!!!! Nesting for 30 days per country, I find the experience to be comparable to normal living, well, as normal as I can get. There is a lot of down time, more than you might think. I can’t be in tourist mode continuously for 30 days at a time. There are days when I stay in and veg out just like I would at home. I have to get out and make groceries (interpretation for non-New Orleanians: I have to get out and buy groceries.) Groceries are defined as cereal, milk, yogurt and fresh fruit; you know I don’t cook. I stay in apartments and they don’t always come with a maid so some days I stay in to clean my apartment and do laundry. Other days I stay in to plan the next month of travel. Planning is the only part of the journey in which I get a bit anxious. I am extremely picky; choosing the right apartment in the right part of town near public transportation is a daunting task for me. Not very exotic right?
I venture into different neighborhoods to find the nearest farmers market, grocery store and pharmacy. Finding the nearest bus, train or taxi stand has to be done. Learning how to get around on public transportation is a must and sometimes pretty difficult as I have no sense of direction. Looking for a bookstore that offers books in English is part of the adventure. While none of this is very exciting or exotic, it does allow me to get a better understanding of the community, the culture and other social aspects of the neighborhood. Staying in a hotel on a week-long visit would not allow for such varied exposure to people in the community.
Nesting allows for pleasures I never had when traveling short-term. Now I spend a lot of time in local parks with a good cup of coffee and a book; or a good cup of coffee and people watching. I spend more time in museums and have unlimited time to sit and absorb a painting or an intriguing sculpture. I don’t really watch television but some days I stay in to binge watch “The Big Bang Theory” when there is a marathon in English. My days on the road are fluid and unplanned. I love that aspect of it.
Part of the downside is having to pack up and move after a month. Adhering to visa time requirements of a country can be a pain. My plan to stay in Europe for five months (I forgot I didn’t live there anymore) was shot down by the Schengen Zone requirements which puts 29 countries under the 90 day rule. I get only three months in Europe as opposed to five. Had to change my plans.
I am an avid solo traveler but I do occasionally have an experience I wish I could share with a friend. Wearing the same clothes without variety is a minor downside. However, if given the choice of more clothes or less luggage, I vote on less luggage. I always travel light. I have mastered it.
One major down side of extensive travel is developing a jaded perspective. For example, for a long time, the churches in Europe became boring. There was nothing anyone could show me that I hadn’t seen. I stopped going into churches when I traveled. It made me sad to walk into a beautiful church and see it as just another church. Something was missing, that “wow” affect I am always talking about simply vanished. Viewing the rock hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia a few years ago changed my perspective on churches. I was in awe of what man could accomplish with few resources. Am I jaded in other areas of travel? A little bit. It happens.
On the flip side, I have seen things on this journey, especially in Patagonia, that have left me in awe, and speechless. Around every bend in the road or past every mountain in Patagonia I found myself audibly saying “wow”. It was the only word that applied to what I was viewing. “Wow.” That is what travel should be like. There is so much beauty in the world; even the most jaded traveler can admit this.
Travel continues to be exotic and exciting. The difference, I have more time to enjoy the adventure and extra time to relax and recover.
But most of all……
I meet really nice people and have fun. I have met so many interesting people who are not represented here but having met them, they remain in my heart. Travel is the great equalizer.