It has always been the dilemma of my life: I’m scared of pretty much everything, but I also want to do pretty much everything.
Traveling is no exception. I’ve always loved traveling. The very first vacations with my parents when I was a child, getting up early, driving a few hours before taking a picnic lunch break, staying at cute little B&Bs, exploring and relaxing. My first journey alone to a language school in England when I was sixteen. Later, trips with friends or alone to sailing trips or yoga retreats. My backpacker tour through Southeast Asia. And, of course, my longer stays abroad, like internships or a semester in the states. Every time I packed my stuff and hopped on a plane, I would come back with amazing memories, a tan, new acquaintances that sometimes even developed into friendships, and a serious boost for my self-esteem.
Why the self-esteem boost, you might ask?
Well, it’s because of the previously mentioned fear of everything. You see, I’m not the type who books a trip, bathes in pleasant anticipation, and hits the airport giddy with excitement. No matter how many times I’ve travelled before, the day before a new trip is always hell. The well-known anxiety, that I’ve never been able to shake off, kicks in and makes questions shoot through my head: Do you have everything? Did you forget to pack something important? Don’t you think you’ve packed too much? Are you sure your passport is still valid? What if you don’t meet any cool people to get along with?
Due to the pandemic, I hadn’t taken a trip abroad in the past two years. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, I just felt like it was the right thing to do, with the virus spreading all over the world. I didn’t want to contribute to its further spreading, so I decided to only go on short trips within Germany. And, honestly, it was absolutely fine. You spend so little time discovering your home. Now, that I’m back from my first trip abroad after those two years, I couldn’t help but ponder my relationship to traveling and how it has changed over the years.
From “Little Miss Stay-At-Home” to “Little Miss Itchy Feet”
Believe it or not, but when I was a child, I didn’t even like visiting friends at their houses. I would start crying when my parents suggested that I might visit my friends for a change instead of having them over all the time. I think I was seven or eight when I finally came out of my shell a little more. So, you can probably imagine my parents’ surprise when I caught the travel fever and ended up discovering Southeast Asia with a backpack. Where did that development come from? I honestly don’t know. I just know that at some point I really enjoyed the whole experience, from the planning process over the journey, meeting new people, tasting new food, seeing new landscapes, up to getting back and making the trip linger by looking at the pictures I took.
Tourist? Traveler? Local?
Back in the day, I used to differentiate strictly between tourists and travelers. Tourists were people who booked an all-inclusive offer and never left their hotel, lounging around by the pool all day. Travelers were people who really wanted to discover the country they went to. When I did my first internship in a Lanzarote hotel, I felt like I didn’t belong to either of these categories. I felt like a local. I lived in the staff rooms of the hotel I interned at, put on my uniform, and went to work every day, ran errands like I did at home, dated a local, spoke Spanish every day. I also went on excursions with my newfound friends, discovering the island, but the overall feel was so different from being on vacation. I became addicted. It was no longer enough for me to be a tourist or even a traveler – I wanted to be a local wherever I went. After my first internship abroad, my semester abroad followed; then, a second internship after I was done with university; then, a stint in Costa Rica to teach English. Of course, I still went on vacations in between, but those didn’t make my feet any less itchy.
Always on the go
It was a time where I had my next trip constantly planned or at least on my mind. It was a beautiful time, being in a constant state of anticipation and having the feeling of seeing more of the world, but it was also a little exhausting. Back then, I overused the phrase “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”. Looking back, however, I can see that I was indeed trying to escape my life at that point – even for a little while. I was restless. I loved the city I lived in fiercely and had a great group of friends, but I was lacking inner peace and calmness. Unconsciously, I looked for these things by exploring foreign countries.
I became calmer some years ago. Suddenly, I discovered that going on a vacation was totally sufficient for me. Hearing people talk about work and travel programs, or similar stuff no longer sounded that appealing to me. Also, I came to rethink the clichés I had about people, for example: someone who travels with a suitcase and stays in a nice hotel isn’t a “real” traveler. How did I even get the idea that the way you’re transporting your stuff defines your way of travelling?! I no longer look down on people with suitcases or up to people with shabby backpacks. I know for a fact that you can genuinely discover the country while staying in a fancy hotel. What’s wrong with that? I used to listen to stories about horror hostels like the people telling them were wearing a badge of honor. What for? It’s the most precious time of the year, why shouldn’t you treat yourself to a nice abode, and, while we’re at it, to some lazy hours by the pool?
So, what has changed over the past years? Me, I guess. Has yoga with its “don’t search on the outside for something you can only find inside of you”-philosophy played a part in that change? Most likely.
I no longer define myself by where I go or how I travel or what my luggage looks like.
When I planned my last trip to Ibiza with a friend, I didn’t think “ugh, Ibiza, that’s Spain, and I’ve already been to Spain – I don’t even get to tick off a new country on my list, nor do I get a stamp in my passport” like I would have done a few years ago. I just thought about the relaxation we were going to get in, the hikes we were going to take, the good time we were going to have.
Traveling just for the fun of it, not to prove anything, is a liberating feeling I’m planning to keep and cultivate.
And maybe, just maybe… the anxiety beforehand will also fade away eventually 😊