Author’s Note: This post was originally written on June 26, 2012. Since it was separate from the daily travel blogs I decided to post it after I returned from my trip.
So I’m a little more than halfway through my 3-week solo trip to Europe. If you’ve been following along I have completed 5 days in London, 5 in Paris, 3 in Nice and now headed to Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon. I’ve been in Europe for 13 days and have visited 3 countries and switched time zones twice! I have taken metros, buses, trains and planes (and all with my huge backpack!). I have slept in a plane seat, a bunk bed, a park and a comfy hotel bed. I have absolutely LOVED my days in Europe. I’ve had the most amazing adventures and seen some of the world’s greatest sites. I’ve been busy and tired from walking. I’ve been way too hot (Nice) and way too cold (London).
It hasn’t even been two weeks, but I think I’ve had enough travel time to decipher my travel style. Or, at least what I think my travel style is heading towards.
What I’ve discovered is I do like having a lot on my itinerary. I loved my days in London because I packed them with amazing things to do. Contrarily, in Nice I hadn’t planned a lot beforehand so often felt lost as to what I should do, especially at night without the handy West End London Theatre District.
At the same time, I’ve realised I wouldn’t be able to keep up that jam-packed travel schedule. 5 days was probably my max. I was really sad when I left London, but if I had been there for a few days longer, I’m not sure what I would have done. I perfectly mapped out 5 days with my must-sees and must-dos. Another day would have thrown me for a loop.
I can handle hostels up to a point. I’m hardly a high-maintenance person. Case in point: I packed a bag of make-up for this trip and it hasn’t been opened once; Chapstick and sunscreen are my make-up alternatives. I stayed at my first hostel in London, and expecting the worse, I was pleasantly surprised. The hostel in Paris was even nicer and I enjoyed my stay there. But after the nightmare in Nice, I checked myself into the Best Western (at a discounted rate) and LOVED it. Of course I would! Air conditioning, wifi, ensuite bathroom, no bunk beds, privacy; what’s not to love? I loved it so much I was tempted to find a reason to do away with my hostel booking in Barcelona and try to find an affordable hotel. It’s going to be hard going back to hostels after this…
As much as I’ve loved seeing all the sites, my favourite moments are when I’m not the tourist. I enjoy acting like a local. In France I try to use my French as often as I can, while some of my fellow travellers rattle off in English without so much as a “bonjour” or “merci”. I put my camera away as soon as I’ve stealthily snapped a photo and I detest walking around with a map. I wear a purse instead of a money belt and I try my best to blend it at local cafes and bakeries. In short, I try to experience as much of the local culture as I can. Because I’m travelling on a budget, I actually have the opportunity to do a lot more of the local things – such as attending a service at Westminister Abbey (free) instead of taking the official tour.
So I’m conflicted: I love packed itineraries but they tire me out. I can only afford to stay at hostels but I love the luxury of a hotel room. I want to see all the major sites but I also want people to stop and ask me for directions because I appear so local. How the heck can I find a satisfying way to travel with such contradictory opinions?
I think the answer might lie in long term travel. My closest version of long term travel is the months I spend at UBC away from my family and friends in Toronto. In Vancouver I’ve found my own community, friends and a job. It’s become a home for me as well and I love it. I think I would be happy travelling if I could create that feeling elsewhere.
So, here’s the dream: finding a travel destination where I can live and work for 6 months to a year. I would rent an apartment, so I could have the privacy (and some of the luxuries) of a hotel without blowing my budget. Having so much time to explore the area might be a shock to my 5-day blitz routine, but knowing the time is limited would help me to still fit in as many site-seeing opportunities as I could. I would hope that I still make time to explore the area and not fall into a dull work-home-repeat lifestyle. Having a job would also help me to afford to continue travelling. Working and living in the city would make me a local, and hopefully I’d be able to develop the sense of home I feel in Vancouver by finding my community wherever I end up.
Sometime soon I hope to make that dream come true. I have to keep travelling – I’m beyond addicted. But I have to find a way to do it so I won’t burn out or get bored and so it continues to be sustainable and satisfying for me. I love exploring the world and learning more about other cultures, cities, languages and, in turn, myself. These 3 weeks in Europe are definitely giving me a taste for it, but now I need more! I’m glad I got to do everything I did and I think I found a good balance between being a stealthy tourist (sight-seeing, selfie photos) and going overboard (no guided tours here!). Given that it was my first time to Europe and I only had 3 weeks to visit 4 (technically 5) countries, I did squish a lot into my itinerary. Sometimes it seemed like too much and other times it didn’t seem like enough. At times I was so exhausted from my days and at others I was itching to do something else. My trip was nothing like the dream travel style I spoke of above, but it was absolutely perfect for me given my time, budget and European-newb status. It was exactly what I needed to shape my summer and shake up my life. It has inspired me to continue travelling and learning. It has given me confidence in myself and my abilities. It has refreshed me to tackle another year of school and RA-ing. And it has allowed me to dream of a life I didn’t know existed.