“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” – Saint Augustine
I’m often asked questions about my travels, why I like this lifestyle and how it all started for me. As this is probably not the most common job in the world, inevitably when I tell people what I do curiosity arises and the third degree kicks off.
A while ago someone on Facebook asked me why I travel. This question comes along pretty often, so I wasn’t surprised and had somehow a ready answer: “I like discovering new cultures and seeing how people around the world live.”
Although truthful, probably this answer sounded a little too prepared, and my interlocutor wasn’t impressed. “Yeah right,” he went on, unabashed, “but why do you move from country to country?”
“Well,” I tried to explain, “I like staying longer than a normal holiday when I want to better understand the culture and get under the skin of a country.” Still unimpressed. “Really? Why on earth would someone live far from his/her family and constantly travel to foreign countries?” This is roughly when I realized we were not in the same dimension and started to wonder if I was really traveling to visit foreign countries or there was some other issues I wasn’t dealing with.
On a related note, recently one of my readers, Siddharth from India, also on Facebook, sent me a message asking me some pretty challenging questions that, apart from making me proudly realize I’ve been building a clever and sensitive readership, also got me thinking: “What really keeps up such a zeal or enthusiasm? You must have met a lot of people, do they vary in thoughts? Have you ever been let down in your quest?”
I left my home when I was 19 to go to study in Rome, after seven years, I left Italy and since then I have lived as an expat in Dublin, London and China, traveled to different countries and also enjoyed some longer periods at home in Sardinia. Mostly I travel alone, actually it’s pretty rare for me to travel with someone, and when I do, my travel companions are usually my parents, who are the best travel companions you could possibly wish for.
I won’t deny that sometimes I feel tired, drained and even lonely. And I won’t deny that I wonder why I still lead such a nomadic life. Is it because I haven’t found a place where to settle down? Is it because I feel I can’t deal with a “normal” life, if such a thing exists? Is it that I’m going through an identity crisis? The thing is, I don’t dismiss any of these options. I might have an identity crisis that doesn’t allow me to understand where I belong, I might as well still be looking for the place I feel comfortable settling in. Whatever the reason is, even just pondering the idea of putting down roots somewhere right now makes me cringe. I admit that also the idea of not having a specific destination, of wandering aimlessly and of being so unstable in many senses does worry me a little.
And I think, ‘Will I ever find what I’m looking for?’ But first I need to ask, ‘What exactly am I looking for? Why do I travel?’
For a start, I wouldn’t be able to work in an office from 9 to 5 every single day. This thought is actually more frightening than keeping leading a nomadic life forever.
Probably, if I had to choose a verb to explain why I’m not able to quit this lifestyle is “learn”. I can’t even start listing what I’ve learnt during my travels. Not only about foreign countries, cultures, traditions and people, but also about my own hometown and myself.
Traveling makes you more aware of who you are and what you can do, makes you touch other realities first-hand, makes you realize your little backyard is not the best place in the world and that far-flung and unknown countries are actually populated by fellow human beings, meaning that you can live there too, that you’re going to survive anywhere in the planet where there are human settlements. Pretty comforting, isn’t it?
Traveling has changed me and my way to interact with others. I’m certainly less shy than I was before leaving home, I have the ability not only to adapt pretty much everywhere, but also to absorb the new lifestyle and actually like it, even if at the beginning it came as a shock.
I do my research before traveling, but I like going places with a sort of an empty mind, ready to soak in local living and absorb a new mentality, a new way of dealing with daily life, every time a different type of prioritizing and every time adopting a whole new set of rules and values. This is probably what puts many people off from moving abroad and embarking on an expat experience, but I enjoy challenging myself and reorganizing my life over and over again. To be honest, I prefer this type of slow travel rather than frantically jumping from country to country every other week, with barely the time to understand what bus I need to take to move around.
However, I feel there are also aspects about my travels that need to be changed. Too often I realize I’m traveling for the sake of writing. The first thing I strive to figure is whether a place or an attraction can make for an interesting fit for my blog, and when I get to destination, I explore it with my blog in mind. If I read about a specific aspect of that place I like, I insist on looking for that angle and I fail to visit just for the sake of exploring.
To some extent, this can be the answer to Siddharth’s question “Have you ever been let down in your quest?”
If you travel purely with the spirit of unearthing the idiosyncrasies of a place, nothing can make you feel you’ve been let down. A place is what it is, no matter what your expectations are. If you are looking for something that’s not there, you are likely to be disappointed. Probably sometimes I myself felt I was forcing things to happen instead of letting travel itself mould my experience.
I love writing, but I think traveling comes first, and the best way to do it is to decide afterwards what I can write about, instead of going with pre-packaged expectations and spoil the experience by not fully engage with natives and be swept away by the local atmosphere.
The other day I went to the lovely town of Viterbo, 80 km from Rome, and I decided I was going just for the sake of visiting it. I didn’t spend the day in a hectic museum hunt so that once at my desk I could write a “10 best things to do” post, instead I just wandered the tangle of cobbled alleys and underground pathways of this little-known medieval town that hides in its underworld centuries of struggles, rivalries and shady accidents.
For once, I didn’t go with my blog in mind, I didn’t think that every building could be a great subject for a post, I just walked, my shadow not darkening any museum entrance. Of course I will write about Viterbo (were you worried yet?), it’s too an interesting town to let it go unsung, but what counts to me is that this small trip reminded me why I chose this nomadic life in the first place.