I have frequently found that, on the proverbial Road, the line between travelling and living can be a fine one, and one which is easily overstepped in either direction.
To paraphrase almost directly from a chapter of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ (think of me what you will), I found myself living in the Czech Republic and becoming envious of my friends’ travel photos and accounts. I had to consciously and powerfully remind myself that I, too, was travelling! Here I was, in a beautiful country, with a complicated and captivating language, unable to appreciate the experiences I was having. I had become so entrenched in the endless bureaucracy of life (filling out tax returns, going to the bank, trying to reach the landlord) that I had been taken too far into the rat race, too much into the immediate. I’d forgotten to take steps back, in order to view the steps I’d taken, to visualise how I was growing and where I was going. I therefore took a weekend to be mindful, and truly looked around myself: the wonderful people I had met and connected with in such a short time; the excitement of negotiating a new language, job, and cultural context; my very philosophy regarding daily life. I was in the Czech Republic to start my life adventures! Once reminded of this, I planned more trips, both within the Czech Republic and beyond it, planned more experiences, and appreciated more the trips and experiences of my friends.
I say that the line between travelling and living is fine, and so it is. While in the previous instance I flipped from travel into living, it is all too easy to focus on travelling and movement, forgetting that to truly experience a place, one must be still. When faced with the choice between staying in the Czech Republic another year, or moving on, I found that I was not prepared to claim that I had lived in a country after only 9 months – there was still so much to discover! Local customs and habits still to decode, local places to enjoy, foods to try, trips to take nearby. I wanted to know all the shortcuts through town, where people had picnics on nice days, their favourite cafes to work in.
While living in the Czech Republic, I visited many places (Budapest, Bratislava, Auschwitz, Karlovy Vary, Brno, Riva del Garda, Wroclaw…) and felt an immense swell of excitement every time I mapped out my way around the town centre, mastered some words in a local language, or learnt something new. I then claimed to know these places. In my drive to discover new things, I forgot that to truly know a place, one must exist in it, rather than simply discover it. Although this kind of travelling is fun and exciting, it is ultimately only fulfilling alongside truly coming to know a place.
To be comfortable in describing myself as ‘well travelled,’ I know I need to have this depth of experience in each destination, while keeping up the excitement of discovery and short-term adventure. This is why I draw a distinction between places I’ve visited and places I’ve travelled to, and constantly try to achieve that perfect, delicate balance between travelling and living.