The Travel Learning Curve: The Rookie Gets Schooled

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Travel is a learning curve. It’s different for all of us. We learn what we can do, what’s adaptable, what’s intolerable, and what we crave. It takes time for these things to become evident because it’s a process of experience and elimination.

Mexico is loved by many, but I think, for me, it won’t be a love of my life. I keep thinking about Croatia and the Balkans. I want more Croatia. I want more Spain. I’m not going anywhere; Mexico returns on my horizon in under two weeks, and when I get there, I’ll be there for five months, not six, but still, that’s a pretty good length of time.

I’ll use Mexico for regrouping. It’s cheap and intriguing, and that’s a heckuva combination for a writer. I’ll get a more “homey” place when I change gears and head to Guanajuato. I’ve decided I’m a big fan of amenities and I’m looking forward to having more of ’em. Call it an over-40 predisposition. Beyond that, I want eye candy all around me, and to have a safe place to hole up and focus on my career for a few months. As a result, Guanajuato will be home for three months.

Three months? That’ll be beyond bizarre for me, and I hope it’s not a wrong choice, but I have to pick somewhere and the price is right. That’s the risk. Will I love it? Who knows, but now I’m in it for three months and that’s how it goes. The joint has a rooftop patio with 360 views. I can imagine starting and ending my days with the sun rising and setting over those towering peaks and washing that already-colourful city in golden hues.

I have friends who travel a lot and they all say the same. Sometimes you stop too long, but mostly you move on too quickly. The happy medium is magically elusory.

I’ve been far from the “happy medium” for a while, though. Returning to Vancouver last weekend saw me in as close a state as having an ulcer as I’ve ever been. I’d had a migraine, came down with strep throat, and was chewing on so many antacids that it’s a wonder I myself didn’t vanish into the ether.

It was the issue of having so many things looming on my horizon that I had no idea how I’d cope, let alone rock ’em like I needed to rock ’em.

Between that and poor travel/time management, eventually something’s got to give, so hence Mission Guanajuato: Stay Awhile.

This week, as my stressors change gears and become accomplishments, I find myself calming down – finally (and laying off antacids!). There is much I need to accomplish in my time in Vancouver, but I’m hoping, on the flipside, those accomplishments stack up, and my return to Oaxaca is in shrouded in glory.

I've stood in arenas over 2,000 years old, but, in Vancouver, this is nearly as old as it gets. More than a century old, this is Vancouver's oldest remaining corner store.

I’ve stood in arenas over 2,000 years old, but, in Vancouver, this is nearly as old as it gets. More than a century old, this is Vancouver’s oldest remaining corner store.

Following that, Guanajuato will be a long whirlwind of accomplishments. There’s a book I want to finish writing, photography to focus on while creating an online store for it. Career goals will surge to the forefront as I set a stage for a successful year to come. Those three months of staying put will allow me to work hard and often, and learn me some Spanish. I’m also hoping the insane hills of that mountain town will help me get fit and strong.

But as for being a tourist, that’s not really on my radar. With travel as life, it gets to the point where, yes, I want to see things, but every day I see something new anyhow. Is it some grand touristy adventure? Probably not. Am I seeing ALL THE THINGS I’m supposed to see? Meh, unlikely. But I don’t care, either. I’ve chosen to live my life abroad, on the road, forever in new places, and I’m slowly learning that the travel I love is just wandering local streets, drinking a coffee by a sidewalk, watching life unfold. I like to watch how sunlight changes. I love getting a sense of the rhythm of life wherever I am, because it’s different every place I go.

There are plenty of people in this world who are in it for the landmarks, the ruins, the museums, and all of that. Me, I’m only in it for those things some of the time. A treat, if you will. The reality is, I’m not your super-fit traveller with boundless energy. I’m overweight, I’m out of shape, and limited by all kinds of things. But does it stop me from enjoying a kind of travel that works for me? No. Is it the type of travel others expect of me? Probably not, but until they’re paying for my tickets, I don’t care.

That sounds flippant now but that sentiment, too, is an accomplishment.

Sunrise on my last morning in Croatia, and I find myself longing to return.

Sunrise on my last morning in Croatia, and I find myself longing to return.

I have to thank Jodi of LegalNomads.com for helping me get my head on straight at times about travel, expectations, and what I perceive as “doing it right.” She’s limited for travel in her own ways, despite being queen of the unbeaten path for eight-plus years now, blazing a path from New Zealand to Vietnam to Morocco and everywhere in between, despite her “limits”. She’s taught me I’m not the only person who can’t be the Energizer-Bunny-style traveller, and that it’s okay to live the life in between waves of adventure and lying low. After all, the only person we need to please is ourselves. (Jodi’s been in Oaxaca for a few months, so you should check out her more informative long-form postings on the region, and her groovy Instagram account.)

Another connection I really value is with Betsy Wuebker of PassingThru.com, a Facebook friend I enjoy stalking, whose older, wiser take on living like a nomad is very appealing to me. She says she’s living a “location independent” life with her husband as opposed to calling herself a digital nomad. She and her husband Peter have been on the road nearly nonstop for over half a decade now, but without a home for going on two years.

Betsy recently said of her travel life, “It’s not about keeping score. We leave that to others. It’s more about the freedom to be in the moment.” Then she shared a graphic which stated:

“Let’s not travel to tick things off lists or collect half-hearted semi-treasures to be placed in dusty drawers in empty rooms. Rather, we’ll travel to find grounds and rooftops and tiny hidden parks, where we’ll sit and dismiss the passing time, spun in the city’s web till we’ve surrendered, content to be spent and consumed. I need to feel a place while I’m in it.”

~Victoria Erickson.

These are women who’ve seen more of the world than me, who’ve earned their notches on their well-travelled belts, and I know one day I’ll feel as comfortable being Anyplace in The World as much as they are now, but that day is not yet upon me.

As a result, I still feel I need to justify the fact that I don’t want to travel the way others do, and I don’t know when I’ll stop explaining away that lack of motivation to Do All The Things. Fact is, I’ve always been beholden to my insecurities and maybe I always will be. I used to love that George Michael line in the song “Waiting,” where he sings “All those insecurities that have held me down for so long, I can’t say I’ve found a cure for these, but at least I know them so they’re not so strong.”

I know my insecurities now, but are they less strong? Hmm, not sure about that. Simply put, I feel my challenge is to keep those insecurities at bay long enough that I make decisions for my heart rather than my mind. It’s hard know how big and amazing the world is, and that I have the freedom to choose it all but instead have picked a tiny town of 75,000 people to call home for a quarter of a year. Part of me screams but you’re missing all the other places! Lord knows that gets echoed by others too. While planning, I’ve had people say they hate being rooted more than 2 weeks, and 3 weeks should be my limit. Others say they max out at two months but never spend less than a month. Few have said they like to stay three or four months at a time.

I’ve stayed up to two months and have been gone in less than five days. Sometimes I’ve loathed being overcommitted, and other times I wish I could’ve exhausted a months-long stay. My three months in Guanajuato will be in a place where I have the freedom to cancel with two weeks’ notice, but will I? We’ll see. It’s a big to-do list I need to see tackled, and moving around ain’t conducive to getting things done.

I’m not sure what’s been harder – learning who I am as a traveller or being okay with who I think I am on the road. I guess, in a way, I’m still learning how to do both.

I long to return to Rovinj, too. It has a kind of magic that you only find in old, old worlds. A blend of Croatia and Italy, Rovinj stole my heart.

I long to return to Rovinj, too. It has a kind of magic that you only find in old, old worlds. A blend of Croatia and Italy, Rovinj stole my heart.

Good thing I’ve got nothing but time on my hands. It’s funny, I’m 230 days into living life without a home and have 85% of my five years left, but I’m frequently wondering if five years will be enough. I’m fully prepared to go for longer. Just look at Jodi and Betsy and many others – the biggest challenge of living the location independent life is simply choosing to do it. Once you’re on the road, it’s all about embracing the freedom to pick up and go, to improvise, whenever situations demand it, and it’s a skill-set only learned by living it.

I feel like all I’ve done so far has been a dress rehearsal and I’m only now getting comfortable with the life I’ve chosen. It’s been easier, more rewarding, and more inspiring than I could have imagined, and this is all with few places I’ve been falling into the Omigod I Love This Place category. Imagine what will happen when I finally find a lifestyle and location that really, really resonates for me. Maybe that comes this year. Maybe it doesn’t. I can’t tell you the search isn’t amazing too, because it really, really is, and, for now, the search is enough.

Showing 5 comments
  • Suzanne Fluhr
    Reply

    I think flexibility is the key—feeling flexible enough to accept that different times and different contigencies may lead one to step out of a 5 year plan or even a one week plan and that’s ok. Mind you, I’m better at giving advice than I am at internalizing and living my own suggestions which is why I have to have maalox available at all times—just in case I fall off the flexibility wagon. 😉 PS: I think Guanajuato is a good choice for your experiment. Do you know Tim Leffel? He’s a Guanajuato based Yankee travel writer.

    • Steffani Cameron
      Steffani Cameron
      Reply

      Thanks, Suzanne! I’d heard about Tim’s book so now I’m gonna order it. 🙂

      But I don’t know him so maybe I’ll get a chance to meet him while there!

      I think I’m getting better at the travel thing and getting things wrong has often been surprisingly fun anyhow. Ha.

  • Jen
    Reply

    When I first started traveling, trips were all about ticking boxes to say I saw or did all the “big, important” things in a destination. And I slowly learned that method is stressful and usually disappointing – the majority of tourist hot spots are expensive, crowded, and never live up to the hype in the guidebooks.

    Then we took our first major trip with kids to Europe, which forces you to travel differently. We wandered, picnicked, enjoyed parks, and ended up visiting Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, and London without setting foot in a single art gallery. And had the time of our lives!

    We now purposely take the “Flâneur” approach to city breaks, and have zero fucks to give about whether anyone thinks we’re “doing it wrong” (no, we did not see David or the Birth of Venus in Florence. But we did eat a lot of gelato!). And it’s so much more rewarding this way.

    Good luck ditching the FOMO and continuing to find your particular groove.

    • Steffani Cameron
      Steffani Cameron
      Reply

      That’s awesome, Jen. Thanks. 🙂

      I shall continue trying to ditch my FOMO then. I want gelato too!

  • suenos
    Reply

    There are places that I have been in the world where I didn’t take a picture and customs didn’t bother to stamp my passport. Beyond an atm receipt and my memories there is no evidence that I was even there and these places sit within me as much as any other, maybe more so, because they were just for me.

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