Some of us – the wanderers and the rolling stones – feel a near constant yearning: we ache for places we’ve never seen, miss people we’ve not yet met. Traditional two-week resort holidays aren’t nearly enough to satisfy that need. I am one of these modern nomads: my husband and I work remotely, and travel all over the world. Nowadays, what we do is no longer uncommon, and the concept even has a name: experiential travel. We basically pick a location, but instead of staying in hotels and queuing in front of museums, we rent a place and live there for months at a time, soaking up the unique aroma of local life. Here are some ways this journey has transformed me over the years.
1I am not weighed down by the concept of home
I do, of course, have a home, although I think of it more as a place to touch base every once in awhile. Whenever I need it, I know I have a place to go to, a space of our own that provides shelter from the proverbial storm, should it arise. However, over the years, I have learned that home can be a transient place, and the concept doesn’t have to be set in stone, as we are traditionally taught. The word “home” does evoke the image of our flat, but it’s not the only place that comes to mind. Sometimes, when I’m drinking my green tea, I feel such a strong nostalgia for the stretch of Sri Lankan coast where we once spent a few months, as if it were the place of my birth. The scent of tea instantly brings to mind green rolling hills of the plantations, or the sound of the ocean waves in the afternoon.
2I appreciate my roots more
Even though I roam, I always feel a strong connection with my own history and roots. I never feel more proud to be Australian than when I leave home, and I never love Sydney more than when I’m coming back to it from afar. Having just come back from a trip, I look forward to spending the next few months at home –watching the ocean at Manly, savoring the tastes of the local kitchen from the best chefs, and meditating at my favorite urban oasis – the Botanic Gardens. I love doing all the quintessentially Australian things when I’m home, like having a barbie with my friends and family.
3I collect experiences instead of stuff
It might sound like a worn-out cliché, but my lifestyle really drove home this universal truth. In the early days, I would get so attached to a place, that, when the time came to leave, I would feel like I was leaving a piece of myself behind. Of course, I tried to fill the void with souvenirs and keepsakes. It didn’t take me long to realize that bringing stuff back with me was utterly useless, because you can’t bring those things with you everywhere you go. Venice for me, is less the mask I have on my wall, and more the memory of my first morning there, when I got lost in the labyrinthine streets trying to find my way to the gondola race on the holiday of Epiphany. While I do have plenty of mementos at my Sydney home, I have come to realize that each place I explore leaves a deep mark on me, and that’s precious.
4I can adapt anywhere
Because I have lived in so many diverse places, I have learned to embrace different lifestyles. Life can be pretty unexpected, and you just learn to roll with it. I have slept in a car, I’ve eaten some things I’d rather not think about, I’ve been in situations that felt entirely foreign to me. I’ve met people of all races and creeds. I’ve quickly realized that flexibility is one of the greatest human qualities.
5I know sometimes the best things can’t be planned
One of my favorite things to do when I go someplace new is to just roam. I always say you haven’t really seen a place until you’ve gotten lost there. I remember once, my husband and I got lost no less than three times looking for an old convent in the Tuscan countryside. I felt completely enchanted by the bluish olive groves and the lonely cypresses. To this day, I feel profound wonder that such beauty could exist. However, plans can be very useful sometimes – for instance if you don’t want to miss a certain event, festival or natural occurrence. But oftentimes, people become slaves to their plans. They feel like they are wasting time unless every second is scheduled, when, in fact, if you free yourself up, you never know what wonderful thing might come your way. Trust me: I once went to Antarctica on a whim.
6I’ve broadened my horizons
Travel and books are the two great educators. So many beliefs, opinions and traditions are influenced by where we were raised. Seeing the smiling Maasai in their mud huts or experiencing the utter tranquility of Buddhist temples can really illustrate just how colorful and diverse our world is. Once you realize everything you’ve ever known is just a drop in the ocean, you learn to open your mind and stop necessarily observing everything only from your own point of view.
7I’ve realized travelling is a valid lifestyle
When my husband and I found each other, there were a lot of things we had in common, but one of the most prominent was our wanderlust. I was always worried about settling down in one place, and leading the life that was expected of me. It felt so good to learn that the traditional view of life, marriage, and career is not the only way to be. Over the years, we have been to more places than I can count, and experienced both some amazing and some awful things together. My life has its ups and downs, just like anyone else’s, but I feel very lucky to have had the chance to soak up so many wildly different experiences, landscapes and cultures.
8The way I communicate has changed
We, English speakers, tend to be a somewhat spoiled crowd in one regard: we rarely encounter people who don’t understand our language. Well, at least if we stick to the usual tourist haunts. But when you embrace immersion travel, tables turn pretty quickly. Once you forgo the tourist trap restaurants and museum ticket offices, and start communicating primarily with ordinary folks, you might find yourself in hot water. At first, I was completely stumped – I don’t really speak other languages. Well, the tiniest bit of Spanish and German, but that doesn’t count, does it? After a while, I realized that everything counts, and that being shy means you won’t be able to buy what you need, or find the street you are looking for. Nowadays, I have lost all shame: I pick up words in local languages, try out any other languages I speak (no matter how badly), I gesticulate and point. The important thing is to understand and be understood.
9I’ve learned how unique each culture is
Once you stay in a place for a longer period, and immerse yourself in the everyday life, you start noticing the nuances of its culture, its unique blend of people, history and natural gifts. Even countries that, in our mind, feel lumped together into a single entity are actually distinct and extraordinary. You might find Peru, Bolivia and Chile interchangeable – that is, until you’ve spent some time there. After a while, you will know that Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is the place where you can walk on clouds. Peru is the land of the ancient Incas – whose impressive ruins you can see high up on the vertiginous peaks of the Andes. Chile is a coastal country, and at Isla Negra, the home of the Nobel-winning poet Pablo Neruda you feel like you might see the edge of the world if you stare hard enough at the immense Pacific Ocean.
10… and yet, we are all the same
The one thing I have found to be universal in every culture, on every continent, is human kindness. No matter our differences, we are all just people, striving for happiness and trying to make the best of our time on this planet. And wherever you are, there will always be someone to help you in your predicament, someone to laugh with, someone to share your joys and sorrows with. The need to belong and connect is ingrained in the very core of us, and when it comes down to it, we’re all the same on a basic, core level.
Looking down the memory lane, I can honestly say that I’m far from the person I used to be. Centuries ago, St. Augustine said: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” I feel like there are many pages left, and I intend to savor as many as I can.