London, Day 5: Q & A
Tonight I am leaving Europe. Between people in Europe and people back in the US, I’m being met with a lot of questions about how I’m feeling about it. But I’m not really feeling any emotional highs or lows–and I’m okay with that. It’s hard to feel that way as a nomad because home is never a place. It’s me; it’s my challenges; it’s my voice; it’s my confidence.
I’ve been saving a list of questions that people have asked me about my travels. I figured I’d finally answer some of them.
“What’s the most important thing you have with you at all times?”
My laptop, its charger, and my universal adapter. As a professional developer and software engineer, these are my primary tools for doing work, so they are my number one priority. Aside from that, my orthodontic retainers. My passport. My Neil Peart autographed copy of Rush’s 1975 sophomore album “Fly By Night” (no, not really).
“How do you exercise when you travel?”
It’s tough, because I am a weightlifter, so I need access to a squat rack if I really want to feel like I’ve gotten a solid workout. I had access to a decent gym the whole time I was in Serbia, fortunately. Many of these places will work out a deal with you, especially places that don’t get as many tourists (Serbia). I didn’t write too much about that because the gym I went to wasn’t particularly interesting by contrast–it reminded me of gyms I have gone to in the US. I was able to get in squats, deadlifts, and cleans around 3 days a week while in Beograd. No one really seemed to care that I was a woman doing these lifts. It was nice.
Aside from that, cardio was not at all difficult to get. I walked anywhere from 8 to 17 miles (12 to 27 kilometers) daily. I often rode bikes. I hiked quite a bit. I went rockclimbing a couple of times. And, assuming that wasn’t all enough, if I wasn’t going to the gym, I did a circuit in the morning of 30 push-ups, 25 crunches, 25 improvised weighted squats (I’ll leave this open-ended so you’re left with the image of me squatting a giant roasted pig on my back), 25 improvised weighted lunges, body weight tricep extensions, 3 2-minute planks, and whatever yoga I could work in given available space. Sometimes this meant doing downward-facing dog or one-legged king pigeon poses next to a group of men playing chess in a park. No, I am not making this up.
“17 miles in one way day! How?”
I don’t know. Those were just the numbers my Moves app reported and, comparing them to a map, they seem correct. Most days were around 9-12 miles, though. Most places I stayed had some form of accessible public transportation, but I typically stayed off of it because I enjoyed taking in the scenery around me (not to mention I’m too spend-thrifty to let myself make that daily expense). If I had plans scheduled, I’d probably take public transportation but if I were just milling about on my own, nah.
Occasionally, I’d experience cramping in my feet. To quickly relieve any discomfort, I usually will take my shoes off, lay down, and prop them at a 45 degree angle above my heart. In about 15 minutes, I’m all better. I’d actually recommend this to any traveler, whether you’re going somewhere for several days or several months.
“Was there anything you left back in the US that you regret not bringing?”
Not at all. If anything, I regret things I did bring that I didn’t need: an external hard drive, USB SNES controller (this was nice to have actually, but really all it did was make me play SNES ROMs when I would have been equally happy just launching Team Fortress 2 on my MBP), and a cape (yes, really, and if your follow-up question is “Are you retarded?”, my answer is “Probably.”).
At times, I wished I had this ASL dictionary of mine with me, but it was a huge book, so I probably was better off not having that with me!
“What hygiene products did you take?”
I did not take much in terms of beauty products. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, body washes, lotions–these are all things you can just purchase at drugstores in Europe. Why waste bag space? I don’t wear makeup, so none of that except a single tube of mascara. I think overall, I just packed deodorant, nail clippers, and a razor. I bought body wash, toothpaste, and a toothbrush at each city I passed through. This worked fine and made my travels about as low-maintenance and pleasant as possible.
“Were you ever lonely?”
Yes, but not consistently, or in any way that I let stop me from having a good time. It just felt like a challenge. A fun challenge. Through pain, we often see strengths we didn’t know we had. I never felt lonely in a dreadful kind of way, mind you. Sometimes when I’ve talked to friends online, I’ll miss hanging out with them and joking with them and making them laugh. Sometimes I’ll be experiencing something awesome and I’ll think of one very particular person and then wish I could be sharing it with him and I’ll miss him quite dearly.
“Did you make any lasting friendships?”
Yes! I made some very good friends while in Croatia and Serbia, who I will continue to keep in contact with. Even in the countries where I didn’t say for long, I still would make a point to talk to people and make conversation. I have learned, over time, that I can talk to just about anyone. The only thing that has ever held me back from doing this is that I always struggled to find things to talk to strangers about. I’ve learned if you pay enough attention, it’s easy. Talking to strangers is all about putting them at comfort. It means smiling. It means asking questions. It means making small talk. It’s taken me my whole life to learn this skill. But I finally have. And I’m happy for it.
“Did you have anything funny happen?”
I didn’t write about it every time it happened, but I got detained by airport security in every single airport I went to. I have two bags I take as carry-on, a backpack which I put my laptop in and a small blue duffel which I carry things like Flux and my camera and “other stuff” in. This bag always gets pulled aside as it is going through the security screening. One time it was because I was carrying “a lot of coins”, but generally the item that was continuously triggering the security flag was 6″ long and cylindrical in shape. It was not a candle or a glass culture tube. I wasn’t embarrassed by this until I got to Amsterdam and the security guard took it out of the bag, held it to his face (yes, really) while I wasn’t paying attention, and asked me as I looked up from my other bag and burst into crying laughter, “What is it? Is it like a little flashlight?” And I said, “No, not even close.” And he responded, “Yeah I know, I’m just fucking with you, haha.”
“What was your favorite language?”
Croatian and Serbian. Croatian because it was my first time playing with a language I had no previous exposure to, solely via immersion, and because Croatians were very helpful in answering questions I had about the language. I found it to be a majestic test of my brain’s ability to pick up the language naturally. I also liked Serbian because it was very similar, gave me the chance to make comparisons between the two as an outsider (see my examination of što vs. šta) and it introduced the Cyrillic alphabet to me, which, while many may see a frustrating aspect of the language, was for me… fun as hell 🙂 I would encourage anyone to nosedive into a culture without any awareness of the language–it’s quite an exercise of both your ability to self-educate and your patience.
I also liked any time I crossed paths with Spanish speakers because that is my favorite language overall (I don’t sense that changing with exposure to new languages).
“Did you feel more in place with one group of people than another?”
Germans and, oddly, Italians. Germans because I understand the language easily not to mention Germans are often very quirky and weird like me. Italians because they kept confusing me for one of their own and thus treated me like another Italian. I thought this was a funny assumption because I’ve never thought I looked Italian but apparently Italians think I do. Croatians were very nice to me but I often felt like an outsider no matter how much I was included.
“What was working like?”
Working was fine. I’m very disciplined. I only stayed in places that I knew I would be comfortable working in. I sometimes worked in airports, but in general, I didn’t work much in cafes because Europeans treat cafes differently from Americans, not as a working space, but as a social space.
My biggest thing to overcome was other people’s work cultures. People in some cultures work far less than Americans and always seemed shocked to hear me cancel plans or say “sorry but I’m working then” when inviting me to something. Occasionally, I would decline an offer on something because I needed to spend time working on personal projects and was met with even more shock. Friends ultimately would come to understand that this is just how I am, that I am very passionate about things I do, but it took a lot of time.
“What’s the right amount of time to stay in one place?”
Much longer than a week. About 3 weeks into my stay in Croatia, I started to get burnt out on it. It took a week for the feeling to pass and weeks 4 and 5 were much better. I would have been happy to stay in Serbia longer than 4 weeks. My time in every place following felt too brief and like I was just passing through. You need to stay more than just a week to get a feel for any country’s culture, I think, even if you are incredibly perceptive.
“Did you prefer to stay with other people or by yourself?”
I don’t have a preference. Both have their perks. I actually really enjoyed staying at Luka’s place. He was an easy go-to person for any questions I had while also respecting that I am a very independent person and preferred to experience the country for myself. The only time I regretted staying there was the night where he played Nelly’s “Just a Dream” on loop for like 2 freaking hours.
“Was there anyone who you could not get along with?”
Not really. My friend Ivor was the closest I got to that because he and I are both relentlessly stubborn when it comes to the art of debate so sometimes our debates got out of hand when neither of us would back down, usually over things that did not matter, like whether seedless grapes were a result of genetic modification or not. It was never a matter of “I don’t get along with this person” but more of a social experiment for me in that I got to test my personality against other personalities.
“Did you learn anything about yourself?”
I already knew it but… that I’m strong, independent, and awesome. That I love myself. That I’m me. Unapologetically me. And that inside of me is a lot of calm. That no matter how tired I get, I keep on fighting. That people appreciate me for my color.