What it Was Supposed to Be Like
I had been talking about having long a break from work for several months. Since I had such a terrible winter last year, both mentally and physically, I had decided that I would skip 2021/22 and move to some place warm and sunny. I called the project Summer in Winter.
In October, it became clear to me that I would go to Barcelona. My friend Andreas just moved there himself and rented an apartment at a local rate. All I would have to do in is vacate my room. Barcelona has a large salsa community and teachers that I planned to learn from. It was meant to be a time of socialising, sun, and salsa.
This would be my big break from living with tunnel vision. A time where I could once again be nothing but an anonymous student myself. This would be a long break from being me.
What It Was Actually Like
But it didn’t turn out as planned.
New covid-restrictions were announced the same week I moved to Barcelona. I managed to go to one dance event before everything shut down.
The noise-level, smell of dog pee and poo, and the masses of people was overwhelming. I felt stressed just walking around in the city. Having to wear a mask anywhere outside didn’t help. (Living in Sweden, I only ever worn a mask when visiting different countries during the pandemic.)
But the noise didn’t stop outside. In the apartment, you would have to listen to a barking dog, a neighbour singing on top of his lungs, and another neighbour’s TV, which would blast bad Spanish series through the entire night.
I hated it and not even the promise of the starting dance classes were able to keep me there.
Here are some things I leaned from the experience:
What I Learned
1) Don’t visit any large cities unless you seek something you cannot get elsewhere.
You just don’t enjoy being in loud, crowded places. When planning holidays in the future, you will aim for beauty and peace.
2) Don’t take chances on your sleeping situation.
Maybe you don’t think that noise could be a potential problem. It definitely can. You want to be comfortable in my own bedroom even when you travel. The most probably most upsetting thing is not being able to sleep. Or to feel violated in your personal space because your neighbour is noisy.
3) Travel during covid isn’t worth it.
The additional restrictions make all the difference between an acceptable and an annoying experience. Because the line between the two is already fragile, you don’t want to take chances.
4) Find out whether I need to travel at all.
In the past, travel was one of my core values. Now it is perhaps only a fragment of past identity, a luxury that I can skip. There is no point in traveling abroad unless it actually adds value to your life. Barcelona did add value in the form of life-lessons. But it was me who drew the conclusions. And I could have have learned the same lessons elsewhere. Think twice the next time your ponder going on a holiday.
5) If you decide to travel, go with friends and family.
You will find it more enjoyable, more comfortable. You will feel less stressed and out-of-context. I have proven to myself that I can do things alone. Over and over again I have I made myself uncomfortable. I have faced new universities, a different countries, another lifestyles, and new identities. Unless there really is a good reason to do a solo trip, the default choice should be to go with others.
6) Never mix planning and organising.
Planning and execution should be two distinct steps. It’s almost impossible to plan a holiday when Skyscanner and Airbnb are open and you are completely flexible about the dates or timeframe.
Plan first. Decide on paper. Where do you want to go and what do you want to achieve?
First, define the objective. Even if you have flexible dates or location, it’s worth taking the time to set the main variables. Once you have brought everything on paper, take your plan and find the easiest way to arrange for what you want.
For example, look for cheap, comfortable flights and then check if an Airbnb is available for that period. If accommodation is difficult to find for that period, re-check for when it would be available and then go back to slightly modify the flight dates. Don’t abandon the destination completely. You have made a plan. Stick with it unless something changes drastically.
7) Ensure that things are as expected.
Don’t think that everything will simply work out. When I went to Barcelona, my planning did work out. Except for what became reason for me to leave after three months. But why not spend some extra time to make sure that all your boxes are ticked?
Request an update on the political situation from your friend who lives at your destination. Talk to your future host about the place. A little more research than necessary can go a long way.
8) Spend holidays with family and friends.
Unless you have good reasons to skip a particular date, it’s a good idea to honour the holidays that have long given structure to peoples’ lives. Who are you to think that you are above what most people have determined to be meaningful?
9) To be productive, the right environment is essential.
It’s worth paying a premium to feel comfortable and to live in peace and quiet.
10) If you’re the type of person to get depressed when you have too much time on your hands, you should avoid having too much time at your hands.
When I am alone and without meaningful work, I end up spending most of my time inside my head. Let’s just say it’s a cause of suffering.
It’s worth to prepare free time consciously. Unless you really want absolute freedom for a while, you should schedule your time. Set a new goal to work towards or plan social activities to look forward to. You definitely don’t want to just “see what happens.”
11) You don’t have to be forever afraid of missing out.
I have already travelled enough for a lifetime (or more). More than most people ever will. I have also traveled in more adventurous ways than most people ever will. I am full of experiences. Enough experiences to nourish me for the rest of my life.
Take a breath next time you feel that you should spend time abroad “because you can.” Just because free to move doesn’t mean that you have to move. Just because you can be a digital nomad doesn’t mean that you have to be one.
You can travel in your own mind. You can experience your daily life in a deeper way. All it takes is some reflection, an interesting book, or a new idea. It’s cheaper. And maybe it’s even more satisfying in the long run. Let others have their “new” experiences and post about them on social media. Your inner journey is what really counts.
12) “Summer in winter” doesn’t really work in Southern Europe.
It’s nice when when the skies are blue. But a low-hanging sun doesn’t really provide a tropical relaxation experience. It also doesn’t provide enough UVA for your body to produce Vitamin D. (I calculated it.) Vitamin D deficiency is common even in Spain. If you desperately need sun in winter, it might be worth travelling where where it’s actually warm.
13) Visiting new places requires a lot of seed capital.
It took me at least one week to become comfortable in Barcelona. When you move to a new place, you have to figure out how to move around without thinking about it, buy the right foods, and get used to the new surroundings. One week of your holiday: gone.
Maybe you’re in it for the adventure. But maybe you really just want to settle in another place. Then can be difficult to enjoy your travel before everything is taken care of.
This means one of two tings for the future. Either you should go places that I already know. Then you don’t lose much time getting comfortable. Or you plan to stay long enough (3 weeks+) so that the initial time investment becomes worth it.
14) Travel light.
For what must have been one of the first times in my life, I brought a check in luggage to Barcelona.
The situation was unique because I wanted to bring some foodstuff for my special diet. Turns out my fear of starving was unnecessary: Spanish supermarkets did carry fatty meat. This discovery rendered (pun intended) my travelling tallow superfluous.
But I could have done some research before carrying 5kg of animal fat to Spain.
Traveling light is essential to feel free. When I was planning to leave Barcelona, the idea of carrying a huge piece of luggage around limited my thinking. It literally weighted me down.
On the flip side, traveling light makes it easier to disconnect and actually feel like you’re traveling.
From now on, it’s hand luggage only again. It’s also cheaper and would have saved me about 100EUR.
15) Don’t go where you don’t like it (obviously).
I have been to Spain and Portugal in the last years. I didn’t like either of them.
Note: Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Maybe both trips happened after I stopped enjoying to travel in general. But it’s also likely that I don’t like Southern Europe. The best way to find out is to go to a tropical place in Asia. I always loved Asia. So this would be a relatively scientific way to find the answer. If I like Asia, but not Southern Europe, I still like traveling to the right places. If I also don’t like being in Asia, I do no longer like traveling in general.
16) Always bring your keys.
If I had brought my keys, I wouldn’t have to spend all day at the library writing this text. I am waiting for my girlfriend to return from her trip so I can go home into the apartment.
In other words, try to prepare for a scenario in which you will change your mind.
17) You are wherever you go.
You do feel a little better in the sun. It really is nicer when it doesn’t get dark at 3 in the afternoon.
But using the climate as an excuse to postpone happiness is being weak. If you cannot be at peace in your hometown, no other place in the world can make you happy.