I just spent the weekend in New York City. Kara, one of my best friends/travel buddies, and I explored the shit outta that town. We traipsed and Lyfted our way from Spanish-Italian cafe to French bistro to Korean small plates through Central Park, to the MoMa and Guggenheim, in search of great food, beer, coffee, art, ice cream, and pizza.
What always blows my mind about travel, beyond the obvious benefit of ‘seeing the world,’ is the doors it breaks down surrounding my creativity. Which is an easier sentiment to have while listening to the Dark Side of the Moon and contemplating Hilma af Klint than sitting in my robe in my bed back home. It’s a fleeting feeling I’m constantly yearning for, yet what I learned on this trip is creativity is not actually one fleeting moment.
I grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Detroit. Everything about the town – the people, the layout, the food – made me feel trapped. My soul told me there was more to experience on this planet, an idea encouraged by my mom and my high school German teacher, Janie Barner. My fondest memory of German class was a lesson Janie taught on travel vocabulary. At the end she asked, “Now, who has been bitten by the travel bug?” My heart swelled, and I knew I had been bitten, hard. Within the next year, I travelled to Germany with my class, and the bug bit deeper.
I did not want to go to college. Chiefly, I wanted to join the Peace Corps. My parents pushed me toward the safer path of a four year degree. I went away to school, earned a degree, a load of debt, and fell upon the perfect opportunity to work abroad. After graduation, I spent two years teaching English in Austria and traveling Central and Eastern Europe.
I needed a special kind of courage to live and thrive on my own within a foreign country, system, and language. I remember arriving in Bad Aussee, the small Austrian town where I would live and work. It was dusk on a late summer day, and it had taken longer than anticipated to arrive. I passed the address a couple of times before I found it. My landlord stuck her head out of the window and greeted me. I could barely understand a word from my landlord’s mouth! Austrian German is different than the Hochdeutsch I had learned, and my landlord spoke in the unique Bad Aussee dialect. With time, as the language became more comfortable, I learned to use dialect words in my German.
Months prior to my return to Michigan, I had doubts about how I would fit into my culture, my hometown, with my family and friends. I moved back in with my parents, which provided a sense of comfort, and started nursing school. Though, I missed Austria daily, my travels enabled me to see my hometown through a new filter. I began to appreciate the quaint downtown and the nature trails. But my desire to travel did not go away. As the days marched on, and as nursing school became more of a nightmare, living with wanderlust was a lesson in patience.
Now, I am a nurse living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I have had to readjust my feelings about travel. Through my adolescent and college years, I saw travel as an escape from what I perceived as a boring life. While I still feel wanderlust, I am learning that travel is more a frame of mind than a location. With a sense of exploration, travel can be as easy as walking out the front door.
(This was originally written as my first assignment – a biography – for the online travel writing course, MatadorU.)
While planning my upcoming trip to Montréal (leaving tomorrow!) some thoughts occurred to me. One being: “Why am I not going somewhere warm?!” But, I haven’t really planned anything (except how to get there and where I’m staying), and most of my friends at work think I’m crazy “brave” for going somewhere alone, for a week. Through these conversations, and in my own experiences, I’ve noted some characteristics of the traveler…
You might be a traveler when… Your bag is a backpack, and you carry it on your back.
Rolling suitcases are for business people in airports. Travelers ensure all of their belongings transport quickly, easily, and efficiently on their person. And they have the sore shoulders to prove it.
You might be a traveler when… You only bring one pair of shoes.
The ones on your feet! Even if they are snow boots. Hey, there is no room for extra shoes in that backpack.
You might be a traveler when… You sleep in a bunk bed, in a room with 4+ strangers.
Minimum. Whenever I mention that I stay in hostels, I typically get two questions: “Have you seen the movie Hostel?” and “Where do you change clothes?” There is no privacy, hardly any quiet, and not boring. But also – it’s cheap. That’s a win!
You might be a traveler when… You book your transportation to your destination, and your accommodation there, and just kinda go.
Traveling tends to be more about the journey than what you do once you get there. Yes, I want to see and do all the things but I don’t know what those things are yet.
You might be a traveler when… You take trips and not vacations.
Traveling is kinda hard work; I hesitate to consider it “relaxing.” Staying at home in my bed would be easier. To a traveler, traveling is a mandatory, often times intense, experience. It’s about exploration and discovery of a new place (and yourself). Poolside piña coladas are typically not included.
You might be a traveler when… People ask you about your upcoming trip, and you’re not sure how to respond.
“Are you excited?!” my mother and a couple friends might ask pre-trip. I don’t know – am I? Sure, a traveler looks forward to the next trip, but excited? I don’t know. A traveler needs to go, there is a deep-seated desire to explore the world around her. Whether that elicits excitement, or is a feeling that you care to explain to any person who asks, is up to the individual traveler.
There are many ways to experience a place. But, in my mind, “travel” does not always come with a daiquiri on the beach (but, that wouldn’t be too bad eh?). Travel should push you, pull you, mold you. Travel is good for the soul. Exploration is essential. However you do it, just go.
“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” -Anatole France
I’ve been back from Austria for nearly three and a half years now. I spent two school years teaching English there, exploring, meeting some of the best people I know, and generally being up to no good. I met people from all over the United States, Great Britain, and Europe. We were paid way too much money to do not that much work, and in our free time we had fun. We all ended up there because we had studied German in college, and, I, for one, was not ready to figure out “the rest of my life” quite yet. It is crazy to think how long ago it was now.
I think of that time, that place, and those people at least once a day. When I am daydreaming at work, when I am walking to the bus, when I hear a song, or when a random German word pops into my head. The two apartments I inhabited there, my friends that went through those years with me, the routes I walked, the public transport I used, the birthdays celebrated, the food, the beer, the cigarettes – all the memories are there and tinged with nostalgia.
My personal philosophy is that it is never healthy to live in the past, but this is a bit different than that. These are memories so strong and vivid that they just seem to come to mind automatically. And I think that the newness and foreignness of that time had intensified everything; I mean, I can barely remember what I did a month ago, but I feel that I remember all of those two years.
So, as more time falls between myself and Austria, I try to reflect on what I learned there, and how I can apply those lessons to my current life. Lessons like: always have a sense of adventure, and spontaneity; your bed may be comfortable, but you must earn that rest after a night of fun; there is always some new place to explore, despite the seeming mundaneness of it.
But, since then, I have accomplished so much. I went back to school, and I am now a registered nurse with a 40 hour per week job that I love. The hard part is, after experiencing such freedom and newness, to now stay in one place, and do the same job each day. Part of what I am also trying to teach myself is that exploration does not have to be on a grand scheme, in a foreign locale. Exploration of yourself, and your mind, can be just as new and exciting as exploring a far off city.
And those are some lessons I’ve learned from missing a place.
As an English Teaching Assistant in Austria, I have met many Brits. After tea and how much more “superior” British English is to American English, their next favorite topic to speak on is the quintessential roast dinner. This roast dinner is a thing of myth among Americans – What exactly is a roast dinner? Why do many Brits have one every Sunday? And why do they always talk about it?
This is what I knew: roasts dinners are delicious. Roast dinners happen on Sunday, and bring the family together. Roast dinners, along with its relative the Full English Breakfast, are the end-all and be-all hangover cure. My interest was officially piqued.
Leading up to my Christmas trip to England, my excitement grew knowing that I would get to experience a roast dinner on Christmas Day with my friend Katie’s family. From the stories, I had learned that the Christmas roast dinner is the roast of all roasts, the Ultimate Roast Dinner. But still, I was not sure what I was in for…
“Don’t drink too much tonight,” Katie’s father warned, as Katie and I left for the pub on Christmas Eve. “Wouldn’t want to be too hungover for the best meal of the year!” I nodded solemnly, and my friend promised we would be home after a few pints.
The next morning, the typical child-like Christmas excitement propelled me out of bed around 9 am. I sensed movement in the kitchen, and I went downstairs to wish those awake a “Merry Christmas!” Once there, I found only Katie’s parents, already bustling with preparation for the afternoon’s meal.
“Can I help?” I asked meekly, offering my sub-par culinary skills.
Katie’s father referred to his Excel-produced schedule for the day, which listed step-by-step how to perfectly, and timely, prepare the roast dinner (he uses this every Sunday). “Just in time to chop the vegetables!” I wiped the sleep from my eyes as he furnished me with a large knife.
After a good hour of slicing, dicing, buttering and organizing dishes around the kitchen, it was time to let the duck sizzle. Duck, I had learned, would be the roast part of the roast dinner.
Katie’s mom poured us all some Baileys (Katie and her brother had, by this time, been roused for their beds), and we moved to the front room for some serious gift opening. My stomach rumbled, but I had Baileys to tide me over.
Halfway through the cooking of the duck, Katie’s father removed a substantial amount of the grease to produce the Yorkshire pudding. Yorkshire pudding, once a traditionally Northern delicacy, is now consumed all over England, and is widely considered the key dish in a roast dinner (after the Roast, of course). Her dad poured the special type of dough into the meat grease, and, when cooking, it poofs up ever so elegantly. It ends up looking like a bread muffin, but it is much more savory than that.
When I wasn’t sure if I could bear the delectable, Thanksgiving-esque smells any longer, it was announced that dinner was about to be served. I sat down at the table not to find delicious food on my plate, but rather a large Tootsie Roll-like object.
“Christmas crackers!” Katie exclaimed, offering me an end of the Tootsie Roll. “Pull,” she commanded. When pulled, the cracker… cracks… and out comes a hilarious paper hat, a cheap toy and a corny joke. Everyone pulled their cracker, donned the hats, and shared the horrible jokes as a sort of toast before the meal.
And then… Katie’s parents brought the food to the table. I filled my plate to the brim with brussel sprouts and peas, swedes and turnips, Yorkshire pudding and chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes and onions, and let’s not forget the duck. Oh, the crispy, greasy, savory, melt-in-your-mouth duck! My stomach was in Christmas roast dinner heaven. There were seconds and thirds, and fourths and fifths as we picked on the leftovers throughout the evening.
“It takes all morning to cook, but fifteen minutes to devour!” Katie’s mother exclaimed. We all murmured our agreement, our mouths too full to do anything else.
Tradition states that you leave your paper crown on through the meal, but I didn’t take mine off until I was tucked in bed, smiling back on my first English Christmas.
Ever had an English Christmas roast dinner? How’d you fare?