’Holy shit, you’ve been travelling for over a year now. What are you running from? Did you kill somebody?’
-something my host asked me once
Relationships with countries are essentially like relationships with people: you get speed dates, one-night stands, eternal friendships and long-term love affairs.
Sure enough, you never forget your first.
I had two firsts: the first first happened some time around 2000-2001 when I travelled to Venice with my parents at unconscious age of 10. I remember ice cream, pigeons, gondolas and being happy. Curiously enough, I revisited Venice 10 years after that trip, in 2011, and went there for an unforgettable carnival with some CS friends. Walking down that memory lane was fantastic and magical, despite the fact that my childhood was long screwed up. I stood in the middle of Piazza San Marco and watched grandchildren of the same pigeons shit on the pavement. It was fascinating how some places are absolutely timeless.
My second first happened in 2008 and it was Ireland, where all this travelling disease started. My relationship with Ireland started as a long-distance flirting via Irish language courses at the Uni, Irish music, films and books, and finally, in the summer of 2008, all of a sudden I booked myself a ticket to Dublin in order to meet Ireland irl. We had a great relationship for about 3 years, until I understood that I cannot forever be in love with this country until I see others. I left behind the streets of Dublin where so many songs were sung, so many walks were walked and so many people were met. I left behind the hills of Donegal, the cliffs of Aran islands, the hobbit holes near Brú na Bóinne, the foamy waves of the Atlantic coast and old men in bars who speak the most incomprehensible drunk Irish.
I went away for no particular reason. Just because I wanted to go away and drift until I get drift-sick.
Your comfort zone is a place and a set of circumstances where you have no problems identifying yourself. It is also a place where you like the way other people identify you. Not to mention minor attributes of ‘comfort zone’, such as nice memories and a good soundtrack.
Logically, this is supposed to be your country of birth, where your family lives, where your childhood friends become successful whatevers and invite you to their weddings, where you accidentally meet your school teachers and university professors and spend a few hours chatting about how you’ve grown up since the last time they saw you and how you’ve turned out to be somebody completely different from what they’d expected.
But sometimes it is not.
Whenever I arrive back to my hometown, I become a nameless piece of the city puzzle, just another university graduate who was supposed to get a job, get married and reproduce long time ago, maybe occasionally show interest in politics and cultural events, criticise the society and customer care. Hometown is a place where everybody had expectations for you, that you never fulfilled.
When I am on the road, I have an identity that I have been creating all by myself, since that first trip to Ireland. Travelling is my comfort zone. My identity is what I’ve learned as a person, what I’ve collected in my backpack (besides dirty socks and sand), what I’ve done good or bad, what stories I can tell and what pictures I can draw in your mind. My identity is being a stranger in a strange land, collecting stories, for one simple reason: people tend to open up to strangers much easier than to old judgmental friends.
Travel became life rather than holiday when I realised that every day I think about where I was on this day a year ago and where I am hoping to be on this day the year to come. Because I know that I will not be in the same place and I will not be the same me. Every time I return to my hometown, I spend days and days looking for cheap flights and researching new destinations, because staying here feels like going backwards and erasing all the things I’ve learnt on the road.
I hope this explains well enough why I cannot imagine myself ever living in my hometown again.
But maybe you can just call me a person with commitment issues. When you travel, you stay in a place from a few minutes to a few months, you meet somebody and you have a good time, you learn the best about people and the place and then you move on. You know that if all of a sudden you learn something nasty about the person or the place, you can pack your stuff and leave.
When you stay in one place longer and actually settle down, you have to meet same people on daily basis and share their fun times and their troubles, give your shoulder to cry on and share your own secrets. Establishing a long-term relationship with a place is equally hard. Under the fun and beauty of its touristy makeup you inevitably will start noticing social inequality, lies and utter unhappiness. As a passer-by you can overlook them. As an inhabitant, you must accept them, fight them or forever remain silent.
Then, after all, you can always just pack your bags and drift away.