Eight months ago I hated walking. I rode my bike everywhere, and I didn’t care if it was raining or freezing cold. I just wanted the feeling of passing everyone else, riding fast and getting to my destination, no matter if I arrived sweaty and stinky…at least I made it as fast as possible. That was my approach to everything in life. I was working 50-60 hours/week while going to school full time and that’s the way I wanted it. I didn’t want to slow down with school, but I also had a good work opportunity and didn’t want to give that up either. So I sacrificed sleep, health, friends and everything else for those two things because that was my goal. And I wanted to arrive there as fast as I possibly could.
Then I decided to travel and left for Spain. I didn’t bring my bike with me, and first I didn’t think much about it because I immediately got distracted with all the “shiny objects,” the must-see’s, the must-do’s, the Gaudi architecture, the Museo de la Erotica. I started reading all the travel blogs telling me about everything I can’t miss. I had worked so hard for so long, saving up my money and now was the time to spend it. I was in a new city every few days. I didn’t even feel like I was traveling, I just felt like I was part of some big, international party, meeting people from all over the world and going out for drinks and food. Then I realized, I’m not really traveling, I’m just partying. And really, it wasn’t satisfying me. I kept getting sick and feeling empty. Like a bad hangover. I thought, If this is traveling then I don’t like it. Also my money was dissolving like the last grains of salt in an hour glass.
So I slowed down. I needed to be in nature, where I belong. I spent two weeks in Serbia in the dead of winter hiking as many mountains as I could, battling the cold and the inconsistent bus systems. I was getting endorphin highs and eating komplet lepinja (a pastry with eggs baked with butter and brown sugar, like French toast only better), and was really enjoying myself. Even though I spent much more time alone I felt a lot less lonely. I didn’t mind the slow pace, walking was just fine. I went to Sarajevo, Bosnia and paid for a month’s rent; I made friends, drank coffee with them and walked a lot, in the mountains and in town. When I moved on to Albania it was the off-season and I didn’t have to book my hostels ahead of time, so I wasn’t constantly thinking about how many days I would spend in each place or where I would be going next. If I really enjoyed myself I stayed longer, if I wanted to leave I left.
My good friend Chin tells me, “For now take it one day at a time. Enjoy where you are in the moment.” Growing up in America nobody ever really said that to me. Since high school I got used to hearing, Where are you going to college? What will your major be? What will you do after college? What is your five year plan? When will you get married? Have kids? Retire? Seriously guys. No wonder I can’t relax, I always want to answer each question tit for tat. Even now when I meet other travelers, I hear something similar: Where are you going next? How long will you be there? When are you going back to the U.S.?
That’s why it’s so hard to walk instead of pedaling away at top speed. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just a habitual way we’ve learned to keep conversation.
I’m back in Bosnia now because I needed to spend some time sorting out how I will make money online so I can continue traveling the way I want to, and I thought I should choose somewhere I’ve already done all the sight seeing so I wouldn’t be distracted from what I’ve got to do. Of course, I’m also drinking coffee with friends, and I have time for all the things I love, like hiking and drawing and taking photos. All of this is my definition of slow-travel, a term I put in my bio on my instagram page. The reason I travel is to enjoy myself, relax, and to experience what life is really like in other places, without rushing onto my next destination.
Last night I was at the bar and this girl asked me, “How long will you be in Bosnia? Where will you go after you leave?” Instead of getting nervous and scrambling for an answer, I looked at her and said, “I don’t know. I’m just enjoying the moment.”
***P.S. I still love riding bicycles. Sometimes I even pull out my phone at the bar and say, “Wanna see a picture of my bike back home? I miss it so much….”