“Travelling”. “I’m travelling”. “When I went travelling…”. Something about the tone of voice people use to utter these sentences brings a bitter taste to my mouth. What I’m about to say probably isn’t “cool”, (although I doubt whether I have ever been considered that, and at 25 years old, it’s a bit too late to start now) but I’m just not a big fan of status symbols, and “travel” seems to be the emerging one of our generation. No one seems to wear name brand clothing anymore. It’s all about whether you’ve “done”[insert country here], which is usually just some place that’s far enough away to require an expensive plane ticket, making it unaffordable to most people and therefore conferring it with an exotic mystique.
I first started to feel this way during my degree. It’s not just the whole “gap yah” stereotype of a minority of young people with more money than sense. I have known a lot of regular people to save up for a few years to buy a six stop plane ticket, and suddenly they’re going hiking through the jungle, posting photos on Facebook, and doing skydives. I grew up in Wales, which although it is an especially rainy area of the UK, it boasts several areas of natural beauty. But most people I grew up with who left on their adventures would never have dreamt of hiking through our beautiful hills. They chose to fly half way across the world to do something that they have never shown interest in before, seemingly just so they can post photos all over social networks. So, if nature is so great (which it obviously is. Bloody love nature!) then why go away for a year to do that?
And now, here I am, seemingly doing much the same thing. Oh, the hypocrisy! After living for 3 years in Madrid, I’ve taken the plunge to move on to pastures new. My trip is built around 1 main event, working with a friend of mine who is putting together a poetry anthology written by the girls at Our Little Roses, an orphanage in San Pedro Sula (Honduras), a city which the media has nicknamed “the murder capital of the world”. I had decided to embark on this trip as I was miserable in Madrid. Caught in limbo between being rejected by Spanish people, or hanging out with other expats and being looked down upon as ¨just another guiri who doesn´t make enough effort to learn Spanish¨, I needed a goal to serve as the light at the end of a long, frustrating tunnel.
So, as I write this, I’m nearing the end of my holiday in France. I’ve been staying with my boyfriend at his parents’ house in gorgeous Brittany (after being apart for 5 months while he was working abroad), cycling, hiking, eating, watching films, and generally enjoying my time off. I have to say, I do not miss Madrid one iota. I don’t miss feeling tense, aware that at any moment someone will start shouting abuse at me for being foreign, making special effort to be rude and patronising. It wouldn´t be fair to say this has anything to do with Spanish people in general or even Madrileños. It’s natural that as the economic situation worsens, people are getting edgier and edgier, but having had my fill of random acts of xenophobia, I’ve left that city and am not looking back.
Of course, I do miss the dear friends I made there, but in a city like Madrid, if you are “foreign”, then no matter how hard you try to make friends with locals, most of your friends will be travellers, and not having roots in the city means that they aren’t likely to stay long term. I know of one expat living in Madrid who was famous for saying “I’m not making any new friends; everyone just leaves after a year. It’s too painful!”. I plan to return to Bilbao (Basque Country, Spain) which is only 5 hours from Madrid at the end of my trip which means that I can easily visit the few friends I have who have decided to stay in Madrid another school year (and hopefully they will come visit me in Bilbao too).
Also, travelling can be quite stressful. As a newcomer to any city, it’s hard to know the good places to go, and not get ripped off for a humble cup of coffee, or get confused about opening times for the supermarket or pharmacy (which are two entirely different things in some countries). Sometimes you meet some less than savory characters who you need to extricate yourself politely from.
So, “travel”. I’m not an intense type of tourist with a forbiddingly long checklist, an obsession with seeing every monument, and a penchant for saying how they “did” a city, country, or continent. I got infected with that fever, and did that once on a short weekend trip, but it just doesn’t feel right to me. There’s so much pressure involved in that way life that it’s not pleasant; the kind of people who live like that don’t enjoy it, they just do things so that they can say they’ve done them, forgetting what it feels like to have fun. When I visit places, I look for the things that aren’t in the guidebook, especially if they don’t cost you an arm and a leg in admission fees. I also have in my head the questions such as: “Would I come back here again? Could I live here?”.
When I arrive in a new place, one of the first things I do is to buy a postcard that has a selection of photos of the major “sights” of the town, to add to my collection, and then, pressure alleviated, I just stroll about, nibbling local delicacies, supping local beverages, and trying not to be an annoying tourist who gets in people’s way. I show respect to local people in what I say and how I say it, and I never enter churches during services (even if the guidebook says it is an essential “must see”). It’s good kharma to always be respectful to those around you, whether you’re planning on staying for 1 day or 1 year. I like to take pictures of the “hidden gems” that you won’t find on the tourist information page, and I like to connect with locals and keep my ear to the ground about events happening during my stay. In this way, I learn as much as I can, whilst trying to be a respectful and ethical consumer who supports local industries.
Here’s my itinerary:
July 23rd Leave Madrid to spend 5 weeks with my boyfriend in France
August 31st Fly to Chicago O’hare to stay with family in Milwaukee for 2 months
October 31st Land in Honduras to take up Stage Manager role in Our Little Roses orphanage end of year concert.
December 17th Travel to Costa Rica to couchsurf, woof, and workaway.
January 14th Fly to San Francisco for a week, just to see what everyone talks about!
January 22nd Fly to Manchester to see family and collect stuff (a necessary leg of the journey to validate my travel insurance).
January 31st Land in Bilbao to start new life with partner.