Archive for the ‘Nomadtopia’ Category

The Pros and Cons of Christmas Abroad

December 25, 2010

Anyone who lives a fairly nomadic life will likely spend some major holidays outside their home country eventually. It’s an enlightening, interesting, and yes, even challenging experience that can vary a lot depending on what your own traditions are like, and the traditions of the place you’re spending the holiday. Here’s my thoughts on spending yet another Christmas abroad.

I’ve spent three of the last four Christmases in Buenos Aires, where I’ve discovered some of the pros, as well of the cons, of spending this holiday abroad, and in Buenos Aires in particular. Since Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere, one of the biggest differences for those from the North is celebrating Christmas in the summer. Those images of Santa Claus that are becoming more predominant here are pretty hard to relate to when it’s 90-plus degrees outside! And it’s a real challenge to get into the Christmas spirit if you grew up associating this time of year with cozy nights spent in front of the fire, getting bundled up to play in the snow, and decorations with winter-themed images.

Over the last month, locals have been preparing for summer vacation, and they waited until December 8, Día de la Virgen, to even think about doing any decorating. Meanwhile, online, I saw articles from U.S. sources describing ways one can avoid the stress of the holidays, and was bombarded with comments about how many shopping days were left until Christmas. I sweat through most of December feeling truly thankful to be away from the world of a million holiday parties and the pressure to buy lots of presents. I suspect that those who, like me, would rather move away from the consumerist traditions that have overtaken Christmas in the States find that spending the holiday season abroad is a great way to shift the focus back to the things that really matter, like spending time with family and friends – and eating plenty of tasty food (but not getting stressed out about preparing it all)!

However, it is exactly this focus on “what matters” that can make holidays abroad difficult. For the first time since I moved to Buenos Aires, none of my family came to visit for Christmas, and I didn’t go back to the U.S. I didn’t think it would be that big a deal – after all, I do have family here now – my fiancé and his family – and I knew we’d spend December 24th, Nochebuena, together. But in Argentina, at least, Nochebuena is celebrated a lot like New Year’s Eve – a big dinner with family as the anticipation builds until midnight, when people set off fireworks in the streets and everyone makes a toast to a Feliz Navidad with sparkling wine or cider and some traditional treats. December 25th is then a lot like January 1 – a day to sleep off the food and alcohol of the day before and just relax – and not much more. I found myself feeling pretty sad yesterday, realizing that being in a place where the traditions are so different made me feel even farther from my family and friends than normal.

As we create independent lives and families apart from the immediate family we grew up with, we all have to create our own traditions, and many of us have to get used to not having all our friends and family together at every important event or holiday. Creating new traditions might be even more important for nomads, who will likely find themselves a long distance from familiar ways of doing things but may be seeking some sense of tradition. Or perhaps the best solution is just to throw yourself completely into whatever traditions you find around you, and give up trying to make it something it’s not. Roberto suggested yesterday that we spend Christmas in a different country every year, sampling different ways of celebrating that we can incorporate as we create traditions that are uniquely ours.

What’s your experience been with spending holidays abroad, or far from friends and family? Wherever you’ve celebrated, have you combined family traditions with new ways of doing things?


The Excitement of Arriving, the Comfort of Staying

December 19, 2010

Today I really just wanted to curl up and read a book, but it hasn’t quite happened (yet, the day’s not over!). Roberto and I watched Eat, Pray, Love a few days ago, and one of the images that has stuck in my head was of the main characters having a quiet evening at home, reading and listening to music. Yes, they were in Bali, and the gorgeous open-air design of the house might have been part of the appeal, but when I saw that scene I thought, When was the last time I (or we) did that? Relaxing with a good book, being in the company of a loved one but not talking, in comfortable surroundings with nice lighting – that’s a pretty great way to spend an evening, in my opinion.

Of course, my inner struggle is apparent yet again when I think of the other images that have remained in my mind since I watched the movie, of each time she arrived in a new country (first Italy, then India, then Bali, for those not in the know). Those first-day-in-a-new-place sensations are so palpable for me–that first day of wondering where the heck you are, everything new and different and wonderful, trying to figure it all out, and hardly able to believe that you’re really, finally, there. I think that yearning for new experiences is a big part of why I travel, what makes me so eager to get back on the road.

We’re both antsy to do more traveling together. I guess I better bring a good book with me, so when we find a spot of comfort somewhere along the way, we can curl up for a nice evening “at home.”

Simple Living, Revisited

November 25, 2010

If you’ve been following my adventures over the years, you may remember hearing me talk about the concept of voluntary simplicity, or simple living. I wrote a post about it on this blog in October 2007, The Satisfaction of Enough. At the time I felt it was one of the most important/meaningful posts I’d ever written, and I remember being a bit disappointed by the lack of response from my readers (all 10 or so of them)–though it did bring out of the woodwork a kindred spirit that I’m still in touch with, though we’ve never met in person (hi, Leigh!).

I gradually “forgot” about simplicity again after I wrote that post. Although I was reading blogs like Zen Habits and The Simple Dollar that were based on similar philosophies, I guess I figured, “I moved abroad with only two suitcases – how much simpler can one get?” But somewhere along the way, while “simplicity” morphed into a whole new movement called “minimalism,” I bought an apartment and furnished/equipped it, mostly by filling those same two suitcases with more things every time I went back to the States. (Amazingly, the TSA agents hardly blinked an eye when they had to hand-search my carry-on because it contained a stainless-steel stockpot!)

After my fiancé, Roberto, moved in with me in July of this year, I tried not to take it personally when people would sometimes ask him how it was going, and he’d say “Fine, but the apartment’s too small.” Around the same time I read an article in the New York Times about how buying things doesn’t make us happy (“Duh,” was my general reaction). The article led me to the blog of a woman mentioned in the article, and then to a whole slew of new minimalism-related blogs that had cropped up while I was busy filling my new apartment with stuff. And I turned to Roberto one night and said, “The apartment’s not too small, we have too much stuff! (And haven’t figured out where to put anything.)” Intrigued, he agreed, and I started telling him more about this whole concept of simple living/minimalism. We now often talk about the choices we make regarding our spending, etc. in terms of minimalismo, and are slowly beginning to work on paring down our possessions as well as better organizing the ones we want to keep.

I’m hoping you’ll come along for the ride as Roberto and I begin our life together, motivated by minimalism, travel, and so much more–we have a lot of exciting plans in the works, and I hope that in some way we can inspire others just as we have been inspired. Stay tuned!

Yes and No

April 11, 2010

I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, about his experience hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail (AT). It was an enjoyable read, but one passage in particular really resonated with me, and I even went back to read it a few more times after I finished the book. It reminds me of how I felt when I finished my round-the-world trip, and how I still feel sometimes, torn between wanting to travel forever and never leave home again, wherever/whatever “home” is.

When Bryson is asked if he feels bad about leaving the trail before finishing, he writes:

I had come to realize that I didn’t have any feelings towards the AT that weren’t confused and contradictory. I was weary of the trail, but still strangely in its thrall; found the endless slog tedious but irresistible; grew tired of the boundless woods but admired their boundlessness; enjoyed the escape from civilization and ached for its comforts. I wanted to quit and to do this forever, sleep in a bed and in a tent, see what was over the next hill and never see a hill again. All of this all at once, every moment, on the trail or off. “I don’t know,” I said. “Yes and no, I guess.”


April 28, 2009

Yesterday I went to renew my visa at the immigration office, giving me a first-hand look at how it all unfolds. These processes make me appreciate so much more the struggles that people from other countries go through to be able to come to/stay/live in the U.S., and the relative ease of my experience with it here thus far is not something I take for granted. The 2 1/2 hours I spent waiting for various pieces to fall into place made for great people-watching (something I would have missed out on if I’d remembered to bring a book with me!). It is quite humbling to be one of just a handful of European-looking folks in a massive crowd of people filing various papers, paying fees, and trying to handle a foreign bureaucracy. For many of them, though, at least they have the added benefit of speaking the language – I don’t have any hard facts but suspect that the majority of immigrants are coming from Paraguay and Bolivia, and others from further afield in Latin America. I also saw some Brazilians, but the next biggest group after Spanish-speakers seemed to be Asians. The only real problem I encountered personally was discovering that the last stamp in my passport was placed on top of a strip of clear tape (apparently used when I had pages added to my passport), and some of the ink was rubbing off – making it hard to tell how long a stay I was granted and what date I entered. I had to go to another area where they verify and repair stamps, to get a printout and have someone notarize my entry stamp, basically, before I could get the renewal. No big deal, it just added about 30 minutes to the process. And, unfortunately, just a week ago the price to renew TRIPLED, so this was no longer a cheap endeavor (well, it’s all relative – still less than US$100). It would have been cheaper to go to Uruguay, if only I’d thought I had the time to do that this week.

My City by the Bay

May 13, 2007

The past week in San Francisco has been wonderful. Over a year has passed since I drove out of town last April, headed east, and I’ve really missed the city (and the people who live here). It truly is like no other,  and is the place I’ve lived the longest thus far in my life. It feels familiar, although some things have changed and there are still plenty of corners of the city that are new to me. Being able to see good friends multiple times—for dinner, for drinks, for an afternoon walk, for brunch—is a precious luxury. Yet walking around my old neighborhood the other day, something felt different. I felt different. I’m still struggling to put my finger on what shift has occurred, what led to a kind of melancholy while the fog swirled around my head. Am I not the same person who left here in 2004, hopping on a plane to travel the world? Was I crazy to give it all up? Is it disappointing to feel like I can’t afford to live here anymore? Am I worried I’ll never find another place that feels so comfortable, so much like home? It’s occurred to me this week that I needn’t concern myself with finding “home.” It’ll present itself. And it turns out that #31 on The List isn’t “find a new home” but “find a place to live.” That I can do.