As an expat, and as someone who enjoys travelling, I am often drawn into conversations about living abroad and how I can do it or how I choose to do it. Over time, I’ve come to realise that my perspective is because I know how to (really) travel.
The most recent conversation I had on this subject was at the tax office in Malta when the guy behind the desk, a pained expression on his face, asked me: “Is Malta so horrible that you want to leave?”
For him, leaving (or staying) was a matter of patriotism and pride. If someone is unhappy living in a country, then it is understandable that they’d want to leave. This is the image that the media peddles through coverage of immigration – these people have a tough time in their country because of poverty, war, famine, etc. and that is why they are leaving and trying to come here.
The implication being that “here” is the kind of place anyone would want to be. And stay.
I firmly believe that this is a one-sided approach.
Changing your residence from your village, town, city or country to another is not about escaping your current life but also about enriching it.
This is something I keep in mind when travelling with the result that I now place destinations into three broad categories of places:
- The “why would I go there” destination. There are many places that are touted by marketers as being excellent places to visit/holiday/relax/whatever. My ignorance means that I have no idea why I would go there. I am not a fan of the “let’s see what happens” mentality; I want to know that my time spent travelling is not going to go to waste. Sometimes a little research is all it takes to remove a name from this list; sometimes it’s enough to make me leave the name there. Ulaan Baator – I know nothing about this place, for example. Maybe it’s incredibly beautiful. Maybe it’s a dump. I don’t know yet.
- The one-off destination. A beautiful and scenic place that lends itself to a lovely holiday. Once you see all that there is to see, there is no reason to go back. It’s not that this place is bad, just that you’ve done that already.
Krakow falls into this category. I spent a lovely long weekend there a few years back and heartily recommend it to people. No inclination to see it again though.
- The tempting holiday destination. This is the kind of place that keeps seducing me to return time and time again for many reasons. Yet, it does not speak to me on a sub-conscious level and I therefore have no reason to live there. It will remain forever a holiday destination.
Paris is one such place. I cannot imagine myself living there but there always is so much to see and do that I can’t help but return.
- The “I have to live here” destination. I put places on this list after visiting them. As soon as I’m there, a sense of familiarity creeps up on me, a great intoxicating sensation that makes me involuntarily say to myself, “I’m home”. I don’t know why I react this way but I have a very ambitious list of places to live in: London, New York, Sydney, Lisbon, Berlin, Boston. I’m sure this list will grow as time passes …
So whenever I travel, I have these categories in mind.
Maybe I pigeon-hole places and make them fit these pre-ordained titles.
Maybe I miss some vital characteristic that would let me shift them from one pile to another.
Maybe I like my life this way.
What do you do when travelling?