“5 things travel taught me about myself” is a new series on The Yogi Wanderer featuring travelers from around the world sharing their personal insights and self-discovery lessons from a life of wandering and/or living abroad. Today Alexandra Ogden, from the site The Globetrotter Cookbook, shares a bit of her story with us.
Heya! I’m Alex from The Globetrotter Cookbook. I think stories should always be told over good food. My blog pairs inspiring, humorous and sometimes self-deprecating stories, and super tasty recipes collected from my own experiences and the eccentric travellers I invite into my home.
I’m originally from Vancouver, Canada, but have been fairly nomadic ever since turning 18, moving to 3 different countries in the past 7 years. I am now based in sunny Jerez de la Frontera, in the south of Spain. During this time, I’ve had a lot of time to self-reflect, and thanks to Vanda, I’ve got the opportunity to share with you some of these musings.
Without further ado, here are 5 things traveling has taught me about myself:
#1 I’m possibly too trusting, but it works for me!
I have always liked to believe that people are essentially good. If you send out positive vibes and are generous to friends and strangers, it’s almost impossible that you won’t receive kindness in return.
I’ve been lucky enough to find this spirit is very common in the Couchsurfing community. Couchsurfing, if you haven’t heard, is an online community whose members allow travelers to stay at their house for a night or two for free. It functions on the basis of reciprocity – while you travel, you get free accommodation, but it’s expected that you’ll open up your house in the future or at least show other travelers around your city when you return home.
Many people, even the most seasoned travelers, find this concept fairly nerve-wracking. I’ll admit, I was worried about “Stranger Danger” for a while, but now I’ve hosted 15 people in my home this past year, and I love it!
Not only has it opened my mind, I’ve made so many friends! In Jerez, I regularly attend Couchsurfing potluck dinners, where everyone shares a dish from their country. Getting in touch with surfers really has helped me feel at home here.
Oh, and did I mention, I got my apartment (that wasn’t even on the market) through a Couchsurfing host? Check out the view!
#2 Being generous doesn’t mean I need to please everyone
Ok, I maintain the belief that people are generally good, and that Couchsurfing is the coolest way to travel. However, shit happens.
Once in Budapest I went to meet up with my host, and he showed up absolutely pissed drunk. As I was still in a public place, I agreed to have one drink with him to better assess the situation. Maybe he was just eccentric? Nope, definitely slurring his words, falling all over the place DRUNK.
At first I thought up some excuses for him – maybe this is normal in Hungary? Maybe he’s intoxicated, but all in all a good guy? Worse still, I started to put his feelings before my safety – will he be insulted if I say I don’t feel comfortable staying with him?
It seems silly, but talking with other female travelers, women tend to put others before ourselves. I’ve learned to never choose to respect someone’s feelings of potential disappointment over my discomfort.
In the end, it was almost laughable at how he really didn’t care that much when I let him know I would be staying somewhere else that night.
#3 It’s not in my best interest to immerse myself 100 per cent in the local culture
When I moved to Madrid, I wanted a fully authentic Spanish experience. That meant only seeking out Spanish friends and limiting the nights out with Erasmus students and other English teachers. It started off well – I got myself the cool, old euro-style apartment with three Spaniards, was hitting the hipster Malasana district with a girl from Murcia almost every weekend, and even went on a few dates with Spanish guys.
It quickly became apparent that it was not going to be the dream I had hoped for. Pretty much as soon as I moved in, my roommates blocked me out. They had no patience for my broken Spanish, and hardly exchanged a word with me, despite my efforts. I felt isolated and alone.
Although I did make friendships outside the apartment, it was still very apparent that I needed their friendship more than they needed mine. When you move abroad, you’re starting from zero, whereas locals tend to already have intimate friendship circles. It’s not that they’re closed-minded; they just don’t have the same need for your friendship as you do theirs.
It’s no fun appearing to be desperate for someone’s friendship, so making friends with others who are new in town is essential. They can also relate to you in ways locals can’t about homesickness and trying to integrate into a new culture.
#4 I need people more than I’d like to admit
Who run the world? Girls! How many times have I been asked if I have a Spanish boyfriend because I live in Spain? TOO many. I’m sure that I’m not the only woman living abroad that gets annoyed that her love life gets more questions than the places she’s seen, the traditions she’s observed, the food she’s eaten… And sometimes I’ll admit that I overcompensate and try to do EVERYTHING on my own. I’ve realized that’s stupid.
When walking the epilogue part of the Camino de Santiago, the group I was walking with and I reached a fork in the road. We could either go to Finisterre along the coast, and then up to Muxia, or through the paved roads to Muxia, and on to Finisterre. The majority of the group wanted to end the Camino in Finisterre as it is the more traditional finish. I, on the other hand, reeeeeally wanted to walk along the coast.
Long story short, I separated from my group, the independent woman that I am, and walked alone to Finisterre. Standing at the lighthouse at what Europeans once thought to be “the end of the world” I was hit with a sudden pang of loneliness. I had been walking 25-35km per day for the past month, and yet I had nobody to share this accomplishment with.
I realized then that sometimes it might be ok to do things for other people, because in the end I probably would have been happier sharing the experience. If I always try so hard to be independent, I may always find myself alone. Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy my own company, but this girl needs to cool it off sometimes and go with the group.
For next time, I’ll know that it’s better to share a good view than to experience it alone.
#5 I may never find what I’m looking for, but that’s ok
Since moving away from home seven years ago, I am now on country number 3, city number 4, and looking to move somewhere else.
Part of me really wants and believes that there is a place out there that keeps me interested, a place that I can call my home permanently. Nonetheless, I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I’m a bit nomadic, and it’s quite possible that I will never find a place that satisfies me completely.
That’s a scary notion – but I know that staying in one place forever is even more daunting. Secure employment, a company pension plan and benefits sound awesome, but at what cost?
For now, I’m going to try to get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable, and continue to seek, share and savour on my upcoming adventures!
Image credits: Alexandra Ogden
What’s the best self-discovery lesson traveling has taught you? Share in the comments section below.
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