I’m glad I got the phase of traveling out of the way… that “tourist” phase you could compare to dating. Now, I’m entering more of a “marriage and honeymoon” phase. And it won’t be like a TOTAL marriage, more like a common-law marriage.
I’m committed, but keeping my options open.
People ask me if I feel excited. Not really. (gasp) at least not YET. It’s a good question, though.
I have 4 reasons:
1. It simply hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m more overwhelmed by what I need to do to prepare and the stress and worry about how to make it all work.
2. Life will feel the same, despite major external changes, because I’ll still be the same person when I arrive. With all my worries, thoughts, habits, anxieties, and personal circumstances.
Even though I knew this the first time I visited, I still imagined (and this IS embarrassing) that most days would feel like a vacation, with the perfect blend of excitement, adventure, relaxation, and cool encounters with other people.
When I first visited Zagreb, I imagined what it might look like, usually before I dropped of into sleep. Here’s some examples:
• I envisioned worry-free accommodations. Someone had promised me an apartment to stay in. I saw a picture of it, and it looked lovely. I thought about my daily commute to the main square, and not having to worry about logistics. I could just relax and just BE. You know, like you are on vacation.
Nope. He failed to follow through, leaving me in a tight spot. He actually got upset with ME about it! It was humiliating, disappointing, and stressful, but I let it go. Yes, I had a plan B, but that also fell through (I ended up staying with someone who has extreme OCD and it was a nightmare, I got the hell out so I could enjoy my stay)
I’m not complaining. My desire was NOT to be a tourist.. and live as much like a native as I could. Well, ask the Universe something.. and you shall receive! To be quite honest, it wasn’t ALL bad.. I just met a diverse cross-section of humanity, just like anywhere else. Some just happened to be crazy, and that’s THIER shit, not mine. I also met some WONDERFUL and yes, amazing, people as well, who blew me away with their kindness and generosity.
• I imagined playing with a friends kid, but it turns out he was afraid and mistrustful of me because I didn’t speak his language. It felt awkward at times, but I get it.
• I imagined being able to spend a few hours having coffee with friends, but between the busy-ness of their daily lives, commitments, and the fact that EVERYTHING took MUCH longer than I thought it would.. (I’m talking the minutae of washing clothes, transport, finding food, using a phone.. read on!) that didn’t always happen.
But I DID have some VERY cool interactions.. and I AM grateful. These are the moments I remember most:
• Having a beer and a long walk through the city with a friend who knows Zagreb intimately. I got a personal tour at least 3 or 4 times. AND an actual PERSONAL tour of the Zagreb city museum by his colleague (he’s an archeologist)
• Getting invited to lunch. with wine. 🙂
• Daily walks and talks with a friend with her baby as we dropped her son off to daycare.
• Having coffee with an expat who really knows what it takes to make the leap.
• Meeting a guy on the main square who offered to buy me a beer. I said yes, and suspected that he was interested in me.. but could only speak Croatian. Which is fine, but some of his ideas about men and women were a little “old school” for my taste. Still, a VERY good experience!
• Joining a conversation in a bar about European, American, and world politics.
• Talking to a Serbian friend from Bosnia about business and life on a rooftop patio drinking beer.
• Dinner with a dear friend from Hvar.
• Having the balls to go to an acupuncturist’s office on Ilica near the main square, knock on the door, and ask if she had space for lease. In Croatian. (she didn’t speak English) It went well! Bonus: on the way up, I asked a woman where this hard-to-find office was, and she told me my Croatian was “excellent.”
• Listening to a Russian guy on the bus tell me about how much better in it was the old Yugoslavia than it is now.
• Giving a bribe to a tram controller. Yep. Another story for another blog!
• I pictured days of walking through cobblestone streets, feeling free, blissed out, and excited. The truth was that I was at times stressed out. I went into cafes not to leisurely sip coffee, but to check my bank account to make sure that everything was ok. All in a place that doesn’t prioritize electrical outlets for nutjobs like me that actually work, alone, on a laptop, in cafes.
(This was before I knew about the digital nomad culture, and now I know of workspaces and cafes that are more work-friendly)
But I DID have moments in which I had to pinch myself, as I was working in a cafe on Tkalčićeva. Holy shite, I’m in Europe.
Not in the suburbs of some city in the U.S., in a cubicle. Damn! 🙂
Even when I felt stressed, just like I would here, I still had to tell myself: “Hey, I’m working in a freaking cafe with a view of the stone houses in the old city.” And even if things seemed overwhelming or bleak when it came to work or cash flow, I told myself I’m here. I’m doing what I need to do. I’m free. I’m safe, in this moment. So for my break, I’ll walk down to the bookstore in the main square, or find some fruit in the market to snack on.
• I pictured taking trips to Belgrade or Varaždin or Split. But..Nope. Not enough time or money. Traveling EATS time and money. Everything that takes no time at all at home takes about 3 or 4 times as long when you are traveling in a foreign country.
BUT.. some of my contacts, including in other parts of Croatia and the Serb Republic in Bosnia, came to see me! And because I got to hang out longer in Zagreb, I really feel like I got to know it much better than if I was doing the “Balkan tour.”
You can pretty much COUNT on Inefficiency when traveling
Let me tell you about how long it takes to get the “basics” done. I’m sure some of you have experienced this before, but once you get used to a certain level of convenience, it can be hard. Not because you are lazy, but because you WILL grossly underestimate the amount of time it takes to accomplish even the simplest things.
I had an apartment with no furniture or wifi, so I had to find cafes to do simple tasks. “Normally”, at home, I could just crawl out of bed, go to the next room where my laptop awaits, and be super productive.
Washing clothes took forever.. sorting out what to wash, and taking it to the laundromat. (at least they had dryers!)
In Croatia, most homes don’t use dryers, which means spending more time hanging clothes.
Transportation? I got used to it, but when you rely on public transport, you have to factor in travel time. This will be a shock for me all over again, I’m sure, since I’m in the VERY American habit of driving a short commute to my clinic.
Communication? Someone was kind enough to lend me a phone with pre-paid minutes. (I was very touched by that) I thought I could get by without a phone for 3 weeks. Hah. Right.
But I’m embarrassed to admit I could never get the thing to work. It was an old phone.. and prepaid plans in Croatia can be tricky.
And then there’s the language barrier, of course. My Croatian is good as far as describing my everyday life, leisurely, with friends via Skype as I go for a leisurely walk or linger over coffee here in Denver, but yikes, it’s not as practical as I thought.
Even “tourist” Croatian was waaay to basic for what I needed in order to go about my daily life there, since I wasn’t relying on English-speaking hotels, cruises, and restaurants. I was there to go to the dentist, see friends, and investigate options for working and living there. This took more time, because of the language barriers, which I’m working on.
Finding food.. the same. Just everything takes longer.
You will screw up, make mistakes, forget what the time difference is between Europe and the U.S.,.. have miscommunications, and have to make emergency Skype calls. Much of your time will be consumed by inefficiency, mistakes, worry, disappointment bordering on despair, and trying to figure everything out and adjust.
Unless you want to play it “safe” and just be a tourist. No Thanks.
Oh, lets talk about MONEY.. Yep. ATM fees, bank charges, travel, and other unexpected costs can creep up and eat away your funds pretty quickly. I’m sure that sounds obvious, but there’s still some denial when it comes to thinking that you can manage to stretch your US dollar and keep your bank account from draining quickly.
When you live at “home,” budgeting can be a lot easier. Being abroad.. things tend to happen. It’s easier to be impulsive but there also are some unexpected expenses that come up.
FORTUNATELY.. eating in Zagreb was cheap. MUCH cheaper than in the U.S. In fact, I grew to resent the cost of food here and would forgo eating if I could, till I return to Europe.
Habits, Changes, and Mindset
I have heard this before, but it is only really, truly beginning to sink in. If I tend towards anxiety, worry, and negative thinking (I’m still in Denver as I write this) it’s not going to magically change once I get to Europe.
I know this, I’ve already experienced it firsthand. At times, I was unable to enjoy where I was at because I was too worried about everything working out.
(Before you tell me that I shouldn’t go until everything is all perfectly worked out.. stop.. think… and read another blog I have coming up about that)
Things WILL go wrong. But I can’t allow myself to get stuck in a groove, imagining myself feeling depressed, anxious, and wondering what I got myself into as I stand at the bus stop. Just like what might happen here. Picture standing at the bus stop, thinking about the same shit you think about while at home, except everyone is speaking a different language, which makes you have to focus even more so you can catch half of what they are saying.
Or worrying about offending someone, overstaying a welcome, or asking for help. I don’t want to be dependent when I get there, and I know I will have to be resourceful. Sounds easy. That leap of faith thing. I’m cool with it..
But at the same time, I’m feeling exhausted just thinking about it. My body has been tired and I seem to need more sleep.
3. I seem to be in a state of resistance rather than excitement knowing that my time here, in this place I am writing this blog, is down to about 6 weeks.. which is nothing.
I also know that I can’t dwell on the “bad” moments that will probably happen, even though I’m past the “dating” stage with all of this, and am skeptical of the “honeymoon” phase. Hell, it is possible that I’ll get tired or even DISLIKE Zagreb, Croatia, the Balkans, or even Europe one day.
Is this a way of “protecting” myself? Am I afraid of getting TOO excited? By doing so, am I setting myself for disappointment?
I think that I’ll focus on the good memories I had, since I DO believe in the law of attraction. I DON’T want to focus on what I don’t want or what could go wrong, because it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I KNOW I will be creating MORE good memories, that there is an abundance of cool and interesting experiences awaiting me.
At the same time, I want to leave the canvas BLANK. I’m already picturing what my days on Hvar might look like.. but yes, based on my last experience, I’m a little hesitant about embracing something that could still be a fantasy.
and the last reason:
4. I know that good things WILL happen, but they might not look EXACTLY like what I expect.
And there you have it..