The difference between traveling and vacationing is a favorite topic of longterm travel writers. It’s not hard to see which group they hold in higher regard or believe they belong to. I try not to be competitive when it comes to travel — it’s so terribly tacky — but I’m sure I fail sometimes.
For me though there is a real and important difference between a short trip and long trip and I’m reminded of it now in the middle of my not-so-short, month-long jaunt. For me, you only truly feel like a traveler when you can’t see either end of your trip. When you can count how many days you’ve been away or how many you have left you are on a “vacation” from your life. But when you’re lost in the middle of it, it IS your life and you can inhabit the road like a new apartment. That’s the feeling of travel we get addicted to.
Since I’ve been back from my yearlong trip I’ve tried to figure out if I wanted to go on another big trip. I spent a few weeks in Costa Rica this winter asking myself, “Is this what I want to do?” And on the day we all rode the ferry in the bikini-hot sun and found a little beach village at the end of the dirt road I knew there was nothing finer. And on the slow, meaningless, empty, pointless days I wished I had a job for goodness sakes.
But here I am in Berlin traveling again and remembering that feeling of living on the road instead of visiting it. How can I tell the difference? The first sign came around 3am two nights ago at a club too far from my hostel. I was dancing, which meant I was traveling, because I don’t dance at home. “Why don’t I dance at home?” I was thinking as I danced there.
You can’t describe or even understand how you change when go away or how you change when you go back but it’s chemical and unstoppable and you can feel it and taste it but never touch it. You can just see what it does, like make you dance or talk to someone on the street. You need to get a little roughed up and jaded by being away and then you get in that groove.
A few days ago I mentioned Hemingway’s theory that Paris is a movable feast you can take with you wherever else you go. But the change I’m talking about doesn’t stay with you when you’re home. It’s a perishable feast you can bring home like a French peach in August. You can bring it home and have it there for a week until it rots.
That’s what makes it so special too. I made a damn feature length documentary about traveling and wrote elaborate things about it all. But the Swiss girls in the next bunk own that more than me now. They’re away for the summer and they know what I’m talking about better than I do. And when they go home their basket of new food will go stale and someone else will be eating French peaches without us.
But last night it was the four of us — the Swiss girls, the Canadian guy and me — drinking German beer in Berlin. Holly and Nadine are 19 years old and I am not. I’m not sure what we found to talk about but we spoke all night and into the morning.
Previously on Across Northern Europe:
- Shining a Light on Iceland
- Lonely Love on Iceland
- Iceland Gone Wild
- A Trip to the Airport
- Why Bother Going to Berlin?
Brook Silva-Braga is traveling northern Europe for the month of August and reuniting with some of the people he met on the yearlong trip which was the basis of his travel documentary, A Map for Saturday. You can follow his adventure in the series, Across Northern Europe.