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Torn Between Home and Elsewhere

When I walked the narrow, nostalgic streets of Lisbon, listening to the sounds of Portuguese TV programmes escaping through open windows and watching the yellow streetcars pass by, I thought to myself: “This would be a great place for a honeymoon”. When I visited Madrid two summers ago, I started thinking about what a nice idea it would be to come back  for an ERASMUS semester.

How come I rarely experience such fascination with my own hometown? Many other travelers get just as excited about Berlin, as I can get about Vienna, Valletta or Havana but many other travelers surely have made the experience that foreign soil is much more fascinating than the one you have walked on all your life.

It is during my last few hours in Vienna, in front of the state opera that I see the answer in front of my inner eye as clear as day.

Elsewhere gives me a break from everyday life. In Berlin I have responsibilities. I have to keep my flat clean, my fridge full and my table set for meals. I have to be available to other people on the phone and through E-Mail. I have to tend to the content of my mailbox and listen to tired employees of our bureaucratic system complain about how much they have to do.

When I am away from home, I am away from all these things and there is nothing I can do about not being available. I can spend my days getting lost in the streets of a new place, writing about anything that comes to mind and read one book after the other without feeling in the least unproductive.

Maybe the reason why foreign places are so attractive is the way they set us free from our routine like obligations. Saying something like: “I couldn’t answer your E-Mail because I was travelling”, sounds more legitimate than saying “I just didn’t feel like it”.

On the other hand, in the context of travel, everyday-life things can reveal their charming sides like they have never before. While at home, I don’t take meals very seriously. Although I mostly prepare them myself, I try to finish them quickly, using as little cutlery and plates as possible so I can move on to my next task and turn on the dishwasher once a week only to save water and electricity. One morning in Vienna however, I finally discovered how beautiful it is to have breakfast in the early morning with nowhere to be at a certain time and with nothing important to think about other than the sound of ringing churchbells. I had no idea how delicious a sandwich made with butter, some jam, a slice of cheese and a handful of grapes on the side can be until that morning.

No, we do not travel to other places because we don’t like home. We travel so we can remember the simple pleasures of life. We travel so that we can let go just for a little bit and allow ourselves to find fulfillment in doing nothing in particular.

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