I turn 29 this week, which might as well be 30. I survived 27 without achieving incendiary, short-lived glory (Cobain, Hendrix, Morrison) and passed through my Saturn Return with no impressive fanfare—but overall I've had a really good last few years. As with all post-college birthdays, though, it's led to some musings on getting older, and what that means for a full-time traveler.
I was supposed to leave Riga four times in the last 10 days, but the rain kept me from going north to Tallinn. Not to say that the roads were flooded or the bus routes were canceled, but I didn't leave Riga because I didn't want to leave Riga. Cold weather is a close friend of mine, and after three months of summer and sun, I was ready for the transition into fall and all the weather it brings.
A few weeks prior, I posted a survey on Facebook, asking my friends to pick my destination after Sicily: the Baltics, Malta, or Spain. The result was a tie between the first two, but my friend Gabe's compelling case for northern latitudes during the late summer broke the stalemate. And I'm really glad it did.
I've now been in Europe for three months, staying put for a week at a time in between two to three weeks of constant movement. It's been an interesting mix of backpacking and stationary travel, but if I had to do it over again, I would have moved around less than I did.
I've found that if I spend less than five days in a new place, my priorities are more in line with the typical tourist: see the sites, eat local, take pictures, and be at the bus station to get to the next point on the map. But it's when I stay longer that I immediately switch from "traveler" to "homebody." The extra time I allot myself allows me to stretch out a bit. On a daily basis, I'll probably see fewer sites, take less pictures, and eat more conservatively—but I'll also walk farther, breathe deeper, and exercise more. I manage to seek out and champion my favorite coffee shops and pubs by going to each of them multiple times, and within a few days there are a handful of locals who know my face—sometimes my drink.
Any traveler of any capacity will tell you that constant movement is exhausting. (And it seems to be no coincidence that the French word from which we get the word "travel" means "to work.) Seeing pieces of the world in 2- and 3-day increments might seem like a great way to get around, and to some extent it is. But the constant mental shift of having to navigate new streets and sleep in new beds can lead to travel burnout in a fairly short amount of time. We humans just aren't wired for constant migration.
For me, these weeklong breaks in quiet places have been what has sustained an otherwise frenetic pace of backpacking through central and eastern Europe. I've gone through a dozen countries since July 1, bringing the total to 16 this year. I've stayed in places for one night, and others for two weeks—and the places where I've been the most inspired and felt the most rested have been in those longer intervals.
As I'm at the threshold of my 29th birthday, I'd be lying if I said that none of these musings were influenced by thoughts about getting older—but in the last year I've gravitated towards longer stays and shorter distances between them. I anticipate my rucksack will grow a rigid shell and urethane wheels at some point, but for now, I'm still a "backpacker."
I write this entry from Tallinn, Estonia, which—I just discovered this today—has a latitude comparable to my hometown in Alaska, and shares almost identical weather patterns for the next few days. As I delve into month four of Europe (and month 10 of living out of a backpack), it's nice to know that I've found a little piece of home halfway around the world.