A Real Estate Butterfly In Need Of Home

A Real Estate Butterfly In Need Of Home

One of the reasons for my travels was the opportunity to defy the idea that material possessions defined me. The free-spirited me, the real estate butterfly, the forever visitor – I was a skeleton made out of stardust and a bit of water. I didn’t need anything else to be me. Except I did.

Our home for the next few weeks in Mérida, Mexico | Photo by Ola Moszumanska

Of course, I was missing friends and family. I always miss them. It’s a part of the deal. As a European living in Australia, I carry an immense sense of guilt for leaving my beloved ones on the Old Continent to lead a life on the opposite hemisphere. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t miss them. And so since I ventured out on my travels, I have been away from the family and friends in Europe – and also from my people in Australia. It sucks, and I miss them all immensely, but somehow I knew that would be the case.

What took me by surprise was the fact that I started missing home too. In fact, I started missing having one. 

I missed my own place. A safe space. The private pocket of the world where I didn’t have to be anything to anyone. The place where I didn’t have to repack my bags continually. A little oasis where all the house plants had names (I miss you Paul, Blake, Blake II, Blake Junior and Rosie!). 

I missed my Sydney house even though it was never actually mine, and the rent was bloody expensive. My local coffee shop. And the hill behind the house I could see the whole city panorama from.  

I missed familiarity, a sense of belonging, the feeling that I knew the place.

My travels, for good reasons, have always found themselves on the opposite side of those qualities. And it was fine when it was all but a holiday, but not when long term travel was going to be a way of life for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, the sense of detachment, ability to immerse myself in something unknown and to cherish the moments taking place outside of my comfort zone are some of the most exciting things about travelling for me.

So, here’s what we did to make sure we can do what we love while we build a sense of belonging in the constant motion of travels.

No Rush

In the beginning, we were moving from one place to another reasonably fast. But when life started feeling a little too rushed, we decided we’d stay longer at every new location.

At the start, it was a week – which quickly turned into a month. Now, we try to stick to that rule to be able to feel at home at a place we’re visiting. Getting friendly with a gentleman who runs the local laundromat usually is a good sign we’re doing well.

The bonus is that once you settle somewhere for a bit, then you get to miss that place too when you leave! But your heart expands too. It’s a good thing.

Celebrate Things That Make You Feel Like Home

While we love discovering the new, we also celebrate some well-known and grounding rituals we associate with home. They help to create a soothing routine and give us a sense of belonging.

For me, it can be reading before falling asleep. Or yoga. For my fiance, it’s signing up to a local gym or chopping vegetables. So everywhere we go, he carries a chef’s knife with him.

We also always, no matter what, have a morning coffee together. And we make sure that at least once a week, we wake up and do absolutely nothing (in other words, we stay in, order takeaways and binge on Netflix for hours).

Make An Effort With People You Meet Along The Way

The value of a shared moment doesn’t depend on time. The most precious encounters in life can be fleeting but momentous.

As much as nothing tops a long, supportive and loving relationship, allowing yourself to be present, mindful and focused on those quick interactions with people you meet on your way can help you feel more grounded – and develop a sense of belonging to the moment itself. Not to mention doing wonders for your social life on the road!

Stay In Touch With Friends And Family

Especially if you can FaceTime/ Skype them. Nothing feels better than seeing a familiar face in their natural surroundings that you happen to know and love as well.

But the most essential part of the process was actually coming to terms with the realisation that I am not, in fact, as much of a butterfly as I thought – and accepting it with an open heart. Because even if I like to settle into the foliage for more extended periods, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love flying.

Peak Tourist Mode, Double-Decker Buses And Skipping Table Mountain

Peak Tourist Mode, Double-Decker Buses And Skipping Table Mountain

Do you ever find yourself torn between utter travel snobbery, looking for budget solutions and the burning desire to chase the most well-known tourist attractions everywhere you go? I do.

Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus in Cape Town, South Africa | Photo by Ola Moszumanska

Refusing to ever get on a Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus falls into the travel snob category. Why would one ever take part in an accessible, affordable, well run and fun experience that has been so successful it is now enjoyed in over 150 cities around the world? Ridiculous idea, right? 

When I lived in London for almost ten years, red buses filled with holiday-makers must have passed me by at least 20 times a day. I had zero time for them. Just like I had zero time for Madamme Tussaud, and now that the waxy clones of Harry and Meghan have been separated from the rest of the inanimate the royal family I am utterly gutted I never got to see them together. Royals aside, even when I moved to Sydney – hands down one of the most beautiful places to admire from the heights of a double-decker bus – I had no interest in joining the ride. I guess I was way too busy running away from spiders, avoiding snakes and refusing to get into the ocean because of sharks?

So, of course, I had no intention to use those services during our round the world trip. I wasn’t going to all these new destinations to jump on a bus and bypass ‘the real’ experience. 

How could you try Bangkok’s delicious street food from the top of a double-decker? Would Turkish coffee taste the same inside of a bus in Istanbul? And would Warsaw’s Palace of Culture look as impressive through a plate glass window? 

Guess what? While I would not recommend drinking a scorching beverage during a bumpy bus ride, I soon found out that Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus was fantastic for pretty much everything else. Yet, I had to go all the way to Cape Town to realise that.

There we were, in this stunning location too big to tackle on foot – and not exactly accessible on public transport either. After venturing on a massive walk on our first day in the Mother City, we made a controversial decision: not willing to spend too much money on Ubers, cabs or car rental, we had no choice other than to go with a Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus.

I was in full mourning over the authentic South African spirit we were clearly not going to experience now that we chose this globalised, homogenous and un-authentic mode of transport. And even as a die-hard public transport fan, buses were never my thing. I have always been a train kind of girl. And so I didn’t expect much from an ordinary bus ride filled with a bunch of travellers who didn’t know any better, ourselves included. 

But what a joyful experience it was. Convenient, informative, mind-expanding and fun.

A very affordable ticket got us all-day access to the tour. The journey had four different routes around the bustling metropolis, with a bus stopping at evenly distributed stops every 15 to 20 minutes. Onboard, we got two sets of headphones, and as we marvelled at the city and broader Cape Town area, we listened to immersive and fascinating facts and stories about the region. 

Stops covered not only the most central part of the city – with the Table Mountain cable car being one of the leading destinations. The route takes you all around the beaches, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Constantia wine region, Imizamo Yethu Township and Haut Bay. It makes broader Cape Town’s diverse arena incredibly accessible. 

We had a lovely time learning about the area from atop of the double-decker. And it was so freeing to give a boot to the inner snob and fully embrace the touristy character of the ride. 

Wrapped in a colourful kikoy, with a sun hat planted on top of my head, I clutched a printed out city map as I pointed at things we cruised past with enthusiasm. Needless to say, all the photos I took during the trip feature either the back of somebody’s head or the railing of the bus. 

Photo by Ola Moszumanska
Photo by Ola Moszumanska

I never even went up Table Mountain because I liked the new tourist bus perspective so much. Let that one sink in. I still find it pretty shocking myself.

Of course, nobody should ever skip a trip up Table Mountain during their time in the Cape. Still, everyone should add the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus experience to their next trip itinerary. And with the Capetonian winds reaching speeds of up to 120 kilometres an hour, you might want to grab one of the stunning kikoys to stay warm on the open roof top-deck.

Choose Seldom, Expect Little, Travel Happier

Choose Seldom, Expect Little, Travel Happier

It all started with choosing destinations for our around the world ticket. ‘Pick three continents you want to go to and seven destinations within those, and you’re good to go!’ said the travel agent cheerfully, making it sound like the easiest thing to do. I, on the other hand, noticed a tiny seed of dread starting to develop in the pit of my stomach.

What do you mean, choose seven destinations out of the whole wide bloody world? A mild case of choice paralysis set in. And that was only the beginning.

The amount of decisions we face in today’s society is overwhelming. From your local supermarket (do you also get to pick from 17 types of olive oil?) to health insurance (you better be lucky enough to afford the premiums) and a mobile plan (plus a phone to go with it). Long-term travel doesn’t take this away. It takes it to another level. 

Before I left, I had quite an established routine in Sydney. Having a bit of a fixed rhythm to my day-to-day was predictable, but it helped in alleviating several choices I had to make. The fact that some of the decisions were automated meant I could make better or more informed decisions in other areas of life. 

More Travel = More Freedom = More Choice

I thought travelling long-term promised more spontaneity and the chance to break free from the shackles of structured and well-organised life. And it has. But it has also brought an unexpected complication. Because what I didn’t consider was the fact that being freer effectively means having more choice.

The moment I decided to go travelling – and go all rogue – the number of decisions I had to make grew dramatically.

Suddenly, I had to consider where to spend the night, where to have dinner and what to eat. Where to go next and how to get there? What to plan for the new location I was heading for? Having left a 9-5 (or more like 8-8) job behind, I also found myself with a very different amount of time on my hands. Now I got to decide how to spend the time previously filled with a busy job! It was fantastic and, of course, I had hobbies I wanted to focus on. I just had to decide which ones I wanted to pursue and how I was going to go about it during my travels. Before I knew it, ‘the tyranny of choice’ was ruling the itinerary. 

A beautifully overwhelming selection of pickles in Istanbul, Turkey | Photo by Ola Moszumanska

The Tyranny Of Travel Choices

The term tyranny of choice, used by the American psychologist and author of ‘The Paradox Of Choice’, Barry Schwartz, refers to the challenging effects of the culture of choice. It’s the notion that, logically, more comprehensive selection should make us happier because it allows people to select precisely what they want – but research indicates that abundance doesn’t give happiness. 

Whether you’re a traveller or not, ‘choice fatigue’ might sound familiar. It means that having more choice makes the decision more difficult. And the multitude of options, rather than being an agent of freedom, can be paralysing. Anybody else spent days ploughing through the ample resources of the worldwide web reading all possible reviews about all possible accommodation options in Istanbul and found themselves utterly incapable of making a decision? *puts her hand up* A casual search for a two-week stay in Istanbul in May returns 2,637 properties on Booking.com.

But that’s not all. 

According to Barry Schwartz, we not only struggle to make a choice in the first place, we’re also probably quite unhappy with the choice we’ve made because of the imagined alternative.  If something we’ve chosen isn’t perfect, it’s easy to think there must be a better alternative. I believe it’s what us, Millenials, refer to as FOMO and I am very partial to it myself. “Opportunity costs subtract from the satisfaction that we get out of what we choose, even when what we choose is terrific. And the more options there are to consider, the more attractive features of these options are going to be reflected by us as opportunity costs.” – says Barry in his TED Talk. I mean, now that I have decided to go to Mexico over Argentina, Chile and Venezuela, I am absolutely convinced that any of the other options would have been a much better choice. Even if I’m not entirely sure why.

And because there are so many options, we generally have much higher expectations of things we’re choosing between – it has become increasingly hard to get pleasantly surprised by anything. And because our standards are so high, in general, we feel worse. I went to the stunning Pilanesberg National Park and spent two days driving around, watching – in awe – zebras, giraffes, elephants, rights, hippos, impalas and other gorgeous African animals. But I wasn’t fortunate enough to spot the lions. The whole trip ruined, right? Wouldn’t have happened in Kruger Park, that’s for sure.

How about leaving your whole life behind in a brave effort to embrace the unknown roaming the world and just be cool with that?

Expect Less And Be OK with ‘Good Enough’

Lowering expectations is one way to be happy. I will go even further. When travelling, it’s great to have no expectations at all. That is difficult in a world in which social media creates a very vivid, enviable, saturated and often untrue image of the world around us – but it’s possible with a lot of work and goodwill. Following on from Barry’s advice on how to aid the tyranny of choice, here are some thoughts on how they can relate to long-term travel:

  • Set ‘good enough’ standards and abandon the idea of finding the best option. If you find something that ticks the most important boxes, don’t spend any longer looking for the next best thing. If you’re always after the best option, finding the needle in the haystack of 2,637 accommodation options will take a lifetime. If you’re OK to settle for something good enough, you are likely to find something sooner – and perhaps be just as satisfied as if you were if you’d picked ‘the best’ option. 
  • Restrict your option choices. Looking for a bar for a nightcap in the new city? Reference only two websites that list information on the local entertainment scene and try your luck.
  • Make an effort to get FOMO out of our life. Over and out. Appreciate the positives about the decisions you made and don’t ponder on what the other choices could have meant. 
  • Be OK with any outcome and accept that none of them it better or worse. Fine, perhaps Bali belly isn’t a good one. But otherwise, not every dish you have during your travels will be a MasterChef quality one – far from it. Fine! You might land a room in a totally dead area of town. So what? No lions on the safari? How cool was cruising so close to the zebras though? Take it all in as part of the experience – because that is precisely what it is. And it is yours and nobody else’s, and that’s what’s special about it. 
  • Lastly, put agency behind your choices and use them to make a statement about who you are. Make choices because of the person you want to be through the decisions you make. Rather than comparing destinations, experiences, places to each other based on an objective set of qualifiers, exercise your own individuality in the shape your travels take as a form of self-expression.

By no means have I got it all figured out. In fact, as I pack for the next leg of the trip, I struggle to keep the choice paralysis at bay because, believe me, it really comes to life in the process of packing. 

🎵 Let It Binge, Let It Binge, Let It Biiiiinge 🎵

🎵 Let It Binge, Let It Binge, Let It Biiiiinge 🎵

The moment I packed my backpack and got on the plane, I thought I wouldn’t watch Netflix during my travels. Why should I?

I am no stranger to watching a whole series of ten episodes in one night, you see. But now, I was about to step into an exhilarating real-life stream of different cultures, foreign languages, unusual smells and landscapes. Who needs to watch Chef’s Table or Instant Hotel if you can get the real deal?

I wouldn’t have time to binge on Black Mirror, nor would I have the need to shed tears over Marriage Stories. I had to forget about the Tiny House Nation, Stranger Things and Designated Survivor. I would live the life of never-ending excitement, tight itineraries, quick decisions and unparalleled mind expansion. I was going to be so many new things, but a binge-watcher wasn’t going to be one of them.

And precisely because of this new routine – or lack thereof – binge-watching came back to haunt me faster than I thought. Before I knew it, three planes, seven trains, three buses and one ferry later I was losing sleep over Money Heist.

Was I wasting the precious time otherwise spent exploring the world around me? Was I, in fact, doing the whole long-term travel thing all wrong? I mean, I didn’t buy an around the world ticket to spend time indoors going through the whole of Netflix’s offering. I was baffled. But then I realised that as much as travelling had an element of escape from my previous reality, some of the challenges of long-term travel needed their own forms of escapism too.

I have found that no matter how exciting the new location is and how many new experiences await on the other side of your hotel door, sometimes your bed and a good old Netflix session might be the only world you want to explore at that moment.

So excuse the brevity of this post as I watch the rest of The Two Popes, wondering if Bella Ciao is the only thing Money Heist and this excellent movie have in common.

Hungry For Hummus (And Human Contact)

Hungry For Hummus (And Human Contact)

When we left Sydney, the two of us brimming with excitement, clutching two backpacks and a travel pillow each, I romanticised pretty substantially how traveling with somebody else was going to be.

We were obviously going to be sharing some of the most exciting, challenging, confronting, delicious and educational moments during our travels and having deep meaningful discussions late into the night about how they make us feel and how we can make the world a better place, right? Let me tell you, getting absolutely fed up with each other because we were going to be spending every waking minute in each other’s company with very limited interactions with other people wasn’t something I predicted. 

And that’s not entirely what happened. We didn’t get completely fed up with each other. In fact, in the course of our travels we got engaged.  But what we did realise is the fact that spending every waking moment of every day for five months in a row together would put a strain on our relationship and we craved interactions with other people. Big time.

I befriended every cat and stray dog in the neighbourhood and started my days by messaging our AirBnb hosts about how they are and what their day is looking like (mild creep alert). Each time the lovely shop attendant in the supermarket down the road smiled when saying hello, I’d literally tear up taking it as a promise of a beautiful friendship. And then, there was the cooking class. 

We decided to attend a cooking class when we were staying in Istanbul. It was the two of us and seven other lovely people. Now, everybody else came there to make hummus and learn more about the differences between cousins in different parts of Turkey. They probably came hoping for a glass of wine and a nice evening. Well, not me. 

I went to the cooking class to inhale other people’s faces. Sip on their words. Get drunk on their life stories. Make a lifetime’s worth of memories in the time we spent wandering the food market and chopping veggies. By the time the class ended, I knew virtually everything about everyone – and nothing about Turkish cooking. When I was leaving the class tormented by a mild separation anxiety and exchanged emails with a lovely family from Luxembourg, their 10 year old son gave me a big goodbye hug and I almost passed out of the overwhelming emotion.

And you know what? It felt fabulous. 

I tried to think back to the time before we left for our travels and I just couldn’t remember cherishing new encounters with random strangers in the same way. And maybe it’s traveling that makes those encounters and interactions so meaningful and memorable? They’re brief and we’re all in. They’re like the most excellent kitchen afterparty that ends with the rising sun – suddenly, you feel like you share so much with those random strangers. And it’s true – you do. You share a moment – and that’s the best thing you can share with anyone. Well, apart from hummus.

You Will Be Your Same Old Sad Self. Just Somewhere Else.

You Will Be Your Same Old Sad Self. Just Somewhere Else.

Anybody else here silently hoped that traveling would turn them into a different, better kind of person? Well, I did. 

The last couple of years in Sydney, I struggled with anxiety, lack of direction or sense of what shape I wanted for my life to take. And so I thought that the moment I would step onto the plane taking me into the unknown, I would advance my general coolness, creativity, decisiveness and clarity of mind quite dramatically.

Perhaps I watched ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ way too often when I was little. And perhaps I thought I could emerge on the other side of that plane door completely transformed. So did the plane journey leave me feeling incredibly inspired and crystal clear on what my next creative endeavour is going to be? Well, no. But did I feel like I could do anything I put my mind to and right there and then was the time to do it? Also definitely not. However, did I feel energised and ready to explore the world? Not exactly. 

All that happened during the flight was me spilling a glass of champagne on my fiance’s Qantas blanket and then watching five movies in a row pretty chuffed with the fact that my blanket was dry. And because I didn’t sleep much, I felt anxious and tired, and not ready for all of the amazing adventures I was about to have. I felt lazy and worried, and quite confused as to what it was that I wanted to do during the travels. 

And as I sit here, in a different country, with a very different national cuisine and general weather patterns, I still battle with those feelings. And as inspiring as the travels have been, I’m very much the same person, with the same challenges and problems, with the same anxious thoughts and occasional catastrophic visions of my life feeling empty forever. What I have learnt (or perhaps simply remembered because I feel like I had known it all along) is that it takes a tremendous amount of constant effort, time, single-minded focus, hard work and conviction mixed with the ability to relax and being able to give in to boredom to even attempt to introduce meaningful change and sharpen your sense of purpose.  And that’s OK. 

Sometimes traveling makes it more difficult – sometimes it makes it much easier. But for me, it was key to realise the simple act of travel wouldn’t do it for me. In the SNL Romano Tours sketch Adam Sandler said it first – and he said it best – when he caveated a holiday tour he was promoting: “If you’re sad now, you might still feel sad there.”

So my first misconception about traveling was that embarking on the journey would close doors on some of the feelings I had been struggling with and completely – effortlessly even – transform me as an individual. Well, guess what? I’m still drying that metaphorical Qantas blanket as I work hard and do my best to figure out who I am.

Coming Clean On The Go

Coming Clean On The Go

I have thought about this long and hard. We left Australia in July 2019 and have been on the road ever since, and yet I have really struggled putting this incredible experience into words. I have tried my best to carefully curate the amazing adventure I have been on via some exceptionally well thought out social media activity in the last few months but somehow it hasn’t felt completely true. 

Traveling is amazing. I feel so privileged to be able to do it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But oh boy, in all its confronting beauty and the unmatched potential of shared human experience traveling facilitates with such ease, it has brought a whole bunch of difficult challenges and pretty daunting emotions I didn’t really expect. It’s been incredibly enriching but also utterly anxiety inducing and totally depressing at times. 

And whilst in some ways it’s exactly what I thought it would be, the vast majority of it had nothing to do with the glamorised version of freedom I somehow thought I’d be living even though I always thought I was way too clever to fall victim of the popular misconceptions about traveling created on Instagram. But I wasn’t – and it has taken a while to peel off that oversaturated, filtered and lacking true insight vision of what my travels were like in order to embrace the real thing.  

And so as I settle into a quick Christmas break in my hometown, I also embark on a completely different journey during which I try to debunk some of my own misconceptions about traveling based on my own personal experience – and share the findings with you here. Buckle up if you fancy a trip.