Friends, family and even strangers keep repeating the same statement about my return to WWOOFing in Italy (Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farms).
At first, I would shrug and say “Mmmhmm” while daydreaming about returning to the Italian countryside and paying my room and board with grapes crushed, olives harvested, and weeds weeded.
After that, I took the time to think about the statement’s absurdity. Living in real life, sharing stories and meals, in real homes and digging into real dirt with real people… that wasn’t real. I only imagined those centuries-old towers, the geometric broccoli all Roma, and the thought-provoking conversations over dinner.
No. These were just as real as my snow-covered home and uncertain future back in the Boston suburbs. But, I can think and act differently in these scenarios. It feels like my vichabonda dream is just a passing thought. It’s important to take your traveller’s mindset with you when you leave home so that things are “real”.
These are the eight essentials I brought on my return flight. These essentials will make your return to “real life” after travel much more enjoyable.
#1: Be here now
Travelling alone requires constant, independent decision-making. Are you empowered and free? Yes. Yes. Yes! Yes! What would I have done if I had chosen a different major? Different country? A different appetizer? This can lead to exhaustion and time wastage. It’s better to enjoy what’s behind the doors I choose to open.
This is what I did while I was travelling. I had to accept my choices, take in the sights, and enjoy the moment without worrying about what museum, restaurant, party or city I might be missing. I am trying to keep this mentality of being present at home. Live more, stress less.
#2: Buon Appetito
Enjoy your meals. Michael Pollan said, “Drink your food, chew your drink.” Yes, a backpacker’s life can be filled with banana sandwiches and Nutella. Food exploration is a key aspect of travelling.
My WWOOFing days revolved around meals as much as the harvest. We never had to rush to make a meal in ten-minute increments, nor did we rush to finish it in ten.
I noticed the same thing whether I was on a large family farm with my friends or the couch of one Couchsurfer host. Most Italians cook faster, eat slower and talk more at lunch and dinner.
Before you started to eat, a “Buon Appetito!” was a simple way of showing appreciation for the chef, the ingredients and the act that they prepared. Italians asked me what the English equivalent of “Buon appetito!” meant. All I could think of was, “Let’s eat!” Something’s been lost in translation. I will stick with Buon Appetito.
#3: Be Culturally Curious
The curious cannot see the city in all its quirky glory. When I travel to a foreign country, I look for special exhibitions, discounted tickets to the theatre, and free museum nights.
If I see an old church, I will stop and look at the art. I will stop to look at a gallery if I pass one. My curiosity took me to Italy, where I could take private tours of galleries, palaces, and catacombs that were not crowded.
Like many others who become complacent at home and take for granted the culture around them. Why don’t you volunteer at your local farm? What was the last time you visited Boston’s Trinity Church? Or walked Freedom Trail? Perhaps I’ll stop by the tiny stamp museum that I drive past every day. Maybe I’ll be able to take a private tour.
#4: Have a look around
Because I was so busy looking at the beauty around me, I sometimes couldn’t sleep or read on trains and on-farm breaks because I couldn’t write. I was captivated by the beauty of the morning, the tranquillity of the fields at dusk and the magnificence of the stars at night.
Here in America, I am trying to keep my eyes wide open. Bright blue skies surround our tall pines, rolling hills and long flat plains. My backyard doesn’t have any olive trees, but the birch tree near my bedroom window glows with sunrises.
#5: People are good. Talk to them.
Couchsurfing was a great way to travel between cities. It can be counterintuitive to start Couchsurf for the first time. Are you trusting someone new? They trust you. Although you don’t know the guy, you are having dinner together and sleeping in the same apartment.
I had to learn to let go and accept that people are good in their own right. While still referring to references, listening to my gut, and using common sense, I relaxed and opened up to others. I was open to my hosts, friends and fellow backpackers, farmers, bakers, and farmhands. I did everything possible to meet new people and get a deeper understanding of them.
In American cities, there are millions of interesting people, both Americans and foreigners. Keep meeting new people, both travellers and residents. Give people the benefit of the doubt and ask them about their lives. They are probably more interesting than any reality star you might be seeing on TV.
#6: Carpe Diem
Start the day with the roosters, spend 14 hours exploring the city and get lost. It reminded me of the length of my days.
You have a lot of time in a day to do things you enjoy. You can do a lot. You can see a lot. Relax a lot. All of these things. No matter what you do with your day.
#7: Delight In Diction
Italiano. It’s a beautiful language. It’s fun, flirty, and almost as expressive as Yiddish. The sounds, words, dialects, slang – they were funny, musical, humorous, and poetic! It was amazing to think that asking for a towel ( Asciugamano, “a-shoo go-manno”) or passing the fennel( finocchio) could be so much fun!
English may not have the same boldness as Italian or French, but it does possess the elegance and seduction of French. However, English isn’t bad if it’s well-spoken. If you are willing to take the time to listen and examine the sounds, origins and meanings of words and phrases, your diction will be fascinating.
One of my Italian friends was constantly in awe at the various definitions of English words such as “spring” and “serendipity.” He was just as excited when I told him about Sirocco, the Saharan wind.
#8: Feel the bearable lightness of being
As I sat on the train en route to Rome, I felt a sensation of lightness. Italy taught me that olive oil is essential for almost all dishes. Pasta is only one course in a meal, and fresh ricotta can be enjoyed like water. This lightness was not physical, and it was spiritual. It was the feeling of letting go of hardships and continuing rambling.
I had many “How did you get so lucky?” travel moments. But I also had some dubious ones. I remember cleaning out chicken waste alone in the rain, wandering around the city in the rain with my heavy backpack and watching my train pass on the other platform…in the drizzle. Instead of letting unfortunate circumstances or mistakes weigh me down, I would breathe, smile and crack a joke with the stranger (or chickens) beside me in broken Italian.
Our reactions have a greater influence on our experience than our actions. There is nothing we can do more about it. Avoid getting concerned the next time you face a problem. Keep things simple.