We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us…
I could extoll the virtues of solo travel for days on end; the freedom you feel from escaping everyone and everything you know, whether for a few days, a month or even a year, is unparalled and will push you to grow, learn and most importantly, to become the person you really are when not constrained by other people’s vision of you. That feeling of freedom can become addictive though and when things aren’t going quite the way you would like in everyday life, the need to flee can become a frequent (and expensive) addiction.
When I’m feeling down, I begin to mentally plan how long it would take me to save for another escapade. When I’m stressed at work, home or in a relationship, instead of facing the problem head on, I conjure up images of palm-tree lined beaches and new friends from far-flung corners of the globe whose language I don’t even speak, yet find exotic and appealing in a way that is entirely aligned with that need for something other than the familiar.
And of course, that need for a break is entirely justified. Escape from the 9-5 grind put things in perspective. When I’m done gallivanting, and return home, minor quarrels become petty and insignificant, there’s a fresh albeit fleeting enthusiasm for the dull day job (if only because it helps to fund my next trip) and my eyes look anew at the city I call ‘home’.
“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed, and that changes everything.” – Jonah Leher, The Observer.
At least that has been my perspective for the past few years. Travel had become my coping mechanism in a way that drugs, alcohol or retail therapy might be for others.
This year though, travel hasn’t been about escapism at all because when things are going well at home and I’m feeling content, there becomes less of a need to ‘run away’ and rather just a longing to explore places and cultures in a purely pleasurable way (not that escapism isn’t pleasurable either!)
Mancunians in Madrid
Earlier this year on the spur of the moment, I booked some cheap flights to Madrid after exchanging Facebook messages with an old college friend who I’d lost touch with in recent years. There was nothing nicer than touching down in a vaguely familiar country to hear the familiar Mancuncian tones of my old friend Vicky who’d moved out there the previous year. I’d visited the city once before with an ex-boyfriend and so there was another form of familiarity too; I knew the metro system, a little of the language and even the names of the stops were hazily recognisable, yet it was all still ‘foreign’ enough to warrant that level of excitement that I certainly don’t get treading down London’s well-worn pavements.
I hopped off in Moncloa and greeted Vicky in a way only old friends can – as if it was just last week rather than closer to two years since we’d seen each other last. We then headed to her beautiful apartment to drop off my bags before returning to the Madrid streets once more and promptly placing ourselves on the nearest bar stools to fill up on tapas and muchas tinto de veranno. We talked for hours, filling each other in on the gaps left between the last time we’d caught up at a mutual friend’s wedding (ex-boyfriends in tow) to our now single girl status complete with brand new careers (me) and life in a new city (Vicky).
Having done all the ‘touristy’ stuff on my first visit to Madrid, this time I could explore the city from the eyes of an expat (which was exactly the kind of insight I was looking for as I was also thinking about making a move abroad at that time). Saturday evening, we switched our casual tops for something slightly fancier and headed out to trendy Lavapies for yet more tinto de veranno and plans to head to a flamenco show afterwards. Sadly, an upset stomach hindered our plans, but it did mean that we got a relatively early night, and woke up fresh for brunch with the boys at a chic little café that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Notting Hill.
Post breakfast, the sun came out to show off the city in all its glory and so naturally we switched our pastel-coloured brunch seats for the bar stools on the rooftop of one of Spain’s most famous department stores, El Corte Ingles. But this wasn’t like the traditional café you’d find at the top of an English Debenhams or the like, The Gourmet Experience is more of an upscale food market, selling anything from traditional Spanish tapas to gourmet Hotdogs and artisan pizzas. Still full from brunch we opted for a liquid lunch instead and then filled up on frozen yoghurt as we wandered around the city in the late afternoon sun.
With no itinerary and no great urge to see any sights, we enjoyed meandering the not-yet bustling streets before returning to the flat via a sushi restaurant to sate our now rumbling stomachs. A final turn in the park post-dinner and we were about ready for an early night ahead of Vicky’s return to work the next morning and an early departure to the airport for me.
Reading this you might think ‘what an uneventful weekend, you hardly did anything!’ But somehow, that’s what made it more enjoyable. Having a connection to the city already meant that there wasn’t any expectation for grand adventures and instead I could take it all in at a slower pace; admiring with a touch of envy the ease at which Vicky conversed with locals in the cafes, checking out neighbourhood hot-spots that would have been missed if I’d come alone and vowing to come back again another weekend with perhaps a visit to another nearby city thrown in.
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson