7th February
2011
written by Randy

I’ve done an incredible amount of traveling in the past few months. And it hasn’t been the recently trendy “permanent travel, professional blogger” kind of travel, where people basically move to a new part of the world and then stay there for a few months.

No, I’ve been doing the hard kind of travel: sleeping in a different city every night, carrying everything with me on my back all day. Going back to mid-November, the longest I’ve been in one place was a week in my new apartment. But I’m learning a lot.

First, and most obviously, I am learning a lot about minimalism. I’m learning that no matter how cool a thing is or how good of a discount it’s offered at, the idea of adding its weight to my back keeps me from buying it 99.7% of the time. When I do buy something, it’s to replace something else which I will then dispose of. (The only exception has been a hair-clipper, which cost the same as a professional haircut, but is reusable.)

I’m finding it very easy to dress every day from a limited selection of clothing, and in spite of only bringing a handful of items with me, I now know that I could have packed even less. I’m very tempted to travel with no bag whatsoever on my next trip.

I’m also learning about taking opportunities immediately, rather than browsing, thinking, looking for something better or more convenient. In Italy, I’ve found that you will often return to a store or restaurant after very little time only to find it closed. And you may not find another one open for a long time.

So when I see someone selling water, I generally buy a bottle even if I’m not thirsty. If I see an ATM, I generally withdraw some cash even if I don’t need it. And when I see a restaurant, I don’t bother looking around town for one that might be better. Having learned to take what’s there, right away, has greatly improved my experience here compared to my frustrating first week in this country.

Quality also means a lot more to me as a nomad than it ever did before. Bad shoes make their presence known with every step. An awkward backpack will have your shoulders hurting before noon. And a poor-fitting shirt, jacket, pants, etc will irritate you at every opportunity. Those things end up in trash cans just minutes after a suitable replacement is found.

Italy is far less modern than I had expected, and that fact has made itself painfully well-known in the lack of Internet access. A month of prepaid data access for my iPad has turned out to be a great decision. Using a smart phone as my primary form of internet access for a month would have been a painful experience.

Of course that’s not to say that a month of using an iPad isn’t painful — it certainly is. Autocorrect is becoming my #1 enemy, mostly for the words it learns incorrectly. And after three weeks of typing against a glass screen, my hands really started to hurt. The last week has been hell. I’m going to strongly consider a MacBook Air this year.

The iPad also brings other complications. It’s large enough, and conspicuous enough that you don’t really want to take it out in a lot of places, so when it’s your only connection to the internet you often put off using it. By comparison, an iPhone is more inconspicuous when you need to check a map or confirm a reservation. And while I was able to find a no-contract micro-SIM for iPad in Italy, I was not able to get one in Spain.

Finally, I’m finding more and more value in being nondescript — blending in, rather than standing out. After ditching my terribly “American” loose-fitting coat and athletic shoes for a more snug, stylish jacket and more typically Italian shoes, people have begun treating me altogether differently. On arrival, people would walk up to me and ask “you speak English, yes?” Now, Italians stop me and ask for directions, the time, train schedules, etc, all in Italian, and seem surprised when they hear me respond with an accent.

It seems that throughout the places I’ve traveled, if you wear mostly blacks and grays, keep your hair basically short, and look people in the eyes as they pass, they will assume you’re just another passer-by. It probably also helps if you’re not dragging a suitcase behind you.