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Traveling Without Moving, in Switzerland

“So, how are you enjoying Switzerland?” asked my neighbour the other day.

“Um….it’s great!” I said, knowing this is what she wanted to hear, and praying that she wouldn’t ask me for a laundry list of places I’d visited and seen since my arrival almost a month ago.

Because, considering I’ve been here for a month, I’ve ticked off a fairly paltry list of sights, in a country chock-a-block with “must-sees”.

This post was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

Work-Life Balance, and Travel Excursions

my "mobile office"

Part of the challenge of being location independent and constantly “traveling” is the fact that I have work to do, and it can be just as cumbersome and time consuming as any job anywhere. The biggest time-saver is that I don’t have to commute, since my laptop is my office.

But not many people understand the extent of these work obligations, and the work-life balance required to keep all these balls in the air.

I feel like people take it personally if I’m not constantly exploring their native land.

I remember staying with a family in Spain a few years ago, and one day their young son asked me why I had spent all my time in Spain on my computer.

This wasn’t entirely true; I did get out and about to explore, but it was usually when he was at school so he wasn’t aware of my daily walks. But even at that, my excursions weren’t afar, nor particularly touristy in nature. I simply wandered around the local town, took pictures, and soaked in the ambience.

In so doing however, I had a chance encounter with an eccentric artist, which was far from touristy, but which I count among my top treasured travel experiences.

I also spent time with their teenage daughter who was off school, and we did some of her favourite things, which included going to the mall and “hanging out”. Again – not a touristy thing to do, but a fun bit of insight into her world (and a realization that teenagers the world round generally love hanging out at shopping centres).

So, did I “conquer Spain” while I was there? No, far from it. But I think for the few weeks I was there, I actually did pretty well, considering I wasn’t on vacation; I worked the whole time as well.

Travel Blogging, and Tourist Boards

mountains

But I travel because I want to see stuff. My lifestyle is indeed about more than sitting in front of my laptop.

And as a journalist/writer/blogger/publisher/whatever you want to call me, one of the best ways to learn about a destination on arrival is to contact the tourist board. Not only do they arm me with great destination information, but they also often provide free passes to help lubricate the process.

So as has become standard procedure, I was in touch with both the Zurich and Switzerland tourism boards. Their websites alone are incredibly informative for any visitor, and their media departments were equally informative and responsive. (And no, I wasn’t put up to saying that!)

But in receiving their information packages and in meeting with them, I became totally overwhelmed. How on earth am I supposed to cover all this territory? Two and a half months may have seemed like a long time at the outset of my trip, but I’m now realizing it’s a relative blink of the eye.

Enter from stage left: travel guilt.

As a blogger and writer, especially one who has been given freebies by tourism boards, am I not duty-bound to experience as much as I can while I’m here?

But then again, what of my lifestyle? Sometimes I just want to spend an allocated “travel/exploration day” curled up watching movies. Is that allowed? Or understandable? How are my “Saturdays” allowed to be spent?

…and on it goes.

“Living” Abroad is Time Consuming

going in all directions

When house-sitting around the world, there’s an extra challenge in the form of learning to “live” abroad. Things are never the same; with differences in anything from language to culture, even simple tasks like grocery shopping can take exponentially longer.

I was searching for mayonnaise in the grocery store the other day. How was I to know it’s sold in little aluminum tubes here in Switzerland? And of course because all the labels are in a different language, I’m left piecing little bits of words together to guess what it is I’m actually holding in my hands, in comparison to what I need.

I spent 20 minutes the other day sifting through the (German-language) cleaning supplies in the house I’m caring for, trying to discern which bottle of goo goes with which surface, desperately hoping I wouldn’t ruin the wooden floors by washing them with some totally inappropriate cleanser.

Not that I’m complaining. These are the little challenges of learning to live abroad that I find quite enriching. I can spend hours in the supermarket, and in many ways it’s just as fun for me as snapping pictures of local tourist attractions.

supermarket offerings

But then when I’m made to account for what I’ve done during my visit to Switzerland so far, I’m left blinking my eyes, wondering where the time went.

What I’ve Done So Far

So what have I done so far, during my first month in Switzerland? All in all, I don’t think I’ve done too badly:

I did a walking tour of Zurich.

Zurich

I took the train to Lucerne to visit a friend. (See also: Lucerne in Photos)

Lucerne

I’ve gone on local walks in and around the neighbourhood in which I live.

Just outside of Zurich

I renewed a prescription, and caught up with a friend in Zurich. (Visiting doctors abroad is always an adventure).

catching up in Zurich

I visited the (totally awesome) cottage I’m also caring for in Sorenberg – twice.

the totally awesome cottage

While I was there, I climbed a mountain. (Check out the hilarious video and post about this excursion).

mountain climbing adventures

And I took care of various house-sitting responsibilities, entertained a house-guest for a week, learned how to run daily errands (like how and where to shop, recycle, etc), and dealt with a few challenges along the way.

Oh yeah, and I worked at my full-time (and joyfully unrelenting) job of travel blogging and freelance writing.

Honestly – I’m not complaining. I love my life. But when you ask me what I’ve done in Switzerland, or insist that I visit your particular corner of the country or favourite haunt, please don’t get that funny look on your face when I’m unable to reconcile a huge list of destinations and activities with the time I’ve been here. I’m not on vacation.

All in all, I think I’ve done pretty darn well so far.

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19 thoughts on “Traveling Without Moving, in Switzerland”

  1. Let’s see… I love my country and I think you should visit as much as possible. But can I blame you for not having visited more places?
    In the last month I visited Zurich, did a hiking tour in the jura mountains, visited a museum in Vevey and took a boat tour on the lake of geneva. I visited friends and family.
    That’s it. Certainly not more than you did.

    Just turn around the question and most people will be quiet.

    Reply
  2. Hey Nora,
    What you describe is exactly what I love about house sitting. I also have spent much time in supermarkets searching for butter or beans — because they were in such unexpected containers and sections of the store — not to mention the difference in language. But it’s precisely these discoveries that enrich the whole deal of slow travel.
    We all get it — this audience anyway!
    I hope you have a super-duper rest of your stay there. After you leave, there will ALWAYS be those things you missed seeing. So what’s a person to do? Just exactly what you’re doing!
    Be safe,
    ~Josie

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  3. Switzerland is just one of the most absolutely beautiful countries I’ve ever seen – and I love the food there – very jealous!!

    I feel the same stress/guilt since we moved to Norway. We’d love to be out exploring the entire country but we’re both working and I agree with everything you said about everything taking exponentially longer than it usually does. For me translations in the grocery store double my time and we’ve had so many errands getting settled. Those things don’t always make the best blog posts either!

    Enjoy your time!

    Reply
  4. @Sarah – Considering you live in Switzerland, that’s an impressive list of “travel-centric” things that you’ve done in the last month! More than any local I know, that’s for sure! And that’s an interesting suggestion, to turn around the question. Many people would insist their situation is different, but in reality it’s not that different.

    @Josie – I’m so glad I’m not the only person who derives great joy from being overwhelmed in a supermarket. Sometimes I think I like supermarkets a little too much! 😉

    @Andrea – I’ve often though of you two in Norway and wondered how the process of (oh god, I hate the phrase but I’ll use it anyway) “settling down” there and carving out your own niche is going.
    How long do you plan on staying there, by the way? Do you know?

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  5. I spent 11 months living in London, where I worked full time and any time I had off I was travelling. So I remember feeling this exact same way – my co-workers would talk about their favourite parts of London and I’d sheepishly have to admit that all I’d really done was walk around the City and spend some evenings in Hyde Park. When it grew closer to my time to leave I got a lot done in a short amount of time. But mostly when I was in London and not working, I just wanted to chill out! But as Sarah pointed out, when I turned the question on them, they’d hardly been out of their flats either. They’ve just had a lifetime to explore everything!

    But you can’t say this because then it sounds like you’re complaining about your travelling lifestyle abroad. Haha. I was so lucky to have the experience but like you said, everyone needs their movie nights at “home”!

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  6. @Wandergirl – I’m glad you can relate! I thought maybe I wasn’t alone with these feelings. And like you said, once you weren’t working you had the time and energy to see all kinds of stuff. It’s that pesky work thing that slows us down! Ha ha!

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  7. I am so glad you wrote this post! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. People back home don’t understand why I don’t have sixteen stories every time I email. I keep reminding them that I’m not on vacation, but it falls on deaf ears much of the time. I get responses like “well, if I were there, I wouldn’t be able to focus on work!” (Which is probably precisely why they can’t sustain a long-term travel lifestyle in the first place.) People ask what I did during my month in Scotland and the answer is “wander Edinburgh.” Well, that and get sick a couple times and finish a huge project.

    It’s totally how I want my life to be, but I feel weirdly guilty when I don’t have something fascinating to share.

    I’m going to start making stuff up.

    Reply
  8. @Gigi – Ha ha, great plan; just make stuff up!

    Somebody said to me in response to my post a few weeks ago about A Bad Day in the Life of The Professional Hobo (https://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2012/06/a-bad-day-in-the-life-of-a-professional-hobo/), that “a bad day of fishing is always better than a good day at the office”.

    It’s exactly the sort of response that does two (slightly contradictory) things to me:
    1) Makes me want to strangle them and scream that I’m not living a totally carefree “fishing” lifestyle, and:
    2) Makes me realize that even my bad days “at the office” are in some spectacular places around the world and that I could probably stand to appreciate that a little bit more.

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  9. So glad I discovered your blog. Hello from Singapore!

    Switzerland looks like such a wonderful country to explore. Also that photograph of the mountain is gorgeous. I find that sitting around and relaxing, or doing something (even working, while travelling, considering that this is what you do) can offset those moments when you ARE travelling/exploring/being exciting. I think sometimes what we need is just to sit back, literally, and enjoy the view.

    Also, totally look forward to the mountain excursion post! :3

    Reply
  10. @Misscowrie – Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I do love Switzerland, despite my total inability so far to grasp the language, the chilly wet summer (which has also put a damper – ha ha – on my ability to get around), and a few personal challenges along the way.

    I think you pinned it in observing that sometimes you just need to sit back and enjoy the view, and balance those exploring moments with relaxing moments. Thanks!

    Reply
  11. Nora,
    Two very lovely, informative and down to earth posts..you certainly have the gift of gab and you use it wel. I agree with you on the likeability of the Swiss people l have 2 Swiss friends and I tell ya…couuldn’t ask for better friends.

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  12. @Baron’s – Thank you! I guess the known neutrality and beauty of Switzerland as a country trickles down to the personalities – and likability – of the people too.

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  13. Hi Nora,
    You seem to live exactly as locals do, and I think you get far more out of it that way instead of running in high-speed mode through the country as most visitors do. You never would have learned that mayonnaise comes in tubes 🙂
    Enjoy your time!
    Fida

    Reply
    • Hi Fida,
      Ha ha – you’re right! It really is ridiculous how much fun I have in grocery stores around the world… 🙂
      And Switzerland….I was there exactly a year ago; I still salivate when I think about the food….everything is so fresh and lovely. And the bread….the bread! 🙂

      Reply
  14. Oh my God, amazing! I feel so “less alone” now. Love the story about the supermarket. I so see myself there 😉 Try Hebrew for labels… Thanks for this post, now I see am normal !

    Reply
    • Hey Laurence,
      I must say, shopping at foreign supermarkets is actually one of my favourite things to do in a new place – and a great way of exploring different cultures. Even finding the mayo is an adventure! 😉

      Reply
  15. Boy, can I relate to the thoughts expressed in this post. I have fewer responsibilities than you and I find myself at the receiving end of “that look” from locals in places I visit. When I travel all the time it’s hard to explain that I need to be a homebody of sorts too. For every day I’m out exploring I seem to need a day to digest that exploration and another day to write about it, edit photos, do social media stuff etc.
    I appreciate you sharing this.

    Reply
    • Hi Laura,
      That’s an interesting formula you’re developing: for every day of exploring, 2 days of downtime are required for relaxing/digestion and writing about the experience. Nice!

      Reply

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