“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”.
Work-Life Balance, and Travel Excursions
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
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/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
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.
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.
I took the train to Lucerne to visit a friend. (See also: Lucerne in Photos)
I’ve gone on local walks in and around the neighbourhood in which I live.
I renewed a prescription, and caught up with a friend in Zurich. (Visiting doctors abroad is always an adventure).
I visited the (totally awesome) cottage I’m also caring for in Sorenberg – twice.
While I was there, I climbed a mountain. (Stay tuned for the hilarious video and post about this excursion soon).
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.