The Intersection of Desire and Fear

My name is Caitlin and I am an American expat “living the dream” in Germany. Europe was on my horizon for as long as I can remember, and I never thought I would get here. It was always too far away, too expensive. Now that I am here by the grace of my husband’s talents and his willingness to leave behind all we knew and our loved ones in California, I am doing my best to see and experience everything I can.

I travel with my husband when he can get away from work. There is so much joy in our shared trips. Our bond deepens every time we view new landscapes, survive currency issues (like when I accidentally bought a $50 hat in Iceland thinking  I paid $5), and hold hands while walking down a bustling city avenue.  We are lucky because we are very travel compatible. We like to do most of the same things. I have learned patience while he uses his camera to capture the beauty around us, and he has learned to withstand my darting off to look at all things shiny. Our next trip is to Malta over Thanksgiving weekend and I cannot wait to see what photos he takes of that living museum.

Our situation prevents me from having a normal job. This leaves me with an immense amount of free time, which at times feels like a curse. The tedious feeling of waiting for the weekend to do anything fun has often led me into depressions, which can spiral out of control, as any expat knows. The sense of isolation can be all encompassing.

It helped when I finally realized that I can go to places, even if Ryan cannot. Nearly 3 years of this thinking have led me to the soul-deepening experiences of solo travel. Going it alone, even for such short trips, has taught me that I can be alone and not be lonesome. It has also showed me how to embrace loneliness when it does creep up on me, instead of fighting it. It has taught me how to make instant connections and have meaningful conversations with people I may never see again.  It has taught me that fear is okay, that it doesn’t have to stop me from seeing what I want to. I have also learned that getting lost is actually not that scary. If I turn down a scary street I just turn around and walk the other way. I have learned so much about myself and I am thankful for that. But what I am really after is learning about other people and attempting to see their worlds from their perspectives. I have learned to listen and not to argue points. The single most important thing I have learned is that everyone has a voice, there is no such thing as an “obscure country.”

I know it is naïve to think that the few days to a week I spend in a country means that I “understand” the people, their culture and their history. Even if I had a lifetime in each place I visit I could never learn enough about what a group of people know, and how that collective knowledge evolves their culture, for cultures are dynamic, never static.

I will never fully grasp what living under the Soviets did to the Baltic nations (even combining the different cultures and ethnicities under the general term “Baltic” minimizes their stories); what living isolated in tiny, forlorn Iceland would really be like with its six months of darkness, frigid temperatures, and its magnificent unique beauty; how many civilizations have actually lived upon Rome and influenced its cosmopolitan development; what could cause such despairing violence in the Balkans (another part of Europe that is too easily discussed as if it is one people, one place, and  the damning nickname “the powder keg of Europe,” completely erases compassion for their situation along with the historical realities of the responsibility of the interfering Great Powers); why the Swiss create such amazing chocolate delicacies; why the people of Liechtenstein tolerate a prince who occasionally threatens to abandon them for his Austrian property if they don’t pass the laws he wants; why some countries have resisted the pull of the homogenizing European Union while others join to varying degrees of success; and I will never understand why one country oppresses another and how the oppressed human spirit is resilient and always arises anew. THAT IS WHY I TRAVEL. To see it for myself. To hear it for myself through my conversations with people, locals and fellow travelers alike. It is my attempt to understand even an infinitesimal amount of human culture and history.

Maybe I should have been blogging all along. But I was intimidated about it and felt like my travel stories weren’t adventures like other people’s. But they are my stories and I want to treasure their value to me. I hope that people will be moved by my observations, or entertained by my tales as I recount nearly three years of travel, with the hopes of more in the future.