Open Travel: Leaving New York and Going…Wherever
I can’t pinpoint the exact date, but around two years ago, I fell out of love with New York City. I used to crave the incessant rhythm that NYC possesses and for ten years, I fully subscribed to its work hard-party hard lifestyle. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else; I was excited, motivated, and possessed by the city. But slowly, then all of a sudden, I felt claustrophobic on subway cars, my coveted creative job in advertising felt trivial, and my NYC existence felt meaningless.
I had no roots in New York: no boyfriend, no kids, no pets, not even a plant. So I did what I felt was the only logical thing: I quit my job, rented out my apartment, and bought a one-way ticket to Europe. The response to my decision to take what I have dubbed my delayed gap year, or deferred quarter-life crisis, ranged from jealousy (from my friends and colleagues, especially those with kids), applause for my bravery (from retired family friends), and horror masked as concern and support (my parents).
I want to be with the people I never get to spend enough time with, and to just enjoy life as it comes. No grand plans, just openness.
My goal isn’t a lofty one. I am not looking to write a novel, though that could be nice, nor am I looking to find myself, though one would assume that traveling from place to place will leave an indelible mark. I decided to be open to wherever life takes me. In contrast to my life in New York with its noise, stress, and endless hours of work, I want to see the places I haven’t had time to see in my decade of corporate drudgery. I want to be with the people I never get to spend enough time with, and to just enjoy life as it comes. No grand plans, just openness.
Vague yes, but when I think back on all of my favorite memories and the times I felt the most fulfilled, they all involve travel, satisfying my sense of adventure, and time with great people. I want to enjoy myself. I want to explore, eat, drink, screw around, surf, and dive. Hopefully by year’s end, I’ll have had my fill and know when my next adventure will begin.
Admittedly, I didn’t jump headlong into my open travel experiences. I started by flying to London to be with my favorite people in the world- my two best friends. And it was lovely; I spent my days at museums and taking impossibly challenging yoga classes. My nights and evenings were spent at incredible restaurants and bars with the best people I know. But a sense of uselessness kept gnawing at me–where was the adventure?
So on a Wednesday night over a carafe of Greek wine in Notting Hill, when my friend mentioned that she thought I would enjoy the surfing Portugal, I decided to let the real solo traveling begin. By Friday morning, I had plane tickets to Lisbon, and a reservation to a surf camp in the tiny town of Vila Nova de Millfontes (population 5,000) in the state of Alentejo. Situated about two hours due south of Lisbon, Vila Nova de Milfontes, was in many ways the anti-tourist destination of my dreams. It’s where the Portuguese go on holiday. And though everyone speaks English, I rarely heard it spoken outside the confines of my surf camp.
I went to Alentejo Surf Camp with an open mind and no joke, within 30 minutes of my arrival I had a dinner invitation to head into town with some of the other guests at camp. While the surfing was mediocre at best, (peak surf season doesn’t really begin until September, I went in July) I found myself smiling constantly.
The response to my decision to take what I have dubbed my delayed gap year, or deferred quarter-life crisis, ranged from jealousy, applause for my bravery and horror masked as concern and support.
My surroundings were spectacular and I spent every day outside. Every evening Sergio, the surf camp owner, would declare that breakfast would be served promptly at 9 AM, because we would hit the beach by 10 AM. And every day the group of surfers, which included an American, a Brit, two Swedes, a Serbian, and Albanian, and a number of Portuguese people would all file in, ready to surf by 10. Inevitably, we would leave by 11:30. No one could figure out where the time went. Portuguese time is languid– you just have to go with it, though admittedly it wasn’t always easy. But I embraced the slowness, the delicious food, and the hours of talking with strangers over green wine.*
More than anything, what made my time in Alentejo memorable was that despite the fact that I came alone, I never felt lonely. The people I met were amazing and we eventually all traveled to Lisbon together. I didn’t over-plan and stayed open to every experience. By the week’s end, I was even invited to experience a traditional summer crayfish party in Stockholm. I leave in two weeks. I bought a one-way ticket, and from there…who knows?
*Vinho Verde, also known as young wine, is a ridiculously refreshing, slightly fizzy wine that’s locally grown and went with everything I ate. Drink it often if you can find it.