Why I Continue to Travel

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro V. Nirode

Despite continued incredulity from others, Vanessa insists on wandering the globe. Here's why.

It is a cool October night. E and I walk down a cobblestoned street in Antequera, Spain. We have been cycling through the nearby countryside and are now on our way to have a meal and hopefully some beer. I ramble on about how quiet and deserted the streets are and how refreshing it is to be somewhere different from where I live.

“I want to go everywhere,” I say, “everywhere.”

“You know,” E says, “I don’t understand that. I think this village is like many other villages, don’t you? I mean, I’ve seen tons of them, just like this—cobbled streets, stone buildings, a cool bridge, a bell tower, a cute local restaurant. In varying countries: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, etc. I just don’t see the need to go everywhere.”

“Yes, but. . .” I begin. Then stop.

The faces and words of the people I have met along the way come bubbling up to the surface, strong and vibrant as ever.

My mind is whirling, doors are opening and closing inside it at an alarming rate; words are swirling around fighting to get out as they trip over each other. I am silent, trying to sort them out. E doesn’t notice, not really. He’s on his phone, texting his brother or answering some work email. I walk, listening to the cacophony in my head.

I am afraid to say anything. I don’t agree, not at all. But I’m not sure why exactly and I want to know why it is, for me, so absolutely necessary to go “everywhere”—or at least as many places as I can before I finally leave this planet.

As I think about this, I realize that what floats to the surface of my consciousness is not the cobblestones and the bridges and the bell towers; they are all secondary. It is the faces and words of the people I have met along the way that come bubbling up to the surface, strong and vibrant as ever.

I think of Nderim, the taxi driver in Albania and his son, Zef who drove me to the Macedonian border for 50 Euros. We shared meals, laughter, and bits of our stories during that three and a half hour journey.

At the border, when we said our goodbyes, Nderim told me, “You are always welcome in my home.”

“And you in mine,” I said. I handed Zef a piece of paper. “If you get to New York City, let me know,” I said, “I will take you to a Starbucks.”

He laughed and slipped the piece of paper into his pocket. (“A star-what?” he had asked earlier, when I told him that I wanted to see Tirana before they got a Starbucks.)

I think of Oliver who drove me to Jasen Nature Reserve in Macedonia. And Jebda, a hunting guide at the reserve, who took me on a hike through the snowy mountains. When we had finished the hike and I was getting ready to leave, Oliver told me that I was their first American tourist.

I think of Jovan Jovanoski, junior Road Cycling Champion of Macedonia, who rented me a road bike in Ohrid so I could climb Mount Galicica.

“Are you sure?” he asked when I told him my plan, “That climb is steep. And far. I’ll give you a map, but you need to leave soon. It’s almost 10. It gets dark by 4:30.”

“I can do it,” I assured him.

He sized me up for a few minutes, then finally acquiesced and rolled out a bright red, yellow, and black road bike.

“My brother raced this bike yesterday in Skopje yesterday and won.” he said. “Perfect.”

Jovan wasn’t exaggerating. The climb was hard, steep and cold. The descent was one of the scariest in my life. The road was riddled with switchbacks and, at an eight to nine per cent grade; I had to put constant pressure on the brakes—not so bad except that my fingers were almost frozen. I made it back, rolling into Jovan’s driveway at exactly 4:42.

He was waiting. “Oh, thank god,” he said. “Did you make it? Did you get to the top?”

I nodded, happy and full of adrenaline. “I can’t feel my hands.” I told him.

He smiled. “Come, sit, next to the heater here. Have a drink. Tell me about the climb.”

I think of the two sweet ladies in Kotor, Montenegro, who asked to share my park bench as they ate their lunch. Once they discovered that I was American, they were full of questions: “Do you like Montenegro? It is beautiful, yes? Will you come back? How long are you here? Make sure you go back home and tell everyone how beautiful Montenegro is.”

"I will tell everyone,” I told them.

I think of Amo Wash and Dry, the laundry in Dubrovnik, where I met Katarina. She had only two washers and two dryers but assured me she could have my large bag of clothes finished by that same afternoon. Katarina’s store was split into two tiny rooms. One was the laundry part and the other displayed jewelry that she made. We chatted as I tried on pearl rings and long silver necklaces. She wanted to know where I was from and what I did. I told her that I worked on a television show.

“Which one?” she said excitedly. She immediately looked it up online when I told her and navigated to a screen that listed the cast and crew.

“Which is you?” she asked, “where is your name?”

I pointed it out to her and she clapped her hands in delight. “Ohhh. That is so amazing. I can’t wait to tell all my friends I met you. Can I give you my email address? Can we write to each other?”

“Of course,” I told her.

I think of the kind Moroccan man who helped me drag my suitcase through the pouring rain in Tangier to the ferry in exchange for the shared use of my umbrella. When I told him I had spent almost three weeks on my own in Morocco he responded, “That is a lot of hard work.”

I have met so many beautiful and unique people. I feel that they, their words, their kindnesses are all a part of me now. I am happy to have them all inside, even the slightly grumpy or scary ones like the lady at the train station in Belgrade who pretended to not understand my Serbio-Croatian. (Her colleague eventually took pity on me and told me she could, indeed, understand me perfectly.) I remember, too, the leering man in the Chefchaouen medina. “You must be a really brave woman,” he said, “to walk around all by yourself.”

These people, these moments are why I travel, why I want to go everywhere.

It is to hear people, to sit with them and swap stories and ideas, share a drink or a meal. It makes me feel whole and connected and human. The world is full of limitless beauty, in its landscapes and in its people. I can’t imagine spending my entire life in one place. There is so much awesome out there

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Vanessa Nirode

Vanessa Nirode is a runner, cyclist, writer and pattern maker based in New York City, who is taking an adult "gap year" this summer. Through www.workaway.info, she is working on eco-projects in Spain, Italy and Croatia, including building an earthship in northern Spain. She is also taking part in a work study program hosted by City Travel Review in Barcelona, where she is assisting in writing a city travel guide.

Website: www.girlsdrinkstout.com

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