Living vs. Traveling: We Need Both

Finally...we ordered the fancy ice cream.

This week’s day trip to Tübingen was, I imagine, what a lot of people imagine our life overseas is always like. It involved a train ride through rolling green hills, strolls down cobblestone streets, a hike up to a castle overlooking the Swabian Alps, lunch and wine at a little Italian place in the medieval part of town, pictures snapped by a fountain, ice cream and coffee in the square.

It only took us an hour and a half, from our apartment, to get there, and involved just a tiny bit of coordination to send the dog off to a friend’s house for the day. But honestly? We hardly ever do this. We have a baby, a toddler, a dog, and no car. My husband’s embroiled in an online Master’s program. We’re on a budget. By the time weekends roll around, we’re usually just trying to make it to the kids’ nap time so we can conk out too. We have a lot of fun together, but it’s fairly ordinary fun. We go to the zoo, to the playground, to friends’ houses. We cook dinners and Skype with the grandparents. Sure, there’s a lot beyond our doorstep we haven’t seen, but we also have a lot going on right where we are. Sometimes I feel guilty about it because I’m in Europe and I imagine every weekend I should be traipsing off somewhere, trailing diapers and sippy cups in my wake. Other times, I’m just happy to be doing exactly what my husband and I do as parents of two little kids– living. 

And that’s what living overseas is– it’s living. You go to the grocery store. You go to work. You vacuum the apartment. You take the kids to the park, to pre-school, to play-dates. You pay bills and let the mail pile up. You walk your dog. Frustrations come and go; sometimes you love the bakeries so much you decide there’s no better place to live, other times you get sick of speaking another language and you just want to go home.

We’ve done a lot of living in Germany, but this week, in Tübingen, it was really nice to travel again. My husband and I love traveling, and we’re good at it; we’ve achieved a pretty nice blend of planning and spontaneity. We’ll travel cheap but splurge on the right things–this week it was finally one of those ridiculously extravagant ice cream sundaes plastered all over the German ice cream shops. “Today’s the day,” my husband said, pointing at the menu. “Today we’re ordering the fancy ice cream. It’s time.”

Traveling is a little bit like casual dating, which I’ve actually never done, but have learned a lot about from the movies. In both cases, the romance never really has to fade. Everything is always new and lovely. You capture the magic without slogging through any of the hard work. I don’t miss dating, but in Tübingen, I realized how much I have missed traveling.

“This was the perfect day!” my husband and I gushed to each other all the way home. “We should do it more often.” And hopefully, we will. The baby’s a little older now and our son can handle skipping a nap without completely melting down…at least until 5 p.m. or so. And there’s a lot to see.

The point is not really that we live in Europe, though this is of course a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we intend to treasure and make the best of. Even back in Michigan we lived just an hour away from what Conde Nast Traveler has ranked as one of the top 10 islands in the world. How often did we go? Maybe once a year.

The point is that wherever we live, it’s important to live, and it’s important to travel. We need to rejoice in the ordinary, and we need to step outside of it. It’s easy to get caught up in routines, and certainly those are important and comforting. But the thrill of tossing them out the window for a day–even with young kids, obligations, or whatever else is holding you back–is unmatched.

I remembered that this week, sitting at a cafe in Tübingen, eating fancy ice cream.


21 thoughts on “Living vs. Traveling: We Need Both

  1. Dear Sarah, could I pretend I’m living your life? Even the part about having kids and not traveling. And you share it all so beautifully–I can almost taste that fancy ice cream. It sounds like you had a lovely day. But what are the Swabian Alps, an innocent US citizen wants to know.

    1. Kathy, I think we should both be allowed to vicariously live through one another as needed! I definitely wish I could import the fancy ice cream but it would surely melt in transit. As for the Swabian Alps, they are more like a range of very large rolling hills. Quite lovely. This website gives some nice information:

  2. This sounds like such a great day! I feel the same way, too. It’s astonishing how quickly you settle into everyday routines, even when you feel like you should be living the glamorous life of an expatriate or something, but then something happens, a simple break, a day trip, and you feel that jolt of recognition, that getting back in touch with a part of yourself you’d almost forgotten, but couldn’t ever lose. Living and traveling: I need them, too.

    1. Thanks Emily. I feel like as an expat it can be easier to get those “jolts” because in the back of our minds we’re thinking, “wait, this should be glamorous!” Yet the fact remains that anywhere we live eventually becomes familiar, and it’s our job to find the new and invigorating aspects of our environment. I have to admit that’s not too hard in Europe. 🙂

  3. Sarah, how wonderful for our family that you got to TRAVEL and enjoy all those German treats,like castles and huge fancy ice cream Sundaes. I am also pleased to read here about your enjoyment of just LIVING there together. Great report. Thank you so much for such happy sharing.

  4. I was just having a discussion about these ideas with a friend and I couldn’t quite put my finger upon what to call them, so as to be clear. I carry that traveling aspect, even into my living. I notice if am not a living traveler, feeler, and processor. I wondered how another could NOT be. I like the use of the dating concept. Thank you for a wider view.

    1. Ah Kathy, thank you so much for stopping by and so sorry to disappoint! It’s been quite a month (in a good way, but I’ve neglected the blog). I usually post twice a month but really stumbled in April. I’m planning a post for this week though that will hopefully explain the lapse.

  5. Traveling and writing are synonymous with each other. The former replenishes your creativity; the latter hones it in. This is why I think all writers, including myself, are all gypsies. We just have to be on that bandwagon that takes us nowhere, but everywhere.

    1. Nicely put. I do think traveling provides constant fodder for writing. Though after doing a lot of it, I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of creativity springs up from staying in one spot. Maybe even without physically moving, it’s important to continue looking at wherever we are from new perspectives.

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