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.