One month and some change ago, I sat in this exact same spot and wrote with this exact same pen. To my left is a very green lawn and the most beautiful garden I have seen in all my time here in Sweden. To my right is an empty house, beautiful in its Swedish functionality, and recently vacated by my friend and our host family. They dispersed all around Sweden for various Midsommar engagements. I stayed behind to relax and to work.
But I mostly just felt lonely. The deceptively large and oppressively empty house and overcast weather combined to defeat my optimism about an invigorating weekend of solitude. My phone battery died in my hands; I did nothing to stop it and was extremely disturbed at how different its lifelessness made me feel. The surreality of the absence of the option to reach out to a loved one forced me to confront how far from home I am – both the place and the people. It was then I made a realization (probably obvious for everyone else, but novel for me): being a good traveler is not about how many languages I speak, how light my backpack is, or how long I can go without returning home. It is about how gracefully I handle the adjustment period – that awful time when I feel jetlagged, confused, intimidated, lost, and just so very distant from all the things that just make sense to me.
Looking back after having a month and a half to learn and process Swedish culture and adapt to my reality here, I am surprised by how tacitly and determinedly I accepted my fate. Instead of brainstorming escape plans and researching cheap flights home, I let the tears come and the loneliness envelop me. If I weren’t so strong in my convictions, I would have asked why I did these things to myself. Instead, I reminded myself “this is the life I have chosen.”
Now, as I sit here, staring at my almost-full backpack and sipping the pear Briska Katie left me as her parting gift, I feel very differently. I have become accustomed to this place and where before I was overwhelmed at the idea of staying for so long, I am now apprehensive at the prospect of leaving. I spent two weeks here without a phone due to an unfortunate loss at Ikea, I have made friends from all over America and Europe, I have found my own favorite running trails and bakeries. It took a while, but I conquered the adjustment period and have grown to like my little life here. Soon I will board a westbound bus and I am amazed, intimidated, and ecstatic about my post-Sweden itinerary. Including six days, two hikes, one bungee jump in Norway followed by a brief survey of Helsinki, a ferry and a bus through Estonia – stops unplanned – and a few whirlwind days in Riga, I am confronting how imperative it will be that I find peace in my own mind on a crowded train through the countryside or in my hammock in a Balkan capital city. I will become champion of travel limbo. Because habits are easy and momentum is powerful, but to be my own best friend is the answer to all of these questions I place in front of myself.
Ironically, the house is empty again as I leave. This time I don’t feel lonely and sad, but rather independent and determined. Katie is home in Michigan, Pia and Maria are on their own respective adventures around the country as I close the door on this summer in Sweden and hide the key.
This is the life I have chosen.