Journal prompts ‘loneliness’

The other night I was meeting with my women circle. These are some very close friends to me and with whom I can share anything on my mind. We meet up regularly to discuss a topic of life that we have explored ourselves already or would like to explore more, e.g. ‘inner child, gratitude, anger, connection…’ One of our most recent topics was loneliness. We all felt that this has become such a prevalent topic for many of us with the pandemic. And not only that, it is a part of everyone’s life, which people don’t seem to discuss much.

Our meeting brought up some eye-opening questions and thoughts that I wanted to share. Below are some journal prompts, which you can write about or simply ponder over. Maybe you have someone to discuss these questions. I hope they will bring you more clarity or insights.

  1. Do you enjoy your own company?
  2. If you don’t enjoy your own company, why is that? / Why does it happen in some moments? Do you feel more lonely then?
  3. When do you feel the most connected?
  4. Have you ever felt lonely in the presence of another person /other people? Why was that?
  5. Do you lack close relationships or social interactions in general?
  6. Do you feel a certain lack of something other than company when you feel lonely?
  7. Do you feel low self-esteem when you are lonely, and if yes, why is that?
  8. What sensation in your body or feeling do you have when you feel lonely? Can you locate it in your body? If yes, you can try and sit with the feeling (in meditation) and divert your breath to it. Let it pass through and see how that feels.
  9. Have you developed any bad habits to cover up your loneliness or distract you from it?
  10. What has loneliness taught you?
  11. Can you think about the word loneliness with a positive connotation?
  12. Can you find gratitude for loneliness?

I’m not a professional in this field, but I’ve spent a lot of time looking into this topic. Simply writing down your thoughts can feel healing and bring relief. These questions have personally helped me, and I hope they can add to your life in this ‘loneliness pandemic’.

Stay safe!

Community life – a travel diary

In South-America at a hippie community volunteer placement

5:45 am – somewhere in the far distant, the rattling of pots and pans starts arising. Hushed footsteps, some silent whisper. I pull my sleeping bag over my ears and toss over to the other side. One more hour to forget about the present world.

6:45 am – the faint melody of a Mac de Marco song is reaching into the depths of my light sleep. The volume is increasing. I sigh and get up, facing the cold air waiting for me outside my fortress of blankets and a sleeping bag. It’s almost winter, and the old barn with milk cartons’ isolating’ the cracks between the wooden planks are only doing the bare minimum of a job.
It’s still dark outside. I pull out my phone and light my way downstairs. Dozens of headlamps bobbing around are awaiting me. I stand in line to scoop some oatmeal and fruit into my bowl and sit down by the tables. The lack of light makes for a cozy atmosphere. I can hear people talking but am only able to see the traces of their faces. Slowly with the continuous breakfast chatter, the sun brings these faces into light. By the time breakfast is finished, the room is bathed in light, and you can clearly make out everyone you’ve been talking to for the past 30 minutes.

Morning circle!‘. The familiar call from downstairs. With neither excitement nor apprehension, we make our way to the very bottom of the barn. One facilitator is awaiting us. They are taking turns in guiding us through our morning activity. Grumpily joining, most of us will be glad they had by the end of it.
The music is playing. Our task is to get moving. Intuition is the key. We shadow others. We lead others. There is some giggling. Others seem entirely lost in their movements while still paying attention to not bumping into another. Eyes are crossed. Smiles are exchanged. We’re coming together as a group.

Eventually, we stop and stand in a circle. Announcements are called. Most of us are working in the woods, as usual. Some luckier ones managed to do an artistic ‘chore’ or are off and ‘only’ need to take care of the cooking.
Last but not least: love notes. The cheesiest names of them all. However, it is more of a way to voice appreciation to individuals in the group without saying that personally. Think about how often you would turn to a person and say, ‘I love how the energy you radiate. You make me feel comfortable and heard.’ or ‘When we hang out, I can feel the wisdom pouring out of you. Thank you for sharing it with me’. Thoughts that find their way into the world, reaching people who are nourished by them. Gratitude for the presence of each and every one. Some open statements are called out, directly straight at a particular person. ‘I liked how you guided last night’s activity. We felt well-supported. Thank you’. There are some hugs, as well as appreciative nods and smiles.

Let’s get going, everyone.’ We break into different groups, slip into our’ work boots,’ search for gloves, and whatever else we need. I am back on my regular shift, stacking pieces of wood onto a truck only to unload it at a different place and stack it in a beautiful stack again. This work is just as tedious as it is team-building. Creating a ‘human chain,’ tossing pieces of wood from one person to the next until they make it into a truck eventually established a rhythm that puts you into a state of flow with which you’re able to work through this for a few hours. Not being a mentally challenging task, we use our capacity to talk about life and its meaning. ‘What is the meaning of doing a task like this’ would be scratching the surface of our conversation topics. It helps time to pass.
Finally, we’re done with work and return to the barn. Like hungry wolves we’re attacking the food prepared by two of our group. As our home does not have electricity, we neither have a fridge nor an electric stove. Two people each are on lunch or dinner shift, taking about 4 hours to prep our meals. The food is vegan, made from vegetables and grains stored in our ‘bodega’, cooked on a wood stove.

People are exchanging conversations about their day. Some days I wish I’d have a computer’ job’, others I’m glad that I could be out in the fresh air, working together in a group.

In the afternoon, people group together to spend their time doing Acroyoga, going for a swim in the lake, practising the guitar, reading, blackberry hunting, or whatever else they can find to do that doesn’t require internet. Not having Wi-Fi sparks your creativity. I hardly miss it.

I’m going to do some laundry!’. Anyone needs their devices charged?’ Hands shoot up from all sides. Nobody wants to walk 20 minutes to plug their phone into a socket, and wait until it charges. (electricity and thus the laundry machine and sockets are found in a building 20-min away from our barn).
Luckily people try and help out each other as much as possible. They might even take your laundry down the hill and throw it in with yours.

Everyone else goes on with their day.
Someone asks if anyone wants to do some yoga. I grab a mat, and out we go into the grass.

Eventually, darkness hits, and the dinner bell rings. Hungry wolves are attacking the food as usual. People are talking about their day; others are finding some space for themselves. Having your own time is appreciated, and no one would see anything strange about it. Community is valued just as much, however. Everyone has a different balance between the two.
We clear our dishes and head to our evening activity. Wednesdays are sharing circle days. Many of us will join. We head over to the living room area and huddle together on the sofas and other ‘seatable’ objects. A solar ‘candle’ dimly lights up the room. Again, the dark swallows our exact faces. The anonymity yet proximity to the others feels soothing and protective.

The sharing begins. The first person picks up the ‘talking piece’. Shrouded in silence, they talk about what has been on their mind and what they wanted to let out. Nobody says a word. There is no need for comments or space for judgment. The aim is to free yourself, to put into words what has been hiding inside you. It can feel liberating. The mere presence of everyone gives you more support than any words could.
Hours later, the last words in the group subside. People start to disperse, but not before leaving some sign of encouragement to those who vulnerably shared their stories. Faint whispers in small groups linger here and there. I head to bed, back into the warmth of my sleeping bag. As I am lying there, light voices from downstairs reach my ears.

Somehow they don’t bother me, instead they give me the feeling of this ‘family’ that I have here. The open ears. The unspoken communication. The feeling of being a community.

The value of limitations

This is part 2 of my thoughts on ‘limitations’. If you haven’t read it, check out ‘Finding freedom in limitation

I’ve been having a lot of free time. Time is a variable of life I highly value, such as is the feeling of freedom that comes with having time.
I always thought I’d be the happiest having as much time as possible and planning it out to my liking. Working 9-5 has never appealed to me for that exact reason. I always thought that would limit my freedom and thus have found other ways. However, I did realize how not having much work, but instead relatively little and therefore, a lot of time to fill wasn’t making me happier either. Not only the pandemic but also previous experience made me realize that having too much free time decreases its perceived value to me. There is something so special about having an afternoon off once during the week. Have four afternoons off and suddenly, you’re struggling to fill them with something meaningful continuously. Instead, you have idle time that you’re fretting about ‘wasting’, when you should feel grateful for this time, knowing that others envy you for it.

Other areas of life can have the same effect. I remember when I first left home to live, actually travel and thus live on my own. I was backpacking Australia and was thrilled that, having escaped my parents’ eagle eyes, I could have ice cream for dinner if I wanted to. That turns out to be a fun game until you overeat on a whole liter of ice cream and start wishing you knew how to cook something more substantial. Making ice cream a treat and go out to have some with a friend has a much better ring than the former situation. Our world does offer an abundance of food to many of us, and we have simply gotten used to it and overindulge. The one country where it felt a little different for me was Japan. Super-size food has yet to set foot into this country. Yes, fast-food is becoming a thing, but regular food and items sold in the store come in surprisingly small quantities. It was hard to overeat there and you really valued what you had.

Remember when streaming wasn’t a thing and you had to wait a week until you could see the next episode of your favorite sitcom? That agony and excitement made watching TV something special and left me running to the TV not to miss a second. These days you can access whole shows with a simple click and watch them no matter what time of the day and until your eyes hurt from too much screen time.

Part of why we can become so overwhelmed these days is having too much of everything. Information overload is surely something I don’t have to get into in more detail.

In marketing, value is created by making things’ scarce’. ‘Only 1 seat left’, ‘only 5 more items available’. This practice makes us think more highly of the product or service. However, many things have become such a commodity that we do not appreciate them enough.
One of the principal propositions of being ‘happier and more content’ in life is to ‘notice the small things’. It can be harder to notice when we’re making the small things’ bigger’ while overindulging on them.

One of the best things about traveling for me was living with little possessions. The limitation actually gave me freedom. Having only a few clothes freed my mind from the tedious process of deciding what to wear that day. Having less luggage made me able to move to a new place in a heartbeat. Having fewer ties meant there was nothing much to organize when I wanted to move on. Having less space to store things (I had close to no space left in my backpack) meant that I simply decided not to buy anything unless I absolutely needed it. Again, it freed my mind of the arduous decision-making process of whether to purchase something or not.
In some places that I volunteered at, the internet was scarce or food supply. How you learn to appreciate these commodities afterward. After 6 weeks on a farm without Wi-Fi and grocery stores (we got food delivered once a week), heading to a coffee shop for a cappuccino and screen time was the treat of my week. Sleeping in a private room after weeks in a hostel almost brought tears of joy into my eyes. That German pretzel that I found at a bakery in a shopping mall in Quito in Ecuador is still etched in my memory (even now that I’m drowning in options of buying baked goods here in Germany).

You can even go as far as applying this to people. Despite being more connected than ever, loneliness has been on the rise (even before the pandemic). We have the whole world at our fingertips, but maybe it is precisely that overwhelming number that makes us connect less with just a few people.

I have continuously met people throughout my life who decided to live with less. Minimalism has gotten quite a bit of momentum over the years and I have ridden that wave since I started traveling. I am beginning to wonder, though, whether this should only apply to materialism or other areas in life as well.

Finding freedom in limitation

The pandemic has opposed a lot of limits to our everyday life. Many people have been feeling limited by the consequences. The word limit usually implies something negative. That there is a point after which we cannot progress. And progress is what gives people meaning in life. Progress means that there is always something new waiting for us. That no matter which situation we’re in, we will go on to a further stage with new challenges and delightful moments.

Our world has gotten fewer and fewer limits. You have unlimited choices of places to visit, people to meet, entertainment to consume, subjects to study. We are bombarded with information that wants our attention through every webinar, YouTube channel, podcast, self-published book, blog (like this one ;)), magazine, Netflix show…

The pandemic has shifted this situation a little. We became limited in where we could go, what we could purchase and who we could spend time with.

We started feeling a limit in our personal freedom.

Freedom has turned into my most significant value over the years. I’ve wanted to be free of anything and anyone ever since I set out into the world, ready to become an endless explorer. Traveling limitless across the globe, I felt like the world was my home, and there would be no limit to where I could be and what I could explore.
This sounded like a perfectly sound idea when I started. However, it didn’t make me as happy as I had anticipated. On the contrary, I became restless, feeling FOMO in ‘countries I haven’t visited yet’ and ‘languages I don’t speak yet.’ Chasing country after country, language after language, I never found rest. There was never an ‘I have made it’ moment – because there were no limits as to how much as I could explore
(sure there are limits to the language and countries, but that’d be far-fetched to say that I would get to that).

This realization left me depressed. It felt like running after a goal that moved further and further away, the more you chased after it. The more you see, the more you realize you haven’t seen. And the more languages you learn and speak and dive into the world of polyglots, the more you notice that you’re only scratching the tip of the iceberg.

The pandemic has been a blessing to me in this regard. Knowing that moving around the globe is not encouraged and partly impossible has given me a feeling of inner peace. I am not necessarily in the country I was hoping to be, but that is not what makes this any less satisfying. I am feeling a limit in my vagabond lifestyle, and I sincerely appreciate the experience of it. I have spent more time inside reading and writing the last months than ever. Knowing that there was nowhere to go, no coffee shop to hang out it, no meetup to socialize with people at, no ‘store’ to check out, no ‘off-the-beaten-path destination’ to check out has been liberating. I found real freedom in that limitation. This limitation freed me from thinking I ‘should’ be at other places and wasn’t OK where I was. Instead, I looked at what was right in front of me and made the most of it. Sure, I felt lonely and bored at times. But somehow, overall, I was glad that I finally had something that put boundaries to my moving around.

I have noticed things that had been right close to me that I would have never noticed if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. My family and how similar we are. My friends whom I know from before I set out into the world and who still keep in touch. Living in an area that I used to call ‘my second home’ when I was a child. A job that gives me something valuable to occupy my time with. Less social obligations that make me turn back to connecting with my friends all over the world.

What has this limitation taught you? Have you been limited in a way that felt very frustrating, but that led you to discover something unexpected?

Progress is inevitable, and as we have seen, the scope of the pandemic’s limitation has been moving back and forth. I am trying to see the current restrictions as a sort of intervention to make me reflect on my current path and to see a more limited version of it, something I had always wholly been against.

As with every concept, there is always an opposite side to it. Maybe this is a suitable time to see what we can make out of the limits that have been ‘imposed’ onto us.

If you have ever done a guided meditation against anxiety, you will most likely have run across this sentence: You are OK, right where you are. This statement had always seemed quite vain to me. This year and the more the pandemic stays part of our life, the more I am finding some truth in this sentence. It isn’t speaking about an absolute limit but about the moment in time that we’re finding ourselves in. There might be a limit right now, but it is OK to be in it.

The dangers of long-term travel

The pandemic being at the center of our lives this year has been a harsh blow for the travel industry. I know many people who meant to set out into the world for the trip of their lifetime.

Having just returned to Germany from my ten years abroad, I’d have to lie if I were to say I had a problem with the lack of travel options this year. I’ve been feeling pretty exhausted from the constant moving and am happy to have a temporary home. With a lot of time on hand, I’ve been thinking about the travel lifestyle a lot. It had been my desired way of life for so many years, yet I have started to feel a little shift in my thinking.

Traveling and living abroad is always portrayed as a life in paradise. Digital nomad, working from a little beach hut? Van life, your home always with you? A backpack, a tent, you. Working at many international locations. Doesn’t that sound like a dream?

I would’ve highly agreed to all of that, and a part of me still does. However, I think there are some aspects that most people don’t talk about. 

I’m mainly referring to the perpetual expats here who continuously change locations.

Having been one myself, I have noticed some of the darker sides of traveling long-term.

  1. You lose a sense of belonging.

Where is my home? Where do I belong to? These are such fundamental questions in life, and most people will ponder this question at one or more points in life. Perpetual travelers will top the list for sure. Bumping from country to country every few months of years, going through the whole motions of adapting to a new culture through the highs and lows, you eventually wonder which place is the one that you really are ‘a part of’. 

2. ‘I am traveling to find myself’ (or not?)

The number one statement I’ve heard (and said myself). Without a doubt, through this constant moving, you will grow in many ways. But let me suggest that your growth will also stunt in others. Every new place you move to, you will start from scratch again. You will hustle to find a place to live, a job to make a living, friends to make life worth living, and simply make sense of life in the country as it is. This process always starts from zero. No matter how often you’ve moved, you’ll still have to run through the same motions all over again. And there comes the time when you decide that this is not the country you want to spend the rest of your life at and you move on to start this process all over again.. Having the chance for a new start can be rejuvenating, but you never cross a certain threshold of depth and commitment in your life.

3. Your career might suffer

Depending on what career path you’re in, being abroad for too long might backfire on your resume. International experience can really set you apart from other candidates, both in a positive and a negative way. Your language skills might be through the roof, but your employment history might look quite jumbled up. You most likely lack depth in any work field, which can play a greater importance the older you get. Employers might doubt your commitment to a position, knowing that, on average, you stayed at a job for just a year or two.

4. Your perception of achievement and experiencing new things might be skewed

I remember how ‘accomplished’ I felt in traveling. Checking off endless places, thousands of kilometers on your back, all the new people you met, cultures you’ve experienced… life felt moving fast. Being in the same place, with life not moving quite at that pace can feel dull and uninspiring. Learning to focus on the small things and appreciating the steadiness in which life can move can feel like a massive challenge upon returning to the ‘normal word’.

This also applies to going on short trips or vacations after long-term traveling.

Having seen some of the world’s top sights, you’re subconsciously raising the bar for what is worth seeing and can’t help but be underwhelmed by many places that might be worth seeing to people in the local area. You might feel underwhelmed by the options that present yourself back home. The one way to get around this is to focus on the people you’re with or on the relaxation/exercise factor that this trip gives you rather than the destination itself.

5. You’ll find it difficult to have long conversations that do not involve your life abroad and traveling

My sister had to tell me to shut up starting every sentence with ‘In Japan’ or ‘At Rupanco’ (a volunteering placement). You will feel so into this topic that you won’t notice that after a certain time, you’re annoying people by this. There are for sure moments where you can shine (tip: become a teacher and go off-topic sometimes – your students will love you for it), but after having heard what life is like in XYZ country for the 50th time, you will reach a limit in most people. 

On the opposite end, you might have completely missed what’s been going on ‘at home,’ regarding the news, politics, cultural changes etc and find it hard to hold conversations about current issues. I’ve found that as a visitor to a foreign country, people don’t expect you to know what’s happening right now, but in your home country, this ‘rule’ does not apply. Most people will expect you to be somewhat up-to-date (and really, you can completely miss out on this information if you’re not actively keeping up with it from a distance). The way I currently perceive Germany is the way I remember it from 11 years ago when I left. Whatever has changed in society in those years has completely passed by me.

6. You are missing out on years in the lives of those close to you

I was always aware of this one, but once you’re back for a while, it still hits you. It starts with seeing your friends at a different stage in life than when you had left them. Many will be married with kids by the time you finish yet another round-the-world-trip. Your parents will age. Other people will move on in life, not having space for you anymore. People might not even be alive anymore by the time you return. I would book this under the category ‘compromise you know you’re taking,’ yet it is one not to overlook

Do I regret the years I’ve spent abroad? Absolutely not! All I’m hoping was to add to the rosy image of long-term traveling and show a side that’s not talked about very much. I’m not sure how this world will be affected by the pandemic’s long-term effects, but I’m hoping that people can see that every lifestyle has its pros and cons and is also not for everyone forever. I, for once, am grateful not to be traveling in these times, and I am trying to make the most of being in my home country.

One question you should never ask a German

Or how I committed a cultural faux-pas in my own country.

Over 10 years out of the country, I have focused a lot on other cultures. I always tried to ‘assimilate’ well enough but of course I was not prone to making mistakes or embarrassing myself a little because I was not from there and didn’t totally understand the culture.

I learned that this can also backfire in your own country.

The other day I was teaching an English conversation class. 

Hoping to tackle a somewhat light-hearted topic I chose to focus on ‘culture’ and how a native sees his/her country vs. an outsider.

Little did I know that asking some, seemingly simple questions, would stir up so many emotions.
The question that turned the whole conversation sour was:

What makes you proud to be from your country?

In my head, I thought people would mention the good response and results during the pandemic, the fact that the country is organized, the high standard of living etc.…

However, the answers were not the problem.

It was the question.

The word proud and ‘your country’ do not belong in one sentence for most Germans.                     

And I, the German (and clearly not so German in this situation) had not realized the controversy and uncomfortable feelings this would bring up.

What is the first historical event linked to Germany, and how do Germans feel about that? I don’t think I need to go into details here (WW2 is the hint).

And how are students in school taught to think about it? 

I honestly don’t remember the details of the content in our history class. However, I left high school with the underlying sentiment that I should feel very guilty about our history and that Germans shouldn’t praise their country (the only exception maybe being during the world cup). One might LIKE something in the country but never say that they would be ‘proud’. And apparently I wasn’t the only one who carries that thought with them. Most Germans I have met would react the same way.

I’m writing this for two reasons:

One, to show how you should not only be mindful about other cultures but also your own and

Two to point out that if you run into a German, you might want to steer away from this phrasing and topic in general. Somehow I often got asked about WW2 as soon as I said that I was from Germany while traveling. That, to me was very strange as that is nothing that is ever used as a conversation topic among people here. Anyway, I know that this can seem like a harmless question to ask what you’re proud of regarding your country, but here’s a little heads-up about cultural tactfulness

How to satisfy your craving for traveling in Covid times

Traveling the world has probably been crossed out of the bucket list of most people this year.

As I’ve written before, I’m more than happy to stay where I am at this point, but I can only imagine that this is not what everyone is feeling.

So what can you do when you can’t travel much but are missing these times?

Sometimes the solutions are the most obvious things that can easily be forgotten.

It’s a good thing to think about the why of your travels. What was the reason you wanted to travel? Was it the sights, the culture, learning another language? 

Depending on what you had wanted to get, you can focus on one of the aspects below.

How much do you know about your home country? If you’re like me, you know all the cities and famous sights of Australia, Colombia, Thailand…., but have no idea what your own country has to offer. It always seemed so ‘boring’ and ‘unglamorous’ right? Maybe it’s time to change this perception. Head out and explore your local area. I had never paid much attention to the beautiful destinations that are just a few hours away from my hometown, thinking only mountains halfway across the world would be stunning and make me jump in awe. I was truly wrong here and have found some places that were just as exciting as others thousands of kilometers away. 

Danube valley, just 1.5h from where I now live and also from where I grew up.

The same goes for all these ‘adventurous activities’. Bungee jumping in New Zealand, Skydiving in South-Africa, rock-climbing in Canada? Look around in your area. Many activities that seem so special when we are abroad, actually exist ‘at home’ as well 😉

Learn how to cook dishes from another country

I know I could have written down ‘get Chinese take-out’ and be done with it. With many of us stuck at home and having rediscovered our dormant cooking skills, it might be time to step up to the next level. I had been feeling very ‘homesick’ for some good Japanese food the other day and realized how long it had been since I last had attempted to make anything. So I planned out my meal (rice and miso-glazed eggplant with ginger/soy-sauce tofu on the side), and even before I started cooking, I was flooded with memories of my time in Japan. It wasn’t so much as emotional nostalgia but rather these fond memories. That was a day that I somehow managed to travel to another place for a little. 

Even if you haven’t been to the country which food you want to cook, the process of looking up recipes etc can put you into the right mood.

Find other resources of foreign countries.

Every time I put on my Brazilian music playlist, I’m taken back to the times when I was drinking caipirinha, spending my time at the beach, making loads of friends and practicing my Portuguese. Music has such a big power to take you back to when you were listening to it. 

The same goes for movies and books. Find a French film, a Colombian telenovela, a book written by a Japanese author, and dive into this world. 

Find native speakers of that foreign language to practice with. The small town I moved to (60,000 inhabitants) has a Facebook group of ‘Brazilians living in X city’. Can it get any more random than that? With the pandemic regulations loosening in many countries, you might have the chance to find ‘language meetings’, i.e. language cafés, tandems, … Happening again. Times like these can truly make you feel like you’re in a different world. You can always check couchsurfing, italki or other international forums and language learning platforms for native speakers in your country

Hit up your international friends over video chat!

I’m also incredibly grateful for technology these days. The number of Zoom meetings that I’ve been having with friends all over the world has been astonishing. It never hurts to text an old friend, maybe someone you met and you got along with well but haven’t spoken to in a while. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can reestablish a connection.

Last but not least: if the corona restrictions allow it, invite a friend from another city to come to visit you. I love showing my area to visitors as it’ll make me appreciate it so much more and look at it with new eyes. And don’t worry if you think there’s nothing majorly noteworthy. Sometimes the smallest places can bring out the right atmosphere if you share it with a person who is usually not there with you. The other day I visited my sister, and we went to a small Saturday market. It was one of my highlights to simply see where she goes to every week and which she enjoys so much. We got some yummy fruit and made breakfast on the balcony – true holiday feelings 🙂  

staycation ❤

Every time someone comes to visit me at the gorgeous Lake Constance, I’m reminded what a beautiful region I live in. Other people had warned me before that I would quickly forget about the lake’s existence and shockingly they were right! Visitors will be able to make you appreciate your own surroundings again more.

I know that this is not the same as traveling but I think it’s a good time to understand which aspects of traveling is important to us. Maybe it’s all of them but maybe we’re actually just wanting to add something to our life that will shake up the routine a bit!

Back in Germany for 6 months – an update

The other day I stared at the calendar in disbelief – I’ve been back in Germany for almost half a year! Something inside of me couldn’t believe it. I was trying to think back of the last six months and most of it seems like a blur. Sure, if you asked me to tell you what I did and I thought about it, I would be able to name events. But in a way, nothing too exciting or unique happened.

I’m living in a new city with a new job. However, as I’ve been moving a lot over the past ten years, this is yet just another move. I put on a record in moving three times over four months (finding permanent affordable housing here is pretty damn hard).

I’m working in the same field as I have over the past year – teaching and translation, and I am spending COVID just as everyone else – mainly from home.

Until now, I do not miss traveling. I am still entirely saturated with my travels. I do not feel the urge to head out and explore my surroundings that much either. I used to explore any new city extensively on my own, visiting any small adjacent towns, hiking areas I could find, any patch of green that Google Maps indicated. However, the only time I head out to do this currently (as far as it is possible) is when I have visitors and occasionally with friends. 

Many people are dying to travel more again and are voicing their excitement about the borders opening. And I feel happy for them. One of my friends recently decided to travel again for a more extended time, and, seeing her excitement, I felt so happy for her. A year ago, I would have made the same plans, yet now I am content with watching other people go out to take on the world.

Instead, I spend a lot of time reading and learning languages. Time has passed so quickly over the past months and part of me enjoyed the quiet time during self-isolation. Here in Germany, most places are open again and the sheer crowds of people are somewhat overwhelming me. Luckily I live in a tiny village outside the city and can mostly avoid the buzz. My view goes out to roses growing around my window, a tractor in the courtyard, and an artist’s atelier. 

Having my own apartment has been the most exciting thing that’s probably happened to me since I moved to Germany! It’s hard to describe the feeling of having your own space after 14 months of traveling and two months of living with your parents – well, it’s more than awesome! Knowing that you won’t wake up to yet another stranger in your room (hostel dorms I don’t miss you) or the schedule of your parents trying to merge with yours, I love having a place that doesn’t depend on others. 

Other than that, it’s been a time ‘reconnecting’ more with my family. The excitement I’ve felt from them, knowing that I’m going to stay here for a little longer, has been heart-warming. On the other hand, different opinions and lifestyles are confronting each other much more than before when an ocean between us had been a rather steady boundary. Yet again, there are lessons to be learned.

As usual, life goes on even now that everything seemed to have come to a halt.

Stay safe and healthy everyone! ❤

When drama shakes you and moves you into a different direction / travel reflection #5

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

This blog post is contemplating on my 2018 end-of-the-year reflections and part 5 of my travel insights series.

At first, I wondered whether it was worth writing about it in the middle of 2020 – and then I realized, our current situation with so much time for self-reflection and change, definitely relates to this (sorry, not sorry to mention this in yet another post).

So at that time, I was in northern Brazil, thinking about how turbulent the year had been but also how incredibly grateful I was for how life turned out. I published a very vulnerable post on Facebook (part of it will be the bold sentences below) and I really wanted to reflect back on it. Here we go.

2018 * Taught me how ‘dramatic/bad’ events & experiences can make you grow the most and give out a kick in the a** to make a change ;)

Many of us want to change something in our lives, I believe. We might to even be aware of it, because when you’re comfortable and life just happens to you, why would you change it? 

Most people change when s*** hits the fan. Somehow when things are taken from you and your comfortable bubble bursts, you have no other choice but to start over or choose a different approach. 

In 2018, I felt a lot of ‘drama’ and it changed my life in ways I hadn’t expected. I went from a life that felt stable and maybe long(er)-term to backpacking around South-America, something I had never planned, yet even rejected a few months before!

That was what it looked like on the outside. On the inside, I battled the overwhelming stress I was feeling, the hopelessness, frustration and disappointment in myself and outer circumstances. 

I quickly learned that it wasn’t the circumstances I could be angry at. I couldn’t change them. They had already happened. However, what I could work on was my own attitude towards life. There are things we can improve and things we cannot. 

Accepting what we cannot change and changing what we can, namely, our beliefs, is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life. I had heard bits and pieces of it before but somehow this time it stuck. 

It has been tremendous work and it’s not been great at times. I felt like falling back to almost zero many times, but it has also taught me that I will be able to get back on track. Just like life itself.

*2018 has challenged my beliefs about life as an adult

I used to think life as an adult meant the end of fun. The end of being careless, free. The end of any dreams. Work, work, work, And I’ve been in times of life where I felt this more. The pressure to check the boxes, adults are encouraged to: a good career, partner/family, a house with a garden, a retirement plan….

And then I went traveling and ditched all those concerns and felt free!!

Well… that was not the point I was hinting at. 

I learned that I don’t have to be this way even before I went on that trip which has contributed to a lot of my future steps and the way I think about this now. At that time, I decided to get some support and talked to a life coach for a few sessions. And I learned to understand what life meant to me. If freedom is one of my biggest values, then I have to hold onto it. There is a choice and I just had to stay true to myself. This also means that there is nothing wrong with choosing ‘safety and security’ as values in life. The problem is when your attitude doesn’t reflect that ‘choice.’ Just knowing this helped to feel ‘freedom.’ It doesn’t have to be ditching everything and heading out into the jungle. There are outside circumstances you might not be able to change. How you think of your situation is what can help you feel freer. As Viktor Frankl wrote in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

And well… I’m still working on it. I stopped traveling and am now navigating my life and attitude between ‘regular’life here in Germany and my own ideas about how life should be lived. And in days when I feel frustrated about rules and regulations and how situations ‘are not fair,’ I try to remind myself of the above quote.

*2018 Made me realize that there isn’t any savior in this world to take me by my hand and save me – that my only savior will ever be me (same as my worst enemy who’ll also always be me)

* …Yet also gave me the courage to look for people, resources and a community who share their insights about personal development and nudge me to work on my own and to share my experiences regarding this. This includes people who are very different in their way of thinking and who keep reminding me to see the world from all different perspectives

*… Has made me realize my inner voice is worth more than 100 outer voices

The last one that I would get tattooed on me (with an emphasis on would). Yes, people can give you valuable advice. Yes, there are rules to follow, taxes to pay, hands to wash. On the other hand, no one lives inside your body. No one knows what’s genuinely going on inside your head (despite us wanting people to really understand you – I think that’s a utopian thought) and even your rational mind might not always be the best to listen to. Listening to yourself is something so much deeper than these motivational quotes can let you know. However, there’s not much more to be said other than you have to understand what that piece of advice means 😉 Intuition is one keyword to lead you on the way.

It is hard to follow your own voice. It’s crazy hard in a world where we are bombarded with information, messages, and advice so that we don’t even know anymore what our own opinion is and what we took upon from someone else. Everyone seems to have an idea about other people’s lives. We want others to act in a way we would, not remembering that we are not the other person and will never fully understand what they are going through. 

Also, think back to when your mother told you to eat your veggies because they would be good for your health. Did you understand at that time what that meant? Maybe once you got older, you heard that message again, or your body told you it’s time to get serious about your nutrition. Maybe this time, you understood the meaning. It might be months after you heard it the last time. But somewhere your body and mind suddenly had learned the lesson. Not because someone threatened you but because you were free in deciding about this matter. 

People had told me hundreds of times about the benefits of meditation. And it took me almost 10 years until I figured out for myself that I saw a benefit in it. People had talked about teaching English for years and I thought I would never ever work in that field. Fast-forward and I’ve been working as a teacher for longer than people told me about that profession before I started. 

and 2020?

Well so far it’s teaching me that my thoughts about 2018 were pointing the right way and that I can still dive so much deeper into this world. It has also shown me that I can work on these thoughts even when I’m not traveling, but from the comfort of my home. I am grateful that the current circumstances have given me the time I cherish so much for reflections like these ❤

A personal development book read ≠ a personal development book understood

Note: I’m taking a little break from my travel insights series – it’ll be back next week.

These days many of us have more time for reading.
And if you had the urge to not only tidy up your house but also your mind, you might have picked up this personal development book or motivational guide your friends have raved about (The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle anyone?!)

This is a post about reading inspirational and motivational books in the personal development category, something I’ve obviously binged over the last years 😉

Over the last months, when working with free apps, I have gotten a lot of ads from an app called ‘Blinkist.’ It claims to get you reading ‘4 books a day’ as it provides you with summaries of them. These books are in the non-fiction spectrum, of course (why would you want a summary of a novel?!)
That on its own sounds fine to me, yet it got me thinking about the purpose of reading.

I’m just ‘wild-guessing’ here that Blinkist assumes we don’t have enough time to read a book, so we need a summary (except that they probably hadn’t anticipated the current situation – let’s leave this aside for this post though!) Fair enough, many non-fiction books have long-winded intros, too many personal stories for my taste and self-promotion for the author. So, yes, give me the handy details!

On the other hand, isn’t the whole purpose of reading to devote time and dive into a topic slowly?
And what’s even more important: If this app makes us read several books a week, does it mean that we then also learn several times as much as if we read one book a week?
I have devoured self-help books with awesome-sounding principles, clapped my hands in excitement, and having ‘aha’-moments, only to finish the book to never think about it again, my head already in the next book that would ‘improve’ my life even more.
With every book I read, I put a mental checkmark behind an imaginary ‘essential books to read to make your life better.’
Did my life change 180 degrees, just like the book felt it had after I finished reading it?

It took me a long time to see reading these sorts of books as ‘exercise books’ or ‘courses.’
I realized how I’d only learn anything if I actually stopped, contemplated what the author had written, and suggested I do, and then try to experience or apply it!

This is the only way to see whether you actually agree with the author’s suggestion and opinion. Because sometimes things don’t work for you and that’s ok and why I guess, there are so many self-help books out there.
The book itself won’t make a change for you though! You are the person who has to do the work and look out for ways to experience what the author wrote about. Otherwise, you’ll complain and think, ‘what a nice idea, but it doesn’t help.’ Or you just continue reading, patting yourself on the back for ‘working on yourself,’ yet not really getting anything out of it. And yes, I’ve patted myself on the back so much….

I’ve just finished reading the book ‘The Willpower Effect’ by Kelly McGonigal, a book that presents the science behind motivation and willpower and how mindfulness comes into play as well. I absolutely loved its insights and you know why? Because the book confirmed some things, I had recently learned about my struggles of instant gratification through social media, food cravings, short attention span, … I had already experienced many of the points the book presented in its scientific explanations, so instead of having new strategies to hear about, I got a confirmation that I’m on the right track 🙂

Anyway, reading the above book prompted me to think about this topic and I hope it’ll make you ponder a little about how you are tackling reading this sort of genre.

On a final note, I noticed how at times, points in a book didn’t make sense to me. I would glance at them, shrug my shoulder and continue reading. Only months or years later would I experience something, that would give me a ‘eureka moment’. Just with many circumstances that happen in life, the real reason behind them can unravel much later. Patience is a virtue 😉 Happy quarantine reading!