Up until July, I had a monthly travel column in Forum, an amazing weekly in Croatia. In only one year of existence, this edgy newspaper got a loyal readership of all the cool Croatians. Sadly, it’s now been over a month since it folded.
I miss writing those articles for Forum. They were such a great outlet for my musings about random things travel. So I decided to translate a few of them into English and give them another lease of life. Here comes the first one (click for the PDF, if you want to see what it looked like in print):
THE PRICE OF FREEDOM
Since a few days ago I’ve been thinking about freedom. How much it is worth, how to measure its value, what we sacrifice in order to be free… My friends often tell me: “I envy you so much! You are so free, without obligations. You’re just having fun and traveling around the world. Your life is a dream.” What a nice vision they have of my nomadic life. It would be even better if it were actually so.
These friends of mine are forgetting something. Before we decide to embrace a life of freedom with both arms, it’s important to sit down and think about whether we’re ready to pay the price. Many people out there run towards this sexy idea of freedom but when they realize they have to sacrifice a whole set of creature comforts and small securities we subconsciously cling to, they realize they’d rather put that very same freedom back on the shelf. It’s often too late.
There are days, I admit, when I feel like throwing that freedom out the window of a rushing car or flushing it down the toilet seat of a jumbo jet somewhere high above the ocean. What was I thinking that for weeks on end already I keep taking things out of my suitcase every day looking for something, digging through stuff, thinking I may have left the important thing I need in one of 40+ ho(s)tels that I have slept in over the last six weeks? What came over me that I keep on waking up in the middle of the night not knowing where to find the light switch?
The other day, while visiting new friends in their beautiful eco-house on one of Chile’s most magical beaches, as we talked about the global economic crisis, I realized something comforting and at the same time terrifying: I don’t owe nor do I own anything. Here: My blessing, and my nightmare.
And so here I am, wandering around the world, on a positive zero. A long time ago, without much thinking, I gave up on ‘grown-up’ things – mortgage, car, 9–5 office job, paid vacation, decent health insurance, waking up in the same room every morning, walking the same streets… I don’t remember the exact moment but I gave up on all that and exchanged it all for freedom. With the big F.
In my case, that very same freedom turned into a whole set of journeys, on almost all the continents (I still haven’t made it to Antarctica). Journeys of all kinds – short weekends, extended adventures, mini-lives in faraway cities.
And here I am, free, writing in sunny Santiago, Chile. The sun is shining outside, it’s warm, lush greenery everywhere I look… The only trick: Now after six weeks of intense travels around the north of Chile, I am facing three intense weeks of writing some ten hours per day, in order to hand in the guidebook I’m working on by deadline.
But that’s not the point. Let me get back to the theme: Freedom. So many of us strive toward this concept of freedom. We dream of being without commitments and running after our secret so-far unfulfilled dreams. And on that wave of inspiration we easily forget that freedom has a price. Not everyone out there is willing or able to pay that bill.
A few years ago, a friend from Zagreb came to visit me in New York. One night we stayed out late. As we left the club, I suggested she come to my place and spend the night. It would be simpler – one cab and all that – and then the next day we could hang out in my neighborhood. Her answer: “No, I can’t. I have all my creams and everything back at the hotel”. Sure, I love my creams and toothbrush but they don’t stop me from embracing new experiences, reaching new horizons, trying something new… That’s exactly why I embraced this freedom so hard, almost desperately, and I’m not letting it fly away.
Yes, there are days when I’d rather not pay the price, when I’d so love to swap places with someone who leads a peaceful simple life in a familiar environment. I admit. But then I try to step outside of myself for a moment, look at my life from a distance, and ask whether that would be me. And then I realize: I’d wither, fast, in one breath…
My freedom are my travels. Your freedom may be something totally else. Or perhaps freedom just doesn’t matter all that much to you. The only thing that does matter: Know yourself well enough to know if you can and are willing to pay that sometimes hefty bill.
Because freedom means giving up on security. Make sure you’re up for it.