Michael and I are a longtime couple, and we are also digital nomads, traveling the world indefinitely for four years now.
A few weeks ago when Michael and I were living in Sibiu, Romania, I suggested that he and I go for a hike in the national park on the outskirts of town.
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This being Europe, where national parks are generally not America’s wilderness, the park ended after about five miles.
But Michael realized that we were only five kilometers from Rășinari, a small Romanian village that we intended to visit. There had even once been a tram line from Sibiu, an attempt to attract tourists, but it had long since been interrupted.
I didn’t mind walking along the dual carriageway, which included a dedicated (and deserted) bike path on one side, but worried about how we would get home.
Michael waved his hand vaguely in the air. “Oh, I’m sure there will be a cab or a bus or something that we can take back to town. “
“But if there isn’t,” I said, “that will mean another thirteen kilometers of walking home. That would mean a hike of over sixteen miles.
“If we need it,” said Michael, “we can always call a cab.”
“I don’t know. I really don’t want to be blocked.
“I’m sure it will be okay. We can have lunch there too.
Finally, I reluctantly agreed, and we continued towards town.
Immediately, the cycle path disappeared, merging with the road, then the shoulder completely disappeared too. We were now basically walking the road itself. And we had been in the shade of the trees before, but then they disappeared too, leaving us to trudge along in the scorching sun.
We considered walking the rails of this old tram line, which ran alongside the road, but it had long been overgrown with tall thorny grass.
Cars were speeding past, and we tried to remind ourselves, when in situations like this, was it better to walk? with traffic or face it on the other side of the road? (The experts answer? Face the traffic.)
Finally, we got to Rășinari, which was good: charming but not absolutely charming. The town included two restaurants, but neither had alfresco dining – essential for us in the COVID era – and they looked terrible anyway, so we certainly weren’t having lunch.
Deep in my tennis shoes, I could feel the throbbing heat of the blisters on both my feet.
In about ten minutes, we had seen everything there was to see, so I said to Michael, “I think we should go back now.
We asked a saleswoman if there was a place we could take a cab, she shook her head. “No taxis here.” We asked him about a bus back to Sibiu, but we didn’t understand his strange and complicated answer.
No one else spoke English.
So we called a cab, as Michael had suggested.
And no one answered the phone in any of the taxi companies in Sibiu. There is no carpooling in this part of Romania.
At this point, that was all I could do not to turn to Michael and say, “See? I Recount you therefore!
So instead, I just hinted at it loudly, sighing deeply and saying, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to walk the thirteen kilometers to get home …”
As I had warned you we would!
We left by another road through the city.
And immediately came to a bus stop. A teenage girl was waiting in a shelter and I asked her: “Is this the bus to Sibiu?” “
“Yes,” she said in perfect English. “It will be here in about ten minutes.” And when the bus pulled up, she said, “This is the bus you need.” She even told us the price – around forty cents.
Suddenly, I saw the village of Rășinari with different eyes. A small river ran through the center, and the meager traffic was partly car, partly horse and cart. How many times in my life would I see a Romanian village like this?
Right next to the bus stop, I spotted the abandoned tram that had once carried tourists. And a local shrine was pretty interesting too.
How did I miss it all? I was thinking.
And I realized that I had committed the cardinal sin of travel – the one thing that is absolutely certain to destroy every travel experience.
I had stopped looking on the bright side. I had started looking for reasons to be bored – to say, “I told you!” to Michel.
Here is a key truth about travel. Planet Earth is an imperfect place. If Heaven ever existed, it is now lost. Atlantis sank long ago, and to hear the New Yorker say it, El Dorado is just a bunch of jungle-covered hills in Central America.
In other words, if you are looking for reasons to believe the world is a boring or terrible place – if you want the reasons to be miserable – you are sure the shit will find them.
But, of course, that’s not the whole truth about travel. Atlantis has sunk and El Dorado is buried deep beneath those jungle hills, but there are plenty of other places that are still worth a visit.
Even, maybe, Rășinari, Romania, if you are in Sibiu and have nothing better to do.
I’m not going to say that the “bad” parts of the trip are sometimes what make things interesting, although that is probably true. But here is what I a m by saying clearly and unambiguously: if you focus on the bad, it is really, really, really, really easy to miss the good.
In editing each other’s travel writing, Michael and I often talk about the impression we leave on our readers: Are we spending too much time talking about the positive and not enough time about the negative? Because if we sometimes mention the negative, we to do focus on the positive.
The truth is, to be a successful traveler, writer or not, you have focus on the positive.
Because there are some boring things going on All the time.
We currently live in Keszthely, Hungary, a small town on the huge Lake Balaton, and we arrived to find that our apartment’s kitchen sink faucet does not have running water: until that it be fixed – if that’s it, we have to wash all our vegetables in the bathroom sink and do the dishes in the tub.
We always took the same apartment. It’s a handshake rental with friends, and the price is incredibly cheap. And the rest of the apartment is more than good.
But it’s a hassle.
Sometimes very bad things happen on a trip too – like the time our apartment in Bulgaria caught fire. Or the moment our plane over the Atlantic caught fire, and we had to make an emergency landing.
We still don’t know exactly what is happening with us and the fire.
So what’s the truth about the places we write about? Would our readers appreciate them as much as we do?
Maybe, but maybe not. Because, of course, part of the journey is about places. Istanbul is an objectively large city, compared to all the others on Earth. Romania is objectively green and peaceful.
But traveling is also at least as much what you have in your head, the attitude you bring to different places and to your different encounters.
Michael and I are not perfect. Me especially. Sometimes I let negative thoughts win, like on this trip to Rășinari.
I sweat little things, frequently lose intrigue, and die on hills I should never have climbed in the first place.
But there is something about traveling that makes it easier to go with the flow, to be open to possibilities, and to let things unfold. Maybe that’s because things are constantly changing, so you have to constantly readjust yourself anyway.
Or maybe there are just too many little annoyances to twist into things that barely matter. You have to save your energy for the things that do.
Like, uh, when your plane or apartment catches fire.
Either way, whenever I’m on the road it’s always incredibly obvious that the experience is good, much better when I focus on the good and try, as much as possible, to ignore the bad.
Do you know how the middle part of a watermelon is usually the juiciest and sweetest? When you finally get to the middle part, why on earth would you spend your time obsessing over the crust?
Enjoy the fucking watermelon.
For me, the sweet and juicy part of travel watermelon is almost always the unexpected.
This is the great restaurant that no one has recommended but that Michael and I accidentally visited in Polignano a Mare, Italy where I ate this amazing grilled octopus.
Or when we met some friends for a drink at a sunset bar on Koh Lanta beach in Thailand and realized that neither of us had ever tasted a Singapore Sling, so we ordered them all around. Now, although none of us particularly liked the drink, every time I see or hear a mention of Singapore Slings, I remember that beautiful evening.
In our last four years of traveling, after seeing so many amazing places, Michael and I came up with a saying, something we always say to ourselves:
All you have to do to see something of interest is walk through your door!
But the truth is a little more complicated than that. It is also necessary to train to see for the interesting things, look deep into the tidal pools and be open to hidden possibilities.
The world doesn’t always take you by the balls. Sometimes you have to grab this by the balls.
You also need to practice letting other things pass – keeping bad things in perspective and ignoring negative thoughts.
Does this same advice apply beyond travel, to all of life?
I cannot assume that I know someone else’s situation. After four years of traveling, I also know that much of the misery in the world is very real – it’s not about attitude at all.
(But for the record? Oddly, people seem less happy in the United States compared to the rest of the world, even in countries much poorer than us. I blame materialism, consumerism, social media and collapse. community and family. But whatever you think is probably right, too.)
Personally, I was less happy, more in my head, always eager to find a reason to be disappointed or upset. Then I started traveling, looking for the next sweet watermelon, and it became less of a problem.
Well, yes, for the moment, we are doing the dishes in the bathtub.
But in a month we will have a new apartment. And tomorrow I’ll come across something amazing that I never expected to see.
Brent Hartinger and Michael Jensen are two gay digital nomads. Subscribe to their popular travel newsletter here.