September 5th, 2017

The Difference Between Vacationing and Living

Whenever I go on vacation, I find myself wondering if I should live there. I definitely contemplated it when I went to Anguilla last winter. Why return to snowy New York?, I thought. Anguilla has everything I need.

Traveling with We Roam has allowed me to test this idea. While a month isn’t long enough to experience all the nuances of a place, it’s long enough to give you a sense for what day-to-day life is like. And I’ve learned there’s a huge difference between places I want to visit and places I want to live.

I’ve only been in Belgrade for three days now, but I can tell it’s extremely livable. I already have a favorite coffee shop, Aviator—they have several branches, but one (pictured below) is just around the corner from my apartment. And if around the corner is too far, I have another lovely coffee shop by day/bar by night right next door. On the other side of my building is a reasonably well stocked 24-hour grocery store, and there’s another just across the street. Every restaurant I’ve been to so far has been delicious, affordable, and within an eight-minute walk from my flat. 

Yes, food and drinks comprise 90% of my happiness. 

But really, I’m not saying Belgrade has everything I need (New York’s arts scene has ruined me for most cities, and the dating apps here offer slim pickings), but my essential building blocks for contentment are present.

An interesting flip side is the cities where I’ve felt most at home so far, Berlin and Belgrade, are two of the least picturesque. Last month in Split was such a strange month for me—while I had some of my favorite moments of the trip there (visiting the waterfalls at Krka on my long-distance date, for one), I felt frustrated living in a town that was filled to the brim with other travelers, where the closest grocery store was a 15-minute walk away and closed at 7 pm, and the restaurants were largely either unappealing or overpriced with middling food. 

Yet Split is undeniably beautiful. While it shares some unfortunate Communist bloc architecture with Berlin and Belgrade, the ancient beauty of the old town with Diocletian’s Palace and the natural beauty of the coast shine through. 

For me, though, amenities trump appearance. I would have loved Split if I’d stayed there for a couple nights on my way to the islands, as most travelers do, but 37 days there was far too long. 

All of this is deeply subjective. I knew that before this trip, of course; New York is an incredibly polarizing city. But it’s been fascinating to travel alongside people, having nearly identical experiences of a place but completely opposite reactions. My roommate last month adored Split. She drew energy from just walking around the old town and felt like she could happily stay there forever. Berlin, meanwhile, the latest love of my life, left her cold. 

I’d be happy to visit Split, but I’d go crazy if I lived there. I could easily live in Belgrade, but it wouldn’t be my top recommendation to someone looking for a vacation. But you might disagree. And that’s one reason why we travel—to discover these things for, and about, ourselves.