I am feeling a particular sense of dislocation today and hence this post. I have written previously about life as an academic nomad (and in other posts) and today I write about the more frequent, smaller nomadic elements: the extended research visits and trips.
In June I set off to Germany to visit HTW Berlin and then attend the CLEO Europe (and was the only female teaching a short course! why such a poor gender ratio?) conference. I spent almost 2 weeks away… and snuck in a sneak weekend to London. Yay!
We often don’t count the many smaller business trips we make for conferences or research visits as elements of a nomadic existence. Yet they really are. Some cities feel like home and others make you want to run off bag and baggage as soon as you arrive. Each trip has the inevitable hassle of travel, jetlag, luggage, suitcase full of unwashed clothes, strange beds… and different seasons, lovely food, meeting old friends and possibilities to make new ones.. At times I miss the comfort of my own home, my things and friends so fiercely when away that I can’t wait to get on that flight back. And at times the time away is a great holiday from the routine of everyday.
I classified these shorter visits/cities based on my how much my nomad heart felt at home and explain my criteria:
I want to pitch a tent here: these are the best of the best and I want to return to these places. Cities with character and contrasts: where there is a pulse of life and vibrancy, people bustling about yet there are calm spots too. I love Berlin for that reason: the city has quiet, clean and green suburban areas where you can live in peace and these abut jostling, gritty crowded spots. The history of East Berlin and the wall juxtaposed with hip festivals such as the Fete la Musique. The vegan capital of Europe and also home to probably the grottiest, sorriest airport (Tegel) ever! I’ve found that it always helps to live as much like a local as possible (aka not in a hotel) as possible to allow yourself to discover and fall in love with a city. These cities feel like they will make space for you and will graciously allow you to make a home here. Bangkok is another such megalopolis that I adore.
Hotel California: cities where the hotel is my oasis and I only venture out for work. Evenings and free time is spent holed up in my hotel room. Not that the city is terrible, I just cant engage with it: If it is too clean, orderly and mechanical almost sterile and lacking in that quirky human spark. Munich sometimes feels that way to me (apart from the Weissbeer). Or if it is totally outside my abilities to deal with: too unsafe to venture out, or impossible to travel via public transport (Los Angeles), or so busy that there isn’t any soul left or just dead. Baltimore made me feel so depressed that I could not face walking around seeing the boarded up houses in spite of rich history of the city.
I am yet to find a place/city that I cannot bear to be in at all once I recover from jetlag and exhaustion. Given enough time and the right conditions I’d like to believe I can find something to do and like (even if it is the hotel gym).
At the moment, I think this old Hindi song, “Musafir hoon” (an inadequate translation of the lyrics can be found here) best summarizes my state of mind.
How do you find travel and being a nomad?