Almost Fearless

A Difference Between Vacationing and Living?


The first time I rode a Vespa, I closed my eyes and winced around the curves. It was mid-October in Bermuda, the off season, yet still warm enough to swim. We spent every day touring the 20.6 sq. mile island, ducking into sandy foot paths, searching for hidden beaches. We buzzed past the tourist alcoves in St. George where the cruise ships dock, massive floating hotels absurdly proportioned against the small town. We swerve around on-coming motorists, also on Vespas and momentarily forget to drive on the left. “Watch out!” We’d slam on the brakes and laugh. The speed limit is 15 MPH on the entire island. It was a great vacation.

Deeper inland, we’d stop everyday at the grocery store, where toe headed children would follow us while their mother shopped. I would wave, smile. They would turn away, shy. We never even scratched the surface of the culture. We had ventured far enough outside of tourist path, where hundreds pour onto the island and plop themselves down on the first beach. But we were in search of the same things as every other tourist—to see, experience, and enjoy. Never to interact. Never to get involved.

In thinking about the places that I have travelled, it has always been the case. My yearly vacations have always been an equation in pleasure. 7 days minus travel time, times having fun, divided by budget. Over the years we’ve become efficient vacationers, knowing exactly how to cram the most into a tiny window of freedom doled out by our employers.

This summer, when we arrive in Spain, we won’t be vacationing. We have rented an apartment, will have our dogs with us, and will be working during the days. Instead of seven days, we will have three months to explore the city. I have a few contacts, and will be reaching and hopefully making friends. Instead of ripping through the scenic tour, we’ll be living in Spain. Buying toothpaste and toilet paper. Going to the same café every morning and knowing our servers name. Nodding hello (buenos dias) to our neighbors. Getting annoyed with the trash pickup or the crowds on Sundays at the mercado. In short, it will be travel unlike what we have done before. We will be adopting the city for a period instead of just visiting it. It will become our Madrid.

How would you approach travel differently based on how long you’ll be there?

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • The first time I rode a vespa was on a vacation similar to this, somewhere in Mexico, I can’t remember if it was Cozumel or Cancun. The guy made me do the safety run that was supposed to show that I knew what I was doing, just a loop around a rotary in traffic. I totally blew it, had to do it again. Good story, but embarassing at the time.

    I’m enjoying the blog, and interested in making a journey like this myself sometime, so I will be interested in hearing more about how this immersion works out for you.

    Good luck!


  • Another great post and very true on how a lot of people vacation. I recently went on a 9 days road trip through the southern part of the U.S. and although it was fun, we tried to cram everything and see as much as we can in the few days that we had (I think it’s because who knows when the next time we will visit those places again).I think that if I have more time like a month, I would take things a lot more slower and get more involve and interact with others more.

  • Hi Dennis– Funny story! It took me a while to get used to driving the vespa too. Thanks for coming by and I hope you do find the blog interesting.

  • Hi NP! Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. I think it’s mostly our system of paid time off that does this do us. When you have 12 weeks a year vacation, as some countries do, it changes your relationship with time off.

  • Hi Christine!
    12 weeks of vacation per year? I can’t imagine that happening in the U.S. My company gave their employees 20 days per year right off the bat for anything including sick days, PTO, etc. and the option to flex your time when you need to get out a few hours earlier like for a dentist appt. or something. I still don’t think that is enough, but I thought that was pretty good compare to a lot of other companies.

  • Even if I’m only visiting a place for 4 days I like to make it like I’ve been living there for months and interact and live instead of tour.

    I also had an unrelated question: in your upcoming travels it says you’re going to Rome for about two weeks. Is that the only place you’re going in Italy, because I don’t think anyone should go to Italy without going to Tuscany, specifically Florence. It’s too beautiful and magical to miss, especially in the summer.

  • I much prefer living in a place for a few weeks/months/years as opposed to vacationing there for a week and seeing the pretty sights. You got a much more realistic experience of the place – the good and the bad. The only risk is feeling too comfortable and at home, and not also seeing the famous sights which shouldn’t be forgotten.

    Alecs last blog post..Job Search in Tokyo

  • Christine2: I will definitely consider it. My travel plans aren’t entirely locked down, although I have been to italy before, I would love to go to Florence.

    Alec: I agree!

  • I’ve spent two years living abroad and a fair amount of time traveling abroad, and they are very different experiences. Both are good, however. I think one of the best things about living somewhere is the routine. That sounds odd…don’t we travel or move somewhere new to escape routine?…but there’s something nice about becoming a regular at a gyro shop or having the guys at the market recognize you, ask how you are, and throw in a few free tomatoes or whatnot. When you’re on a short trip, you usually want to see as much as you can. You don’t do repeats. But when you live somewhere, you can have those favorite haunts. This routine also allows you to get to know people and invites you into the more everyday life of the place. You might get an invitation to dinner or a suggestion of a beach only locals visit. You make friends, learn the language better, and come to view the place a bit like home. It’s funny but whenever I talk to people who just traveled to Greece for a week or two, I always feel as if we’re talking about completely different places. The Greece they know and the Greece I know aren’t the same.

  • Theresa: I love that even living here in the US, going to your favorite coffee shop and they know your order…

  • For me renting a place and hanging around without feeling rushed is the way to go. I haven’t lived in Canada for seven years now (yikes!) and I love being able to use places like London as a base for travelling to Europe and being able to move Downunder to have lots of time to see the sights. Plus working abroad for me means that you really get under the skin of a place and meet some interesting local characters.

    Kirstys last blog post..Keeping Track of Link Sales

  • It looks like this post was written a long time ago, but I’m going to chime in since it just came across my radar.

    Great question! I’ve been an expat in 3 different countries and while each had it’s challenges — some major, some not so — it’s actually the return home, the repatriation that’s the most difficult. I relocated to The Philippines, India and Argentina courtesy of the Fortune 50 I was working for and with that came all the comfort of expat allowances and security, which both helped and hindered my travel plans. I wanted to take my “rug man” up on his frequent invitations to fly up to Kashmir to see his village and to meet his family and the people that were making the rugs I ordered, but security said it was off limits. They tended to be over protective, then again, they carried a hefty insurance policy on my head, so I guess there was reason for this.

    The fabulous thing about travel when living overseas is that the city/town/village you are living in is all new to you, even if you’ve been there before, so it’s like being on vacation in your own town. There is so much to discover. It’s a totally different experience when you are immersed in day to day living in a culture that is so disparate to your home country. When you go through the process of legitimizing your new life, it hits you when you have to get your fingerprints done and in countries that require an equivalent of what we call a “green card” having the document in hand is a settling feeling during a time that can be pretty nerve-wracking.

    My life abroad was in developing nations which is a different world than where you’re going, but it’s still an adjustment, no matter how excited you are about relocating. My way of handling it all is to learn your new environment before taking flight to parts unknown. Once you are in your new routine it’s time to break out the travel planner and get busy visiting parts near and far as though it all could disappear tomorrow because it’s really sad when you say, “Damn! I meant to go to …” and you are back in your home country wishing you’d made the plans.

    And finally, the most important thing I learned was during my first expat assignment. I thought everything I did was the right way. I was annoyed by what I perceived to be “mispronunciations” of words, but I was the one that was pronouncing menu incorrectly. The local language, Tagalog was not my native language and in reality, everyone that said Men-U was correct. And just because we say, “Buy one get one,” in the US, does that mean that “Buy one take one” is incorrect in Manila? I was a guest in their country and it took me time, but once I realized they said it correctly for their culture, I was able to smile or just not even think about it.
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