Two years ago I decided to quit my life in Canada – cozy house, stable and well paying job, and comfortable relationship included – and move to Italy.
“Are you crazy?”
This is the response I was met with from the majority of the people in my life – friends, family, co-workers – when I told them the big news.
And maybe I was – but that crazy decision was, undoubtedly, the best decision I’ve ever made
First Things First
Let’s get something out of the way here: I’m not rich.
Travel – yes even crazy, leave everything behind, full time travel – isn’t as unattainable as people like to believe. You just have to make it a priority.
I saved for one year. I skipped my Starbucks coffee every morning (okay… allllmost every morning); I cancelled my cable subscription; I stayed in on Friday nights; I sold the 1,000 pairs of shoes in my closet that I never actually wore.
And do you want to know a little secret? I spent less per month while I was travelling and living abroad – all expenses included – than what I was spending per month on basic living here in Canada
I know, I know; mind = blown.
But that discussion is for another day.
A Whole Lot of Unknow
Back to it.
I left Canada on December 9th, 2017. I had a one-way ticket to Paris, a two-week AirBnb reservation for a cute little attic apartment in the neighborhood of Le Marais, and an over-packed luggage.
I knew I had to be in Italy on February 1, 2018 – that’s when my working holiday Visa became active and I had to meet with immigration to get my permesso di soggiorno processed.
But that’s it.
I had no plans for where I was going to go after Paris; I had no job lined up or place to stay set for my arrival in Italy. I was utterly and completely free. All of Europe was at my fingertips (seriously – flights, busses, trains… getting across Europe is freakishly cheap if you know where to look), and no one telling me where to go or what to do.
It was both liberating and extremely terrifying.
“I found the feeling of home”
The first couple of weeks were exciting. The weather was uncharacteristically beautiful for Paris in December; I was eating crepes for every meal (no regrets); and I was taking in every museum, cathedral, shop, and little side street Paris had to offer.
But then I hit my first rough patch.
While travelling from Paris to Ghent, Belgium, I got on the wrong train and ended up in the middle of nowhere, late at night, in a place where nothing was open and no one spoke English. It was my first time feeling truly overwhelmed and, worse, feeling completely out of place.
For the next week, it was cold and dark and rainy everyday. I didn’t make any friends at the hostel I stayed at. I was lonely and, for the first time since I left, I felt homesick.
But I powered through. I packed up and moved on to a city I’ve always dreamed of visiting, hoping it would lift my spirits. With my unrealistically high expectations and my fingers crossed that they’d be met, I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Christmas morning.
Despite the (typical) Scottish rain and the thousands of stairs I needed to haul my luggage up and down getting from the bus station to my hostel – I was enamored.
Edinburgh didn’t just lift my spirits – amongst the grey, moody closes of the Scottish capital, I felt at home.
That’s when first I realized I’d never be able to go back to the life in Canada I had once settled for.
To fall in love with a place, to feel more at home thousands of miles away than you did in your own house, is a strange yet overwhelmingly beautiful feeling. I don’t think it happens very often.
For me, it happened twice.
La Dolce Vita
I didn’t want to leave Edinburgh. It was, according to a friend I made there, my “soul mate city”.
What was meant to be 5 days turned into 5 weeks all too quickly – but then it was time to move on. I did, afterall, have commitments elsewhere. (However, in case you were wondering, I did manage to sneak back to Edinburgh for a total of 2 more months over the next year).
And then I arrived in Genova – probably the least well known of the large Italian cities. Genova was intimidating, but stunning. I had never experienced anything like its maze-like centro storico, the mesmerizing teal blue colour of the Ligurian Sea, and the to-die-for local cuisine (more pesto please…).
But Genova was different.
In Edinburgh, I connected with the city itself. This time, I didn’t just fall in love with the city – I fell in love with people, opportunities, and way of life that this city gave me.
I showed up to volunteer at a hostel just outside the city centre, intending to stay for a month or so and then make my way to Tuscany.
I ended up spending the entire duration of my visa (and then some) there – close to 14 months.
I spent these 14 months drinking way too many cappuccinos, cooking big family dinners every night, spending countless days taking sun (aka burning) on the best beaches in Liguria, and doing all of this with the best company I could have asked for.
All of the staff and volunteers working here went from being complete strangers to being my family in the blink of an eye. I’ve never been surrounded by so much love, laughter, and genuine happiness as was here in Genova.
It didn’t just feel like home – it became my home.
As you can probably imagine, the day I had to leave this place was a dreaded one.
But no one at home could possibly understand.
I cannot count on all of my fingers and toes the number of times I was asked this question – or some variation of it – while I was abroad. My friends asking when I was going to come back and get a “real job” again; my mum asking how much longer it would be until I came home, met a nice Canadian boy, and settled down.
Because exploring a new country every other week, sacrificing a large paycheck from a job you hate for a simpler lifestyle, living and working somewhere that makes you fall in love with life every day, again and again – that’s not a normal life, right?
But what is a normal life?
I don’t know about you, but where I grew up, a normal life is going to university straight after high school. It’s finding a stable job after you graduate. It’s meeting someone nice, buying a house, getting a dog, having some kids, going camping for the long weekend, and doing the same thing year in and year out until it’s time to retire.
A normal life is comfort, stability, familiarity…
It’s not a bad life. Heck, this is the life many people dream of.
No I did not take this life for granted – I know how lucky I am to have been born into a life that affords me these opportunities and these options. But that doesn’t mean I can’t want something different.
But what did I want?
I wanted to accidentally join a poetry reading in an iconic bookshop overlooking the Seine; I wanted to dance to the music of local bands at a traditional Hogmanay festival in the Highlands; I wanted to road trip the Algarve in an old VW Kombi, waking up on a new beach every morning; I wanted to learn a new language and build new relationships and I wanted to figure out who I was.
And I did.
I did all of that, and more – and that was only my beginning.
This is my new normal.
And I can’t wait for where my next chapter takes me.