The uneasiness I felt in Riga dissipated the moment I got on the bus for Estonia. Within minutes of leaving the city center and getting out into the countryside, I wondered if I was making a mistake leaving early. Truly, I knew it was the right call. These lakes and wooded vistas of Latvia were nothing more than a tease of what I thought I was getting myself into. Instead, I was plagued by city life and all that comes with.
Not even forty minutes onto the ride, the farther we drove away, what stress I had felt was all bought gone. Instead, I settled into some journaling and reflected on what had gone wrong for the first part of my trip and with everything else in life. I know that’s a heavy statement and overly dramatic to put out there, but truly I believe when we are faced with adversity other moments of similar angst rise to the forefront.
When all one can do is sit in their comfy bus seat, play Angry Birds, and ignore the stench of body odor and a clear beer detox episode from my fellow passenger and seat mate, these thoughts force themselves to be processed. I had two hours to kill, to see what I could better understand to make the rest of the trip a more productive one.
Pärnu is a beautiful beach town. While this might be the fourth largest city in Estonia and it’s former capital, to me it’s just a large town of forty thousand souls. For that I was grateful because it was easy to navigate and designed perfectly for walkers, runners, and bikers. Even if I tried, which I did, I couldn’t get lost within the city limits.
Where with Riga I felt like another body; in this hamlet, I felt more at ease with nature and the beach that beckoned. Still even with this more relaxed atmosphere lingering thoughts came into my head on why this trip had this up/down feeling. Then it struck me over dinner, that I had no one to share this trip with. Aside from my video camera and friends and family I texted, there was no other physical presence to experience this reality. To be frank, that was a challenge.
This was the first trip I can remember feeling out of sorts with my traveler of one status. I share it freely now, because many people travel alone. We all don’t have the luxury of travel friends or a romantic partner that we can tolerate enough to venture out to other parts of the world. To that end, when any unsettling experiences arise, all one can do is rely on themselves. It’s easier said than done.
While I loved walking the quiet streets and commenting on the varied buildings and architecture, I would have preferred to have spoken more on the history of the region. Obsessed with all things Estonia since the early 1990s, I was game to share my knowledge of what the transition had been like after the fall of the Soviet Union. Moreover, talking about what life was like as an independent country prior to communism would have been a worthwhile conversation.
Despite these best intentions, I remained stuck in my head. Having suffered in a way with the city life of Riga, I became that little boy from Brentwood who simply wanted to feel like he was back home riding his bike in the woods. The remainder of the trip was focused on rebooting the system and grounding myself.
Part of this reboot was a continued connection to the water. It didn’t matter the time of day, the weather, or the temperature; I kept walking the same section of beach waiting for that cosmic wink that things would be okay.
Some might tell you being alone is a state of mind. Some might even be envious of a trip without any friends or family to consider. And yet standing out on the shoreline looking out at the vastness of the Baltic Sea, I was reminded of how dreams change and in the future it’s better to not force things.
The fact during my previous teaching stint overseas (five years earlier) led to three canceled trips to this region should have told me something. It’s not necessarily timing, but perhaps divine intervention saying there are other places to be that will resonate more. I laughed thinking back at the previous trip I canceled and how instead of traveling I hunkered down in my Brindisi apartment and wrote most of the first draft to Valo in a one week period.
On this trip, I had intentions to write, to dive into National Novel Writing Month and instead I can report that the journal I wrote in daily, basically to process my thoughts of loneliness and questionable dating past, was left behind on the Lux Express bus I traveled on from Estonia back to Riga.
Talk about a wink that this wasn’t the area for any writing, let alone for any meaningful writing to remain in my possession. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this portion of my trip. There was peace in the air and even though I didn’t see the sun the entire time, feeling a closeness to the water was all I really needed.
Returning a few days later, I felt relief that I could finally move forward and check off these Baltic boxes. Neither trip was what I had expected or planned. Then again, I needed downtime to process some deeper thoughts, to move on from loss, and to realize that sometimes the best vacation is either one spent at home or among familiar things.
Traveling is said for many to be a way to see new locations, try new foods, and experience different cultures. For me, while that might be true at some point, right now it’s about finding that sense of home and familiarity in a toxic world that is continually a challenge to navigate. Here’s to the next trip being a better match for my current state of mind.
Eighteen plus years as a published author, Jonathan has been independent the last eleven. With readers across forty-seven countries and six continents, he has readers around the world. Writing across genres, he loves good dialogue and flawed characters.