Month Five of Remote Year: Serbia
Not every country on a year long adventure is going to be perfect.
When I returned home for two weeks in September, I was often asked the question, “which city has been your favorite?” I honestly found that difficult to answer since every month felt like my favorite month. Whether it be because Valencia, Spain was so different and calm compared to NYC life; or that Lisbon, Portugal was a vibrant and lively city; or that Rabat, Morocco was a cultural awakening and daily challenge in every sense of the word; or that Sofia, Bulgaria was a lovingly warm embrace back to European life that reinvigorated our entire group. It was honestly hard to choose my favorite one.
For the month of October, my home was located in Belgrade, Serbia. Belgrade is the capital of the country, doesn’t have an extensive public transportation system, and is located about 4.5 hours north of Sofia by car. The Danube River splits the city into old and new, but my home resided in the old. My apartment was a 3 minute walk to our co-working space and I was at most a 15 minute walk from the people I hung out with the most. The city overall is super walkable, while also being packed with nightlife, bars, and some delicious restaurants. Serbia is a major hub for refugees, so Remote Year set us up with wonderful opportunities to volunteer and give back to those in need.
However, I can say that Belgrade was unequivocally my least favorite city.
For those in the group that I spoke with, they know my honest feelings. And I’ve had multiple talks as to the reasons why this has been the case for me. Those reasons range from the unstoppable and suffocating chain smoking of cigarettes inside almost every single establishment to the persistent gray skies, rainy weather and cold temperatures. I’m aware that my feelings are not the majority, and it’s perfectly okay for us to agree to disagree, but I know that I won’t be back. In fact, I disliked the city so much that I tried to escape it as much as possible.
It’s okay to not enjoy a city. It’s okay to not enjoy a country. While on Remote Year, I think there’s pressure to feel as though we owe it to ourselves to enjoy, appreciate or find the positive in every single thing. We’re all on this adventure, chose this alternative lifestyle, and therefore it needs to consistently stay true to the (potentially) very high ideals we initially set for it. Maybe even the expectations of those we left at home. But, it’s okay if things fall short. It’s okay if something doesn’t work out to be great. And it’s okay if sometimes, you really just don’t like a city for that month. It doesn’t mean it’ll ruin the whole thing. Honestly, that’s just life. Really.
So to combat my feelings about Belgrade, I essentially chose to leave it as much as possible.
I went to Athens, Greece for 5 days with a fellow Remote and explored a city neither one of us had been to before. The original intent was to watch Explosions in the Sky play a show, but we also ended up making new friends and visiting one of my older ones. I fell in love with the city, the people and the environment in a way that I had hoped Belgrade would have done for me. We both left knowing we would most definitely be back to Greece.
After getting back to Belgrade on a Tuesday morning, my negative feelings about the city immediately returned. To be honest, I wasn’t even excited to return to begin with, so I basically set myself up for disappointment. Well, goal achieved. An impromptu trip was planned on Friday of that same week to take off for Istanbul, Turkey the following afternoon. My roommate and I picked the flights randomly from a list, booked them, then met up with a separate Remote a day later who flew in from Amsterdam. Again, Istanbul proved to be excellent, bright, beautiful and lively. Despite it being my third time there, the city felt just as new this time as it had felt the first.
I left Belgrade a week early with a group of 8 Remotes to jet set across the globe to Seoul, Korea. We met up with a few other Remotes who were living there for the month and that’s currently where I’m writing this post. We have an Airbnb home that fits 16 people, with the fastest and most stable wifi I’ve experienced anywhere (200+MB / second download speeds), and are having a blast. It’s cold here too, and some days have been cloudy, but everything else has been awesome. Seoul is huge, complex, always moving and a place I could see myself living in for a couple months.
I’m a person that’s pretty emotionally sensitive to the weather. Too many rainy days, too many cloudy days and too many cold days in a row have a fairly strong effect on my mood. I mainly need sun to be a decent, functioning member of society. But, also being able to breathe at any given point in time because cigarette smoke isn’t being forced into my lungs is a perk as well. Belgrade provided very little of that, whereas all of the three trips mentioned above did.
We’re rolling into our 6th month of travel. This month brings our group to Asia, our 3rd continent, and the most extreme time zone change most of us will face this year. Currently, I’m 13 hours ahead of NYC. Yet, my life is made up of extremes. More now than anytime before I’ve sat and reflected on the weeks and months that have past. Then looked forward towards the (frankly) insane shit I’ll be doing over the course of just the next 3 months. I impress myself that I’ve even lasted this far into a year-long plan.
It’s one thing to think and say you’ll travel the world for a year — it’s an entirely different thing to actually do it. And find a way to survive.