When Does A Traveler Become Local? Five Things We Love About Immersive Travel.

Vattaro – Trentino, Italy

We recently returned to this tiny alpine village in northern Italy after being away for nine months. During that time, we’ve traveled nonstop through many countries – Bulgaria, England, Spain, Cuba, and the U.S. – in a whirlwind of movement, languages, and cultures.

Nearly 25,000 miles of journeying separate us from our previous time here.

So you can imagine our surprise to be on the receiving end of a question, asked by friend after friend, even when delivered in broken bits of Italian and English, (sprinkled with local dialect), the question is clear:

“How was your vacation?”

We return for this third consecutive summer to set up residency by renting the same apartment in the same village. Even our wardrobe is more or less the same – long-term backpackers know what I mean. While we’ve replaced a shirt here or pair of shoes there, the basics haven’t changed.  Yet, even with all these “sames,” somehow, a shift has occurred. It’s subtle, yet powerful.

During these previous stays in Trentino, we have made many friends, attended graduation parties and weddings, and explored every hiking path and cycling route in sight, but we have always felt like visitors. The questions we received were about our home and family in Alabama and our travels. At the end of each visit, these friends wished us well and said they hoped we would return.

Now, it seems we have tiptoed across an invisible line separating visitor from local. During our absence and return, this place began to be considered our home. The time we’re away, it seems, is now seen as vacation. How strange and cool is that?

We didn’t set out on this journey with the idea of mini-residencies like this one; yet, somehow this is how our story is unfolding. We travel hard and fast for months, from place to place, then slam the brakes to seek stability and comfort. We find both in this picturesque region and have begun to see Vattaro as part of our fabric. The beautiful surprise is…

It seems, we have become part of its fabric too.

In honor of this bit of travel goodness, here are 5 things we love about having a short-term residency; yet not a permanent residence:

Every single item gets to escape from the backpack and breath it’s own space. Ironically, in this apartment I have the biggest closet I’ve ever had in life; yet only a small traveling wardrobe in need of hanging. (I would have performed backflips for this closet a few years ago).

This “unpacking” would not be as sweet without the allure of re-packing and heading out again on the horizon. Because we know the time to go is just around the corner, the temptation to accumulate stuff – a.k.a. meaningless junk – isn’t a factor.

No Pressure to Rush.
With three months, there’s no rush to see and do it all. We can take our time, visit favorite places again, and truly savor the experience. Like our wardrobe, we have time to breath too. Even to grow herbs. My basilico (basil) is fabulous!

Being Renters.
We still own a home in the U.S. and know the responsibility of home ownership all too well. Negotiating rental contracts and repairs from afar can be a challenge so we’re beyond happy to rent while traveling. Part of our “trick” to staying on budget is negotiating lodging.

Typically we spend a few nights in an Airbnb or local apartment to determine if the place suits us, then negotiate directly on a longer stay. Utilities and Wi-Fi are always included in a relatively cheap monthly rate and often these rentals come with perks – like being adopted as family by the owners. No repairs or maintenance falls to us. When something’s broken, we call someone who takes care of it.

Here in Vattaro, this typically means leaning out the window and yelling “Martin, the so-and-so isn’t working.”  Needless to say, traveling has shifted our perspective on the great American dream of ownership.

Of course, we realize we can never be true “locals” without fully participating in the system and paying a fair share of taxes in whatever place we land long-term, but for now, we are content renting-the-dream.

Sharing adventure with friends.
Knowing in advance that we will be in one spot for several months means we can invite friends to visit! Everyone knows we have an open door policy and nudge anyone who will listen to come join us. Since setting out on this journey in May 2015, nearly forty – 40! – friends and family members have taken us up on the offer and visited, most of those coming here to our apartment in Vattaro.

We’re dreaming up a special prize for friend #50 at Casa Simpson!

Insider Knowledge.
Even though come fall, we’ll be somewhere else, in another country or continent, we forever know how it feels to live in Italy. We have managed however slightly to get beneath the surface and connect to this place. We now think seasonally in how we eat and shop. Like locals, we turn our noses up to cherries until they are perfectly plump and ready. We’ve learned where to buy the best homemade pasta and how to make it for ourselves when the mood strikes. We understand the rhythms and can grasp most of the language (even if we can’t fully speak it). We see beyond the vacation destination and know its downsides and ups.

We have a home here, wherever in the world we may be – and for that beautiful knowledge, we are beyond grateful.

If you like this story, you might also like:

Nomadic Life: 18 Months on the Loose

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