So, about a year ago, I decided to move to Madrid. I bought a one-way plane ticket and told myself that I’d go live the life of a struggling writer, getting by on late nights with fleeting friends and really cheap wine. I’d perfect my Spanish by immersing myself in Spanish culture and dedicate six months or so to finishing my novel. I’d be writing and living on a budget.
But then some things changed. Things in my work life changed, things in my personal life changed—they changed and suddenly, taking a half a year or more to self-indulge in another country didn’t make the most sense. There were things that I wanted to cultivate at home.
This switch made me feel conflicted. Although I was excited about cultivating those opportunities back home, I also felt like I was copping out of something I’ve always wanted to do and will probably always want to do. (That, alone, scares the heck out of me because I don’t want to be fifty years old one day and think “I really wanted to move abroad when I was younger but never did because of this reason or that.”)
And expatriatism is like…in my blood. I wanted nothing more and nothing less than to live out Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I love traveling. I love being alone, and meeting new people for a meal here and there. I love casual drinking. I love writing. I love romantic writing. I love writing and wallowing in shallow despair over nothing at all. I love having my own schedule. I love wine. I love wine and getting drunk at dinner. I love living simply. I love exploring new places. I love the way European culture values art and relaxation and self-indulgence and experiences. I love Spanish. I love cities you can walk through. I love challenges. I love it all. Moves like this were made for me, and it was undoubtedly tough to remove myself from the fantastical life in Madrid that I had dreamed up.
But I did. I bought a plane ticket back to the United States. All of the sudden, a six month adventure was turned into a one week vacation of sorts. Of course, I was still thankful for a week in Madrid, but my confident, explorative self was suddenly discouraged by the fact that I’d be alone on “vacation”—what fun would I have by myself in a small city for a whole week. After all, a week wasn’t the same as living there—instead of finding friends and investing myself for months into a new home and new people, I’d be in a hotel room planning out how to tourist my way through the city alone.
However, a couple months before I left, I remembered something. Wait, you were literally going to move there and LIVE there alone, I thought to myself. Why are you bummed about being alone for a week when you were going to be “alone” for months, originally?
I tried to answer that question, and soon remembered something else. My original plan was to host my own writing residency. If that were true, I could easily convert that into a writing retreat. Sure, I wouldn’t be there for as long, but I still got to go to Spain and I could still dedicate my time there to writing. That would sound pretty good as a fifty year old, I imagined: “I took a trip to Madrid by myself when I was younger, just to retreat and focus on writing.”
And suddenly, I felt rejuvenated. I bought a backpack to lug my laptop around Madrid and planned out a schedule that dedicated at least a few hours per day to writing, but also included plenty of site-seeing and exploration. And, let me tell you right now: the experience was wonderful.
Most mornings, I would get up and explore a bit—have breakfast, then walk through plazas and window shop, step into a cathedral or two, stuff like that. The city was pretty quiet in the mornings since Spaniards stay up fairly late most nights, so it was a good time to relax. I’d write a little bit every morning, either at a coffee shop or once I got back to my hotel room. One morning, I even sat and wrote in the gardens around the Royal Palace. People walked by with their dogs and the weather (albeit cold) was nice overall.
I’d take a nap in the afternoons, fully embracing the traditional “siesta” (as anyone who knows me would’ve expected). Still, my naps were usually pretty long since I did have trouble adjusting to the time-change. The long naps worked out well though because I’d stay up late writing after dinner, when I couldn’t sleep. I liked these late-night scrawling sessions because they made me feel like the drunken, expatriate artist that I had wanted to be all along.
In the evenings, I really explored. I walked through the streets of bustling people and went to quality bars and restaurants, including the oldest restaurant in the world, Botín, and one restaurant that I really loved, called Casa Lucio.
I met a handful of great people while I was there and was able to have dinner at both of these awesome restaurants with a like-minded young woman named Ainhoa who lives in Colorado and maintains a travel blog (which you should read & follow, here!). Ainhoa was traveling alone too, and meeting her reminded me of all the reasons I wanted to go to Spain in the first place—to explore the world and to explore myself, and to flourish in my findings. Undoubtedly, her company had a lot to do with the great dinner experiences, but we couldn’t help but laugh and talk for hours over a bottle of wine and an array of classic Spanish dishes each night. It was truly great.
I not only managed to visit museums and be a tourist, but was also able to engage in (broken) conversations with Spaniards and ended up enjoying Spain just as I had wanted to all along. I had authentic meals that I loved and meals that I didn’t like so much. I walked across the city for hours at a time, my feet killing me by the end of each day. I dedicated plenty of time to myself, which was sometimes spent cooped up in the hotel room, writing until I couldn’t write anymore. Sometimes I cried. Usually I smiled. Sometimes I wrote very well. Sometimes I wrote like shit. Sometimes I got very drunk, and sometimes not at all. I ended up writing and refining ten thousand words over the course of my weeklong vacation which, when considering how much exploration I did accomplish, was quite impressive (in my opinion).
And? I did it alone. As it turns out, there’s some restorative power in taking time to privately recalibrate. I spent my retreat reminding myself of the things I want in life—the things I want to accomplish and the things I want to experience. I made a choice to live out my writing adventure in Madrid and, despite the slight deviation from my original plans, I lived it well.