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The Dangerous Business of Going Out Your Door I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took. - W. Somerset Maugham

Confession: My Dread of Tallinn and Other New Places

ESTONIA | Saturday, 9 April 2016 | Views [423]

It's time for a confession: I usually dread going to new places.

How is that possible in a person with wanderlust, in a person whose driving force is to experience the unknown? I've been honest about the fears I've had traveling solo, but this is something different, and I've been trying to unravel it. Lately, the Internet has been full of stories of the so-called wanderlust gene and the personality profiles of the bearers. These people are supposed to be risk-taking, impulsive extroverts, but I am none of those things. I am a risk-averse, planning introvert who also happens to like to travel. Unlike the wanderlust gene stereotype, I am not constantly seeking the next new thing purely for the sake of its newness, nor do I have a disdain for the familiar. On the contrary, I grow quite attached to places and things that have given me a sense of wellness or contentment, and therein lies my conflict. I am compelled to go discover a new place, but then if I like it, the very act of discovering that I like it imparts a happy familiarity that turns into a dread of leaving it. I am always quite sure that I will never like the next place as well as I liked the current one. 

The dread starts creeping in quite early so that by the time my last night in a place arrives, I feel fairly miserable and depressed. I wish that I had more time, I regret that my attached self did not stand up to my wanderlust self during the planning of the trip to insist on more time in fewer places rather than less time in more places. This disquiet triggers a cascade of worries - of the blunders I'll make while figuring out a new country, of the new language barriers I'll encounter, of the hassle of packing, of the stress of making the journey, of the potential dangers I might face. Why put myself through it all, I wonder, when I already know that I like it here? But the wanderlust side has made the plans, and the attached side would never change plans mid-course (because it is too attached to the plans), so there is no choice but to go along with it.

Such was the state of affairs when I arrived in Tallinn, Estonia. I had liked Tromsø, Norway, very much and did not want to leave. It was my first time in the Baltics and my first time in the former Soviet Union. I didn't know what to expect and, even though I was sure I would like it while I was planning the trip at home, when I arrived, I did not want to be there. I went to my hostel and immediately attached myself to my room. It was a private hostel room, which is always a luxury after a shared room like I had in Helsinki. I was convinced that I would never like the city as much as I liked the room. I spent hours avoiding leaving the room, finding an infinite number of reasons why I needed to stay inside. When I finally left, I was greeted by the most surprisingly cute city, welcoming me with bashful shades of pastel on buildings decorated as finely as wedding cakes. There was only about an hour of daylight left, and I kicked myself for the time I had wasted. I found a cafe, which was the cutest cafe ever. I had a meal of salmon pasta with leeks and basil, which was the best (and cheapest) salmon meal ever. I forgot my dread, my wanderlust self winked a playful "I told you so" at me, and I congratulated it for having such good foresight. 

My time in Tallinn was immensely enjoyable. The history of Estonia is rich with tales of occupation by Denmark, Sweden, Russia, and Germany. I couldn't get enough of its medieval town wall with impressive but still approachable towers crowned with cute little red caps. The capital city has accomplished an amazing amount in just one generation of independence from the former Soviet Union. There is a hipster crowd, a vibrant foodie culture, widespread English, and well-developed tourist resources. The local Kalev dark chocolate is hands-down the best of any I've ever had. In other words, I grew attached to Tallinn, and I dreaded leaving it for the next place. But I am accepting that the cycle will simply always repeat, through both the highs of discovery and the lows of leaving, because for my particular type of wanderlust gene, the two absolutely cannot be separated. 

Tags: dread, estonia, kalev chocolate, sabbatical, solo, tallinn, travel, wanderlust


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