Married to an Austrian, having lived abroad (in France and Austria) since 2002, and with family members scattered around the globe, I long ago switched my focus away from Ireland as the central, stable point in my life. To add to the international hotchpotch, my husband and I now categorise ourselves as digital nomads, albeit the fairly antiquated variety. We have been travelling around Europe for almost two years now, working as translators and writing a travel blog. So the question "Where is home for us?" is one that has arisen quite frequently. (Along with, at times, "Where the heck are we?")
Our long-held ambition to travel extensively was what launched us on our current path. We certainly don’t fit the profile of the typical digital nomad. We beat the average age of the digital nomad by about 30 years for a start. And we both hail from the digital dark ages. Our advanced years, however, afford us some advantages, the main ones being that the kids are grown and that we are mortgage-free.
Once we gave up our various commitments as self-employed English teachers, we were no longer tied down to a specific location. We can now travel freely, living off a combination of rental income and our translation work, backed up by some rainy day money.
We are no longer the hardy InterRailers we once were, and at this stage of our lives are not prepared to compromise on certain basic comforts. But neither do we expect or even want five-star treatment. During the warmer months, we travel with our caravan in tow. Off-season, we stay in apartments or the occasional hotel. We have our priorities. As anyone who knows us will attest, a load of fancy clothes is not one of them. As long as it’s drip dry, we’ll wear it. But we do insist on a comfortable bed, for example, and decent wine glasses.
We travel at a leisurely pace, often basing ourselves in one spot for a week or more and slowly exploring the surrounding area. We go where the locals go, shop where the locals shop and, thanks to Hubbykin’s wonderful cooking skills, eat well wherever we are.
We soon discovered that, once you are no longer tied to a timetable, travelling need not cost the earth. Being flexible means we can get great deals on flights, car-hire and accommodation. We can avoid the hassle of peak-time travel. We can take in tourist hotspots in comfort by visiting them off-season. And time and again, we are surprised by the low cost of living in many of our destinations. In the Czech Republic, for example, I remember a dinner for two with two pints of beer coming in at less than € 10.
Workwise too, we have learned to be flexible. In France, we've worked on the road. Literally. Sitting on the ground outside a café which had closed for holidays, tapping into their WiFi. We've proofread a Master's thesis in the nip on a naturist campsite in Croatia. We've even managed to work together on a translation whilst on opposite sides of the Atlantic, with me on a visit to Chicago, my husband in the middle of a cycling trip through Austria, Slovenia and Croatia.
Our travel blog came about as a result of a promise my husband made to some of our former students. “How will we keep up our English whilst you’re gone?” they wailed despairingly, but grammatically correctly. (We were good teachers.) “Anne will write a blog about our travels,” he promised. “I will not,” I protested. But I did agree to allow our travel mascot, a wooden seagull by the name of Séamus, recount his bird’s eye view of our travels. And so, “Gullible Travels, Diary of a Wandering Seagull” was born. Or should I say hatched.
Our blog has since become our passion and our creative outlet, an added dimension to our travel experience and a pleasant contrast to the tedium of translating insurance contracts and fertiliser labels.
With a sense of place becoming an ever more temporary state, home for me is nowadays more a question of “who?” rather than “where?” Home is simply being with the people I love. Be it for a stretch of years or a fleeting few days. Location has become irrelevant.
So where does that leave our home countries?
We’ve come to think of Austria more as our base rather than our home. It’s where we return to occasionally to meet up with family and friends, of course, but otherwise to regroup and reorganise before we set out again.
And Ireland? The country has changed beyond recognition since I left 16 years ago. Then again, so have I. Like old school pals meeting at a class reunion, when I return to Ireland I find we have little in common any more. I therefore tend to reflect on the past, the good and the not so good memories, the painful and the wonderful ones. And then I leave again, bidding a fond farewell to my still beloved Ireland. The place that the person I used to be used to call home.
Anne Gibney (56), originally from Dublin, now living near Graz, Austria. She and her Austrian husband, Herwig (57), after having followed careers in a variety of fields over the years, currently work as freelance translators. She also writes a travel blog, "Gullible Travels, Diary of a Wandering Seagull", with Herwig as photographer. www.gullibletravels.net