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Not Standing Out In Europe

One of the biggest benefits of travel is standing out.

SOFIA, Bulgaria-

“I think I am most comfortable where I know that I don’t belong. I stick out like a sore thumb and it’s ok for me to be the outsider looking in.” -William Powell

If you asked a traveler why they travel this quote would just about say it all. There is a certain amount of leniency that’s awarded to the outsider — a greater amount of wiggle room away from the social norms, responsibilities, and expectations. There is a certain amount of energy that comes from having all eyes on you, from walking down the street and commanding attention. There is a certain amount of freedom from being in places where nobody knows you and have no vested interests in what your opinions or worldviews are.

It’s hard work fitting in. It’s much easier to stand off to the side of a culture, jump in where you like, but more or less just watch.

When I walk down the street and everyone is looking at me I feel comfortable. When all eyes are on me I feel safe — — who’s dumb enough to rob or attack the center of attention?

Travel isn’t a disappearing act, it’s the exact opposite: a reappearing act — the act of appearing in random parts of the world in continuous succession. Every long-term traveler that I’ve ever met was a narcissist. You travel to attract attention, not to hide from it.

You have to really like yourself to travel, because that’s who you’re going to be spending most of your time with; that’s whose thoughts you’re going to be listening to all day. There are fewer distractions on the road, your decision making process is condensed down to the basics — food, water, shelter — and having too much time to think is the rule.

My biggest problem with Europe is that I blend in too much here. I look like everybody else and people can apply their culturally-derived judgements on me. I can be categorized. People think they know about me. My foreign wild card doesn’t work as well here.

There is a certain responsibility that’s expected of the insider, certain standards that they are expected to uphold. One of the biggest problems I have socially is when people assume that I’m ‘one of them.’

When you blend in you lose one of the biggest benefits of travel, and that is the ability to draw people to you. Who’s going to go up and talk to the person who looks like everybody else?

Europe tends to be a relatively socially cold part of the world as it is. People do not seem interested in talking with people they don’t know. They don’t seem very curious about the people around them. They have their friends and family and that’s where their social interests end. You go up and talk to someone here and they seem to think, “Why is this person talking to me, I look just like everybody else?”

Filed under: Bulgaria, Travel Philosophy

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3526 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

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