Confessions of a lazy traveler

by Janice Nigro

What is the craziest excuse you have ever used for traveling somewhere?

I am guessing it wasn’t to play in a rematch for eisstockschiessen.

Yes, it was a rematch for eisstockschiessen (an ice game but not curling) that compelled me to travel to Germany in potentially the worst part of winter, for a second time in a year in February.

I didn’t plan a trip to purposely participate in an ice game just to be different. One that few travelers would have ever heard of. Or that even few Germans have played. Or to brag that I could say the word. I am not really into cold weather and ice; I am seriously dedicated to getting balance back in my life in the endless summer city of Los Angeles after surviving winters in Norway.

I wasn’t even in it for the story potential. OK, maybe (although I didn’t exactly make that work this time). The reason was more basic than that: to visit friends living in Munich.

Their invitation to the rematch was the seed. Munich is centrally located in Europe. From there, you can fly virtually anywhere in the world with ease. So, yes, I chose to visit yet another friend currently living in London.

There, that’s my secret of how to get around the world without thinking about it. “Just-visit-friends.” It works; I have met my friend in London in five countries on two continents, because that’s where she was living.

Lazy traveling, you might call it. Maybe immersion (or slow) travel if you want to be sophisticated. When the lack of the ability to make your own decisions about where to go or how to spend your money prevents you from doing anything, you can rely on the location of your friends and their intimate knowledge of a specific city to fulfill your travel dreams. The only thing you have to do is buy the ticket.

Lazy travel for me isn’t an accident. I have been working on this worldwide network of friends my whole life.

My training and profession as a scientist in the USA made it easy to start. Scientists in the USA are virtually hosts to the world. Many scientists come to the USA for training. I have always been fascinated to meet people from other places, but I have also felt duty bound to host international scientists in my own city. A Swedish woman went camping with us in West Virginia when we were all graduate students in Baltimore. I learned how to make RNA from an Italian in San Francisco. I have met Germans, Indians, and Australians just because they worked around me.

But my network exploded when I chose to move to live overseas in Norway. Then I met Norwegians, more Germans, Spanish, Basque, Catalonians, French, English, Scottish…When I left Norway, we spread out across the world as if a bomb had gone off, and we each landed in our countries of origin or somewhere else. Like Tasmania where some American friends I met in Norway now live.

I have traveled to a small town in Ireland for a wedding, some crazy sort of glamping place outside of Berlin for another wedding, and another in a small town just over the border from Spain in France. To reach that wedding, we drove through coastal areas between Spain and France from Barcelona on a beautiful early in summer day. I had to wonder exactly how I had been living in Norway for all the previous 6.5 years without discovering that part of the world not geographically so far away.

I never would have stumbled onto any of these places on my own.

I traveled to Munich and London this past February, honestly, for no other reason than I could easily do it. For one thing, my work is totally internet based.

I could have found most of the activities I participated in on the internet, albeit with some effort and patience. I am just not sure I would have chosen to do them. We played eisstockschiessen at the Tegernsee, a beautiful area frequented by Muncheners in winter and summer. I could have found the game, the lake, and the beautiful hotel that we stayed at on my own. But I wouldn’t have shared an evening of fondue, or mingled with a variety of German medical, business, and journalistic professionals who engaged me in conversation about my visit to Germany and what was happening in my country (even teenagers have an opinion about our current president). And many are concerned about what happens after Brexit.

The trip out to the Tegernsee was a somewhat glamorous event, but lazy travel allows you to find value in even mundane errands, especially if you want to learn some of the language. Any conversation and even the advertisements become interesting. Mastering a few words is a remarkable accomplishment for any day and fulfills a sense of purpose for being there.

I made it to the other side of town to meet some friends when I was sure I was standing in the wrong place for the streetcar I needed to take. The best that I could do in German was, 17? The woman smiled back and showed me where to catch my train.

I spent one morning over hot chocolate and coffee at a Sicilian café. Most of the conversation with my companions was in German, but I could hear the joy in their voices.

The café was a warm-up for a small street market on Tuesdays. A small market you wouldn’t necessarily read about, but where the two of them each week meet to gather fresh cheese, meat and flowers, which ironically were sold by the grumpiest flower guy on the planet. A reminder that sometimes you just gotta fake it.

We visited the Turkish guy for fresh fruit and vegetables. Each week he travels to Verona to purchase fresh produce from Italia for his customers. Like oranges from Sicilia. These are the best oranges on the planet. How would I know where to shop for my produce in Munich if I didn’t live with that family? Our farmers’ markets in California are the closest thing we have to small neighborhood shops, but we don’t have the warm chocolate croissant beforehand.

I discovered surfing in Munich. I know where to get chilled Prosecco in a bottle and where to buy fine chocolate (1001 Sense). Or to have the best gelato (Ballabeni) or that there is a season for gelato in the city (March to October only; this is hard to believe). I wouldn’t know where to get cronuts (delicious ones; Dominique Ansel Bakery), Japanese creme pastries (mille crepe; Sakurado), or a Bollybellini (Dishoom) in London. I wouldn’t know how far and how fast I could walk, or which bus to take. I wouldn’t have helped bake a cake.

I am stating the obvious when I say travel around the world is easier today. Even the airports in rural places, like the islands I visit in Indonesia, are no longer hot, muggy, fan blowing to keep you cool out of the way structures. I wonder sometimes with the ease of travel and our obsession with bucket lists, if we miss something in our superficial haste to visit other places around the world.

I can’t speak for the friends I visit. At home, at least for a little while, I think of what my friends are doing on any particular day of the week. My friend’s walk to work through Chelsea on any weekday and her chance encounters with a handsome celebrity. Brunch at the funky pink Japanese restaurant on Saturday. The hot chocolate and the warm chocolate croissant and the joyful conversation in the Sicilian café in Munich on Tuesday.

I am ready to go back…or maybe it’s a good thing the artful café pastries are left in London and Munich. But I can still taste them.

What’s your version of lazy travel?

©Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com

Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Ink. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, PLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.

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