So far, I have lived in three places: Toronto, Houston, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Specifically, I have lived in the suburbs of Toronto, the suburbs of Houston, and the suburbs of the Bay Area. That’s why we spent five weeks living and working remotely in (unprefixed) urban Berlin.
Our schedule completely changed from the usual 9-to-5. We worked mornings from roughly 9-to-1, but then we took the afternoon off. To adjust for our west coast coworkers, we worked in the evening from 7-to-11. During the day, we explored Berlin’s museums, parks, shops, and other neighborhoods. We also had a list of almost eighty places to dine at.
But we actually tried to eat in as much as possible. Our Berlin stints were wedged between other travel when we were constantly eating out, so we needed a break to eat a more normal diet.
Which was still quite different from diet at home. Our apartment had a kitchen with about a square foot of accessible counter space and of course was thinly stocked. As such, we relied more on pre-cooked and packaged food, like sausages or fresh pasta. We conveniently had a grocery store just a block away that we could easily drop by to fill out meals. However, that walk frankly took about as long as the drive to the grocery store here at home. Maybe I should be more open to picking up single items.
And city living did have other conveniences. The U-Bahn (subway) stop was on the median directly in front of the entrance to our apartment building. The U-Bahn is no London Underground, but it is was otherwise reliable. We might have used it more, but since we were exploring, we happily walked a few miles to our destination just to get out.
Overall, I found myself with a lot more free time than normal even factoring in the museum trips, walking, and other vacation. I read several book and burned through my digital backlog. I found a regular slot for meditation. I even got way ahead of my blogging (hence how I have so regularly published this year).
Of course, I am no magician and had exactly as many hours in the day as before. I have two theories for how I discovered free time.
My first theory is that by taking the afternoon off, I had more leisure time when I was most awake. At home, my free time lasts. from 7 to 11PM, whereas in Berlin, it was between 2 and 6pM. At home, I avoid stimulating activities like playing video games after 9PM because they will keep me up. I also have a hard time writing because I’m mentally tired. However, in Berlin, I was still fresh and engaged in my leisure activities in the afternoon.
My coworkers might disagree, but I also felt reasonably productive after 9PM since I was taking meetings and handling inbound requests. That work didn’t take much focus because I could react, then put it all down and go to sleep afterwards.
My second theory is that I just shook off a lot of my typical responsibilities by being away. In a vacation mindset, we weren’t dealing with the usual errands and household chores. My weekly RPG night (and the corresponding GM prep night) take about 5 more hours every week.
And yet, taking into consideration all of the changes in our daily life, things weren’t as different as I thought they would be. Of course, I appreciated the opportunity to travel so much, and this trip was truly unforgettable and may lead to long-term satisfaction and fulfillment. However, I don’t think I was any happier or sadder on a day-to-day basis. And Berlin doesn’t seem any better or worse than anywhere else I have lived.
It’s possible that my way of life isn’t conducive to truly experiencing the unique aspects of different cities. For example, Berlin apparently has great nightlife. I don’t really go out, so that didn’t make a difference. However, I do read books, which is basically the same no matter where I am.
But I suspect that really, my personality makes all of these circumstances totally fine. Before I left, one of my coworkers, after expressing his own excitement for my trip, said that he thought I would come back to the Bay Area really appreciating my life here.
I think he was right. Before I left, I didn’t think I had wanderlust or a need to “find myself” in some Eat, Pray, Love fashion. And yet, having loved the visiting a dozen cities across Europe, I know first-hand what it’s like being out of suburban North America.
And I know that suburban North America is good enough for me.