I moved to Barcelona, by myself, in January 2012 and lived there for seven months. It was the first time I had lived outside of the UK – my home – and deeply experienced a new culture. Despite having visited the country a few times before, living in Spain was an entirely different scenario. I was faced with the challenge of adopting a new way of thinking, and it was simultaneously exciting and nerve-wracking.
At the time, I had no idea how much Spain would change the course of my life; I’ve traveled the world and lived nomadically ever since. Barcelona paved the way for that. Locals are masters of the slow life, and living there taught me a lot about the importance of balance, self-care, and simplicity – essential items for life on the road.
I’m sharing the five biggest lessons the country taught me, below.
1. The value of aimlessness.
I couldn’t count the number of days I’ve spent strolling the streets of Barcelona with no direction in mind – the city is built for wandering. Sometimes in life we’re so focused on our goals that we place barriers between us and everything but that goal. While it’s good to have something to work towards, this tunnel vision is limiting and we forget to interact with the world around us.
The Spanish are experts at living in the moment; I adopted that practice in taking whole days to get lost in the streets of Barcelona and focus only on the things I encountered along the way.
2. Food is to be savored. It’s also social.
While I live by the principle of enjoying every mouthful of food I eat, no one does that quite like the locals. They eat small meals throughout the day and well into the night, often with friends or family. Food is not wolfed down, but picked at leisurely. Over-indulgence is rare, and at least one component of a meal is always shared between the table.
It’s like eating for sustenance or eliminating hunger are the last things on their list; pleasure and company are priorities. Spain’s unhurried, communal dining style opened up a new dimension of eating for me, a practice now firmly stamped into my own habits.
3. Communication is not all language.
It took living in a foreign country for me to realize that so much can be communicated and shared between two people without the use of a common language. I had a basic knowledge of Spanish before living in Barcelona, but I found that body language and a smile were really what got me through. I even had running jokes with my beginner English students, just based off the funny looks we shared.
It’s time we got rid of the words ‘language barrier.’ It’s certainly an obstacle to overcome, but it doesn’t have to get in our way. We should strive towards learning the local language, but in the meantime humor and humility can be our most powerful tools for communication.
… I’ve traveled the world and lived nomadically ever since. Barcelona paved the way for that.
4. We’re stronger and more capable than we think we are.
I had traveled alone once or twice before moving to Barcelona, but never experienced something with that level of permanence. Moving away to a new country is a matter of sink or swim – and trust me, you can swim. No matter what, you will just figure it out. Living in Spain brought out in me resilience and resourcefulness – it was the launchpad that made me realize that dreams might be right in front of us, but it takes a push to make them a reality.
I’ve not stopped pushing myself since, because Spain opened my eyes to what I’m capable of. Whatever the outcome, you will always be grateful for whatever risks you take, because you will always learn from it. Not taking that risk can be far more costly.
5. To live life abundantly.
Living a full and passionate life is normal in Spain. It’s not something that costs a lot of money, and it isn’t earned. The Spanish take every day as an opportunity to live richly and simply, with good food and good company, never rushing to the next appointment but relishing in the here and now. Take in the small pleasures, the ones that last.
A lot of us lead an existence based on a reward system. We have to be in the gym before we’re allowed a piece of cake or a glass of wine. We can’t take a break from work until we’ve hit a certain target. I didn’t see this at all in Spain, because there these are rights, not rewards.
We don’t have to struggle through something to allow ourselves self-care and time for the things we enjoy; that’s ours to take without question. I feel that vibrant way of living every time I go back to Spain — it’s a mantra I now can’t travel without.
That’s a mantra we could get behind. Check out the perfect spots to savor in Spain — including in Barcelona and Costa Brava — in our Spring Issue!
Images via Shane Yuhas