Why My Europe Trip Won't Set Me Free

Why My Europe Trip Won’t Set Me Free

I trudged up the stairs to my house, listless and exhausted after nine hours in my cubicle. After a half-hearted hello to my father sitting in the living room, I noticed it: a cardboard-wrapped beacon of hope. My beautiful new Lonely Planet had arrived, clean and fresh and full of promise.

In a few months’ time, I would be embarking on my first solo trip: four weeks in Europe to help soothe the ache of a 20-something  who was disenchanted with the working world. I wanted this trip to provide more than a comprehensive knowledge of markets in Provence – I needed this trip to reset the optimism and energy I had lost since joining the workforce. More than anything, I longed for freedom.

The weight of my expectations was immense, and I could feel it permeate my planning. My search for the perfect Airbnb had taken on a slightly manic edge. Which of these Parisian apartments will best facilitate my personal growth? Does a view of the Eiffel Tower expedite self-discovery?

In the midst of my madness, I chanced upon a new perspective on the pursuit of freedom in Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life Death. Referencing Geoff Dyer, Maclear writes: “Now I know that the truth about freedom is that it’s a practice and not a permanent condition. It actually takes a daily effort to be free… Freedom is not a great leap or a definitive jailbreak or the result of a moment’s decisive action, but a project to be constantly renewed.”

Jean-Paul Sartre echoes this sentiment, advocating a form of existentialism based on the idea that all people are free to create themselves through their actions – essentially empowering you to play an active role in choosing the person you want to be and the life you lead by the decisions you make. In this way, he suggests that it is possible to be authentic and free, but this can only be achieved through consistent effort.

For the most part, freedom is not something you consider to be a process or something that requires continued work. For most people, the image of freedom is big, bold and fearsome: marching into your boss’ office and quitting your job or buying that one-way plane ticket to a faraway destination. But perhaps we have the measure of freedom all wrong. Maybe freedom lives in the many small decisions we make each day.

Freedom happens when you decide you don’t need that luxury hotel and the luxury loan to match. Freedom happens when you resist the temptation to slide from one unfulfilling job into another because it’s safe and comfortable and sounds good when introducing yourself at parties. Freedom may not kick down the door and carry you away in his big, beefy arms; freedom might just whisper in your ear that it’s time to reevaluate whether you’re still living the life you had hoped for.

I know I can’t buy my way to freedom. Planes don’t fly nearly far enough to outrun my fears of a stagnant life. This Europe trip won’t set me free, but it feels like a good place to start. Doing something that scares me feels like a good place to start. Getting inspired is a good place to start. But then, the time will come to go home and continue the mental work it takes to create a life that makes me feel free, day after day.

Cover via Héctor Martínez.