On any given day, my anxiety flares according to the situation. If I’m out, it’s usually related to being around other people. Today, I noticed I was feeling particularly anxious around the crowded summer streets of downtown Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. We had innocently chosen Slovakia as our destination with the mistaken belief it would be a great way to get away from the crowded city streets of Barcelona. The heat index in Barcelona was climbing along with the number of tourists pressing their way around us. It seemed everyone had decided to visit Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia all at once. It was an agoraphobic’s nightmare. The city is beautiful, but I am the first to admit when I’m no longer having fun or I’m just plain petrified–whichever comes first. We found an easy, cheap flight leaving Spain and going into Bratislava where the temperature was about 5-10 degrees lower there on average. Trust me this matters since they don’t use air conditioning throughout most of Europe. Even the name Bratislava with it’s Cold War history seemed to promise something chilling, and solitary. Plus, “Who goes to Bratislava?” I’ve never once heard my friends or family refer to it as a vacation hot spot, or even refer to it at all. It’s an eastern block country. Ok, so its post iron curtain, but does that really make a difference? We figured it would be like going to Croatia in the fall–mostly empty and beautiful. We’d have it all to ourselves.
How were we supposed to know it was the Lonely Planet’s top vacation pick for 2013? Sometimes the “no plan” vacation plan can backfire right into the solar plexus. Luckily, we found a place right away using AirBnB. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s definitely worth your time to check it out. We all know that one of the main reasons people don’t like to travel, besides having to get through the Airport Trolls, is the cost. Hotels in Europe during peak season can be prohibitive. But AirBnB has rooms for one-fifth to at least half the cost, depending on your preferences. For example, it will cost you more to stay in a private apartment, then if you stay in a host’s spare bedroom. But regardless of your individual style, you can find a place to suit you. From lavish penthouses in the heart of a major city costing $400 per night to a shared dorm room in that same city for $20. We used it for Barcelona and Marseilles, but always stayed in a private flat. This time, because of the crowds, we could only find a place in a shared apartment. Plus, the hosts were married filmmakers. I figured the chances were good that we would find our stay entertaining. Plus, it was better than sleeping in the more expensive, cookie cutter hotel rooms. Each place we’ve stayed at so far has had great personality and huge living space. The apartment was just off the old square and it was massive for an apartment. It even had a loft on the second level which we had all to ourselves. In fact, most of the time we had the whole place to ourselves. The wife was shooting on location, and the husband was interviewing some elderly locals about their memories of life during the Iron Curtain days of Bratislava. Our host was so trusting. He left everything out, even the pounds of loose change he had ready to be sorted in the laundry room. It was easy to see the couple had little of the anxiety I would normally feel having strangers roam freely through my home while I was out of the house. Heck, I’d feel nervous having them in the house while I was still there. These type of experiences remind me that there is a world full of people out here who don’t let their fears determine their decisions. Or maybe they’re just not as fearful. Everyone of the hosts we’ve met so far has said the same thing, “I love meeting new people from other countries.” Their reasons are different. One said, “I enjoy practicing different languages.” Another said, “It opens my mind to new ideas.” But no matter what their reason, they all said they like it.
I notice, this business of meeting new hosts, and this time staying in the house with a stranger is even helping with my social anxiety. Most likely it’s because I am meeting some really wonderful hosts who model trust and comfort with life and with unfamiliar guests. Just look at the profile of our host, Diana. “I am a Slovakian Filmmaker. Passionate traveler and life enjoyer. I love to meet people, discover new cultures, learn things. I am open and easy going. Don’t need luxury but yes good vides. I love nature of all kinds, animals of all sizes, good books, movies and documentaries. Family and friends are very precious to me. I believe in sharing, creativity and goodness (although sometimes deeply sleeping in every human being.”