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  • Writer's pictureMari Hoikkala

Packing and Unpacking

I am a traveler. Not sure how it happened – when I was a kid, I was scared to even leave home for a sleep-over. But somehow over the years I’ve come to love a new place and returning to an old place that was once new. I love the temporariness of travel. I love the sweetness in the bitter-sweet feeling of coming and going. I love the feeling of lightness, how travel makes me feel I have a light touch to life.

I want to embody the phrase ‘the world is your oyster.’

Walking into a corner shop in a country I’ve never been before feels like entering Narnia. Hopping calmly on a train that I’m not even sure will take me there feels wonderfully cocky. Being asked for directions on the street in a city where I’ve just arrived myself, feels like I am a citizen of the world. Travel to me is freedom, and freedom to me is happiness.

And there’s nothing like a global pandemic to set happiness to a test.

I am hesitant to admit, but I have actually done my fair share of travelling in 2020. After first spending 10 weeks home alone in my apartment in Milan (one of the hardest lockdowns in Europe; ‘home’ to the coronavirus, according to a certain UK newspaper), once the restrictions were lifted I made a multi-stop two-day journey via trains, planes, and cars to our family cabin in the north of Finland. I spent a quiet beautiful summer there, after which I smart-worked my way through Latvia, UK, Croatia, and the south of Italy, eventually returning to Milan four months later, not quite believing it had all happened and that I had lived out of a medium-sized suitcase all this time.

Considering the state of this world, I do not take any of this for granted, and am grateful for having had the possibility to still move around and see some of my friends and family during this crazy year. I must reiterate, of course, all the while carefully following common sense and guidance: masks, social distancing, testing.

But I’d now like to describe a different kind of freedom that I learned during lockdown.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to work from home. At first, during the strictest part of the Italian quarantine (when even outdoor activities were forbidden, and literally the only thing allowed to continue in my life was work) I did not feel as fortunate.

Whilst our company adjusted to the virtual agency it had turned into overnight, desperately trying to stay fully operational (which we did!) and holding up our image of an adaptable, effective team (which we proved to be!) my work days suddenly stretched from the usual 10-12 hours, to 15-17 hours. With no options to get out and unwind, needless to say pretty soon I was not having fun, and the set-up was not sustainable.

Three weeks in, something started changing.

I consciously started putting time in my work diary for things like yoga, preparing lunch, having an evening off. Also, the world of work slowly began to adjust. And, somewhere towards the end of the first 10 weeks, I realized I was headed towards some sort of balance. For the first time I saw glimpses of the famous work-life balance that I’d always dreamed of having.

I began to discover ‘me-time’ in strange places.

On week-day mornings, in between the time I would normally perform a sequence of rushed morning-routine-motions and the time I’d first launch my Outlook, I discovered I could actually enjoy my coffee sitting down. I could take a moment and idly browse the internet, call a friend, or cook an omelet. And I did all these things with awe, in awe of the sudden multitude of possibilities a Tuesday morning could offer.

I found new pockets of time in the early evenings.

I discovered that not all work had to be done in a forced one-stop-streak every day. Some days, I would take a break in the early evening, do a workout, take a bath, cook food, have a glass of wine, and then return to my task 2, 3, 4 hours later, when my brain was rested, and when I was ready to put my ‘thinking-hat’ on again. And there was a freedom to work well into the night if I was in the flow, knowing, for example, that the next morning there were no meetings and I could sleep till 9.00 am.

But perhaps my most surprising discoveries were in places that normally weren’t taken up by work.

Some Friday nights I would crawl into bed to watch a movie, with a hydrating mud-mask on my face and a glass of wine in hand (did you know you can drink wine in bed?!), when normally I would have spent that time in bars. Or whole Sundays when perhaps all I did that day was sit on the balcony watching clouds and painting toenails, shuffling to the kitchen in slippers to snack on something every now and again, with a never-ending stream of podcasts and music as the soundtrack to my life.

Discovering time in this new way feels like freedom, the same freedom that I feel when travelling. Sleeping till noon guilt-free felt the same as discovering a cute piazza in a new city. Drinking a beer in the shower whilst blasting music was the same as having the confidence to order in a restaurant using foreign words I’d just learned. Doing yoga (or one morning just lying on the living room floor for 20 minutes) before sending the first email of the day felt bold like ordering wine during a work lunch.

I miss traveling of course. The geographical world is not my oyster at this moment as I write this post from the second wave of lock-down. But this different kind of freedom I discovered in 2020 is definitely something I’m keeping and taking with me when we are allowed back into the world.

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