Al and I planned a large chunk of this road trip in between the cracks of our over-scheduled days back in Chicago. Plans would be agreed upon over GChat after a client call, or in between shoving bites of my salad into my face while eating lunch at my desk, frantically clicking between the tabs on my google chrome browser.
I would tell myself things like, close two new contracts today, and you can reward yourself by booking your next Airbnb in Montengro. At the time, it was the ultimate motivator.
Now I’m at an interesting point, because I am actually living out the reality of Frantic Work Megan’s choices. So far, we have stayed in 12 Airbnbs, and have dozens more to go over the next few months. With each new Airbnb we step foot in, it almost feels as though I am briefly stepping back in time, getting a glimpse into the mental space of Frantic Work Megan when she was booking these places.
Turns out, six-months-ago me spent most of her time dreaming about not being behind a desk, and swimming in the open ocean. And so, that is exactly what current me has been doing.
After the first few days in Croatia, we booked a three night stay on a very tiny, very remote island called Molat, about 40 miles off of the coast of Zadar. I remember booking the Airbnb at the time, and feeling really excited about the idea of staying somewhere ‘off the beaten path’ and away from civilization (this particular booking probably happened after a rough day on the phones and I likely never wanted to speak to another human again).
What amazes me is that even though I probably needed this remote island break when we booked it months ago, it ended up being exactly what I needed at this point on the real version of our trip. We had spent the days leading up to Molat hopping around busy cities and being surrounded by tourists; we were ready for some solitude.
After a 2 1/2 hour ferry ride from Zadar, we pulled right into the main harbor on Molat.
Molat is a small island, and consists of only three separate ‘villages,’ Zapuntel, Brgulje, and the village which we stayed in, creatively named Molat. There is one ferry per day that brings people to and from Molat, and it is regularly described as the perfect place to go for those looking for simplicity and peace, or as one website put it, “a place for hermits.”
Once we got off the ferry, our wonderful Airbnb host was waiting to meet us. Our place was an adorable one bedroom apartment that was only about 10 second walk from the bay, and a 5 second walk from the nearest ‘restaurant’ (which turned out to be the only restaurant)
We pulled up and I thought to myself ‘oh, there’s people here! This can’t be that remote!’ I learned almost instantly that I was very wrong.
We quickly learned a few things about this island:
- There was only one place open to eat while we were there. It only serves pizza, and it isn’t open until 4pm (there were others on the island, but they were all closed every single time we went to look at them. Another island mystery)
- Everything else closes between 1:00pm – 5:00pm, for “afternoon nap” (and by everything, I mean the one coffee shop, produce stand, and the one tiny grocery store at the top of the hill). We learned this rule the hard way after waiting until after 1pm the first day to try and get some lunch and hopelessly stared at the clock until something finally opened.
- Less than 200 people apparently live on this 8 mile strip of island, although we couldn’t find any of them. We did, however, find two completely abandoned towns (complete with abandoned cars that had grown into the weeds). Al and I became convinced that the island was once overrun with zombies and abandoned by humanity. I’ll do some research and get back to you on that.
Once we came to terms with these facts, we set our expectations for what life on Molat would be like; it would be up to us to entertain ourselves for three days. Luckily, we had a really stunning backdrop to work with:
It might be hard to understand (I can already imagine myself scoffing at reading this while sitting at my desk a year ago) but it took some adjusting to realize just how much uninterrupted free time we had. I found myself mentally struggling with how to use all of this time. I felt an instant pull to make sure I was being as productive as possible with all of the empty hours in which to fill. I immediately thought about all the things I could get done; write blog posts, organize our pictures, hand wash all of our laundry. I reasoned with myself that I should do these things because I have the time.
I realized as soon as these thoughts crossed my mind, that I was repeating the same exhausting mental cycle that I was so conditioned to doing at home. Constantly going through the (seemingly never ending) mental checklist of all the things I needed to do, or should be doing. It was the same pattern, in a different setting.
I thought back to why we booked this Airbnb in the first place. For the past few years in Chicago, it was extremely difficult for me to mentally relax. I don’t consider myself an uptight person by any means, but I have an incessant (and extremely) annoying internal dialogue that never shuts up.
One example of how distracted my mind has become is in my lack of new books digested over the years. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, but in the past two years in Chicago, I rarely picked up any books because my mind was never able to focus on the words. I would find myself pages into a book before I realized I couldn’t remember a single thing I had read. The funny thing was, I could easily spend hours numbing my brain to various series on Netflix, but I could not bring myself to read past the first few pages of a book. This was a problem for me.
Even on this trip so far, we have been on the move and constantly busy, that I hadn’t yet experienced the mental release that I was hoping would come. I naively assumed that because I wouldn’t be working, my mind would just naturally relax and unwind. I was (and am) surprised to find out that this was not the case. Apparently I am going to have to put a little bit of effort into enjoying myself.
So, that’s what I did in Molat. I worked at relaxing (I know, sounds like an oxymoron), but mostly, I worked on quieting my mind for a change. Each time I found myself getting distracted with unnecessary worry or thoughts, I would force myself to shut them down and just be present.
Essentially, I was telling the nagging voice in my head that it was not invited to join me in Molat.
Al and I spent hours reading. We would rotate between an hour of reading and an hour of swimming laps in the bay. We’d spend the afternoons exploring some of the empty beaches around the islands, and come back in time for our 4pm pizza (first customers right when it opened).
Our evenings were usually spent going for walks, reading, writing, or driving frantically to the west of the island, chasing the last moments of the sunset.
Each day as I would swim in the ocean, I would look out to the open sea and then back at the tiny harbor dotted with colorful buildings, and in these moments, my mind was quiet. When it finally spoke up, it would only say:
This is awesome.
I ran across this quote from a Slovenian woman named Natasa Kelhar who has been making frequent trips to Molat for over 30 years. She was able to describe the island in a way that I felt was so in line with our experience, and I realized how lucky we were to have been able to experience the magic of Molat:
The island makes you feel like you have isolated yourself from the world. You are here on the island and the rest of the people are there on the mainland. It’s kind of like putting more focus on fewer people that are around you. There isn’t too much of anything. When you go to an island like this, you prepare yourself for a different and a new experience. You are going to meet yourself and you will do things in a different way. If you are open for it – then it is great. It takes you out of your daily automatism.
Our time in Molat was a lesson in being present, and really appreciating the simplicity of each day. It was something that I hadn’t done in so long. There were no city sirens to complain about, no loud groups of tourists ruining the moment, and not a single reason for us to set an alarm clock.
Just the sea and a good book waiting to be read.
And then, after I spent enough time appreciating life and how amazing the moment was, I would slowly swim back to the harbor and think:
Please let it be 4pm so I can finally get some pizza.
Pizza cravings aside, we left Molat recharged and ready to take on more of Croatia, along with the inevitable crowds. I will always have this little island to thank for reminding me how important it is to take time to simply relax.