By Dana Hall
The difference between security and freedom: why this woman abandoned familiarity to live life out of a backpack.
If someone had told a teenage Fanni Bartanics that by 2016 she would be living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, she wouldn’t have believed them. Living anywhere outside her native Hungary wasn’t something that had crossed her mind until adulthood.
Born in Budapest one year before the fall of the iron curtain, Fanni grew up in a Hungary caught in transition. Today, the country remains steeped in conservative tradition, much of which was adapted from its decades of Soviet rule. Fanni was taught from a young age that going to school, getting a job, getting married, and raising a family was what she needed to do to achieve success in life. While she wasn’t given reason to believe otherwise, she questioned if this was the only way to live life.
Curious though she was, she had never had any intentions of moving abroad. Fanni had always wondered why others seemed so interested in western Europe, an area that held no true draw for her. However, when presented with an opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Portugal at age 20, she decided to see for herself what others were talking about. With every intention of returning back to Hungary and continuing on with the life society had mapped out for her, Fanni made the move.
Things were difficult at first: in addition to being on her own for the first time, Fanni quickly learned that the English she’d studied throughout her childhood was nowhere near the level she needed to communicate properly with those around her. The isolating effects of the language barrier nearly caused her to return back to Hungary, but the more she got to know people, the more she was able to learn. Over time, the barrier thinned and disappeared completely. As the challenges of her life in Portugal began fading away, Fanni began feeling more liberated than she’d ever felt before.
When Fanni returned to Hungary at the end of her semester, the familiarity of her home felt more uncomfortable than the obstacles she had encountered in Portugal. The experiences of living abroad had proved far more educational than any of the courses she had taken university. She found that school was now holding her back rather than pushing her forward, so she decided to drop out.
Upon telling her parents that she would not be returning to school, they were devastated. They struggled to see how leaving school was going to lead to a better life and were initially against the decision. Without the support of her family and armed with the knowledge that she was taking a risk, Fanni moved to Belgium and became a flight attendant.
In keeping with her experiences in Portugal, the initial move to Belgium was difficult in the beginning. She had again thrown herself into unfamiliar territory, but this time she was focused on excitement, rather than fear. As things settled down, she began feeling depressed. Deciding the country wasn’t for her, she moved on.
Belgium was only the beginning of an impressive number of moves around western Europe and the UK. After Belgium came Spain. After that, it was Sweden, which was followed by England. As she cycled through countries, Fanni realized her life had become formulaic. She was moving to new countries to conquer challenges and leaving as soon as the things began feeling commonplace, which led to depression.
Fanni hadn’t intended on moving to as many places as she did. In each of these places, she had attempted to set of a life: she’d get a job and rent a place to stay, make friends and become familiar with her surroundings. Each of her moves had resulted in depression, which is what caused her to continue on to the next destination. After seven years of moving from place to place, Fanni decided it was time to go back home. If depression was at the end of each new experience, she didn’t feel it was worth it.
Back in Hungary, Fanni found herself equally as depressed as when she’d been living abroad. She didn’t enjoy the routine of going to work and coming home. She didn’t enjoy the assumption that she was going to get married, and the idea of settling into a traditional life was unappealing to her in every way.
Certain patterns and habits made Fanni wonder if staying in the same place for a length of time was the right thing for her. Instead of buying things, she found herself giving things away in an effort to keep her possessions to a minimum. She realized that her depression hadn’t been caused by travel, it was being caused by the traditional life she had tried setting up for herself in each of the places she had lived. For Fanni, travel was the cure.
She kickstarted her next adventure, opting to hitchhike across Europe, documenting her journey on a Facebook Page that she set up for friends and family. From there, she upped her game and hitchhiked on a boat across the Atlantic, which landed her in South America. Since then, she’s made her way into central America and Mexico, working odd jobs along the way to keep herself afloat.
While traveling through Colombia, Fanni found a new love: diving. She is now training to become a divemaster, something she wouldn’t have fathomed even a year ago.
As she posted her travels on Facebook for loved ones back home, Fanni noticed strangers had begun liking her page as well. She decided to start a blog, My Seven Worlds, which immediately gained traction in Hungary. With the added goal of inspiring Hungary’s young generations to lead whatever life suits them best, Fanni is showing that most opportunities are gained by falling down seven times and rising up eight.
Hungary has a turbulent history, only gaining independence from soviet rule in 1989, one year after you were born. What was it like growing up in a country that was still feeling the repercussions of those events?
I only found out that it was like that when I moved abroad for the first time at the age of 20. When you have no comparison, you don’t really know your own country. Now I see how restricted the opportunities were and how closed-minded the mentality is. I feel the country is more depressed than the West, but I have had a wonderful childhood despite all our struggles. I could have been born in a much worse place, so Hungary still gave me a good start to become who I am today.
My family’s struggles were mostly financial. My family gave me everything that I needed, but they worked 2-3 jobs and gave up spoiling themselves. My requests were never refused, but I never asked for anything seeing how little we had. However, it was more than enough to give me an education and the support I needed for a fair start.
You say that growing up, you always had a fear of the unknown. Why do you think this was?
Because most people feel this way. I was taught to follow the norm. Go to school, graduate, get a job, climb the ladder, make babies with a husband whether he is good to me or not and save for retirement. So anyone who dared to step outside of this perceived comfort zone had to face public critique. I face this day in and day out, but at least those who matter accepted my way of life and started to support it. They see how happy it makes me.
Hungary grew up with fear. Fear of the Turkish, the Germans, the Austrians, the Russians…etc. Fear stayed within most people’s hearts and affected every part of their lives. It was a different world with no opportunity to get affected by the West. I represent a new generation.
You say that you used to find a lot of comfort in routine. Can you explain why this was and what prompted you to move abroad for the first time?
Of course, like everyone in the post-Soviet Union countries, we were made to follow and to work. The system used to provide the job, the food and the education. It was safe. Once the country gained its freedom, it was left alone. No one looked after it anymore, so I suppose we just followed what we knew because it had worked before.
I was curious and luckily I was born in the age of exploration. I was never drawn to the idea of living elsewhere, but I wanted to see what the fuss was about the West, so I went to study in Portugal. It was like a personalized drug to me. I was free.
Were there any big differences in Portugal that were a culture shock for you?
I wasn’t really focusing on Portugal, rather the international experience itself. I was studying in English and Portuguese with classmates from all around Europe, from countries I had never even seen in photos before. I was out of the house for the first time. I had to cook, wash clothes and do my grocery shopping alone for the first time. I didn’t have time to get shocked by another culture, I had to grow up fast.
At first, I hated it. I cried because I felt homesick and I couldn’t speak English even though I studied it for 15 years. Language education is not great at home. So I felt lonely. But then after a few weeks studying English in my room I met a boy and we got close for the time that I was there. He helped me speak and socialize. Once I was out of my shell, nothing could stop me. I started traveling with my classmates around Portugal and I knew I could not go back to Hungary.
How did changing your perspective help you discover your love of travel?
I guess it was always in me somewhere; I loved discovering things, but my country’s mentality told me not to cross the line. Once I did cross it, I wanted to cross more and more. I realized when I’m exposed to challenges, I learn faster. I got to know myself and the world much better. I became better. Seeing this huge improvement took me further and further away from home.
You quit school to pursue your love of seeing the world. Was this a hard decision to make? What was the deciding factor for you?
It was the best decision I ever made. The course that I took at university was not well taught in Hungary. I basically paid to read books in a different place other than my home. No practical knowledge whatsoever. I disagreed with the system and I saw no use for spending this much money on something I could learn from books or the internet at home.
I knew life would teach me the skills I needed to make my dreams come true. So far, everything has turned out better than expected. The only thing that kept me in school was the outside pressure and the guilt of knowing that if I left I’d be a quitter.
Your parents grew up in a society that didn’t make seeing the world an easy thing to do. How did they feel when you told them you were going to travel long-term?
They freaked out 😀 Seeing their 20-year-old moving to Belgium was heartbreaking. Especially because that meant quitting formal education. They disapproved so much, it began a seven-year battle. Because I struggled a lot at the beginning, it was very hard for them to witness how “I was throwing my life away”. I kept on changing countries and jobs, well-paying, prestigious jobs, so at one point they almost turned away from me.
However, love is stronger than anger, so after eight years, I finally started putting my life together in the way that I wanted to. They are not only supporting but proud to the point that they can’t stop bragging.
My parents wanted me to have the life they never had. Financial safety, happy hearts, fulfilling dreams. But they also thought they knew how I would reach that goal. When I left the path they’d set out for me, I disappointed them, but what parent wouldn’t be scared of their kid moving away from what is safe?
You worked as a flight attendant based in Belgium and Spain for a while and have also lived in Sweden and England. What were these experiences like for you?
I made sure they mattered. Each time I left a life behind to start a new one, I made sure there was a bigger challenge ahead of me. This was all on a subconscious level.
Even if it seemed like I was living the dream in these places, I’d get depressed after a while. I left to go somewhere new, just to fall back into the same routine I had wanted to get away from. I always found a place to stay, a good job, made friends and then the same cycles would start all over again until I put a stop to it. All these countries played a major role in the realization that the traditional life is not for me. It never made me happy, so I became a backpacker.
I tried to fit into Hungarian society. I tried saving for a house but kept on reducing material possession until all I had left was a backpack. I’d never felt so free before. I know this was for me. The moment I decided to become a backpacker, my life was on track. I do and I love, with people that I love, in places that I love. I know I can go anywhere and continue living this life enriched with love.
When did you decide to start your blog, My Seven Worlds?
During the summer of 2015, I went hitchhiking for the first time and I covered 8000 km. I started a Facebook page for friend and family so they could follow my adventures. But then I slowly started changing my tone in the posts. Instead of focusing on what happened, I was writing about how it made me feel and what I learned from it. Then the page started growing and many strangers followed me. Only a few weeks into the creation of the page, someone contacted me and asked me to start a blog, so I did.
How did you get people noticing your blog at first?
Once I saw the need for a voice like mine, I started promoting it in Hungary since this country needs my voice the most. I wrote in Hungarian, but also kept writing in English too, because I consider it my first language after living abroad for so long. But really, Hungarians needed someone to tell it how it is, so I was interviewed by many online platforms, newspapers, radios and TV channels. At the moment I’m working on becoming the best source of information for personal development (through a traveling angle).
Were you nervous to post personal stories at first? Do you get nervous now?
Yes of course. I was shit scared how people would feel if I got too personal, but I got great feedback on it. I showed the world my dark side, by weaknesses, my Achilles heel, because if I’m not honest with them, I’m not honest with myself either.
We live our lives hiding behind filters. None knows when we are sad and struggle with love. No one knows when we cry because a big bill came in and we have no way to pay it. We pretend to be okay, to be happy, to be perfect. We hide our mistakes.
I had to find the courage to show my mistakes, my flaws so I wouldn’t be afraid of criticism anymore. After all, the only person I want to meet the expectations of is me. I still get the chills when I have to confess something to my readers. Something I did that most people would disprove of. That’s when they come forward and assure me to keep telling them the hard truth, because it helps them.
You discovered your passion for diving while traveling. What set diving apart from the rest of the things you discovered while on the road?
Scuba diving was my calling. I started a one-year backpacking adventure with fear in my heart. The biggest fear was open water. I was literally terrified in the sea.
One day I was hiking in Colombia and I met two divemasters who told me that if I don’t face my fears, I’m a hypocrite. I’m preaching to people about how we must experience something before we can judge it and I still refused to go underwater. So I paid for my first course and that first breath changed me forever. A burden, a ghost that was following me, disappeared. At the moment, I’m about to take my divemaster exam and be a professional diver. And I will not stop.
What would be your advice to anyone who might be considering long-term travel?
Stop worrying about what you bring and start opening your heart to what you will take with you from each experience. There is never a good time to leave, I had a job too, a car, stuff, and family. But I never had happiness. Now I do.
You will never be the same after traveling. It is the best thing that ever happened to me, but it’s not for everyone. If you feel you can’t find your ground where you are right now, traveling is certainly a good alternative.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Let the road decide where you go, don’t make plans, you just get a one-way ticket to a country you never heard of and start interacting with the locals and other travelers. The trip will organize itself, don’t take the spontaneity out, because it would be like not using salt and pepper.
Judge once you know. Compliment and don’t complain. Understand before you speak. Listen to your heart. Block out social criticism. Don’t worry about money, you can take jobs anywhere. If you leave alone, you will find plenty of travel buddies on the road. Don’t wait for the moment, make the moment.
When Fanni decided nomadic life made her happiest, she never looked back. This isn’t the say it was easy: she may have discovered the life she wanted to lead, but it took years of trial and error to truly make it work for her.
Fanni’s blog, My Seven Worlds, is a testament to what can happen when you follow your interests. She had never planned on starting a blog: it was an opportunity that presented itself in wake of her lifestyle. Over time, Fanni learned that taking a new opportunity is the best way to open doors to more.
It’s hard to know which opportunity will be the one that changes your life until after its happened. For Fanni, the opportunity was Portugal.