What does it mean to be “settled?”
By: Sara Balaban, Unsettled Tuscany Alum
What does it mean to be “settled?” I used to think that having my own apartment, a stable career, predictability and comfort of routine, and finding a partner were the components that resulted in the feeling of being grounded and on track.
Well, I’ve recently been questioning the validity of any of that. I moved back home with my family, quit my full-time job, and pretty much threw away all of the rules of what routine and predictability have always meant to me. And you know what? With every travel adventure, new person I have met, and living daily with a little bit of unpredictability, I’ve never started to feel more settled.
Over the past two years, I have been searching and hoping that with every new experience, I would begin to gain more direction about “what’s next” in life. It wasn’t until the most recent two-month European adventure that I truly started to feel like I was living. I visited six new countries while traveling solo and with old friends and new ones I met along the way. I danced under the stars, ate every delicious carb I could find, had honest conversations about life and the unknown, and connected with others and myself in a way that made me feel like I finally woke up.
As my European adventure was slowly ending, I made my way to Tuscany. Here, I spent my last two weeks with ten strangers through Unsettled, a community designed for travelers and independent professionals who embrace uncertainty and seek genuine connection while challenging the status quo of what “work/life balance” means. What I thought would be two weeks of relaxing while drinking wine and eating pasta at a gorgeous Italian villa turned out to be the two weeks I didn’t know I needed. Two weeks that helped me recognize the best version of myself.
I arrived at the stunning Podere SanGiorgio, a villa that lies in the charming village of Palaia in the heart of Tuscany. Decorated by magenta flowers and lime trees, the villa overlooked acres of olive tree groves and cypress trees lined up through the rolling hills of this fairytale location.
An image that, regardless of how and when you peered out, looked like a Microsoft Office screensaver or a Google image. I was greeted by the most vibrant and genuinely excited Experience Leader, Lynne Scullard, aka Skully, who immediately made me feel like I was home and embarking on a true adventure.
On day one, Scully said that “sometimes the people you get in your group are the people you need.” I didn’t give too much thought to that statement at the time, but this Unsettled experience confirmed her words to be true.
There were, of course, authentic Tuscan experiences like learning about the commitment to agriculture and over-indulging in the legitimate farm-to-table food. So much delicious food. Experiences like pasta making, wine tasting, milking goats, unknowingly climbing one of the highest peaks at Cinque Terre, wandering around the winding streets of nearby cities, and learning how to hunt for truffles with the sweetest truffle hunting dog Bianca. There wasn’t a single moment untouched by curiosity, passion, and thrill. Despite the laughs and memories being made over sips of wine and bites of incredible food that kissed the soul, it was the in-between moments with that group of ten like-minded strangers that I realized everyone is on their own journey of finding what “settled” means.
As I’ve been reflecting on those two weeks that came and went so quickly, I find myself back home in New York with inspiration and excitement about what’s next, both feelings I haven’t confidently felt in a while. My mind has now settled from this whirlwind adventure, and I’ve been trying to find a way to encapsulate this experience that has shifted my perception of myself and the world around me, the possibilities, and what’s important.
There were honest and challenging conversations about purpose, navigating careers, relationships, fears, and successes. Some were had during intentional workshops, and others discussed over a little too much of that red wine under the night sky. I happily witnessed Emilie become a digital nomad after hesitating to take a day trip to Siena due to a midday client call. With a bit of bravery and encouragement from the group, she not only took that client meeting from a cafe but felt so comfortable that she shifted locations and completed another call while sitting outside under the Tuscan sun. Seeing her go from apprehension of the unknown to successfully do something she hadn’t before made her appear that she could take on the world. Her reaction to that success was inspiring, and seeing the pride in what she had just accomplished made me feel such excitement and pride for her. Aside from my own, seeing the “ah-ha” moments of those strangers-turned-new friends was one of the most satisfying parts of this experience for me. How amazing is it to meet and connect with people from different backgrounds, career paths, and ages and learn about life, professionalism, and personal capabilities from such different perspectives?
I haven’t gotten this type of perspective from a classroom or working in an office setting before. These “real-life” experiences re-confirm the connection we all seek and how the things we feel or question about our own worlds are being felt and questioned by so many others around the globe. Taking the risk to physically change up my location and the life around me has been exactly what was needed to zoom in on my direction and find that sense of feeling settled.
My two weeks in Tuscany confirmed again how much I love traveling. Not traveling just for the sake of vacation, but what new cultures, people, and experiences can do to change you as a person if you allow yourself to be open to it. It reminded me of how much I love finding and showcasing the best in those around me, whether through photos, writing, or conversation with someone and telling them the amazing things I see in them. All of the things I have known about myself, my creativity, talents, youthful spirit, and passion were reflected back to me from ten mirrors, the people I had gotten to know and connect with over those past two weeks. I felt more seen by ten strangers that had only entered my life days earlier than I had felt while working in my professional office jobs for the last few years. Through this experience, my questions about my “what’s next?” have started slowing down. I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable, take chances, and be open to the possibilities of life around me. I’ve been learning to be more present, enjoy the now, and trust my capabilities. Every moment, person, and experience is, after all, a catalyst for the next great thing.
I’m so thankful to have found Unsettled, an experience that, right from the onset, found a way to pull out the best qualities in me. It helped me grow personally by challenging my self-exploration by speaking with others. It confirmed that the direction I had been looking for was already in motion, that life is a process, and that I was already living out my “what’s next” by even booking this trip.
Taking the chance to live life “unsettled” has actually helped me find a sense of calm. To capture the emotions, the inspiration, and the feeling of content from this experience is difficult, so instead, I’m passing along an anonymous quote shared with our group about halfway through; words that summarize the thoughts that have floated through my brain for so long and finally glided out of a pen and onto a piece of paper by another.
“Be wild. Be creative. Be real. I am no less of a professional if I get excited about painted faces and dressing up. I am no less of a grounded friend; if I want to dance with strangers under the moon, I can still move forward towards a goal even if I stop to get lost in the moment, lost in the feelings (the good and the bad), lost in the sheer craziness of this thing we call life. I can still have values even if I am curious about alternate views, beliefs, cultures, and ways of living. To me, curiosity is not just wondering how an engine works; it’s wondering how people work, how cultures interact, how we got here, and what it all feels like. I can’t help but ask all the questions, even if there are no answers. Every day we are all given the gift of aging. There is no other point than to live and experience as much life as you can possibly fit in.” — Unknown.
Unsettled is a global community for those who embrace the unknown and value meaningful human connection. Our mission is to inspire a lifelong pursuit of growth, meaning, and adventure through travel and shared experiences.