Permanent Vacation

'Things in Israel Are So Hard. Traveling the World Is Easy.'

Departures / Arrivals: Dana Lev Levnat struggled to make ends meet in Israel, so she chose to travel the globe instead. 'Anyone who doesn't do it is dumb,' she says.

Dana Lev Levnat.
Tomer Appelbaum

Dana Lev Levnat, 38; “I have no home”; arriving from Berlin

What do you mean, “I have no home”?

I’ve been traveling for the past three years. I’ve had no base since October 15, three years ago.

Where have you been?

I just spent two days in Berlin. I’m a photographer, and I joined friends who have a band. I documented them on a tour of Germany. As far as I’m concerned, I’m done with Europe. It all started after a year and a bit that I spent in Asia. I came back to Israel to vote, and after the election I went to Turkey and from there I started to crisscross Europe.

How did you decide to forgo a home?

I’d wanted to do it for years, but the idea scared me. And then, somehow, a situation developed in which all kinds of things bugged me in Israel. I knew I didn’t want to stay around, but there was no specific place I wanted to live, so I bought a plane ticket to Thailand. Originally I didn’t plan for it to last three years, but today I think that anyone who doesn’t do it is dumb. It’s so easy.

In what sense?

Because things in Israel are so hard. I have an apartment in Tel Aviv that I rent out, and I use that money to travel. When I lived in Israel, I had a small mortgage and three jobs, and I couldn’t make ends meet. I taught and I waitressed and I did handicrafts, and I couldn’t find a way to do it. I didn’t see how I could stop waitressing so I could live.

I hated waitressing, too.

Waitressing is great, but it’s not something you can do all your life. Certainly not in Israel – it’s not a profession here, like it is in France.

#תיירותחוץ #lifeinthedorms #hostelworld #hostellife #hostel

A photo posted by Permi Vac (@permanenttvacation) on

How do you get along on a few thousand shekels a month?

I’m always being asked where I get the money. It’s hard to explain that to live in Romania for six months is cheaper than to live in Israel a month – it’s incomprehensible. Overall, I live on a low budget, sleep in hostels, I’m into couchsurfing, I buy things second-hand. It’s true that I can’t travel like that in England or Switzerland, but in Asia, Romania and Germany it’s not a problem. I want to say that I go only to places where the currency is weak, but it’s not true. I also go to places where they use euros.

What about clothes, stuff?

I have 20 kilos in my bag, which is what I can take onto a plane, and that’s all.

What’s in the bag?

Clothes, shampoo, a computer, three hard discs for photographs, flip-flops for showers, three pairs of jeans, four T-shirts, a coat, a sweater, a long-sleeved shirt. If necessary, I throw away the old and buy new. For example, in the winter I needed sweaters, so I bought two, but I wasn’t about to lug them around in the summer, so I gave them to people. It’s very liberating when you don’t have to carry a lot with you. And even if I want something very much, I think twice, because I know it will be on my back.

What do you photograph?

I’m doing a project called “Permanent Vacation,” which is my username in Instagram. The project keeps me going, because sometimes it’s tough. Like in life, everything has its tough elements, and you decide what you would rather suffer.

What do you mean? You just said that anyone who doesn’t travel is dumb.

Still, living in a hostel is hard. Now that I’m here, all I want to do is shower barefoot; I’m sick of doing it with flip-flops. Small things, but I miss them. I’m 38, and I live with younger people in shared rooms, with four or 10 others, and that’s home.

What do you do for privacy?

What kind do you mean? Sex is prohibited, for example.

Is that a rule of hostels?

Hostels have many unwritten rules; of course, there are written ones, too, but they’re less interesting. If you want privacy in a hostel, the place you disappear into is your bed, where you don’t want people even looking at you.

Where can we see your work?

The Instagram tag is #lifeinthedorms. It’s a series of shots of people in intimate moments in hostel dorms. Sometimes I want some quiet, so I invest in a B&B room, but I can’t do that a lot. So in order to want to return to the hostels, to find an interest in it, I’m doing this project. Interesting things happen, sometimes also in terms of friendship.

Friends/strangers?

You get very lonely on these trips and you want family, even if just for a day or two. You’re so eager for warmth that you find someone you click with and in a second you’re spilling your life story out to them. It’s amazing, even if it’s clear that it won’t last more than a couple of days. It’s very liberating to have transient friends.

You don’t stay in touch afterward?

I’ve stayed in touch with some of them. There was a woman in China whom I met again in Prague; there’s a Polish-American who’s getting married in Krakow in November, and I hope to be at the wedding; there’s a German guy I met in Sarajevo; and an Israeli guy I met by chance.

Are there also people who aren’t so nice?

There were some. A French guy walked around nude, which was awful and sleazy. He told me that my “aura” shows that I had to break free and leave my office job. I told him, “Fine, maybe I’ll do that.” (Laughs) There are also people with octopus hands.

Sounds a bit scary.

I’m not 20 anymore, I’m a woman, and now I look at things different. I’m more of a coward. Unpleasant situations can happen, such as kids who throw up. That happened to me in Lisbon, which is a place that Europeans go for a cheap vacation. One kid came back drunk and started to throw up on the bed of a woman sleeping next to me. 

Where will you go from here?

On my next trip I want to go to South America. I’d like to visit every continent, but I don’t know if that will happen. Many times in hostels you meet people for whom it’s important to visit as many countries as possible. They count them in the style of “Whose is bigger?” “What? There’s a bus from here to Prague? Right on! We’ll do another country!” It’s like in life

That’s the second time you’ve said, “Like in life.” Don’t you feel that this is life? Yours, at least?

This is my life, it just seems to me that people have this fantasy that what I’m doing is not really life. Some people think it’s not the same thing. But this is life. There’s no difference.

Excuse the Jewish-mother bit, but what about children, a relationship?

It’s okay, the whole world is like that. I always get asked a ton of questions and people check whether I have a wedding ring or if I’m married, or they ask where my husband or boyfriend is.

What do you answer?

Usually I say that I don’t want to get married and sit at home, but sometimes I lie and say that my husband is at home with our two daughters and I’m on vacation.

And the truth is?

That I don’t want children and that a relationship is great, but it has to suit what I’m doing. It’s not something I’m searching for.

Have you met many other women who travel alone?

There was one you wrote about in your column, but she works half of every year. In terms of traveling alone, I haven’t met another woman like me who dropped everything. I met three girls who left jobs and separated from partners and traveled to “refresh” themselves, but that was for a few months. That’s the way of the world, there are always more men than women doing these things; there are more male pilots than female pilots, only women have children and become teachers.

The world truly is problematic.

I honestly do think there is a problem in the world just now. There’s a gap between one era and another, and my generation got screwed a little.

In what way were we screwed?

We’re betwixt and between, between parents and digital, we’re neither here nor there, we don’t know how we feel. That’s why I’m in the digital world. Facebook and Instagram are part of my daily schedule.

Tell me something your followers don’t know.

Poznan. It’s a small city in Poland, about the size of Givatayim, and it’s stunning and colorful and clean and cheap. It’s not a backpackers’ place, but it’s full of color. Anyone who’s into food will go ape there. Another place that’s remained original is Maramures [Romania]; everyone goes to Transylvania, but Maramures is the icing on the cake.