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No Right Way to Travel

No Right Way to Travel

March 7, 2019 11:59 pmComments are Disabled

This widely-circulated article popped up today and something needs to be said about it.

In a nutshell, the article seeks to change readers’ notion of traveling by calling them to appreciate quality over quantity, claiming, for instance, that one month living in Ethiopia is “better” than one month visiting sights throughout Africa. It says it doesn’t mean to criticize travelers who travel in pursuit of many experiences, but does just that, calling them out for checking countries and sights off of a checklist instead of fully experiencing them (whatever that means).

…cramping a lot of places into such short period of time not only increases culture shock, travel stress, but also reduces the true pleasure of traveling and will most likely make you less happy.

Well, happy according to whom? But let’s leave that aside for now.

They do make one good point in this piece, which is that yes, in general, you do get to know a place much better by staying longer. ‘Deep’ travel experiences are almost always more memorable than ‘shallow’ ones. Traveling by hitchhike will get you more face time with locals than traveling by rent-a-car. If you travel to truly understand a place, you need to spend real time there (I define ‘real time’ as at least 2-3 weeks, which is an eternity in travel world, since you really fully immerse yourself in the place during that time).

But the thing that irks me most about this sanctimonious post is the underlying condescension towards travelers who are, well, doing it wrong.

The fact is, there is no wrong way to travel.

How you travel has a lot to do with why you travel. If you travel to learn about as many places as possible, because you crave exposure to new experiences and cultures, and you know that every time you go someplace new you learn something new that you never would have known if you hadn’t gone, travel has to be somewhat of a quantity game–unless you are a full-time traveller and have the luxury (or the tolerance for nomadship) to live on the road.

Cynics may see this approach as “ticking off” destinations from a list. But how much more wide of an experience of a world does a 50+ country veteran have than a 50+ week resident of the same small island off the coast of Japan? It depends on what you want.

The fact is, there is no wrong way to travel.

There will always be people who criticize Club Med-goers and cruise-takers for only dabbling in ‘tourist traps’, glampers for not doing ‘real’ camping, backpackers for living like hippies without jobs and doing ‘poverty tourism’, hostel-stayers for hanging out too much with other tourists, expats for isolating themselves from the countries they live in, students abroad for not making friends with locals, homestayers for not learning the language, peace corps volunteers for being ‘neocolonial’, missionary trips for dressing a vacation as charity‚Ķat the end of the day, every traveler is trying to explore their horizons at their comfort level, and no one who travels is truly ever “authentic” in their experience, no matter how many chickens they pluck themselves or squat toilets they use.

All travelers are just visitors, and before long they will leave, and everyone who knows them on their journey knows that their stay is temporary, whether it is 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years. The best you can do is learn as much as you can in the time you have, be open minded, and take your lessons with you when you go home, or to the next place.

Unless you’re moving to a place permanently, starting a family and planning to die there, you’re a transient, and you have no right to criticize how other people choose to be transients in their own way. Every traveler is better off for the experience and the world is better off for the cultural exchange and greater global understanding facilitated by travelers.

Go forth and see the world. As you will.

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