If you spend any time perusing the digital travel space you will no doubt chance upon a multitude of posts about traveling slow or living like a local or blah, blah, blah. While the pieces are fine and sometimes even well written, they’re tone deaf. They’re written for people who have incredible amounts of time to spend traveling which, for the vast majority of the world, isn’t realistic. Most people do not have a month or two to spend traveling and even if they did, they wouldn’t want to. I know I don’t and I never have. Even though I’m now self-employed and theoretically have all the time in the world to spend traveling, in reality I do not. I have responsibilities here at home but more than that, I also really enjoy being at home. I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings and so today I want to share a few reasons why short-term travel can be just as impactful and meaningful as long-term travel. At the end of the day, I don’t want people to feel like they shouldn’t bother with traveling because they don’t have the time required to reap the benefits. That’s simply not the case, as I will show here today.
Travel is egalitarian
First, I want to share some thoughts on the inherent elitism built into sharing the travel experience. I’m partly to blame, I realize that. As a luxury traveler I experience destinations and activities that are rare and sometimes hard to replicate. But I’ve always been that kind of traveler and so this site is simply a reflection of that. But never do I want my own style to suggest that other ways of traveling are any less important. Ultimately, travel is egalitarian. Every one of us can do it, although the ways in which we experience travel will necessarily be different. Spending a day driving 1-hour in any direction from your home and taking the time to explore that new area will be fun and hopefully exciting. One doesn’t have to trek to Antarctica in order to have a meaningful travel experience; oftentimes the best experiences are in our own backyard. One of the earliest posts I wrote on this site was about the fallacy of the concept of a dream trip. It was, and is, my belief that many people put off planning a trip they’ve been pining after because they don’t think they have the resources to make it happen. Only a 5-star getaway on Santorini will suffice, ignoring the many other ways they can enjoy a similar and just as meaningful travel experience. We get trapped in our own thoughts and that more than anything else inhibits the travel experience. 1 billion people a year cross a country border, so you’re not alone. The world is in constant flux and that means ultimately it’s an experience available to most of us.
I’ve made it a mission of mine in recent years to spend more time exploring my own region; an effort to prove the efficacy of my argument that travel doesn’t have to be complicated to be important. In the process I’ve had a great time seeing new sides to my own city as well as visiting destinations within an easy car ride. What this means will vary naturally based on where you live, but even if you think you live in the middle of nowhere, you probably don’t in reality. There is always something around us that is interesting; it’s just that so many times we become blind to it. Recently I was driving along a country road near my house dropping off the dogs at the kennel. I passed a sign I had passed hundreds of times and yet never took the time to read. This time I slowed down, and quickly scanned it learning that I was traveling along what used to be the major thoroughfare between Washington, DC and Annapolis during the colonial era. Annapolis was once an incredibly important city and was even briefly the capital of the newly formed country. Without realizing it, for years I had been following in the footsteps of Washington, Adams and others. That’s interesting! That’s unexpected and that’s what I am talking about when I say that travel doesn’t have to be long and complicated to be important and fun.
Travel is unpredictable
One of the best aspects of the travel experience is that it is totally unpredictable. No matter how much we plan and anticipate, the plain fact is that we never really know what’s going to happen. Some days will go as planned but others will be a whirlwind of unexpected experiences. It’s because of this unpredictability that the duration of a trip doesn’t really matter. That person spending a month living in Barcelona? Every day for them could be normal and even prosaic. That person on a 2-day trip to Montreal? Day one could be filled with events and experiences they never anticipated. We don’t know ultimately what travel will deliver to us or when, which means that even the shortest of trips can be meaningful.
I recently did a mad dash around the country, visiting 5 cities in 6 days. The schedule was slightly insane but I planned very carefully in advance to ensure I saw and experienced as much as possible. Before the trip, I felt as if I could predict my takeaways from each stop, but that was pure arrogance. Travel is fluid and in every city I found myself surprised, but nowhere was I more surprised than in St. Louis. I planned a pretty normal tourist day visiting the top landmarks, museums and restaurants in the city, but it was an impromptu stop that meant the most to me. I was moving through the city faster than I had anticipated and so I found myself with some extra time. Staff at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis recommended that I visit the Missouri History Museum if I had the time and so I decided to heed their advice and quickly added it to my itinerary. And thank goodness I did, because that brief stop was one of the most impactful throughout my entire week of travel. I spent time in their temporary exhibit about Route 66, a closer look at the Mother Road and why it’s so important to American pop culture and social history. I’ve long wanted to drive the route, but have always found one reason or another to put it off. After spending thirty minutes at the museum though my entire outlook changed, I felt excited and reenergized, a new creative spirit had taken hold. Without realizing it, I think part of my adventurous spirit had been allowed to atrophy slightly, but that museum visit brought it back to life. I made the decision to finally plan (for real) my own Route 66 experience in 2017 and instantly I was more excited than I’ve been in a long time. That museum stop will turn out to be an important life moment and it took place on a trip when I only had a few hours to devote to sightseeing.
Short travel experiences can be powerful
As I just shared, short travel experiences can be powerful in all of the ways we don’t expect. So many times I read people complaining about the concept of a cruise, saying there’s not enough time in port to “really” get to know a city. But guess what, that’s true of all of us no matter where we go. We are all tourists, and unless you rent an apartment and physically live in a new place for months at a time, you too are just as much a temporary visitor as those cruise passengers are. There is no place for elitism in the travel experience and it’s a phenomenon that instantly makes me furious to see. Frequent travelers try all the time to one-up each other, to prove that they’re the better person for being more immersive in their travel experience. That’s crap. Every trip, no matter where we go or how long it is has great inherent value. The trick isn’t the length or even the destination, it’s our own outlook on life. We have to be open to see these moments when they arise. We have to be willing to allow for a short trip to be meaningful. Ultimately, it’s not the length of a trip that precludes our own personal growth, it’s our own inability to see the proverbial forest through the trees. Each of us as individuals needs to open our eyes more often when we travel and to seek out these very personal moments of truth and enlightenment when they happen. And they can take place anywhere, whether it’s praying in a mountain temple in Bhutan or seeing your two kids hugging in Disney World. These are both important and impactful travel experiences, albeit for different reasons.
Travel and the experience of learning about new cultures and people is at the heart of my own journey through life. That’s not the same for everyone and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your own special moments when you travel, wherever you go and however long you can spend there doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you realize that travel does indeed have intrinsic value and that you make yourself available to discovering what it is.