Sometime during last week’s trip to Yellowstone National Park, it hit me. It was a simple realization but also one of those kicks in the ass that only a place as massive and magical as Yellowstone can give you. With rolling hills and snow-capped peaks lining the horizon and bison mingling with antelope on either side of the road, I remembered just how diverse, majestic and wonderful the United States really is. After spending the last six years focusing extensively on international travel, I realized that the stigma that we often attach to domestic travel is nothing more than snobbery. That stigma often keeps people from exploring the vast beauty that awaits in our own backyard.
Many travelers take great pride in being able to announce the exact number of nations and territories that they have visited without a moment of thought. These passport stamp collectors and country counters often exude a special kind of pretentiousness that is meant to intimidate lesser-traveled individuals. These are the people who turn travel into a contest. These are the people who insist on engaging in the traveler versus tourist debates, mock of cruises and further other nonsense arguments that attach judgment to travel. These are the people who ignore domestic travel.
This is not to say that we should all eschew international travel. I am as guilty as anyone of ignoring domestic travel to explore the world. I do not regret those trips and learned a tremendous amount about the world and myself by leaving the friendly confines of the United States. However, I have come to realize that there’s a balance that can be struck between setting off to far away lands and introducing yourself to your own country. There’s as much to see from Anchorage to Miami as there is from Reykjavik to Ushuaia.
The sheer magnitude of the United States means that its landscapes run the gamut from mountains to prairies to pristine beaches. We have major cities and small towns, industrial centers and sprawling farms and created the concept of national parks. It’s those national parks that provided me with this epiphany. An epiphany that so many Americans had long before I did. As I spoke with strangers in Yellowstone and heard their stories of driving from California, the Dakotas and even Florida, I was embarrassed that I had neglected the wonders of domestic travel for so long.
While I may be late to the party, I found that I was welcomed with open arms. Unlike the country counters, the people who are driving around America exploring our national parks and enjoying the diversity of our massive nation seemed genuinely interested about exchanging stories rather than boasting. They offered tips, shared memories and displayed none of the arrogance of the people who ceaselessly find reason to mention how often they need to order more pages for their passports.
There’s room for domestic and international travel in all of our lives. We can mix excursions to Bali in with road trips through Texas. There’s a great big world out there, but we also have a massive backyard. You can safari in Wyoming. You can hike through a rainforest in the Pacific Northwest. We have deserts and Great Lakes. We have ethnic enclaves and regional cuisines.
Let the passport stamp collectors pass judgment. I’ll be in the backyard.