This is a debate I encounter all the time, whether on the road or at home talking to friends. Technically, if you drive to the store to buy milk or go for a jog around the block you’re “traveling,” but what about the perception most people have of what travel really is?
After asking many people about this topic, it seems as though the answer often depends on what kind of travel experience the person has. It’s almost as if international travel makes people a bit jaded. For example, I recently went hiking with a guy from France who hadn’t really done much travel around Europe. However, he had been all over the United States, Canada, South America and Asia.
“Why don’t you go to Germany or Switzerland for a few days?” I asked, amazed that he’d never seen these countries that were so close to France. “Train travel in Europe is so convenient.”
“That’s not really traveling,” he responded. “I don’t even need a passport for those.”
While it may sound odd, this way of thinking is pretty common. When I spent six months studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, I spent every weekend and break frantically flying around the country, trying to “travel” as much as I possibly could in the time I had. Meanwhile, my roommate, a native Aussie, had never even been to Melbourne or Cairns.
“I can go there anytime,” she responded. “If I’m going to really travel, I’m going to go to Europe or South America.”While it always surprises me to hear people act so nonchalant about their home countries – places that I’ve traveled to and think are amazing – I have to admit I often fall into the same category. When people ask me when I started traveling, I usually respond, “When I was 20 and went to Australia.” My parents, who planned vacations and road trips every summer across the U.S. and Canada when I was growing up, probably wouldn’t like this answer. I’m not sure why, but flying to Maine to eat lobster and ride the Banana Boat or driving up the east coast to visit various theme parks just doesn’t feel like “real” traveling to me.
Not everyone feels this way. I have many friends who get excited about going to the Jersey Shore or to Washington, D.C. They request a week off work and spend hundreds of dollars shopping for new clothes, the perfect camera and colorful luggage. Additionally, I know people who tell me about how their jobs allow them to travel to places like Chicago and Boston. It isn’t that these places aren’t exciting, it’s more that they don’t provide the necessary amount of culture shock I need to really feel like I’m away from home.
Moreover, when posing the question on Twitter, most people said they believed traveling without a passport to be real traveling. However, many also agreed there was a distinct difference between domestic and international travel, probably due to contrasts in language and culture.
Ironically, if you asked me if traveling without a passport was still traveling, my gut reaction would be to respond, “yes, of course.” However, I can’t deny that when friends tell me they are visiting family in Denver or spending the weekend in Atlantic City, I don’t think of this as “really” traveling, but simply “going away for a few days.”
I think for many people, traveling to a truly foreign place allows for the feeling that they’ve really left home. There are new foods to try, a new language to learn, a different way of dress, customs and ideas we find odd but want to learn more about, and unfamiliar landscapes to explore. To many, it’s a richer experience. However, you have to wonder if this is only because, when abroad, travelers tend to be more active in their pursuit to learn. When out of the country, most people will pepper taxi drivers and hotel owners with questions about food, dress, history and norms, while in their home country they’d probably just ask for some restaurant recommendations.
The truth is, even when traveling to a different city in your home country you’ll be experiencing a different culture. For instance, I have a friend who lives 20 minutes from me, and half the time I can’t understand what she’s saying, as her town seems to have developed their own language. If I drive an hour further, I’ll see girls who dress completely different than me, and have a completely different attitude in general. If you open yourself up to unique encounters, ask questions and try to discover something new about a place, even your own backyard can offer a worthwhile travel experience.
Do you think traveling without a passport is still travel?
[flickr photo via Sean MacEntee & tiffini]