Travel Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated To Be Life-Changing

Museum Island, Berlin Germany

I live in a travel bubble and I know that. It’s my career and I tend to mostly talk with other people who have made it their career as well. I get shaken out of it sometimes, as happened a couple of weeks ago when I read one of the most incredibly arrogant and simultaneously obtuse paragraphs I’ve seen in a long time. It said that if someone from the US only leaves his or her home country once and it’s to visit another Western nation, then essentially that experience isn’t impactful. It doesn’t do enough to reflect the world at large. There are so many things wrong with this thought process that books could be written in its critique, but rather than bash some poor young writer, those lines instead inspired me to address a few important aspects of travel that many of us sometimes forget.

No place for arrogance in travel

The travel world can be a strange place, full of people desperate to add to their portfolio of unusual experiences and others who want to visit as many countries as they can, if only the airport, just for the bragging rights. None of that need bother the average traveler, except when these same people put pen to paper and offer travel advice. Sadly, they really can’t. They’re not average travelers, they’re some strange class of super-tourists and 99.9% of us just can’t relate to them. I heard a TV interview a few months ago and the travel “expert” on the panel recommended destinations so remote and unlikely, that it was actually laughable. It makes me sad though, I don’t think that there’s any real place for arrogance in travel and ultimately it doesn’t help anyone. No, instead what we need is a legion of humble travelers. We need more folks who instead of looking for the most difficult to reach places, visit places that are accessible and in the process help us better understand them and inspire us to also visit. None of this is new, TV programs and print magazines have followed this train of thought for a long time and it is just common sense. Most people travel to certain places, so let’s offer them advice on how to better visit these places. YES, there is a need to broaden people’s horizons, to teach them about destinations they may not have known about and encourage them to visit. But that must be done in moderation with everything else; it can’t be the only song in your playbook. So bloggers, take a cue from our friends the travel magazines and yes, travel to and write about fantastical spots, but also visit and write about more manageable destinations as well.

Any travel is important

This post was sparked by an elitist attitude, which offended me more than anything I’ve read in a very long time. When discussing study abroad, the author maintained that Americans who choose to visit Western Europe instead of let’s say Asia or Africa are doing themselves a disservice. They aren’t “pushing” themselves enough. It’s an arrogant line that sounds as if it came someone lucky enough to have traveled much more than most people. It is also a common fallacy I see shared throughout the travel world; that if you aren’t doing something insanely risky or different, then you aren’t a cool kid, you aren’t making the most out of the travel experience. Of course that’s crap, but let me tell you why.

All travel is important, whether you go three towns over or to the South Pole. Any time we leave home for the sole purpose of exploration, or just enjoying ourselves, we change in ways that may be imperceptible, but which aren’t any less important. That college kid going to the UK to study may speak the same language and may be familiar with the general culture, but there will be surprises, there will be shocks. More than that, the experience will teach them how to absorb a new culture and to treat it respectfully on the one hand, but also how to actively participate in it. Now, he’s not trekking through the jungles of Borneo, but that’s ok. There hasn’t been a trip anywhere in the world where I haven’t learned something. Sometimes it’s about the place, but more often than not it’s about me. Travel is selfish and personal and that’s fine. Those kids studying abroad in the UK will learn self-confidence and tolerance among many other qualities that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. It is an important step, travel, one not to be taken lightly and not one to be looked down upon either.

Walker Bay, South Africa

Travel is couture, its impact varied by the individual

One of the words I hate the most is bespoke. I originally hated it because it’s not common in American English and still sounds abrasive and foreign to my ears. But then as I learned what it meant, and saw it more and more often I came to dislike it for its meaning. Bespoke simply means something that is custom made, unique to a particular person. In the travel context it refers to tailor-made experiences, not for the masses. As a luxury traveler, obviously I don’t mind that part but what I mind is the attitude with which it’s sometimes conveyed, as if only certain people are allowed to be privy to the benefits of travel, which simply isn’t the case.

To draw an analogy of sorts, in my opinion travel is couture. That is to say that each travel experience is completely unique for the person enjoying it. Sure, I could join a tour group of 20 people and see and do the same things as the rest of them, but for me the experience is individual, as it is for them as well. Assuming this is true, which it is, then every trip we take, no matter who we are or where we go is couture, it is a bespoke experience. So those tour companies who emblazon countless brochures with this abrasive, practically aggressive word, please stop. Now. Instead, share with your future guests the uniqueness that travel is and how it is attainable by all, no mater the style or comforts we may enjoy in the process.

Wrapping Up

As all of my posts that have a similar theme, this one too is slightly rambling – sorry about that. But the main thesis and the ways in which I backed it up hold true. That is to say, there is no such thing as travel that is NOT meaningful. Looking back, I sort of see what that silly writer meant when saying Americans traveling to Germany aren’t challenging themselves enough. But it is a phrase that reeks of privilege; a patrician outlook on life. I was 17 when I first left the country on a trip to France. That single 3-week trip impacted 6 years in undergrad and graduate school and eventually gave birth to this, my new profession. To say that it wasn’t impactful is myopic. It opened my eyes to a world I never experienced before, well outside the confines of my small town life. Hearing other languages not on tapes, but from real humans was exhilarating. Seeing sites and places I thought I’d never experience in person, the entire trip was transformative. As it is for anyone, be it the first or 21st time they leave the country. Travel is something that makes us better no matter what we see or where we go and that simple concept, more than any other, is what I tried so hard to share with this post.

What do you think?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

6 Responses

  1. Elise

    Hi Matt,

    Great article! You’re so right, with travelling it’s about getting in touch with different countries. Experience them is more important than the goal of a big list of visited countries.

    Reply
  2. Lesley Fenton

    I have in my possession a book titled “A Sense of Place”. It is a collection of essays by Michael Shapiro based on his interviews with authors whose work is often informed by their travels.
    I kept the book on my desk with the title prominently displayed so that it would be apparent to my clients. I enjoyed the book itself but the gave weight to the philosophy that I hold dear. No matter where you go take time to look at the place with the “intention” of getting a sense of that place. The drops that fill your bucket will give you that and reinforce your feeling of belonging I the world no matter which passport you carry. I read yesterday about folks collecting nude selfies at Machu Pichu! Seriously!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      thank you for sharing this, and I agree, intention is so key

      Reply
  3. Jackie

    Great post…People put so many obstacles in their way when it comes to travel. Discouraging people from traveling to a place like western Europe is just one more criticism that stops people from getting out there and exploring. My travels have made such positive impacts on me regardless of how far flung the destination. Thanks for reinforcing the positive!

    Reply
  4. Jen

    Some travelers certainly adopt an air of superiority in their quest for the most obscure destinations possible and I agree that there should be no place for arrogance in travel and that a trip to any destination can be meaningful and life changing.

    However, I do find it sad that a lot of Americans never seem to consider destinations beyond the UK, France and Italy. VERY frequently when people hear that I have been to places like Jordan, or Turkey, or even Mexico, their response is wide eyed shock and disbelief that I would ever want to put myself in that kind of danger. Their preconceived notions about destinations they know nothing about is extremely frustrating to me. From that perspective I absolutely agree that “if someone from the US only leaves his or her home country once and it’s to visit another Western nation, then… It doesn’t do enough to reflect the world at large”.

    I don’t think less of people if they have only ever been to the UK. But I DO think less of them if I say I want to visit South Africa and they freak out and tell me I am going to catch ebola.

    Reply
  5. Emma

    Great piece, completely agree.

    Reply

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