I remember being so upset when Passport Canada told me they weren’t sending me back my old passport, with my new one; I had to get it renewed before I left to move to the Marshall Islands. Because of being too far to get to a Passport office in person, I had to mail mine in. It was a passport covered in stamps from all over, as I traveled quite a bit since I got that one. I was heartbroken. All those stamps collected, memories made, gone forever.
Flash forward to nowadays, and I realize that I was being silly. I am not interested in counting how many stamps I have in my passport. I am not interested in focusing solely on the amount of countries I have been to, and scrambling to get to as many countries as I possibly can in one trip, month, year, etc. In a tally of countries I have been to, I don’t count every layover I have had that allowed me to leave the airport for a few hours, just to say I have been to a certain number of countries. I only just realized on my flight home from Portugal the other day, that by the end of the year I will have been in 4 different continents, and 11 different countries.
Don’t get me wrong, I think about these things, and clearly I have counted. I am not claiming that I do not. I definitely count the countries I have lived in, it is my dream to teach in every continent at some point. But instead of collecting stamps, I have taken up to collecting tattoos, at least for the countries I have lived in. But maybe not just the ones I have traveled to. But I even have one of those fantastic scratch maps to scratch off the countries you have been to, but luckily for me a friend of mine found a journal version of it, to carry with me from country to country since I move around a bit, as opposed to the one you put up on your wall; those don’t exactly travel well.
I just think that often times we get so focused on getting to the most amount of countries we can in a certain amount of time, that we don’t truly get to experience that country. I remember telling people that we were going to Paris for 10 days before we move to Niger, since it was on the way, why not make the layover last? Many friends who have been had said to me that I didn’t need that long, that I could easily do it all in 3 or 4 days and go somewhere else for the other half. I thought about it, but the thought of rushing from attraction to attraction, seeing everything we can each day and having to choose which things are the most important to see and which we can skip, didn’t sound like fun.
So we went to Paris for 10 days, and I do not regret it for a second. We never felt rushed to get up and start our day too early (except on the days we went to Disneyland Paris and took the train to London to meet up with a friend of mine), we got to wander around the city, never having to take the metro and miss out on all the Parisian streets; my last post explains more about why I enjoy walking everywhere during travel.
As exciting as it can be to get a month or two to travel, and try to cram as many places in that you can, I just can’t see myself as that kind of traveler anymore. I look back on my month of travel around South East Asia, after my contract in Thailand was done, and I wish I went to less places and spent more time in just a couple. I rushed through Bali, which I hear so many good things about, and didn’t even truly see the good parts of it. I only really saw one island in the Philippines when there are over 7,000 that make up the whole country.
For me, I now look at it as what’s the point in going to a country and not seeing the country? Some people will look at my trip to Paris and say, why bother going back to France? You have already been, go see a new country! But all I saw was Paris, there is so much more of the country to see. Often times we travellers get so stuck on seeing the parts of the countries that we always hear about, mainly capital cities, those infamous world attractions, which are always great to see, don’t get me wrong. Just today I wrote on an insta-friends’ photo about how there is a reason tourists go to these places, there is clearly some kind of beauty, history, magic, to these places. There is nothing wrong with spending time on your travels doing the touristy things. I just wouldn’t want to spend a couple days running from attraction to attraction, seeing all the things I can as fast as I can, and not experiencing all the things that destination truly has to offer.
I am not writing this as a judgement to those who try to fit as many places as they can into a month’s travel plans. I get that. Especially if that’s your only time to travel in the foreseeable future and you can’t decide what place you want to go more. I am lucky in that I know that I will continue to travel during every break from work (as a teacher I get quite a few) and continue to move to different countries every year or two, according to teaching contracts. I have the luxury to spend my two months summer in a few different places, and really see those places, instead of cramming 10 new countries into an 8 week period. As hard as it will be to look at Europe and narrow it down, and say ‘okay let’s go to these 3-4 countries and really see them’. I would rather do that, than go to countries and not experience them.
So I urge you, if you are reading this, the next time you plan your next trip, think about what you truly want to get out of that trip. Are you collecting stamps in your passport? Great! Get on that hop on, hop off bus in Europe and rack them up. Are you wanting to see a country and what it has to offer? Then do it. Take that month long trip and spend at least a week (I would do a little more, but that’s just me) in each country. Not everybody has the ability to spend a year traveling, and spend their time making their way across the world. Some of people get 2 weeks vacation a year, some get a month, some take a leave of absence or quit their jobs to pick up and just go. Regardless what amount of time you are given, if you really look into a country, there is much more to it, than just seeing those places you see on Instagram, or other social media.
Use these social media platforms to do your research. You want to go to see the Eiffel Tower? Great, now look at the hashtag #paris or #topparisphoto and see what else there is to do there besides just that. You want to go to Iceland and check out the Blue Lagoon? Me too! Let’s find out what else Iceland has to offer, and look up #iceland, and spend a week or two exploring the other parts. I know it’s tempting to just check off as many places as you can as fast as you can. We all keep track as we travel. But I recommend you limit your destinations, and maximize your experiences.