Sunday, January 10, 2016

Please don't travel just for the passport stamp

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

I was in the Peace Corps office last Friday perusing the books that other volunteers had donated. (The volunteer is another thing I am grateful for.)  No matter how many times I have been there or thought I've seen them all, I can usually come up with a few new ones to take home with me. This time was no different as I found Going to Ground by Amy Blackman and a Robert Mitchener book. I've never read him but all of his books are entitled with places that I would like to go so I picked one up(Return to Paradise). I've got a few books still queued ahead of these but it's always nice to have some backup books just in case the rains come:)

Anyway, also in the office was another volunteer who ends his service in a few months and planning a trip after leaving Guyana. From the sounds of it, he was trying to fly from one South American city to another to get them off his list before flying to Australia where he intended to do the same thing with the Pacific islands. When asked what he planned on doing in Columbia for instance, he replied that he wasn't planning on anything since he was only going to be there for half a day and probably wouldn't go far from the airport. He then proceeded to describe his Europe trip which took in what sounded like every European nation in slightly under a month. He reveled in the day that he was able to "knock off" Austria, Switzerland and Germany in a single day. I've been to Germany twice and don't that I will ever be able to consider it fully explored.  To some degree it's about opportunity cost. Do you spend several weeks in one country and really start to get to know it, or do you try to see as much as you can in as little time as possible?

To me it's a no-brainer. Travel to one country and really get to know it. Otherwise it's like going on a road trip to California and counting all the states you drove through as places you've visited. But I think for many people(I hope not too many), there is more appeal in crossing off as much as you can in as short of a period of time as possible. It's almost like traveling has turned from an experience to just another consumer good. It was like he his designer goods were replaced by passport stamps and maps he could show off. I think there is a difference between traveling as a means to explore and interact and traveling to get another stamp in your passport.

 That being said, I like the passport stamps too. I love lists and goals and often incorporate my travel plans into both. I am just as greedy for passport stamps as he is but for me they are not so much a status symbol as a memento for the great trip that I had. I realize that I'm not doing a great job explaining why I am bothered by this whirl-wind traveling. Just imagine traveling the entire world and not learning anything. That would be the greatest disservice to yourself and I'd liken it to buying some fancy sports car that sits rusting in your garage. You've just wasted your time and money.

That doesn't mean that every trip you take needs to be a full immersion in the culture. I have taken a lot of short trips myself and feel that I can get a good grasp of some aspect of the place I'm visiting. Some people do a great job seeing all of Europe in a relatively short period of time(a great way to do this I heard is to use your travel time to sleep). But going somewhere with the express goal of just crossing it off a list is not the same thing. Why even go?

Short trips are great introductions to places and I view them as almost like a reconnoitering mission. You go for a short period and find what about that place you like and then go back with more time and a clearer plan. For instance, my trip to Iceland definitely made me want to go back and spend some significant time on the glacier. Or my trip to St. Louis with Kenny which was one that I had felt we did a good job of exploring both the city and the surrounding area(we explored East St Louis[actually in IL] as well as the Cahokia Mounds). And yet, I just found out that there is a church that Rothko designed which would have been amazing to visit. I guess we'll have to go back.
The Rothko Chapel

And that may be the biggest difference. No matter how much I travel, I will never be content by just checking it off my list because there is so much to see, experience and learn. And like everything, you don't know what you don't know. If you don't give yourself the time and opportunity to discover that, you will just remain the same as the rest of the world around you changes.

Until next time,


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