I’ve thought about traveling a lot, and with the growing ease to travel, I wanted to talk about a topic that I think society views wrong, and it is getting worse.

After living in England for awhile and traveling Europe, and then living in Bangkok (now the most traveled city in the world) for the last year, I’ve noticed a few trends. The one that I’ve been finding especially annoying and wrong is the high praise given to people who travel a lot. Why has traveling a lot become such a thing to praise?  It has got to the point where it is praised so much that people miss out on the actual things that benefit you from traveling for the sake of obtaining the societal praise.

Ask yourself:
Why do you want to travel? What do you really want to gain from it? Stop and really think about it. If the answer is experience, then slow down.  Don’t rush. Traveling enables you to experience a lot of cultures, but traveling to “see” more doesn’t make sense, because if you rush through a place, you miss all kinds of things you could have otherwise seen.

I think traveling is great, and has a lot of benefits, but it is getting a bit ridiculous the way people are traveling.

Let me give you a couple examples:

1) A Euro-trip has been a common thing.  Pack some stuff into a backpack, take some time and travel around Europe – suck in all the diversity that Europe offers.  It is amazing, and the world would be a better place if more people experienced it.  However, because there is so much praise in going places (and not experiencing them), that people will see 6-12 major European cities in 2 weeks.  That may sound ridiculous but I’ve seen it many times, in fact, most of the time.  As a whole, I’ve noticed people are all about traveling more (and in return experiencing less). And I don’t think it is intentional, people just don’t realize that the social norm and societal praise is wrong.  When you get home and someone says “did you see Amsterdam, Paris, London, and Vienna when you were in Europe?!”, you can say “yes” and accept all the praise, instead of “no, I decided to actually experience a bit of London”.

2) From what I’ve seen in Southeast Asia so far it is even worse. Countless people come to Bangkok, stay on Khao San Road (backpackers area that represents very little of Bangkok), and then leave with this complete skewed impression of the city.  Then they head to Phuket, and Pattaya (both major tourist cities in Thailand) and yuck it up with even more tourists.  Then they go to Laos, Cambodia, Chiang Mai, and Vietnam, all over the course of a few weeks, or maybe a few months. Then they go back home to Europe, Russia, Australian, or the US and talk about how they loved Bangkok but could never live there. The problem with their opinion is that it was complete invalid, because they chose to see every city in Southeast Asia instead of experiencing 1 real culture.  Keep in mind that almost anywhere you go where there are tourists in Southeast Asia, the view you’ll see will be very skewed.  Areas like Khao San Road and built for tourists.  They don’t represent the actual cities that they lay in.

The other day I read an article that talked about a 24 year old British guy who had traveled to every country in the world from 2008-2013.  Due to the way society understands it, he gets all this public praise, which motivates others to do the same thing – and probably the reason he did it in the first place.  The biggest problem with it is that he saw all 196 countries in 5 years, which means he rushed through all of it, purely to get that praise that I’m talking about (granted you will see and experience some things, I’d argue you’d benefit far more by picking a few different cultures and living in them).  It is a shame, because there is so much to experience, see, and take in, and by rushing through you literally miss almost all of it. I understand people want to see the world, but the question is why? What do you want to gain from it, and why? Answer that question, and then tailor your travels to that. Don’t travel from city to city or country to country just to saw you’ve seen it, because you really haven’t seen anything. I’d highly recommend traveling, or better yet, living abroad, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and not for the dogma. Don’t travel to say you’ve traveled, travel to let it benefit you through the experience, and this will force you to slow down.

I think the core of this problem comes from people measuring travel by country count.  It is very very common these days to see travelers saying “I’ve traveled x countries already and want to travel all of them”. That is an awesome goal, but reason they are doing it and the way it is being measured is the root cause of the problem. Traveling to 1 country in each continent doesn’t mean you’ve “traveled the world”.  Stopping in 1 major city in a country doesn’t mean you’ve “traveled it”. Because of this, counting the number of countries you’ve been to is a very poor way to tell how much you’ve seen/experienced, which society doesn’t understand.  While it may show the distance you’ve traveled, it means nothing. Why do people count countries anyways? Bragging rights? A measure of distance traveled? I must say, it is annoying when you’re talking to someone or reading something and their self pride takes over about how many countries they’ve traveled.  Who cares? What have you seen or done interesting? What cultures were the best (from your experience), or did you not see the culture at all because you stayed on the classic tourist path, or rushed through the country just to say you’ve been there?

By all means travel, and promote travel.  It is an amazing thing. But please remove the idea that traveling to a lot of places means something.  It is the experience that matters most, since that is the greatest benefit you’ll get from travel.

Please quit associating countries traveled with anything.  The number of countries you’ve traveled means almost nothing. Slow down and experience a bit, otherwise you’ll miss all of it.

I’d like to get others input on this. Comment below with your thoughts.