Three Norwegian guys are getting a lot of press today for breaking the world record for most countries visited in 24 hours. I railed against this in a tweet and was retweeted by a guy who’s visited all 198 countries by the age of 35, who is one of the three dudes who accomplished this.
So I sat and thought for a minute. Am I annoyed because of jealousy that they have the opportunity to blow through all these countries? Well, sure, probably a little bit, but I think my angst is on a deeper level than that.
Beyond being able to say they’ve done this, what was really accomplished? Maybe a quick bowl of local food as landscape whizzed past? Like, anything? These guys are what can be called professional travellers — they’re not missing a lot because they’ve done these places, seen them before. But for the most part, a lot of speed travellers can’t say that.
We’re a society that’s in it for the pictures, the proof, the acclaim. “Pics, or it didn’t happen” isn’t just a catchphrase, it’s a lifestyle ethos.
As a passionate hobby photographer, it’s ironic for me to rail against “pics, or it didn’t happen,” but I at least try to be in the place I’m at. I try to absorb what’s around me, look for a better shot. I talk to people, engage. I mean, I just spent 24 hours in a town that’s only 60km away from me and I feel like I didn’t get enough time to see it all, and there’s only 50,000 population.
I think this “record” is just one small example of things I see happening a lot. Fortunately, I see others doing travel really well too, and they inspire me daily.
Different Folks, Different Trips
Travel is still a luxury for most of us. It’d be easy for someone to mock me as some observer who doesn’t have a clue, because I technically haven’t been a traveller for years. Yeah, I’ve been to England on a family trip, and when I owned a car I probably saw more via road trips than most people will see in a lifetime. After all, my vehicles racked up more than 500,000 kilometres before I became a walking/cycling gal. But when I roadtripped, I saw everything from the big, popular places, to really cool weird little places. I’ve been from Mexico to Alaska and halfway across Canada, and everywhere in between, and I still feel like there are so many more roadtrips I could take in just those regions.
But I guess that’s why it riles me up when I see “speed travellers.” People who seem to go to a place, be there, leave. Boom. Done. TAPPED THAT. There’s a Facebook update, so that happened. It’s a wasted chance, it seems.
It’s different when it’s for work and family. Short, whirlwind trips sometimes make sense. I’m talking about the “collecting” of airports and visa stamps, rushing through places so you can say you spent a day at best in some town before rushing to the next. Even that seems almost luxurious against this 19 countries in 24 hours challenge.
Travel is about seeing the world. Being of the world. Seeing cultures, trying foods. It’s about experience, not just brief exposure. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever sign up for a “five countries in seven days” vacation. I’d sooner not leave home than have to race for such a short and unrewarding trip I’ll mostly remember taking photos on, not being places.
That said, I don’t want to shit on this young guy who’s seen every country in the world. Would I kill for that experience? I probably would. I just know that I’d have constant regrets about places I didn’t linger. I’d have a new list, “Places I need to go back and see properly.” I’m sure he’ll never regret doing what he’s done, but instead might regret not seizing moments or blowing off the next leg, all because of some predetermined schedule. I’ve been there, too.
Travel: The World As a School
I have no idea what my five years of travel will entail. Travelling is, and should be, a deeply personal journey. That’s part of the beauty of it. There will be a lot of places where I stay long, and others I breeze through. In my travel dreams, I see myself learning local recipes, exploring markets only the locals go to, taking cooking and language classes, making friends who are from the countries, not just expats.
In the end, the important thing is just to travel. It’s critical we all realize just how much more binds us to each other than pushes us apart, how interconnected our environment is, and how much we take for granted. Travel is a crash course in humanity.
Or it can be, if you stand still sometimes, and look behind the curtains in others.
Slow down. Breathe. Life isn’t a race, and those lists of places “to go back to” — well, I’m old enough now to know just ow often we don’t get those do-overs.