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It's not about how many countries you have been to...

March 7, 2019

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A friend told me this story during his recent trip to Australia:

"So, have you done Uluru?" - the tanned, bearded, British sounding student asked, referring to the well-known large sandstone rock in central Australia - also a famous tourist destination.

"No, it's still on our list. We are going to do the Opera House and the Royal Botanic Garden tomorrow and heading to Alice Springs the next day." - the cheerful Italian girl replied for both herself and her boyfriend, who was finishing up his beer.

The tanned Brit continued asking other young travelers at the table similar questions. There were about 5 of us that night, hanging out in this hostel close to Sydney, getting to know what the others were up to, where they had been and what their plans were. Many of these young people were on their 1-year working holiday visa for Australia, including me.

Have you done _(fill in the blank)?

-- rue Cremieux, a trending attraction in Paris

It was definitely not the first time I have heard someone referring to "travel to a place" as "do the place". What it usually means is just fly or take a car, arrive at that destination, take photos of the famous attractions (#ruecremieux) and then leave, to the next one. And on their mental checklist, the King's Canyon, the Kakadu National Park, the Great Barrier Reef, Bondi Beach, or whatever are marked as "done".

It was also more than dozens of times I have heard or participated in a conversation where people would ask each other about how many countries they have been to. At some point that would sound like a competition. 20, 30, 40, "and this year I plan to do A and B and C". Yes, you have been to 30 countries in 5 years, but have you really "been" there? How many places do you really know and understand? How much of those amazing, life-changing moments do you actually retain, internalize and use them to help yourself become a better human, a better citizen of this world?

I do not intend to criticize entirely the people for traveling this way. Society does sometimes pressure us to spend holidays abroad to look and sound more "well-cultivated", especially as it is becoming increasingly less difficult to travel the world nowadays in the developed world - given that you have a powerful European or US passport. The media, marketing campaigns of companies also encourage us to travel more, so that we can spend more money on tour packages, plane tickets, their products, services. These factors contribute to creating the romantic idea of world tours, travel to the far east, the typical beach photo with coconut trees. Although we do have this inner urge in us to be free, to explore and experience all corners of the world, this has nothing to do with the way we travel and contemplate traveling right now.

Travel slowly, explore deeply

-- credit:

At TravelMap, we encourage people to travel as much as they can, but do so slowly, use a slow transport mode - like hiking, cycling, sailing, to really take in the experience. It takes time to immerse in a culture, observe and connect with people, nature, the surrounding environment. Go deep and slow rather than shallow and fast. Travel opens up our minds, our hearts, but depends on the ways we do it.

It is way better to spend 1 month working and living in Ethiopia than 1 month visiting all the famous attractions of the African continent. We have been asked several times by TravelMap users to add a feature to count the number of countries they have been to, and every time we said no, because it does not align with our vision.

We have been seeing more and more travelers going on World Tours - where they spend 1 year traveling the whole world. Usually this means that they frog-jump from continent to continent, visit a few representative countries for dozens of days before moving onto the next. All the flights are booked and their one-year trip is planned in advance. I understand that if you take a year off from your study, your work, your responsibilities, you want to see as much of the world as possible. However, cramping a lot of places into such short period of time not only increases culture shock, travel stress, but also reduces the true pleasure of traveling and will most likely make you less happy.

And yet, this is what traveling the world is like for most young people these days. Does it have to be that way? Of course it is much better than staying in the comfort of home but they could have a more fulfilling experience if they consider doing the trip a bit differently.

It is time that we change our notion of traveling. We also have seen many positive trends on our platform. People cycling for a few months, one year, hitchhike from Europe to Asia, hike across South America. It takes time for sure but the cost is not as much as one would imagine. These travelers would work for accommodation and food during their stay, using platforms like WWOOF, Workaway, and reduce their costs and environmental impacts by using Couchsurfing, Warmshowers, public transportation, car-sharing, hitchhiking, etc.

Some travelers use traveling to support even greater goals to help communities, the environment like Eco-Adventurer Julien Moreau, who recently completed a triathlon around France to raise awareness about the environment and lobby for a decree to replace plastic bottles in French school cafeterias with tap water or water dispensers.

Here are a few trips from our users on TravelMap that demonstrate a great vision through their ways of traveling. And you can do it too!

Pierre-Etienne on the road:

- On the trails, tasting simplicity - Samtusta

- Adventures in happiness: cycling to Bhutan - Christopher

- Hitchhiking from France to China - Pierre & Ophélie

Next time, don't talk about the number of the countries you have traveled - I guarantee at least one person in the conversation will feel bad - instead, talk about your most memorable experience, how that one time you had this deep connection with this person in at meditation camp in Southeast Asia because you speak their language, or the quiet moment, the intense gratitude you had after a long day of cycling, after setting up camp, and looking at the beautiful sunset in the offing.

For your upcoming trip, we suggest you to get out of the conventional thinking and do things differently. This time, why don't you prioritize the time spent in a destination and the meaning of the activities you will do there instead of try to tick off as many countries and attractions as possible. It is great to also focus on what you can give to the country, the people there instead of just self-enjoyment. And since we all know our planet is in dire need of help right now, try to be aware of your environmental impacts by choosing more sustainable transport modes. Here is a quick guide if you are deciding between different ways to explore your next destination.

Alex  • 
I just think that the first travel experience is unlike anything else. It lasts for how long, maybe 6 months at most? This is really the time to savor everything and as much of it as possible. Afterward, travel becomes a hobby/lifestyle, and you then have to address the importance of that hobby/lifestyle in your day-to-day living. I started my travel experience in Nepal (came there all the way from Europe, holy crap, right?) and it still tops the list of my most memorable life experience 10 countries later. In fact, I often think to myself that I should “never” go back so as not to spoil what I experienced during that time. (It was shortly after the earthquake in 2015) Yeah….

Pär Strindevall  • 
This seems to be a great travel site that suits me well but I do wish (very much) that there was a way to filter community trips by language. My french is tres terrible.

clem  • 
Hey Pär, we’re planning to add this in a future update. Thanks for your feedback ;)

alex  • 
If you are open to forming deep connections you can do it without visiting other countries. Hiking and cycling across your own will reveal so much. The “done X” attitude is pure selfishness.

Stephen Saucier  • 
I do love that this is the opposite of Instagram.

Doug  • 
It’s a nice idea but I only have 4 weeks holiday a year and I’m kind of obliged to spend half of that with relatives! If only I could spend 6 months working in Ethiopia (or anywhere). For me it’s best to travel around by train and see as much as I can in the few days I have available.

Jeremy  • 
Travel, like beauty 😍 is in the eye of the beholder. Each person has a different perspective. Unfortunately so many people try telling us how to live. Usually for money.

Ceri  • 
Simple things are the best things. Civility costs nothing. Enjoy the moment not the ego. No regrets...