After my recent trip to Europe, (expect some travel guides, coming soon!), I came home sick as a dog. One of my wisdom teeth got infected, I had a minor case of food poisoning and a UTI that was causing everything from migraines to excessively high fevers. The point is, I had a lot of time, whilst being bed ridden, to think and I decided that I’m totally reconsidering the way I travel. You see, normally, I’m quite the ambitious adventurer. I generally only get to travel once a year, so I’m eager to see as much as I can. My thinking is, if I’m spending all the money, time and effort hauling myself half across the world, I better make it count! Especially when so many countries are wonderfully accessible to each other, it almost seems silly not to venture into other territories. However, there are benefits and drawbacks to this method.
Of course, it’s exhilarating to see so many beautiful and unique places all at once. Rather than spending all your time in one country, you’re able to tick off multiple bucket list items at once, a satisfying feat for sure. Not to mention, this gives you a chance to see where your heart truly lies, and it’s not always where you expect. For example, when Jeff and I first backpacked Europe 5 years ago, we spent significantly more time in Italy than anywhere else, assuming we were going to love it. And we did, mostly. But we’d also given ourselves only one day in Switzerland, thinking foolishly that it “wasn’t really our kind of place.” We ended up loving it so much more than we’d ever expected and we were kicking ourselves for being so short sighted. The fact of the matter is, when traveling anywhere new, you’re gambling a bit. You might love it, you might hate it, so varying where you go ensures you won’t waste all your time in a place you can’t stand and gives you a greater chance of finding somewhere you truly love. It allows you to try a taste of each place and figure out what you’d like to dive fully into in the future. And of course, it’s pretty nice to hear how impressed most people are when you rattle off the list of countries you’ve seen.
On the other hand, are you really even seeing anything when you’re so rushed and all over the place? When segmenting your time into so many smaller pieces, a lot is lost in doing so. You don’t get to experience each culture as richly as you would if you spent ample time in one place. And I found myself getting disappointed again and again when we’d discover that we were missing something special by just a day or two because our ambitious schedule didn’t leave much room for spontaneity. And the truth is, it’s exhausting. If you’re into relaxing vacations, this is definitely not for you. The more places you go, the more you have to unpack and repack your suitcase and the more room there is for error: a missed flight, a delayed train, etc. It can be extremely invigorating, but also extremely stressful. Sometimes, despite being in a beautiful, new city, you don’t even have the energy to care. Not to mention, it can make the trip much more expensive. All those extra planes, trains, boats, taxis, Ubers, etc. add up in addition to having to exchange money everywhere you go. You also lose a ton more sleep, have to cross multiple time zones and, as I know all too well, getting yourself so run down leaves you much more vulnerable to illness which can ruin the whole trip anyway.
While I still highly recommend a backpacking trip here and there, I’ve found myself being more drawn to the idea of, hey, maybe not totally killing myself for the sake of adventure. Despite my inner Type A Traveler screaming at me to keep doing moremoremore, I find myself moving closer to the idea of taking my time a little more these days. Of course, each traveler and trip is totally unique and I think it’s the difference between a buffet and a sit down dinner. Do you want a little bit of multiple things, or a lot of one thing? But maybe there’s some kind of balance to be struck. Perhaps there is the 3 course meal of traveling. Spain for the appetizer, France for the main course, a little Italy for dessert. Ambitious still, but much less overwhelming than cramming yourself full of 10 different countries to the point where you can’t even enjoy the last few.
Okay so here is my best advice. Do the backpacking trip, but take plenty of medicine just in case and be prepared for what you’re signing up for. Explore as many beautiful places as you can and get a feel for what you like. Are you more connected to cities, or countrysides? Do you love staying in hostels, or are you all about hotels? Find your favorite places and experiences and then go back one day to fully immerse yourself in the culture. Maybe you go for a week, or a month, or a year, whatever works for you, but give yourself the peace of mind of knowing that your full attention is going to be on this place only.
But then again, if you’re headed to the Netherlands, France is right there… and England isn’t so far either… and maybe there’s time for Greece, and Prague, and Germany and…