As I count the numerous days leading into the fall, I think about trips past and yet to come. In many ways they’re like tiny lives. They have beginnings and endings, and it’s up to travelers to determine how to spend the days in between those points, the arc of the experience. Will you spend your time bouncing from country to country, depositing a day in one metropolis and a couple days in a beachy chill-out spot before moving on to the next destination? Or are you planning to plant yourself in a temporary home, eager to drink in the sunrises of 30 days from the slopes of some long-extinct volcano?
Neither choice is wrong.
Travelers do what suits them, and this freedom is a large part of what we enjoy. I’m on the verge of kissing my 20s goodbye, and I’ve been on a lot of trips in the last decade. I’ve noticed my style of trip planning slowly changing over time: I want to slow down, to get a sense of a place, to wake up and do nothing there. The thought of hopping across 10 European cities on a whirlwind trip just ain’t how I want to plan these days. Why is that? Is it just me getting old? I’m inclined to disagree since I’m only frickin’ 29 (come on!). At some level this becomes an analysis of traveling for breadth or depth. Here’s my take:
Dislocating (aka Breadth)
Stringing together a series of one- to three-day stays is a trip designed to afford breadth of travel. It could be that your time is limited and you want to see as much as possible, that you don’t think you’ll get back to a given region, or that you’re just a hyperactive, ADHD-afflicted soul. This style of trip is for those seeking a constant feeling of foreignness and cultural dislocation. These trips are fantastic at providing a constant stream of exciting activities, but they can easily dissolve into tiresome excursions bent on checking sites off a list. As much as I enjoy Rick Steves’ books, take a look at some of his itineraries to see what I mean.
At the heart of this quest for dislocation is what feels to me like a desire to leave some thing or some situation. Each new city, park, and roadside pub yields a little dopamine explosion in your brain that prevents any extended rumination and introspection along the way. Returning home you feel dazed and breathless; after all, it’s the equivalent of a bender for travel addicts. Perhaps there’s a subconscious fear of boredom or need for stimulation that drives this style of travel, and few things quench that thirst like constantly drinking from a fountain of cultural differences. On the other hand, you might just be bored with your everyday life and need a change of scenery. And traveling for breadth is all about changes in scenery.
Discovering (aka Depth)
Planning weeks or even months in one place results in a trip primed for depth of travel. You get the pop and excitement of being on foreign ground, but the buzz fades as what was initially foreign slowly becomes familiar. This style of travel willfully eschews the surface experience of visiting many places for the richness, fidelity, and possible boredom of staying in a single destination. Sometimes travelers on this type of trip are on a personal pilgrimage, as if the disorientation and enlivening of travel acts as a cleansing fire clearing the path for understanding. As the foreign becomes familiar, new routines click into place and the template for how people live in a different part of the world starts to make sense. Who can predict the product of this time and experience?
The nature of a discovery trip is self-evident: the traveler means to find something. It could be as mundane as searching for a specific vintage of Carménère or as complicated as looking for meaning in your life. Extended trips afford you the ability to truly relax. Unburdened with the fears, responsibilities, and plans of home, the freedom creates the perfect condition for deep introspection and progress on the path to whatever it is you seek. There is something special about observing the pace of everyday life in some distant locale while remaining completely outside of it.
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This is not a discussion of which style is better; dislocating and discovering simply work different travel “muscles.” I think the best trips are able to mix the two styles and sate both cravings. Round-the-world trips sound so fantastic because they periodically inject the excitement of dislocation into the personal development and introspection of discovery. For my part, I’m planning a series of deep, discovery trips in various destinations around the world over the next couple of years. I’d love to hear your suggestions. Oh, I’m sure I’ll need to dislocate myself everyone once in awhile to change up the pace, too.
How do you plan your trips? Do you have an overarching goal or principle? Do you prefer to dislocate or to discover?