Why I travel fast – and am proud of it

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Recently I posted on a couple of Facebook travel pages looking for recommendations for a tour company for a quick trip from Kathmandu to Tibet.  While I got one helpful comment, I was surprised to see my feed filled with criticism about just checking off countries and how it is not worth it go if I only have a few days …

Not worth it????

I have never been somewhere and thought it was not worth it!!!!

I have a confession to make – I travel fast and I am proud of it. 

It is the right decision for me (at this time in my life).  If might not be the right decision for you.  But here is my philosophy on the subject.

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1.  Dispel the myth that if you spend an extra day, week, month or year in a place you will see it all and have really “done” it. You will never see it all.  No matter how long you stay in a place you will never see and experience it all.  All seasons.  All festivals.  All exhibits.  You can live somewhere for years and miss things.

I was recently reminded of this fact when I traveled to Montgomery Alabama for work.  I lived there for 11 months several years ago.  But I was busy with life and when I traveled I went to Atlanta, New Orleans, Savanah, and Florida.  I never saw much of downtown Montgomery or nearby locations in Alabama.  I am convinced I could have seen and learned more about the city in 1 full day than I did in 11 months.

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2. Law of diminishing returns… When I only have a limited amount of time and I know it – I am prepared.  Before a trip, I do hours of research.  I read fiction and non-fiction books about the places I am going.  I study the history.  Once there I visit museums.  I ask questions.  I make the most of my limited time.

If traveling somewhere for a longer time, there is space for more impressions, time to sit and people watch, opportunities to make friends, the necessity to immerse a bit for chores of everyday life like catching the bus, grocery shopping and doing laundry … the experience will be different (and maybe even better) but I don’t think you will learn more.

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3. A quick trip can give you a taste for a place and a culture.

My first trip to Macedonia was only for a few hours.  I was in Bulgaria for the weekend and we drove across the border to have dinner.  It felt completely different than Bulgaria.  We got lost, never had dinner and I fell in love with the Balkans.

Macedonia was not on my radar at all.  If I hadn’t had gone for just a few hours I might have never gone there.  Those few hours opened up the rest of the Balkans to me which is one of my favorite spots on earth.  It led to 2 more trips to Macedonia and 4 trips throughout the region (so far).

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4. Let’s be honest. You won’t love everywhere.  Last year I went to Hong Kong and Taiwan for long weekends.  Just a few days each.  They were both great trips but neither location really grabbed me.  I might go back to do some hiking but really feel no immediate need to spend more time in Hong Kong or Taipei.  And in fact, I would really be annoyed if I had dedicated a ton of time and money to either of these trips!

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5. Some places and sights are famous for a reason. I consider it part of my life long education to see them!

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6. Long and fast travel are inherently different. Frankly when I am in a place for an extended period of time I will learn more about the culture and people but I will most likely see (and even learn) less.  I have been living in Japan for almost two years.  I have been to a ton of Onsens and tried lots of ramen, but I don’t think I have seen much more (and maybe even less) than if I were visiting for the first time with two weeks to explore.  I’ve spent the equivalent of a week (albeit the equivalent of a very full week) in Tokyo and only just now got to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Nara this past summer.  I’ve explored my own area and been out to the Fuji Lakes district several times.  But from an outside perspective, it’s took me almost 18 months to see what I would have seen in two weeks as a tourist.  And because I am so prepared for a trip with research prior to, I am pretty knowledgeable on the history.  I’ve lived in 6 countries and 7 states … and while I get out a lot and explore …day for day there is no comparison to a fast trip!

7. I recently completed a super-fast trip through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It was my first time in Indo-China.  I think of it like tapas.  A site survey.  I don’t need to go back to Vientiane or Hanoi.  But I do need to go back to Luang Prabang and Ho Chi Minh City and spend more time.  But I would never know this before I went there.  In fact, I expected to like Hanoi and Hoi An much more than I did.  And I’ve added Sapa and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park to my list for when I return.

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8. You can always return to a place. You and a location will both grow and change. 

I have now been to Spain 5 times, probably a total of 28 days, since I was 15 years old.   I like it more each trip.  And I think I have seen more and done more over several fast trips than I would have if I had just taken a trip to Spain for a month.

The same is true for New York City and Paris.  I have never spent an extended amount of time in either location – a weekend at a time – once every few years.

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Frankly, after over 40 years and 85 countries, I have never regretted a fast trip.  It wets my appetite for a return trip but now I have a better idea of what I want to see and do.  And there are lots of places I am glad I didn’t invest the time and money in a longer trip.

Even places where I have spent months and years (London and DC readily come to mind) I will still continue to go back time and time again.

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I am a middle aged (gulp) American professional woman blessed with 5 weeks of leave, and 10 paid holidays (i.e long weekends).  I am fortunate to have a chance to live in other countries which means I can concentrate on different parts of the globe. Even though I have a lot of time off, taking more than 2 weeks for a single trip is just not feasible.  When I retire, I would like to travel for a couple of years (I have a 5 year plan that I’ll write about soon).  And because I have been able to travel to a variety of locations (albeit sometimes fast) I now have a good sense of where I want to return, where I want to explore, what I like (and what I don’t).  These are not wasted trips. 

P.S.  In case you were wondering.  I am going to Tibet for just 4 days.  I’m not stupid.  I know it is not enough time and I won’t see everything.  Life is meant to be lived and I would prefer to do 4 days now than 2 weeks 20 years from now (or never).  And who says I can’t do both.  I’ll be in Nepal with friends and I have always wanted to go to Tibet. 

Don’t judge me!

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