“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” #16 on the Dalai Lama’s 18 rules to live by.
When I started CouchSurfing in early 2008 I started meeting lots of people who traveled regularly and had been all around the world.
When they’d ask me about my travels I wouldn’t have much to talk about. And some of them would make it worse by acting like holier-than-thou travelers.
My response would usually be something along the lines of “Uhh, well, I went to Poland…3 years ago.”
And I was embarrassed by that.
I’d been to more than half the states in the U.S. (touring with bands), Canada a few times, and Poland and Mexico twice a piece, but that didn’t seem spectacular enough.
I hadn’t been to the beaches of the Caribbean, or backpacked through Europe, or visited the Great Wall.
I just didn’t think I had any grand stories to tell and I was embarrassed when conversing with people who did.
Travel Is An Individual Experience
The more I thought about it, the more I realized:
a) It didn’t matter whether I was well-traveled or not.
b) I did have interesting stories to tell about the travels I had experienced.
I’d done two 3-week road trips around the U.S. on rock tours. The first covered about 3,000 miles and the second over 7,000. I didn’t think that was really anything special because I hadn’t left the homeland.
But the truth is they are special because they happened to me, they’re a part of my story, and I had an amazing time on each tour. Nobody can take that away from me, no matter how epic their around the world adventures.
There Is A Lot To See
U.S. citizens get flak for not being well-traveled. I can’t find verified statistics, but supposedly only 25% of Americans have passports. (Hey, no comments about me using the word Americans! Everybody in the world calls residents of the USA Americans. It is what it is, yeah?) It doesn’t matter if you never set foot outside of the United States because there is a lifetime of travel to experience there. Hell, there are probably a lifetime of travel experiences in each U.S. State, much less the whole country. (The same probably holds true for wherever you live.)
How To Feel Like You Belong
My trip to Germany is no better than your trip to Northern Wisconsin. Your trip to Dublin is no better than my trip to San Francisco. And so on …
They’re all personal journeys involving individual experiences and should be treated and respected as such.
What I finally did to get over my shyness in the presence of those more well-traveled was to start telling my stories like they were important and I was proud of them, because I was, I am.
The easiest way to get your stories sounding interesting is to write them down. Write them down (hopefully while you’re experiencing them) to the very last most interesting detail. Read the story aloud so you’re more comfortable telling it and then don’t worry about it. You don’t have to be perfect when retelling.
The trick is to not feel subpar when a travel snob overshadows your story with one of their own. Realize it’s on them and they have an ego that needs to be fed. Simply listen, feed their ego, make them feel good about it, and you’ll feel good about it too.
I love hearing stories about weekend camping trips just as much as I enjoy hearing stories about year long trips to Asia. If the storyteller is passionate about what they’re talking about I’ll feel the passion listening to what they have to say.
Money Is No Excuse
Some people will complain that they really don’t have any travel stories to tell because they can’t afford it.
One of my favorite travel experiences was a 2 day/1 night canoe/camping trip on the Withlacoochee River in Florida. A group of 10 of us borrowed 3 canoes (had to strap one on top of a little Nissan!) and headed to the river.
It’s there that I saw my first wild alligator. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but having gone 27 years without seeing an alligator I was ecstatic. The memory is burned in my mind. Learning we can coexist with such amazing creatures in the wild was a life affirming experience for me.
Then we set up camp on the banks of the Withlacoochee just 100 meters after seeing a whole group of gators. Maybe not the smartest thing to do, but when you’re not at “official” campgrounds you have to set up camp wherever you find a decent spot.
Total cost of the trip? $30 for gas (petrol) and food.
It’s not about how much you spend, or even where you go, it’s about getting out there and doing things you enjoy doing with people you love and people you just met.
Nobody can take that away from you no matter how many languages they speak, how many stamps in their passports, or how many frequent flier miles they accumulate.
Not Enjoying Travel Is A Valid Excuse
Some people just don’t like to travel. That doesn’t mean they lack culture or aren’t interested in other people. It just means they don’t like to travel. Nothing more, nothing less.
So if you’re conversing with someone who’s never traveled anywhere and has no desire to there is still a lot to learn from them.
Find out what they are interested in.
What interesting sights are there to see and what fun things are there to do in their home towns?
Asking those questions to everybody you meet might just result in you having another travel story of your own to tell.
And when you do have travel stories to tell don’t annoy people with them. Share, don’t annoy. It’s a fine line and something I have to remind myself regularly.
As an aside, even now I’m not interested in visiting the most places, but simply new places (and revisiting old places). A lot of people I talk to rack up countries like a game. And that’s awesome! It’s just not for me and doesn’t have to be for you either.