On Travel Snobbery (or Why You Should Be Proud of Your Travels No Matter How Infrequent)

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“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.

and

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.

Can you spot the gator? ;)

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.



48 COMMENTS

  1. Great article! I noticed that some people just travel to brag about it later (how much money they spent and so on) or because it’s trendy. They don’t travel to experience something new. “I was in Tunisia in a 5-star hotel”, “I was in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain last year” etc. However, everyone has their own style of traveling and no one should judge it. Some people have the same fun no matter if it’s a bike trip or two weeks in Egypt and that’s great, too.

    • Thanks Marcin! I don’t think people travel just to brag about it … that would be a little extreme. I think maybe people just don’t realize when they’ve become travel snobs. :)

  2. Charissa and I just got back from Boca (3-3.5 hrs away) and just a weekend trip. Though it was just Friday night, Saturiday, and Sunday, it’s like a total refresher! We really noticed that when we would travel and stay overnight for the half-marathons that the time away was like a mini-vacation. We realized that we didn’t need to take a week or more at a time to go and have fun.

    Our goal now is to get away once a month for a short trip, while still peppering longer trips throughout the year. We are so close to so many things and to not take advantage of that would be shameful.

    Another good one bro!

    • That rules. A small break a few hours away can be just as memorable as a longer trip thousands of miles away. :)

      And you’re right: Florida has tons of awesome stuff to see.

  3. Great post Karol! Sometimes you see people who have traveled to so many distant lands. You listen to them and realize they haven’t actually been anywhere. They’ve never left their own small world of prejudices. And sometimes, you see an old man in a small town. He has never even been to another town. Then he says something that makes you realize he has had a damn profound journey. I believe a journey will turn into a story only if the traveler is open and aware. Then the journey has a heart, and it eventually takes you to point A, which is the journey to yourself.

    • Thanks for adding your insight C.A. That’s a little further past what I’m getting at. All I’m saying is, if you travel a lot, don’t be a snob about it when talking to people who maybe don’t travel so much. I feel like the travel snobbery creeps up without the perpetrator knowing.

      You know how certain people will take any conversation and somehow add in an anecdote like … “oh, yeah, that’s like this one time I was in Madagascar …” :) That’s what I’m getting at.

  4. You’re one cool dude Karol. A lot of wisdom in every post of yours.
    I am one who spent 2 decades hopping the world with a backpack and small means.
    I couldn’t go one year without going somewhere far and exotic for at least a month at a time. The reason was not only the curiosity of visiting other lands and meeting new people, but mainly the unhappiness about my life in my homeland. I had to escape…….. Finally in 2001 I found the place for me…… I moved…… and since then I quit the heavy travelling. I finally feel good where I am. I still love travels, but it can be as far as my backyard :-)
    Talking of USA (that’s where I live now), after being in magical Easter Island, slept in Thai huts and snorkeled with the turtles, I went on a annoyingly touristy trip from LV to Grand Canyon and……..awwww….. it’s one of my fondest travel memories!!! Love love love the GC!!!

    • Thank you Alice!

      That’s awesome that you traveled the world and then found a home. :) And also cool that your annoyingly touristy trip is one of your fondest memories. I’m actually going to be in LV in late October. Maybe I’ll go on that tour! :)

      Karol

  5. I moved to Florida 3 years ago from California. I still haven’t run out of places to see here. I don’t know if I will run out anytime soon. I keep meaning to get a passport, but I don’t need one for the places I’ve been taking trips here in Florida (or Puerto Rico).

    It’s one of the nice things about travel: there really is no wrong way to do it. The only way to do it is however you like.

    A friend was talking to us about the Withlacoochee river a few weeks ago, and it was on our list of places to go explore. Thanks for the article and the picture. We’ll have to go paddle there soon.

    • Awesome James! You’ll have a great time on the Withlacoochee. It’s so empty and peaceful. :) If you have more time, there is also Ocala National Forest up in the region, which is also a really good time. It’s where I picked up my first tick. ;)

  6. Thanks for this. When I was younger, I, too, felt a little “less than” when friends would talk about their travels overseas. While there are destinations outside of the U.S. I would like to see one day, the road trips I take seem to me just as adventurous. Funny, the Grand Canyon is on my list to see in October, as well. It will be my first time there.

    • Who doesn’t love a good road trip? :)

      Everybody in HTLA already knows I have a huge plan for Summer 2011. :) And a few fun bloggers are doing the Way Below Status Quo road trip very soon: http://waybelowstatusquo.com/

      That all said, I think if there are destinations you want to see outside of the US then you should definitely do that as well.

  7. I love to travel, whether it’s going to another continent or just hour drive from home. What counts for me is to see something I haven’t seen before. For that whole world is a possible destination.

    • Sorry the Polish L with a dash character doesn’t work on this blog. :( And that’s the positive attitude I’m talking about. Going out to experience new things whether they’re in our backyard or thousands of light years away. :)

  8. SUCH a good post (as usual)!

    I think sometimes when I talk to other people about their travels to exotic places in distant countries, it makes me feel like my trip to a neighboring state might not be all that exciting or even worth talking about. Thanks for reminding me that it’s all about the individual experience and adventure.

  9. Hey Karol.

    I agree traveling does not have to be expensive at all:).

    It is way more fun to relay on the kindness of people anyway.
    And do them favours in return:).

  10. what a great reminder that it’s not about the places or the numbers, but the experiences! thanks! is there a link to tweet this? maybe i’m missing it.

      • Thanks Karol, I just tweeted it! (Albeit to my whopping 23 followers- but I still like to share valuable content just in case.) You should totally put a link to share through twitter so more people can post cool articles like this!

        • Thanks! Yeah, I used to have the twitter thing, but nobody really used it. I get a lot more use out of the Facebook and Stumbleupon links so I’ve left those up. :)

  11. great post my friend…everyone is truly on their own unique journey..and that makes it special…like a always try and teach on my blog…you need to quit watching others and just watch yourself….then you will be growing in the present…so where ever you are in the world the experience will be special…let me know if you come to south korea…I will be here until around Feb of 2011…

    • Thanks Ivan! Too bad, I won’t be in South Korea in the foreseeable future.

      “you need to quit watching others and just watch yourself” – this is a great line!

  12. Great article Karol! When I was in Costa Rica, I’d meet all of these people who have been everywhere in the world and I thought I was a bad ass for traveling in CR for a couple months. I came to the same realization that even though someone may be an awesome traveler who has been everywhere and going more places, it doesn’t mean that what I was doing was any less extraordinary. I’m still a bad ass traveler in my mind. When someone asks me about CR, the passion comes out and you can’t shut me up about it.

    • Because everybody in North and South America is an American, so some people get their panties in a bunch when US Citizens call themselves Americans like we’re the only ones. That said, I’ve only had it happen in English speaking countries (like Australia). And even then, not often. I just threw out that disclaimer just because. :)

      In certain places (India and Thailand) when I would say I’m from the United States people wouldn’t know what I was talking about. But if I said America, they’d light up and say “ahh, America!”

      • “In certain places (India and Thailand) when I would say I’m from the United States people wouldn’t know what I was talking about.”
        Yeah this has happened to me many times.
        A: Where are you from?
        B: The United States.
        A: Huh?
        B: America.
        A: Oh, America.

        I think the only people who make an issue of US Citizens call themselves Americans are non-Americans from other English-speaking countries.
        Somehow this attitude also strikes me of travel snobbery.

        • I would call it less travel snobbery and more a good dose of American hatred. ;) In any case, I understand it to a point. I mostly specify I’m from the United States because, well, it is true there are lots of Americas. :)

  13. Way to go Karol! You’ve been to so many places and thank you so much for sharing all the information that you’ve shared with us from all the trips that you visited. Good job!

    • Hey Martin,

      Thanks, but the article stems from the fact that I actually have not been to many places and that’s OK. :)

      Cheers,
      Karol

  14. A very, very interesting aspect of travel, Karol. I guess between the 2 categories (you and others), I would fall on the travel “snobs” category but I don’t think of myself as a snob. I can sit hours with my family who hardly wants to hear about my recent travel which to me is a huge deal and I do not drop names in conversation just to show that yes I have been to Japan 4 times but I am damn proud to have been to Japan for times, not so I can say it to anyone but because I love Japan and the opportunities that came my way make me feel very happy to have been so fortunate. I don’t really care to share it with those who don’t care about travel because it does not bring any common energy to the table and it’s wasted on both sides….and also because travel alone doesn’t define me and my interests in reading,yoga, dancing, writing, blogging, photography, exercise, healthy eating, making friends, spending time with family, gardening, and a million other things are sure to strike up some conversation if they want to learn more about me and if I want to learn more about them, the ocean of possibilities lays ahead because travel does not define anyone to me either. Having said all this, I do love travel and plan to do it in obscene measures to the end of my days. But to each, his own :)!
    Great post!

    • Thank you for your insights Farnoosh. You should be proud of your travels. The point is not to make other people feel bad about theirs. :)

      Cheers,
      Karol

  15. Hey,Karol
    Wow, I cann’t say any more about this great article.. because I totally agree with every word that you said. And I am thinking you spoke out my mind in English :-P
    I am a Chinese who left south China for north China 2 years ago. BTW, I’ve never been to Great Wall neither, though now I’m living near by it.
    Yes, “Travel Is An Individual Experience” :-D

    I also planed to travel more and further places, but I realise it’s not that easy for a single girl and without money.(Yes, I am kind of that “Travel Snobbery”:-P) So I have to stop over and get ready for the next trip irregularly……Anyway, I really enjoy my traveling though all my friends won’t understand these joy.

    • Thank you Young! It’s so good to know you enjoy the article. :)

      Your friends may very well understand the joy. It’s just important not to make them feel bad if they don’t have similar stories to share.

      Cheers,
      Karol

  16. A common line among backpackers is “I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveller.”

    I was going to write a big rant, but I’ve decided in the context of this post, it speaks for itself :-)

  17. I was looking for an article or post like yours to send to my friends who are not US citizens, but who AWLAYS have something negative to say about US citizens and their travel habits. I have two close friends who do not like to travel, but they are always the first to keep up on international issues, politics, policies, etc. I speak with them almost daily and I enjoy their curiosity and breadth of knowledge.

    I have been able to travel a lot because of my job and research projects for the World Bank. There are some things that I see on the internet all the time that are pet peeves of mine:

    1. Avoid tourists and the high season. Only novices travel during those times.

    I disagree with this philosophy. I have met A LOT of people during these times not only from the country I am traveling in, but also from others countries. It can be some of the best times to get to know a lot of people from around the world who want to share the experience. I suggest going when you have the inclination, time, money, and energy. High/low doesn’t matter.

    2. Only backpack or budget travel if you want a REAL experience.

    I have lived in several countries for over nine months at a time and asked locals what they thought of that philosophy. I was told that it doesn’t matter because if you aren’t from the country you stand out no matter what. Just because you are cheap doesn’t mean you’ll get the best experience. People like to show off the BEST of their country and culture. Why not let them go all out for you and show your appreciation for the gesture? It has led to some lifelong relationships for me.

    3. Dress like a bum and/or college backpacker to blend with the locals.

    I can tell you from first hand experience that locals in big cities, especially in Italy, take offense with the overly casual nature of some travelers. Why not try to blend in and dress like the locals by shopping where they do when you arrive? I have done this for some time and I have gotten better service, etc. and have been told that they appreciate the gesture.

    There are other things, but I guess that goes with the travel snobbery. I don’t like it, especially because I have been able to live and travel a lot of places. It turns me off when people try to make others feel bad about their experiences, limited or otherwise. Sometimes my friends who have not traveled a lot will try to engage me to put the braggers in their place, but I just won’t do it. I turn the conversation to economic policy (or lack there of) in Cameroon. That usually shuts them up pretty quickly! LOL!

  18. No matter where you go, no matter how much time you’ve spent there- the whole thing is about how your experience shaped you…how it opened your heart and mind into accepting more and more people as they are. Karol, loved your article because I really am proud of how my travels to whatever land shaped me.

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