So there are all sorts of stupid questions to ask a long-term or frequent traveler, but I think this one has to be the worst:
“Aren’t you ‘done’ traveling?”
How could anyone ever be “done” traveling? This isn’t the sort of activity that can ever be “completed,” you know. Have you seen just how many countries there are and how humongous they get? I mean, come on, guys. India, China, Europe. You could spend a lifetime in some of these places and still have several lifetimes’ worth of adventures left to go.
But it’s worse than that. These people aren’t talking about completing your life-long passion, which would require visiting every country on the planet repeatedly, and thus could never be finished anyway. They’re talking about abandoning it.
There are so many things wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin, so I’m just going to ask exactly the same question of something else:
“Aren’t you ‘done’ watching football? Honestly, at your age. You’ve had your fun, but it’s time to move on. You’re an adult now. You’ve got more important things to do.”
Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? It kind of reminds me of that Calvin and Hobbes line: “Calvin, go do something you hate! Being miserable builds character!”
Organized sporting events are especially weird, because somehow the world has come to the conclusion that spending six hours watching fully-grown adults play a game originally intended for children is somehow perfectly acceptable, whereas other, equally useless activities are met with judgy comments like “you’ve got too much time on your hands.” Weirdos!
But there are plenty of other recreational activities that would never get the same criticism as travel. Just take a look at how ridiculous these statements would be:
“Aren’t you ‘done’ mountain biking? I think it’s time you settled down.”
“Aren’t you ‘done’ reading books? How many stories can there really be, anyway?”
“Aren’t you ‘done’ with yoga? Perhaps it’s time to take up knitting.”
Yet, somehow, extended travel (and, incidentally, heavy drinking) seems to be different…at least to certain people. They view it as something mostly for college kids, who might spend a summer backpacking through Europe, riding the trains, staying in hostels, getting drunk half the time, and having the best summer of their lives. Then they come home, and move on.
They move on…from whatever travel has to offer.
This is stupid, because travel is a whole lot more worthwhile than just a silly diversion for college kids. Plenty of people realize this, but the ones who ask “aren’t you finished yet?” clearly don’t. They’ll ask “When are you going to get on with your life?” as though travel is a break from reality.
And that’s exactly the problem. They view travel as a vacation. Whether it’s a beachside spa weekend or a sightseeing tour of epic monuments, they still just view it like a sabbatical. Everyone needs a break now and again, but after it’s over, you’ll get back to “real” life, because travel isn’t real. It’s an escape.
These same people often spend $15 to see a 3 hour movie about Spandex-clad superheroes fighting for justice, and somehow it’s travel that’s the escape?!
Travel is a whole lot more meaningful than any beachside vacation ever could be, and, sadly, these people might just never figure this out. And I don’t just mean the undying cliché of “finding oneself,” although that is true as well. It’s improving oneself that’s more important anyway, and that’s something travel can do, but not if you’re just lounging by the pool the whole time.
Most long-term travel junkies aren’t just out there for fun. That’s part of it, sure, but that’s part of life, and not something to avoid. But for those who keep coming back, over and over, it’s often about discovery, in all sorts of ways: Visiting places they’ve only ever seen on TV, in quick sound bites and brief visual snippets; understanding cultures of distant countries that were once their historical enemies; meeting more new people in a few weeks than they meet all year at home…the list goes on.
It’s hard to convey this to the poolside loungers, but for those who venture forth into the international wilderness, the psychological benefits of immersive, exploratory travel are undeniably real. And, for the scientific types, there’s a growing body of evidence that this sort of exposure to different cultures actually makes people think more critically and creatively.
So why stop? Is self-improvement ever really “finished?”
And it’s more than that. If there’s one thing the world needs in an age of globalization on a planet of limited resources, it’s a greater level of understanding between cultures and borders. And there’s no better path toward accomplishing this than paying your fellow humans a visit.
Twain said it best:
And that’s what (good) travel is all about. It’s not about running away from life; it’s about embracing it. It’s about understanding the world around us, and our shared heritage with some of our more distant neighbors, who are a lot more like us than any firebrand politician or cliché-filled Hollywood flick would have us believe.
There’s a whole world out there, and we want to experience it as best we can.
So no, we’re not done. We never will be.