Bored but Traveling
May 17, 2017 4:25 PM   Subscribe

The author talks about why travel can be just as boring as not going. Also, info on how tourist and tourism have changed the world.
posted by MovableBookLady (37 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I don't travel much any more, having come to realize that staying is as gratifying as going. In fact, I take particular pleasure in the long-planned trip that needs to be cancelled at the last minute. My wife gets agitated and depressed when this happens, but I experience a thrill of release, as if from onerous bondage. The fact is that the texture of life is pretty much the same everywhere, and as Buckaroo Banzai used to say, "Wherever you go, there you are".

(I am charmed by the fact that this article is framed by an encounter in the stacks in Columbia University's Butler Library, one of the few locations on earth I'd happily travel to experience, having spent some of the happiest hours of my life there. )
posted by Modest House at 5:13 PM on May 17, 2017 [9 favorites]

Thought-provoking piece. Thank you for posting.
posted by delight at 5:18 PM on May 17, 2017

I went backpacking for three months a few years ago, and stayed pretty close to the lonely planet circuit.

It is true that the hostels are full of people who are very much of a particular type, but that particular type happens to be 'people who like hanging out with random strangers and doing fun stuff'. If you're bored and lonely, it's an amazing kick in the ass. I did meet some older guys who were basically doing sex tourism, and a _lot_ of college kids who seemed to be trying to do every drug imaginable, but I also met some really cool people who just wanted to hang out and absorb the local culture and maybe go ziplining every once in a while. And I met my now-wife and mother of my child who was also backpacking. And I did meet locals even though I barely spoke the language, just because a lot of people speak English.

It's an amazing experience that you should definitely do once in your life if you've ever had the inclination and have the opportunity.
posted by empath at 5:26 PM on May 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

People -- and not just the aristocracy -- have been going on tours in Japan for hundreds of years, long before Thomas Cook started up in 1841. All of the touristy stuff was already there, including touristy hotels, kitschy souvenirs, and tourist-oriented eateries serving local delicacies that kind of resemble what the locals eat.

The travelers were making pilgrimages to famous Buddhist temples and shrines. It was the one form of travel that was allowed. There are an awful lot of temples in Japan, and, since 1868, a lot of shrines. They have a lot of artwork and so on, but the sheer number of these places in Japan causes a bit of overload for travelers... mostly because they are really meant to serve as tourist attractions since time immemorial to bring in much-needed money.

I never really started traveling until around the age of 40. I grew up in a tourist town and recognized touristy things. I was also dissatisfied with being an outsider, so instead I decided to live in and get to know one particular area, which I did.

Now I just enjoy the act of traveling. It's down time, and it's a good chance to spend time with my family.
posted by My Dad at 5:42 PM on May 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

i actually have moved on from hostels to AirBnB for precisely this reason (that and I like having my own damn room).

But look, travel isn't necessarily for everyone. And I actually have a pretty big grudge against the articles that try to shame people into traveling for precisely that reason; not everyone can, not everyone wants to, and not everyone can afford it.

But by the same token, some of us just really, really do want to and kind of get into it. And we tend to not necessarily be doing the token tourist thing. I've always been sort of nosily curious about how other people live in other cultures and countries - one of my favorite books from my grade school library was this old book I found one day that was about Christmas customs in other countries, and it sort of blew my mind that Christmas could be celebrated...differently. And that sparked curiosity that only travel has sated.

I've been to Paris twice, and have never been up the Eiffel Tower - I looked at it from across the Seine and thought "you know what, this is good enough." Because I had more fun in a little shop that sold table linen listening to two women giggling over how much they were spending. I had more fun being shown around a little suburb by a retiree who serenaded me with "La Vie En Rose", and told stories about when he was a little boy cutting school from the church school at the top of the hill. I dug listening to a little girl who saw something cool excitedly shout "Regardez, papa!" to her father over and over.
I similary don't think the chicken restaurant in Kansas where I got totally lost was on the travel circuit, nor was the diner in Missouri where the waitress actually wore pink polyester and called me "Hon". The kayak club I hit up in London wasn't, and the sewage treatment plant the club member pointed out to me on the Thames certainly wasn't. I actually saw more of the Globe from my kayak on the Thames than I did actually standing in the Globe.

But these are all snapshots from moments where I deliberately tried to step out of my comfort zone and my regular experience. Yeah, I do some of the sightseeing stuff when I travel - the world is full of wonders, and some of them are unknown to me - but I also try to look at what more mundane life is like. I tend to feel it if I try to do too much of the "sightseeing checklist" stuff, and that's usually when I stop and devote a day to just whims. One day in London, when I was feeling that "I feel like I'm ticking things off a list" feeling, I decided to just spend an afternoon going back and forth on the ferry along Regents Canal between Camden and Little Venice. I think I made two round trips, peering at all the narrowboats each time - and at one stopover, I grabbed a cup of tea at a little narrowboat that had been turned into a cafe, and the woman who ran the place gave me a cupcake because she was getting ready to close for the day and just wanted to unload them. "But also," she said, "I'm just happy because it's the day before the Jubilee weekend and that means I have four days off!"

If you do genuinely want to get outside the familiar, then there's nothing wrong with that, so long as you aren't a dick about it. If you don't want to travel and would prefer to do a deeper dive into where you are, that is equally fine (and can be its own kind of fascinating).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:47 PM on May 17, 2017 [38 favorites]

But I can also see how it can get boring and samey after a while. I don't get how people can do it for years.

Btw, tips for traveling and vacations from a few years of traveling pretty heavily:

When you plan a vacation, go to one region and stay there. Other than scenic drives or train rides, don't plan a bunch of trips in the middle of your trip. Nothing can make a vacation stressful like plane travel. So don't plan on trips to 4 countries in two weeks. You can't properly even do one region of one country in two weeks.

Get out of big hotels in the big cities. Stay in the countryside. or if you're in a big city, stay in a residential area, wake up, have breakfast while people are going to work. Don't plan anything. Just wander around the neighborhood, go to a department store, see a park. My favorite experiences traveling are rarely famous sights or big events. It's stuff that more like walking out of a mountain park in a residential neighborhood in Kyoto while kids are biking to school. Or having blood sausage for the first time at a random cafe in Madrid.

Pick just a few things you really want to see or do, and try to schedule as little as possible. Don't book accommodations or travel ahead of time (other than plane tickets obviously) if it's at all possible. There's a little bit of stress and cost to doing things last minute(I once ended up at a hostel called Dirty McNasty, and it was probably worse than it sounds), but there's also a lot of benefits to having the freedom to hang out with someone you just met for another day (I turned around and went the opposite direction I was traveling for a while so I could stay with my wife after I met her), or just deciding you really love a place and staying longer, or that you really hate a place and want to get out as quickly as possible.

Last, put down the fucking camera and just be at a place. Yes, take some pictures when you first get there, but don't spend your entire trip staring at everything through a tiny screen, thinking about the best way to make your friends jealous. Pictures should be to remind you of good memories. They shouldn't be a substitute for them.
posted by empath at 5:48 PM on May 17, 2017 [12 favorites]

I love travelling. I grew up a navy brat, and I loved moving to a new town and making new friends. My siblings all hated it, and... well, we don't have much in common. I disliked it once dad got out, though I did love Minnesota otherwise. Have you ever been to the Gunflint or the BWCA ? You should go. You can see auroras and hear loons.

I miss the loons most.

I recently quit my job, and I do need to get another one, but we've got several months before that goes from a good idea to a pressing issue. My plan is to do the things here I haven't had time for because of work - multi-week backpacking in the mountains, exploring southern Utah more thoroughly. Much more hiking and yoga and biking. That sort of thing.

Its going to be great.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:07 PM on May 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

A few unpleasant experiences aside, travel has been advantageous in all sorts of unexpected ways that have had an enduring positive impact on my life. Then again I don't typically do organized tours. I prefer going solo, which creates more opportunities for the unexpected and advantageous to happen. I hope I have the privilege to keep traveling until I am physically and/or financially unable to do so. And the touristy stuff? If it piques my interest, I should see it in person. Photos and video will never be able to convey all of the details that make these places so interesting.
posted by jazzbaby at 6:31 PM on May 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed this author's prose. Thanks for sharing!
"Like many people who grew up in small, gray-skied working-class towns (Cook, D. H. Lawrence, Geoff Dyer, to name a few), I’d always wanted to travel. It was the most obvious means of escape possible, and seemed like the cure for everything: small town, small life, sad family. My mom was a nurse, my dad a pastor, and both were depressed, which seemed at odds with their caregiving jobs. I was told that helping others gave purpose to life, yet the people who taught me this suffered painfully from a sickness defined by meaninglessness. He talked around the edges of suicide. She withdrew. I planned to get away. But I couldn’t just go. Unlike in most of the travel books I read and loved, in life there were practicalities to consider. I needed contact lenses and birth control. I needed to pay back my student loans. I needed cash. So­ — again, like Cook — I became a tour guide."

"I was thinking of taking a trip, though I didn’t have any money. Fortunately, the travel section of a college library is a terrible place to plan a vacation."

"My mom has the same restlessness, a symptom of anxiety, for which she joined a support group. They have a phone tree, and when one of them is anxious they call one of the others. These calls have become a source of great anxiety for my mom."
posted by rebent at 6:56 PM on May 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

mishaps and misadventures at home are just life. While travelling, they become tales to tell. I pity the people who don't enjoy it.
posted by shockingbluamp at 7:05 PM on May 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

That article made me realize I still very much relate to this poem ....

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn't a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing;
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.

~Edna St. Vincent Millay
posted by pjsky at 7:14 PM on May 17, 2017 [14 favorites]

I do envy people who enjoy traveling; I usually find it so draining. I do travel somewhat and am glad that I do but I'm always so much happier when I get home again.
posted by octothorpe at 7:16 PM on May 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

I love traveling as well, although I'm a bit biased since I met my wife while she was traveling in my city and the entire first year and a half of our relationship was us traveling back and forth to see each other (sometimes for a couple months at a time). One nice part about that is we definitely enjoy traveling together, since thats the situation our relationship is based on (while some couples have trouble going on trips together, we were more worried about the opposite --- but luckily that turned out to be fine too).
posted by thefoxgod at 7:39 PM on May 17, 2017

I thought I wanted nothing more than to travel full-time, but then I moved and realized that mostly, I just wanted to escape that town.
posted by airmail at 7:42 PM on May 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

Walker Percy has some great insight about travel in Lost in the Cosmos, the greatest book ever written:

Imagine you are a member of a tour visiting Greece. The group goes to the Parthenon. It is a bore. Few people even bother to look — it looked better in the brochure. So people take half a look, mostly take pictures, remark on serious erosion by acid rain. You are puzzled. Why should one of the glories and fonts of Western civilization, viewed under pleasant conditions — good weather, good hotel room, good food, good guide — be a bore?

Now imagine under what set of circumstances a viewing of the Parthenon would not be a bore. For example, you are a NATO colonel defending Greece against a Soviet assault. You are in a bunker in downtown Athens, binoculars propped up on sandbags. It is dawn. A medium-range missile attack is under way. Half a million Greeks are dead. Two missiles bracket the Parthenon. The next will surely be a hit. Between columns of smoke, a ray of golden light catches the portico.

Are you bored? Can you see the Parthenon?

Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
posted by resurrexit at 7:52 PM on May 17, 2017 [19 favorites]

It seems to me that "travel" has become the only thing anyone can imagine doing with their lives other than work. On AskReddit, the answers to "what would you do with your life if you were wealthy?" are mostly "I would travel all the time" (once you get past "two chicks at the same time" of course) -- as though they can't think of anything else. I remember one poor guy on /r/solotravel who wanted to spend years rambling from one national park to another, but fretted that they're usually too far from international airports. (Yo dawg, we heard you liked travel so we put an airport in your park so you can travel while you travel.) What did young people dream of doing with their unencumbered lives back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s? I feel like we're a generation of thoughtless dromomaniacs.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:34 PM on May 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

What did young people dream of doing with their unencumbered lives back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s? I feel like we're a generation of thoughtless dromomaniacs.

Whatever it was, let me assure you, there was someone else judging them and being snide about it.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:01 PM on May 17, 2017 [20 favorites]

You can't properly even do one region of one country in two weeks.

I have come to realize that there is no way to 'properly do' any place, in that I haven't properly 'done' the city I spent six months in or the city I spent 8 years in. So it's not really necessary to worry about whether you will have fully checked off the places you visit when planning a trip - if you want to spend four days seeing six countries, and the travel between them doesn't bother you, go for it.

Don't book accommodations or travel ahead of time (other than plane tickets obviously) if it's at all possible.

Or do book things ahead of time because you want to do a particular thing or have a place booked and not worry about finding a hotel as you arrive in town.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:38 PM on May 17, 2017 [9 favorites]

as though they can't think of anything else.

I mean, "I would travel all the time" is my answer, too. Why wouldn't it be? If I had all the money I needed and no need to work for a living, the most fun I can possibly imagine is seeing the world. There's just so much world. I think if things have changed, and people are more into travel now than they used to be, it's because we are exposed to other places now in a way and to a degree that I don't think was possible or common in the past - we can see how much WORLD there is out there. I really cannot understate just how much world there is.

At the touch of a button, any time of the day or night, we can see how much is beyond our experience, beyond our town, beyond this page in this chapter of the giant book of the world. It would be weird if we didn't feel a desire to explore it for ourselves.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 12:25 AM on May 18, 2017 [18 favorites]

1) It is a strange distinction between travelling, and touristing, and just being elsewhere. I don't mind some occasional travel, really can't stand tourism, but I have been an expat pretty much my ehole adult life. So that "off the beaten track" thing where you just observe locals in their day-to-day lives? That is my default existence. I am writing this on a bus commute from the distant outer suburbs of Nanjing. Both titally bizarre, fascinating, and aldo absolutely mundane... maybe next year Vientiane or Omsk... who knows?

2) There is a picture of me touristing in Mazatlan! Palm trees and an infinity pool, sunset a dozen different purples snd oranges... and I am intently posting on Metafilter, with my little doobie bag there on the table. Vesuvius, herds of wildebeasts sweeping majestically across the plains, whatever. So yeah, Mr. Bonzai, totally there with you.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:21 AM on May 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have arranged my entire career around my passion for travel. I do design and production for a nonprofit organization, and surely could make much more than I do now in the private sector.

But I'm American, and the private sector wouldn't afford me 35 paid vacation days a year. My nonprofit does.

I grew up dirt-ass poor in a tiny town in North Dakota. The furthest I was supposed to go was Bismarck, with its population of 50,000. Maybe Fargo if I was a real dreamer.

I live in Chicago now, a dream in itself. It's a great amazing life, actually. Of course like anyone I have my stresses and boredoms and regrets.

But. When I'm at the top of a mountain I've hiked in Iceland, staring at the clouds below. When I am sitting in the Spotted Cat in New Orleans listening to live jazz. When biking through the Tuscan countryside past olive groves. As I cackle at the unusual crisp selection in the tiny market/post office in Ballachulish, Scotland. Chasing armadillos through a little glen in Florida. Tasting beef tartare the first time in Prague. Buying a trinket from the most striking women I've ever seen at a witchcraft shop in Salem. The sound of heels on cobbles at dawn, waking me up to my first morning in Paris. The list of these moments goes on and on.

Those are the moments I will never regret. In two weeks I head out to Oslo and Stockholm, and I look forward to more of those moments. Moments that make that yearning 14-year-old kid inside myself look around with wonder, moments that make me so damned proud of her. That she dared to dream of a world just a little big larger than she was 'supposed' to.
posted by Windigo at 6:01 AM on May 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

It seems to me that "travel" has become the only thing anyone can imagine doing with their lives other than work.

It might be because in the US we get so little vacation time that practically all we do is work.

I get 15 days of "paid time off" per year that counts for both sick and vacation. I've already used half of it due to a few sick days of my own plus my wife had an injury I had to take time off to help her with.

I'm speaking only of my own experience, but this is sadly not all that uncommon.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:40 AM on May 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

It would be weird if we didn't feel a desire to explore it for ourselves.

Not really. Many people are easily bored and distracted and made anxious. I love traveling, or at least the idea of traveling, because the implication of travel is that you have the resources and carefreeness to do so. Travel is escape, after all, from everyday cares, or that's the theory. Travel also reminds me of being a (privileged) college student and backpacking through Europe, which of course is now a cliché and was even then. The memories are good, even though the experience was shot through with melancholy, generally, because I'm a melancholic person, but specifically at that time, because I was a closeted gay male and scared of my (all-male) travel companions finding out and ostracizing me or worse. I like to remember myself enjoying and absorbing the Uffizi and the Alte Pinakothek, but what I really recall are all the ruses I tried feverishly to deploy to throw my straight "buddies" off the scent of finding out that I was queer, which I spent an inordinate amount of time doing.

Also, I like to remember the hazy filtered happy parts, but the truth (and the photographs) actually depict a lot of boredom and hours upon hours spent waiting and sitting in train stations and airport gates. Even the dark out-of-the-way cafes were boring when my mind was on where I had to be next. At the end of my backpacking trip, I spent a couple of days alone in Vigo lying in my hotel room staring anxiously at the ceiling fan when I "should" have been out exploring the streets and hidden attractions, thinking of Lisbon, which is where I "had" to be next.

Whenever I travel, despite myself, I am almost always seized with anxiety and boredom and a desire to be back in comfort, familiarity, and quiet, almost none of which are offered by travel.
posted by blucevalo at 7:27 AM on May 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

What did young people dream of doing with their unencumbered lives back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s? I feel like we're a generation of thoughtless dromomaniacs.

Well in the 60s my dad travelled to England to work, but also to make side trips into France and Germany and around England itself to just travel.

In the 70s my parents left me and my brother with my Oma & Opa for several weeks to go travel Europe and visit my mom's German relatives and just travel.

In the 80s my family took road trips, to travel to various parts of our country, and go to the US, and went to Europe again.

In the 90s I went traveling to Ireland with my then-husband.

In the 2000s I went traveling to BC on my own. I traveled to the US, I traveled all over Ontario to see more of my province. My brother went to Europe on his own, to visit family in Germany and just to sight see.

In the 2010s I continued to travel in Canada and the US, visiting friends. My parents are now retired and traveling every year - to Hawaii, to England, to Europe. My brother is taking his kids camping and out to see Ontario - and saving up for a bigger trip once they're a bit older. I'm going to Europe in June.

We didn't get the latest clothes or flashy toys - my parents saved up and spent our money on travelling. We value travel as a family. So yeah, if I had all the time & money in the world, I'd totally travel. I guess we're all thoughtless dromomaniacs, through at least two (and infecting a third) generation.
posted by sandraregina at 7:32 AM on May 18, 2017

I love meeting new people and going to strange grocery stores and seeing pretty scenery and absorbing all those little nuggets of "oh cool, I didn't realize that could be so different somewhere else". But I still have trouble enjoying traveling, and I've always been kind of nervous to admit that.

The truth is, I have trouble with enjoying pretty much anything for which I have high expectations. Travel especially - when I've invested money and other resources into putting "the best week of the year" together, I feel so much pressure to maximize and enjoy everything that it actually just leaves me feeling really anxious and guilty most of the time (and then I get extra-double-guilt because I'm not enjoying it).

The worst trip of my life was one that sounded really awesome to others, but I spent the whole time just miserable because the people around me seemed to integrate better and quicker and I felt so awful because a lot of people had sacrificed a lot for me to be able to go and I wasn't maximizing it or getting what I could potentially get out of it. The best trip of my life was to a medium-sized random US city (not one particularly known for tourism) where I went in with zero expectations and everything was a lovely surprise.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:45 AM on May 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

If you have ever gotten sucked down the rabbit hole of books/articles that try to explain what makes us "happy" you will find over and over that research shows "experiences" bring greater and longer lasting feelings of happiness than material objects. "Things" lose their shine, so to speak, much quicker than experiences. I think people who enjoy traveling get such satisfaction from it because it leaves them with so many wonderful memories. (as Windigo so eloquently describes)

I am someone who is happiest when I have something to look forward to. Or more accurately, SOMEWHERE to look forward to. United, Delta and American Airlines may be doing their damnest to assure all passengers in economy travel have the most stressful and uncomfortable journey possible. But it's still worth it when you're sitting with your lampone/limone gelato watching the sunset over the Baia del Silenzio in Sestri Levante. *sigh*

Already this year I've been to Portugal, Iceland and Italy. Still deciding where my next adventure will take me . . .
posted by pjsky at 8:48 AM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, please stop telling us how to travel or that we are doing it wrong. Helpful suggestions don't need to be phrased as barked orders. Why do so many people turn into pretentious absolutists when talking about travel? I had fun on my trip, so I did not "do" it wrong. I am not ashamed of looking like a tourist because I am, in fact, a tourist. I will pre-book my hotel so that I don't end up in an unsafe and unfamiliar neighborhood after dark or at the $300 per night airport hotel, though both happened in the days before smart phones.

I have been in two different situations: 1. I needed a day off from all the running around and felt a little guilty about not taking the opportunity to spend another day in Manhattan. 2. I felt I had seen everything I needed to see in Prague but still had a day and a half left before my train left. In both cases, I was frustrated and a bit ashamed, but I learned a lot about myself and my expectations.
posted by soelo at 8:49 AM on May 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

The worst trip of my life was one that sounded really awesome to others, but I spent the whole time just miserable because the people around me seemed to integrate better and quicker and I felt so awful because a lot of people had sacrificed a lot for me to be able to go and I wasn't maximizing it or getting what I could potentially get out of it.

That touches on the only real problem that I have with travel, and that's the performative aspect of it--the idea that, if I go a certain place, I have to see X or Y or I have to do it a certain way, otherwise I'm just wasting my time. I think that it's become a bit worse thanks to social media, but it's always been around; Banana Republic catalogs used to wax endlessly on the difference between travel and tourism (the former was what cool people did, with the implication that wearing Banana Republic clothes would help establish your bona fides; the latter was implicitly what your parents did), and few travel writers can or could withstand the temptation to fall back on snide observations of Other People Doing It Wrong. Yeah, I've taken the time to go off the beaten path and discover the small and obscure joys of various places, but I've also totally done the tourist stuff and enjoyed that as well. I lived in NYC over a year and can wax nostalgic about some of the great lesser-known places, but I also think that two of the best places to go are the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty (I visited the former during my job interview trip, and the latter on my second-to-last day in the city); I lived in Memphis for several years and went to Graceland three times, each time with out-of-town visitors, and had as much time the third go-round as I did the first; when I went to Washington, I visited both Ford's Theater (smol) and the Lincoln Memorial (tol); etc. The only really solid two rules of thumb that I've got are a) I've chosen destinations wisely if I haven't run out of things to see or do, and b) to not worry at all about impressing my Facebook friends.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:50 AM on May 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have a theory developing here. I think it's even based on some psychological studies I've heard that have been done of infants (not that I'm accusing anyone here of being infantile, by any means).

I think we all have an internal point of balance between our curiosity and our security. When we feel secure, we tend to be more open to checking out the unusual. And when we feel less secure, we're less likely to want to open ourselves up to the unfamiliar. And everyone's balance is different, and is met in different ways, and there are any one of a number of reasons why that could be - nature, nurture, a combination thereof...So that's why you have the people who never want to leave the block on one side, and the people who are racing off to Taipei for a weekend on the other.

But - I think that's also why you have the people who have no problem going to another country, so long as they are able to make sure that the hotel and a couple meals are already taken care of. Or the people who are like "I will go anywhere, so long as they speak a language I can speak in that place." Or "I just want to make sure I'll be able to have Internet." Or "I want to know exactly what I'm going to be doing each day when I'm there." You know? They're all different comfort levels, and all different things to be secure/insecure about.

Personally, I think that whatever you need to do to alleviate the insecurity to the point that you feel like you can exercise your curiosity, then that's good. If that means that you never leave this continent, well so be it - there's puh-lenty to see in this continent. Hell, if that means you never leave your home state, then even that's fine - you can do a really deep dive into what your home state is like, if you're curious enough, and you will be just as rewarded:
"Hi, neighbor! Heard you're going on a vacation soon?"

"Yeah, we're going to Rome - I can't wait! But you just got back from vacation, where'd you go?"

"Oh, we just stayed in town - but we took a drive over to the north end of town one day and discovered this lady who runs a zither museum out of her living room and it was a total blast!"

"....We have a zither museum in this town? Since when???"
As long as you are comfortable enough to exercise your curiosity, you're doing good. Period.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on May 18, 2017 [13 favorites]

I didn't own a passport for most of my life and only went overseas for travel for the first time when I was 37. Last year I was downsized from my job and I had some savings and severance and I decided to go to grad school in Budapest. I travel whenever I can string together a long weekend. I've been to Sarajevo, Rome, Vienna, all over the Croatian coast, Krakow, Munich, Bratislava, the Canary Islands, all over Hungary. I've seen things that I knew about but never thought I'd see. I've seen things that I never knew existed. I've had amazing food and, once in a blue moon, amazing sex. I've made friends from all over the world. I've seen dolphins and sunsets and once had a pickpocket return all my things. I licked the wall of a salt mine and rowed a boat through an underground freshwater lake. I love walking through mundane foreign grocery stores and eyeing new foods and new brands. That moment when you grok a new city's transit system is one of my favorite things. I've bicycled and bused hours from any city and wondered what would happen to me if I missed the last bus or got a flat.

Hell, halfway through writing this comment we had a class break and drank wine on the university roof while watching the sun go down over the Danube.

In spite of it all, I kind of miss my old one bedroom apartment and Netflix on my old 48" TV...
posted by Skwirl at 11:39 AM on May 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

My first travel was when we moved to Tripoli Libya (pre-Gaddafi) in 1955; I was 12. We spent two years there and it was fabulous for me and my brother. Splendid food because of all the Italians who were still there. Magnificent Phoenician/Roman ruins like Sabratha and Leptis Magna sans restrictions so we got to roam all over them. Tripoli was a lovely city then, very Italian and low-key. My brother and I roamed all over the city on our own while mom was at work (we didn't tell her much about that). I began to learn Italian and a little Arabic (I can still count to 10 and know a few curse words).

Then we transferred to Livorno Italy, 16 miles from Pisa and an hour by train to Florence. Even more fun than Libya, what with the food and the scenery and the people. Saw Venice and Milan and Genoa, went to see "Aida" with Leontyne Price in the Roman amphitheatre in Verona, skiing in the Italian Alps, Carrarra, museums in Florence. Also Rome, of course. Hung out with Italian teenagers. Glorious.

Travel slowed down after we returned to the States but I did take myself to England/Scotland in the early 90s for three weeks. And when I was 65 I bought an RV and set out solo to wander the country. Did that for a few years and am now contentedly off the road.

When I go someplace new that is a tourist "destination," I often take a guided day tour and spend the rest of the time puttering and wandering with no itinerary. That's the fun part and I'm never bored. If I had the money, I'd travel a lot more because I'm interested in people and places and food and music and architecture. Even when nothing is "happening," there's something going on to watch or listen to and it's never boring. And I always have a book at hand, just in case.

Memories are what travel gives you, and they stay with you forever. That's the beauty of it.
posted by MovableBookLady at 12:03 PM on May 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Hey, empath: you might want to consider that the reason I've got my camera up to my face most of the time is that a couple of the primary reasons I travel are to practice my photography in cool places and to gather reference material for art. Also, one of those people who aren't looking through a camera might be my writer buddy, who's cataloging the scene and storing impressions that she can use later in her books instead of "just being" there. Neither of us is Doing It Wrong.
posted by telophase at 1:36 PM on May 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Watching him, I thought I might write (or at least be will­ing to watch) a TV show called Stack Pirates. Here’s the scenario: a group of recent graduates can’t find jobs (probably there’s a recession), so individually they begin to spend their days in their college library in order to avoid roommates or landlords or parents, as well as the restless torpor of sitting around the house all day. Eventually they find one another and decide to band together and figure out how to live in the library full-time. Their guide on this quest is the old man with the eye patch, who they discover has been living in the library since his own grad­uation in the sixties (he was avoiding the draft, maybe). They call him the Captain, because of his eye patch but also because he’s been obsessively researching the his­tory of piracy for years, his own version of Ahab’s white whale. I’m not sure what they do once he teaches them how to find food and where to sleep. Probably they solve crimes.

I would watch the hell out of that show.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:58 PM on May 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Watch it? Hell, all I've ever really wanted was to live it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:03 PM on May 18, 2017

Travel may be great but novelty is all about mindset. This article says that people get bored traveling! I believe the converse can be true as well: You can have an adventure staying home.

A few years ago, I was still living in the town I grew up in. I made a friend who came from the other side of the state. He kept telling me about "Have you been to this place?" (Me: no) and "What's your favorite XYZ in town?" (Me: I didn't know we had an XYZ in town). He opened my eyes to the adventure right around me. And he was a world traveler! Spent several years in Germany! But still really liked the town that I thought was something I wanted to escape.

So I moved an hour north. Bigger town, different. Many people talk shit about it - "Oh, it's just a mid-west town, super conservative, not much going on." But, I find a lot of my new friends - who have lived here their whole lives - don't even know that there's an XYZ in this town.
posted by rebent at 5:26 AM on May 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

You get one chance to spend a few decades on this planet. You can spend it how you want.

I want to spend it seeing as many parts of the planet as I can. I'm not going to see it all. I am going to miss out, but I want to see as much of it as I can and absorb what I can. I am an immigrant twice over. I've moved between cities and cultures, and have come to appreciate how we're all distinct but we are all tied by common hopes and dreams. I don't travel to escape. I travel because that's how I was raised.

I also think of 'travel' as a weekend away somewhere at the end of a two hour road trip. I think of it as backpacking under the stars. I think of it as a day that isn't spent playing a videogame or watching TV. I think of it as being a tourist in my own city, taking the time to learn about buildings and history that have blurred into the background of my daily life. And it's just that same interest and leisure is sometimes expanded to a longer journey, a further destination, a different experience; but it's all part of the same continuum of curiosity for me.
posted by bl1nk at 8:06 AM on June 1, 2017


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