The Washington Post recently ran a piece by Maryann Haggerty entitled “Around the World in Four Easy Lessons” wherein she wrote of an 11-flight vacation that circumnavigated the globe in the span of 29 days.
Citing their age and “jobs [they] couldn’t leave for long”, Ms Haggerty sets about planning an itinerary along with her husband that, by her own admission, would allow for “an average of less than four days in each of the eight countries [they] visited.”
Lately, Kathryn and I have been considering the reasons behind our settling on a timeframe of a year abroad, debating the advantages and disadvantages of being away for an extended period. And, while we haven’t quite agreed on a timeframe, we are both of the view that our trip abroad should be of a substantial length. Longer than 29 days, at the very least. But why?
In her article, Ms Haggerty writes:
There is an accepted template for what’s called round-the-world (RTW) travel. You must do it slowly—say, at least six months or a year. You must get off the beaten path, disdaining all those things that regular tourists are there to see, such as renowned museums or the Great Pyramids. You should probably carry a backpack, stay in the cheapest place in town and wash your clothes in the sink.
She’s right, of course. The accepted wisdom is that RTW trips should be of a certain length in order to immerse one’s self in another culture and to get off the beaten path. Slow travel implies an escape from the ‘tourist bubble’ and avoid the kind of tourist experience that is standardized, modified and commodified. However, we believe that Ms Haggerty’s style of RTW trip is the type of holiday wherein the vast majority of local knowledge of the area is imparted to the tourist by a bus driver (refer to our earlier piece on ‘How to Burst the Tourist Bubble‘).
The problem with Ms Haggerty’s itinerary is that it approaches RTW travel from the perspective of a vacation, rather than that of worthwhile pursuit in its own right. Ms Haggerty’s itinerary falls prey to the North American belief that a vacation is a brief respite bookended by work. The problem with this view is that, for North American, vacations are often not unlike work—hectic and stressful. This frantic pace persists while “on vacation”, rushing from one tourist attraction to another—or as in Ms Haggerty’s piece, from airport to airport. This style of ‘travel’ is antithetical to the ethos of the RTW traveler.
The pervasiveness of consumer culture has sold us the idea that we should ‘buy’ travel in the same manner that we buy refrigerators and automobiles. And that’s no accident, as consumer culture sustains itself on the premise of an unending supply of consumer goods. What kind of society does this create? One that views air-conditioned and pre-packaged travel as a commodity.
Long-term travel provides the opportunity for rejuvenation and relaxation. While some might consider Ms Haggerty’s itinerary a vacation, I prefer to liken the notion of a RTW trip to that of a ‘sabbatical’. The notion of a sabbatical is said to have originated in Hebrew legend, referring to the ancient river of Shabat. Legend held that this river flowed for six days and rested on the seventh. Of course, the idea of rest and peaceful reflection is incredibly foreign to productivity-obsessed North Americans who have been led to believe that taking time away from work is wasteful.
A long-term RTW trip allows the traveller to hop off the treadmill and refocus one’s energy and vision. It’s an excellent way to recharge, take some time for yourself and see life from a different perspective. It’s an opportunity to be in a different environment—physically, mentally and emotionally. Check out our article entitled “Why Go Round-The-World?“
While there’s no ‘correct’ length of time, most RTW trips last six months to a year; however, the length of your adventure is up to the traveker (and their budget). In my opinion, a year is the perfect amount of time to challenge yourself; it’s a period short enough to envision an end goal but long enough to be significantly challenging to keep up with over the long-term.
In fact, I prefer 366 days to 365—the proverbial ‘year and a day’. Why? Well, in medieval Europe, a runaway serf became free after a year and a day. All long-term travelers are, in a sense, runaway serfs, escaping from the conventions of ‘labour’, preferring the liberty of the road to the right to live conventionally but with fewer freedoms.
While the prospect of a dash around the world might appear exhilarating, it’s definitely not for Kathryn and me; we think it’s exhausting! Rather than attempting to check off as many “renowned museums” or “Great Pyramids” as possible on a trip, we prefer to take the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture.
Ultimately, long-term travel is a protest against the style of vacation that Ms Haggerty champions in her article. In the same way that we prefer regional cuisine, local farming and traditional food to a Big Mac combo, we are attracted to reflective travel that emphasizes a connection to local peoples and cultures.
Around the world in 29 days… or maybe it’s 28: Mayann Haggerty’s blog. Four weeks, eight countries.
How long should I travel for?: TraveMokey’s advice—with the excitement of planning a trip around the world many people try to fit too much into a short period of time. After all there is a lot to see and many amazing sights.
Category: Dan's Blog