4 Reasons traveling is a waste of time


I’m growing sour on travel. I have always disliked it. When I was a kid my parents took us all over Europe and the Caribbean, and it really exhausted me. Now that I’m a grown up, I am better able to articulate why I think travel is a waste of time. Here are four reasons why I think the benefits of travel are largely delusional:

1. There are more effective ways to try new things.

While it’s true that learning and broadening your experience is important, doing that one time is quite different from consistently integrating something new into your life. It’s low risk to try something for a week. Which will make more impact on your life: going to Africa for a week and seeing wildlife and living in the jungle, or retooling your weekly schedule so that you take a walk through your local forest preserve once a week? You will have a stronger connection to the forest preserve than the jungle, and you will have a deeper sense of how it grows and changes and how you respond. So if you hope that travel will change how you see the world, doing something each week to see the world differently will have more impact than doing it one time, seven days in a row.

2. Cultural differences are superficial. Economic differences matter.

Don’t tell yourself you travel to learn about different cultures. Because you don’t necessarily learn from people in other cultures. And you don’t need to leave the US to find cultures different from your own.

Frans Johansson writes about diversity, and he says that race is not a indicator of diversity any more—background is. And the most diverse backgrounds come from economic disparity. So a rich white person and a poor white person are more different than a rich white person and a rich black person.

I think this is true across cultures as well. I had a South African roommate in college. But she was just like me: rich, white, Jewish. But when I lived on a French farm for a summer, the big difference between me and the farm family wasn’t that they were French. It was that they were living on a farm. I know this because when they figured out I was unhappy, they sent me to live with their cousins in Lyon—a large city in France—and the cousins were just like me.

3. People who love their lives don’t leave.

Imagine if you were excited to get out of bed every day because you had structured your life so that every day was full of what you have always dreamed of doing. And you were in love with your boyfriend, and your job, and your new handstand in yoga. You love it all—imagine that. Would you want to leave all that behind for two weeks? What would be the point? You’d have more fun at home than away from home. So instead of traveling somewhere, how about figuring out what you’d really love to be doing with your time, and do that? In your real, day-to-day life.

4. Travel is not the time to do deep thinking.

People who need an escape so they can think deeply actually need to add that to their daily life. How about setting aside time to think deeply every few days? Sam Anderson suggests in his article in New York magazine that meditation is so important that people are going to start making time for it in the same way we make time for exercise now. So maybe that travel bug you are feeling is actually a give-me-headspace bug, and if you think you need it only for a couple of weeks, you’re wrong. You need time to think each day. Re-craft your days to honor that need, instead of running away for what can only be a temporary respite.

My guess is that the things you are aiming to accomplish while you travel are generally things you could accomplish on a deeper level if you stayed home and made changes to your life instead of running away. Routine and practice are the keys to giving deeper meaning to your life. Sure, disrupting routine is important for gaining new perspective. But you certainly don’t need to travel to the next country. There is plenty that is new right where you are now. Just look closely.

279 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Alex @ Happiness in this World
    Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    I’ll probably get as much flak for this comment as you will for this post, but I actually agree with just about everything you said here (especially #3). I find myself far more interested in what makes people the same than what makes them different. I find myself in the minority as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy travel. I can, however, understand why so many do, but this post really resonated for me.

    • Marsha
      Marsha says:

      Yes, yes , yes. I love my home, my gym, my running trail, my hiking trails. I love to cook in my kitchen and eat clean foods. If I could be beamed to locations that would be fine, but travel sucks. Workers in airports are rude and treat their fellow humans like cattle. When we have traveled with kids, they are grumpy. They would rather be home just like me.

  2. Tom
    Tom says:

    “Imagine if you were excited to get out of bed every day because you had structured your life so that every day was full of what you have always dreamed of doing. And you were in love with your boyfriend, and your job, and your new handstand in yoga. You love it all – imagine that.”

    You are describing 5% or less of the population.

    Sometimes you need to get away.

  3. mamaworker
    mamaworker says:

    I love #3. You have just given me something new to aspire to. Even if it only occurs to 5% of the population :)

  4. Gary Arndt
    Gary Arndt says:

    You are wrong.

    Not that your opinion is wrong, but you are factually wrong.

    I’ve been reading your blog long enough that I get your shtick. Say something controversial or shocking and let the comments roll in. In this case, you are just making a set of gross generalizations to justify what I assume is you fear or just lack of a desire to travel. Instead of just accepting you are different, it is easier to make the rest of the world wrong.

    I’ve spent the last two and a half years traveling around the world, traveling to over 60 countries. Unlike you I did it as an adult, not as a child. I did it after being a successful entrepreneur. Moreover, I can’t say I’ve ever encountered someone who has traveled and regretted it.

    Specifically dealing with your arguments:

    1) I’m sure there are some things you can try without traveling, but trying to compare walking through a forest in Madison, WI with going on a photo safari in Africa is absurd. Have you been on an African safari? If not, how in the world can you make a comparison? I grew up in Wisconsin and I’ve been in the rainforests of Borneo. Borneo is nothing like Wisconsin. I love Wisconsin, but you can’t universalize that experience.

    2) You are smoking crack. Go to Japan. It is an advanced, modern, rich country. It is most certainly not the same the United States. This is due to culture. I’ve had many discussion with Chinese about differences in culture which are based different assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes which have nothing to do with economics. Again, I’m sorry you had a bad experience on the French farm as a teenager, but that is hardly something which can extrapolate to the rest of the world. There is more to the world than European capitals and Caribbean resorts.

    3) Can’t the be said of any change in life? People who love their lives don’t change anything about it. This sounds like a post hoc justification of someone who is afraid to travel, that your life is so perfect that there is no point. As with any other change in life (having kids, starting a business, moving) travel can be a method of improving your life.

    4) This depends on what you want to think about. If you are a product manager and want to think about how you can sell products outside of the US, traveling can be a great time to think about things. I don’t know why travel has to justify itself as a time to think about things.

    I’ve met many people who have taken career breaks to travel extensively. None of them regretted it and in no cases that I know of did it hurt their career (ostensibly the focus of this site).

    If you don’t like to travel, that’s fine. That’s your business. Trying to make sweeping generalizations about something you know little about to justify your lack of desire to travel is absurd.

    • Pen
      Pen says:

      Agreed. I was going to say “Penelope doesn’t like to travel, which is fine. She then states why it’s stupid for everyone to travel, which is silly.”

      To each their own. How about “4 Reasons Why I Don’t Like to Travel.”

      Oh, right, because then there would be fewer comments (for example, I would have found it very interesting to read why you don’t like to travel; but I might not have commented).

      It’s very dramatic.


    • Jessica
      Jessica says:

      SNAP. Comparing her local park to an African safari was a hilarious example of complete ignorance and stupidity.

      • D. Wolpert
        D. Wolpert says:

        Come to Africa, to see our parks. Come to the Kruger National Park. Go on Safari. no reading about it will come close to the experience.

        • Philippe Orlando
          Philippe Orlando says:

          Uh! What? And what do animals do in the wild? Try to kill or escape being killed? Sorry by they don’t do anything else. You mean some people are fascinating by some ofthe earth life forms in their quest for protein? Wow, gazelle is killed by lion, baby antelope is eaten alive by baboon. Fascinating.

    • traveler
      traveler says:

      I do not agree with everything PT says in fact it is always a mixture of WTF is this crap next to the great stuff. Gary Arndt I feel a need to clear things up for you as you seem uncapable.

      1)She was comparing the WI to Africa in terms of utility not experience. You are assuming that we should enjoy Africa over any other forest. I believe you are “universalizing” there.

      2)First of all if you ever want to be taken serious you should leave crack references out of the way because it seems as if you got that from a movie reference and have no idea what it means to smoke crack. Being a former athlete and basically living with 400 different people from all over the country and 5 countries. Although we may have been different in color the real divide came from wealth. The difference between likes, expectations, wants, needs, was most closely related monetarily not geographically. Any place that it is acceptable to shit in the middle of the street, among other things is not rich. You saw the tourist area I am sure. Back to PT’s point, if you are traveling to learn different cultures just as much can be learned from someone in a different socioeconomic background.

      3) What I believe she was saying is that most intelligent, self aware, driven people get what they want. It is not that do not want to change but they figured out what they wanted (the hardest part) and got it. Once again probably should not attack ones “opinion or belief” if you want to have a credible argument.

      4) Although her blog is about career I believe she meant was personal travel. As a child she was not traveling for business not sure if you picked that up or not.

      Do you think that maybe it didn’t hurt there career because they figured out what they wanted and then got it. Maybe that is what they needed, for some people it could be something different. What I got from this is that if you are ready to figure out what makes you happy than traveling is not the “get rich quick” method.

      I do not think she made any generalizations I just think you missed the boat, plane, or train (pun intended).

      • Sidney
        Sidney says:

        Curious why you took his reply so personally when so many people had the same reaction including me. Her reasons for not traveling are valid for Penelope but certainly not valid for the majority who love to travel. You need to do less worshipping of Penelope and much more thinking for yourself.

    • David Caruso
      David Caruso says:

      I agree wholeheartedly. I find it interesting that the writer prefaced her article about how traveling is a “waste of time” by stating her parents dragged her all over the world as a child. That’s not how you build up credibility for your point of view — quite the opposite!

      Besides, I grew up in Kansas — going out to see the world, living in other countries, was definitely not a waste of time. It was, overall, a wonderful, enriching experience — both the positive and negative experiences were valuable spiritual food. It does without saying, for instance, that living in India for 6 months did something important for me, something not definable.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      Wow, I have been reading Penelope’s blog for a while too and generally I see her point very well and often agree but this is one that I think is bizarre. I too have travelled extensively, both for work and for recreation. I have to admit that when travelling for work I am eager to get home, but overall my life experience and appreciation for humanity and the earth to whome we owe our exisitence id far richer for the travel expereinces I have had.
      Me think Penelope just doesn;t like travel, and there is nothing wrong with that, but her 4 reasons are exactly the reasons why the rest of the world often refer’s to the US as ‘Planet America’, lol.
      Perhaps Penelope is just playing with us, i hope so anyway.
      How to Paper Mache

  5. Adam Hooper
    Adam Hooper says:

    This post is ironic: though I agree with the points made, those points can only be learned by visiting new places and cultures.

    It’s one thing to read a blog, and it’s another to experience it. I, for one, will be learning and re-learning the points in this post over and over again until I die, because that’s what I enjoy doing.

  6. Jim
    Jim says:

    Point #2 resonated most with me. I don’t disagree with your other three points, but only to say that it depends on what type of travel you’ve designed. For example, my wife and I travel from Ottawa, Canada, to the East Coast at least once a year to visit family and friends. Sure it’s nice to visit, but by the time I get home I’m sucked out…and what did I learn?

    Conversely, we did a three week train trip down through the Midwest to San Diego in May 2008. Now that was a buzz. Initially, I wanted to fly direct to San Diego to see my aunt, but the missus hates flying. Good thing she talked me out of it since flying sucks; you miss everything. So there’s a balance in life when it comes to staying rooted at home or always on the go, travelling somewhere.

  7. tropicalismo360
    tropicalismo360 says:

    I was intrigued by the title but my face fell when I read the content. Mamawrker above is absolutely correct so I don’t need to repeat what she has said. I’m just amazed that an educated (and widely travelled) person such as yourself could have come to that conclusion. I grew up on an island where tourism is the main industry and I can imagine ‘tourist destinations’ being quite tedious but that really is not the point. America is a big country and your type of view comes up in many different ways – but I don’t think you could convince a Brit.
    I hope you get around a bit more with a more open mind.

  8. Erin
    Erin says:

    I like my life, my job, and my hometown – but that doesn’t mean that when the mercury reaches 20 below zero in the middle of January that I don’t want to head somewhere warmer for a week or two. If I can choose a place that encourages me to learn a new language, try a new food, and experience a new culture, so much the better.

  9. timdellinger
    timdellinger says:

    The other thing about travel is that most people get the Tourist Version of whatever place they’re visiting. The experiences that they have tend to be constructed by the local tourist industry to pander to tourists’ preconceived notions, and to water down and sugar coat everything for easier consumption.

  10. Jon
    Jon says:

    Thank you Gary, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    One other thing – how about adventure and natural beauty? Is your life that perfect that you wouldn’t be thrilled by ziplining through the rain forests in Costa Rica or boarding down volcanos in Nicaragua?

    Do yourself a favor and visit some unique places of true beauty – Macchu Pichu and China’s Lijiang river are two recent sites that come to mind. How about seeing the northern lights?

    I could go on but I think you get my point. I think my life is great too, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But the point is you don’t have to trade it – you can go away for a relatively short time, see things you never dreamed existed, and if you’re lucky share the experience with someone you love.

    Sorry, and I mean this in the nicest possible way because I really do enjoy your blog, but at best you sound like boring workaholic, and at worst a typical passport-less American.

    • Gary
      Gary says:

      P is not a workaholic. She’s a narcissist. There’s a big difference. Aside from blogging and self-promotion, what “work” does she do?

  11. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    Ironic you cite yoga and meditation in your post! You do realise that if nobody had travelled, you would never have heard of yoga. Or for that matter, the kind of meditation that is now the subject of much research but that has roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, religions that are not native to your country/ continent and you only know of them because someone travelled.

    Jewish people, who travelled to India, had (until the attack in Mumbai in Nov 2008) the unique distinction of being the only Jewish people not to have been persecuted in any manner. Perhaps their travel was futile in your eyes.

    Oh, and really smart people know that nothing is permanent – not even lovely lives they lead and love. They do not fiddle with their schedules, they get out and do things.

    I say all this as a person who lives 1000s of miles away from the continent she was born in and works with clients in 3 continents, including yours. I love that life and it came about with travel. I have gained languages, been introduced to a wide range of music and literature, appreciated my blessings, gotten to know many new friends. Oh, and perspective. To appreciate the world beyond my own little pond.

    PS: Like Gary Arndt here, we all understand some posts are for driving traffic but the reasoning here is eye-watering. Seriously.

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      I can’t even begin to describe all the things that are stupid and wrong in what you said.

      What does other people travelling have to do with her personal opinion and preference when it comes to travelling?

  12. tropicalismo360
    tropicalismo360 says:

    Just to reiterate the importance of mamaworker’s comment – and the critical line: “Say something controversial or shocking and let the comments roll in”
    I’m off this blog (don’t worry, you won’t miss me)

  13. Karol Gajda
    Karol Gajda says:

    Interesting post. And while it’s based on lots of assumptions based on your own life experiences (which can probably be said for all of our assumptions) I’ll tackle only one. Point #3: “Imagine if you were excited to get out of bed every day because you had structured your life so that every day was full of what you have always dreamed of doing.”

    What do you do if what you have always dreamed of doing is traveling? What if you get excited about waking up in a new city on a regular basis? What if you love the thrill of not knowing where you’ll be in a month? What if you revel in the freedom of going where you please?

    Does that mean one doesn’t love their life? Or does it simply mean that we’re all different and we all love different aspects of life?

    So while travel is obviously not right for you, that doesn’t mean it’s not right for countless others.

    As always, great post, especially the baiting headline. :)

  14. JS Dixon
    JS Dixon says:

    @ Gary I don’t agree with a good deal of the things Penelope has to say either. I still enjoy most of her posts. Any of the good points you had to make started losing ground the moment you started using insults in your rebuttal. Yes controversy is a great marketing tool. There is more to both this blog and writer than that. Go ahead and check out by her. and if you still want to say those things than say them without insults. That is bad form, and is only necessary if your argument is not strong enough to stand on its own.

    @ Penelope. I love every point you made. I still want to travel, but I think that a lot of the things that I would look for I can make part of my every day life, and I love that. After all, if you can’t find happiness where you are, going half way around the world is not going to change that. Great post!

  15. Warren Talbot
    Warren Talbot says:

    I love to read about different perspectives on all issues and be able to discuss these in an open forum. For my wife and I, we absolutely love our lives in Seattle and my job is extremely rewarding. Our decision to leave on a multi-year trip around the world is due to the fact that there is so much in the world to see and experience and for us this is important. For us, travel is a passion and the experience we are anxious to embark on.

    The key is ultimately that every person identify what is really important to him/her and embrace it fully, whether it be travel, starting a business, or learning to sail. Even more important to me is that everyone explores what is really important to them in their lives and attacks it with the voracity that it deserves.

    I do believe that embracing new cultures and having different experiences can be life changing. The following quote sums up my feelings best on the subject of why one should travel:

    "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." – €“Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869)

  16. Jen
    Jen says:

    I highly disagree with this post. Last time I checked you weren’t going to see a giraffe wandering around the forest preserve in Wisconsin. And while watching some nature shows on TV can be cool, it’s nothing like experiencing something in person. Just as looking at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre is different than looking at it in a book.

    I also don’t agree that people who love their lives don’t leave. Many people are capable of loving their lives both when they’re in the daily grind and when they’re halfway across the world on a beach or exploring a rainforest. It’s narrow-minded to think that people have to do the same thing all the time to love their lives.

  17. bottomofthe9th
    bottomofthe9th says:

    While one can take in culture locally rather than traveling (although I agree with previous commenters that it’s really not the same), there is no prospect of changing local weather to permit doing what you want.

    My husband and I like to take walks. We do it frequently from October through April, but the other five months, it’s more than 100 degrees where we live.

  18. Jane Greer
    Jane Greer says:

    What if something you’ve always wanted to see or do is not at home? The only way to REALLY see the art in Florence is to go to Florence. The only way to REALLY see a vast plain full of elephants and zebras is to go to Africa. The only way to REALLY experience the ocean is to be near the ocean.

    I think you just needed a new post, are having a pretty happy life today, and phoned this one in.

  19. Liza
    Liza says:

    I’ve noticed that those who travel-rich or not-are usually less narrow-minded in regards to their situations in life compared to what others might be experiencing.

    I think you missed this in your adventures. Even when I toured Europe at the young age of 15, I knew that downtown London was ‘rich’ and that the small towns in Austria weren’t so much. I also knew where I would fit in the most because of that.

    Now, after visiting over a dozen countries, I will argue that it is an eye-opener. a fire alarm going off in Sweden has an entirely different meaning than one going off in Minnesota-several towns have completely burned down in Sweden’s history. Not so much in the U.S.

    Only a narrow-minded outlook on life will allow for a viewpoint that travel is a waste of time. After all, life is what you make it.

  20. Sara
    Sara says:

    I think traveling provides an opportunity to develop or improve skills that are important in life and business that you don’t even address here. You have to be flexible, and a problem-solver. There is no substitute for figuring out wtf to do when you have lost your wallet and passport in the middle of a foreign country, or because you missed a ferry to get to whatever place you were staying for the night and now it’s 11:30 pm in an unfamiliar city and all the hotels are booked because there’s a convention and no one speaks English and you have literally no idea where you’re going to sleep. If you travel alone, you get to know yourself. If you travel with another person, you get to know them in ways you couldn’t in another way. You learn how to talk to strangers, entertain yourself (during those long train rides), and pack lightly. And one more thing – I do love traveling, but I always come back with a deeper appreciation for my home, and everything that’s great about it. Sometimes you have to leave in order to appreciate what you have.

  21. DT
    DT says:

    Why do you need to generalize from your experiences to the rest of us?

    I find travel to be wonderful. I learn, I make new friends who are totally different from me, and I enjoy it. But I wouldn’t encourage YOU to travel, because YOU clearly don’t enjoy it. I also like baking, but can accept that you might not. I despise running. Running makes me tired and cranky and sore. But I don’t assume from that experience that other people shouldn’t run, because some of them seem to really like it.

    What I got from your article is a sense of sour grapes. You had some lousy travel experiences. But you don’t want to think that you are a bad traveler, or just got unlucky. No, there needs to a deeper message about why travel is bad or at least unnecessary for everyone, not just you.

  22. La Petite Belle
    La Petite Belle says:

    I disagree. I think (as a well-traveled person) that traveling really enriches people. It broadens their minds. I am not talking about going to a resort in Punta Cana. I’ve done that too and while it’s lovely, it’s not what broadens a mind. It’s the visiting of cultural landmarks, history museums and visiting with the locals that really makes the difference. The rest of the world is SO different than the US. It’s a shame to not experience that.

  23. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I don’t much like travel (well, being a tourist) either, but I have always loved living abroad — I am not sure where that would fit in your schema.

    I do agree that making your life at home more enjoyable is better than travel.

  24. Jeromy Timmer
    Jeromy Timmer says:

    I travel to Japan every year to do the one thing I can’t do in the states. Visit my wife’s family. Penelope’s observation about cultural differences is dead on. The cultural differences are mostly superficial. Tokyo is just like any other big city. If you go to rural areas of Japan the differences are more pronounced, but they have more to do with being in farm country than they do with the culture.

    I’m surprised by the hostility in the comments. I agree with just about everything in the post, but I love to travel and that is not going to change.

    However, working a walk in the woods into my weekly schedule probably would do more for me than the African safari. So i’ll do both.

  25. Verónica Aimar
    Verónica Aimar says:

    Hi Penelope:
    This is the first time I have the chance to read your blog. Unfortunately, this post is the first one I read too. But I don´t think is accurate and I strongly disagree with all 4 of the developed statements.
    Travelling and tourism have their pros and cons. When you travel you don´t only see, experience and remember good things. Because none of them are perfect. None of us, human beings who make, live, feel, experience and recreate tourism, are.
    I think It´s ok if you don´t like travelling and you never did. What it´s not ok is to make the good things about travelling, bad ones.
    I agree on what you say in your last paragraph. Disrupting routing is necessary to gain perspective. Travelling is one way of leaving routing for some days, to gain perspective. But this is only one of the various reasons for people who choose to travel, to start or continue travelling.
    If you think that the world is at your feet or could be discovered just walking round the corner, maybe you are looking to a tiny piece, your world, out of a huge present that could be discovered by us every day, which is life and other persons lives.

  26. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    This post almost could have been titled “ways to get the benefits of travel without leaving home” — as it does remind those of us who love to travel that we could make time in our daily and weekly schedule to have the experiences we appreciate so much when travelling.

  27. Rose
    Rose says:

    Yikes, painfully bad post (and I usually love your posts and will definitely keep reading).

    All I have to say is that you’ve never really traveled. Sad to say, if you ever got sent overseas, you’d be one of those people eating KFC and Starbucks everyday and complaining about your self-imposed, minimal contact with the locals.

    I think anyone who is a real traveler here just rolled their eyes. We know you’re type and we’ll see you at the McDonald’s in Paris…

  28. boots
    boots says:

    I really wish you were right about travel. I haven’t been able to travel outside the US in 10 years. It would be great to say, “Travel sucks, I’m not missing anything.” But I know that’s not true–travel is important as a growth experience.

    Even if you go the most touristy part of a touristy country, you’re still doing something different than what you do every other day, forcing some novelty into your brain, having to re-evaluate the stuff you do at home.

    Also, when I meet someone and can’t stand them because they’re so smugly set in their habits and patterns of thought, and convinced they’re right about everything, I find a lot of the time it’s because they either don’t read, don’t travel, or both.

  29. Valerie M
    Valerie M says:

    I enjoy traveling a lot and like many people it’s one of my goals to accomplish more of it.

    That said, it’s nice to see an argument against traveling and strong arguments, at that. Point #2 is very true and I never really saw it like that. Race and nationality do provide difference but not nearly as much as economics. All four points are equally thought provoking.

    I’d much rather spend my money on occasional travel than spend money accumulating stuff I don’t need. I will still continue to make traveling a priority, but now I can do it with open eyes. I realize now that traveling is not done for the reasons we normally believe it’s for.

  30. Heather
    Heather says:

    “My guess is that the things you are aiming to accomplish while you travel are generally things you could accomplish on a deeper level if you stayed home and made changes to your life instead of running away.”

    Who says you have to accomplish something when you travel? Why can’t you just go for fun and adventure? I’m sorry, but I like mountains, I live in Dallas, TX–when I travel to the mountains, I’m not looking to accomplish deep thinking or establish cultural differences–I’m going because I have a need to get out in the open air. I like living in Dallas–I can ride my horse year round, my family is here, etc. etc. but sometimes I just have to go to the mountains. It really is that simple.

    Why do people feel like they have to accomplish something all the time? I think that is a sad life–how can you ever sit back and truly enjoy activities if you always have an agenda? This has nothing to do with laziness or lack of ambition–and everything to do with the fact that I don’t want ever evaluate my life based solely on accomplishments–there has to be a mixture between that and fun–zest for life, going and doing the things that make you happy–and if you travel and it makes you happy–who cares if you didn’t accomplish anything when you were happy while you were doing it?

  31. Veronica Sawyer
    Veronica Sawyer says:

    I love travel for pleasure and to enrich my life. I think about my next trip all the time and one of the reasons I work hard is to have the time and money to travel. Travelling to Europe and across my own country improves my organization and planning skills as well as my interpersonal skills and patience. Seeing the Rocky Mountains or a medieval city or the ocean for the first time are experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything and could never duplicate close to home. There are no whales where I live. But the thing I love most is seeing the little differences in how people live their everyday lives and meeting people with different world views. Seeing how other people live improves empathy, whether their economic status is similar to mine or not. Europeans who get 6+ weeks of vacation a year have a different outlook than North Americans who make the same money but only get 2 weeks off.

    On the other hand I think business travel is a huge waste of time and money. Most of what is accomplished should and could be done online. Speeches can be given remotely, contacts can be made online. If the tools we have are insufficient to replace business travel, they can and will be improved within the next few years. Most business travelers see the inside of a hotel, conference room or office that is the same as the one at home and eat meals at chain restaurants without having any time to experience the place they travelled to.

  32. Mike
    Mike says:

    I love travel, but the funny thing I find is that people always want to flit off to ‘exotic’ locations in the heart of Africa or the middle of the Sahara for the experience – yet the same experiences can be had in their home country for a third of the price.

    My home state, for example, offers similar natural experiences to almost a third of the world. My home country – half the world. Throw in a few neighbouring countries and I’ve almost gone through every terrain type in the world.

    Of course, that still leaves archaelogical/historic interests as a motivation to blow $5K on an overseas trip, so I still try to hop on the plane once in a while.

    As for people travelling to Third World countries to see what poverty is like…I can wander down to the train station and watch the bums fight each other for a sandwich or something.

  33. Dave
    Dave says:

    I had always wanted to see Angkor Wat and Petra in Jordan, but heck, Angkor Watt is just a church – I’ve got those right here in town, and Petra – just some stone buildings – plenty of those much closer to home. I was living in Berlin, Germany when the Wall came down. Who knew I could have just stayed home and torn down the fence in my yard to get the same experience? Thanks for enlightening me! (not!)

    Closer to home, as an American, I’ve been to both Mexico and Canada. The culture and “feel” of Mexico is much different, while Canada is much closer to what I’m used to – but they are both still different enough to make a visit worthwhile. Heck, even traveling about the US is an experience to be savored. If you think there is little difference between your Madison and say, Memphis, Phoenix, or Boston, then you’re spending way too much time inside a chain motel. Get out and see the differences. You might even learn something.

  34. Brad Gutting
    Brad Gutting says:

    Good post. Well-written and totally unapologetic, which is cool. It also gets people to reveal important parts of themselves, specifically the secret part that thinks everyone should do things the way they do them and think the way they think.

    Easy trap to fall into. Thinking independently and honestly not giving a damn about the opinions of others is extremely difficult, and following a list of instructions–such as, get a college education, travel the world, work in the ghetto, seek the meaning of life through adrenaline highs, etc–won’t magically give you the ability to do that.

    NOTHING is a waste of time when done with a coherent idea behind it. If P’s intention is to make you think about why you really do the things you do (I’ve always loathed the attitude that compels people to do things just to say they’ve done them), then I think this post succeeds.

  35. Jon
    Jon says:

    @Brad Gutting

    Is it that hard to see that traveling, for many people, is not something “on a list of instructions”, but just something that they genuinely enjoy?

    Why can’t I make argument #3 about _anything_ new? If I love my life, why should I need to read about other people? Why should I see movies that transport me to a different place? Why should I bother meeting new people? My life is perfect as it is, and if I feel the need to meet new people, it just means that I’m not truly happy, right?

    This promotion of complacency is harmful, I think. And the holier-than-though attitude of “if you really loved your life, you wouldn’t want to travel” is downright sickening.

  36. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    With all due respect, this post is written from the perspective of one who has traveled extensively. As only it can be. It is only because you were afforded that luxury by your parents, as a child, that you have this view. I’m not saying it’s a wrong view, on the contrary, I share most of it myself. But that’s because I stand on the other side of 2 emigrations. And I see how, barring culture, geography and economics, people are pretty much the same at core, world over. Yes, much of what people say the benefits are from traveling, can be learned effectively (or even more effectively) on home soil. But sometimes a new environment and a new perspective will give you a kick-start when nothing else will. That alone is valuable and not a waste of time. It all depends on the individual.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah, Natalie. I think you’re right. And Adam made the point near the top of the comments that it’s ironic that you can only get this point of view about travel by traveling. All true.

      But I think it’s important for us all to reconsider the goals we have for travel. And what we really get from travel. And now that I think about it, maybe I’m really lucky that I’ve traveled so much that I understand the benefits of staying in one place.


      • Natalie
        Natalie says:

        A lot of commenters are saying this was just a controversial post, written to garner comments. I don’t know whether it is or it isn’t. At the point I’m in my life, it resonated with me nonetheless,

        I was born a rich (comparatively-speaking), white South Africa, left when things got rough, lived in quaint, repressed England for 5 years and now in the US for 6, including a year’s stint in NYC. I’ve traveled to various other African countries, a paradise island, throughout the UK and into Europe. Although I wouldn’t call myself well-traveled, I’ve seen enough to know what well-traveled truly means.

        When locals here in MD, USA find this out about me, their eyes light up, their imaginations spark and they question, what the hell I am I doing in rural MD? You know what all this traveling has taught me? Family and friends are what’s important. Nothing else. Reminds me of this song “I’ve never been to me”

  37. Anon
    Anon says:

    Travel is a hobby for some people just like anything else. Some people like knitting, some people like surfing, others like chess, just because someone doesn’t value the same things as you, doesn’t mean that they secretly hate their life, or whatever other motives you assign to their hobby. It just means they like different things than you.

  38. JenniferP
    JenniferP says:

    I really enjoy your blog, but this post struck a few sour notes with me.

    1) You are writing as someone who has traveled all over the world. Sure, some of it was forced, and with your batshit crazy family, but you’ve had the privilege to go to other places. So it’s funny for someone who has traveled everywhere to say “Nah, it’s not worth it.”

    2) Americans don’t travel enough. It’s valuable to be in other places and see how other people live and maybe realize that the United States is not the center of the universe and that in a visceral way the people around you don’t care about your pop culture or your money or speaking English. It’s valuable to learn foreign languages. It’s valuable to bring back stories, things, sights, photos, memories, food you tried, etc. from the rest of the world and incorporate things into your daily life.

  39. Matthew | Polaris Rising
    Matthew | Polaris Rising says:

    I agree with this – for one or two week getaways. When you’re away for a short time, you only have time to adjust to a different place and then prepare to go back. You get a snapshot of a different way of life and that’s it.

    I went for 6 months in India, across small towns. That was totally worth it. It was transformative and gave me a reference that lasted me the rest of my life. Of course, in small towns it is a totally different socio-economic makeup. Leprosy was evident on the street and suffering was visible. Being in a place where that isn’t shuffled away into non-visible homeless shelters is touching in itself.

    • KateNonymous
      KateNonymous says:

      Whereas I’ve learned things even on brief trips. I don’t think that makes them equivalent to your travels in India–I just don’t think it’s necessary to dismiss different experiences.

  40. Marc KS
    Marc KS says:

    First and foremost – cultural differences ARE important.

    I mean have you ever talked to a off-the-boat eastern european? I had two friends from University who were off-the-boaters but came from very different situations: One was from a nobody family from a backwater Ukranianian town and the other had parents with PH.D’s and was from a bigger Russian centre. Economically myself and the PH.D. were from similar situations – it didn’t matter, those two guys thought in a completely different way than anyone else I went to school with. Since then every time I have had the opportunity to work with someone who grew up in that region my experiences have been the same – Something about Russian culture means that typically Russians think differently.

    As far as travelling goes – I agree that travelling somewhere for a week doesn’t help you getting perspective, and it won’t typically give you all that much cultural experience (being friends with those eastern europeans for the last many years has given me much more perspective than travelling to Russia for a week ever could). However, extended duration travel provides an entirely different experience than simply spending a week somewhere.

    The perspective I gained from spending a year in Africa with Engineers Without Borders IS NOT something I could have acquired by spending my days at a homeless shelter in Winnipeg (the best economic condition comparison I could think of)

  41. Amy Vachon
    Amy Vachon says:

    I think one of the very important points that Penelope makes is the worthy goal of creating a life that doesn’t require a reset button through exotic travel or any other escape. There is beauty in the smallest of local treasures – in connections with people, no matter what culture or background. If you have to go to Paris to be romantic, something is wrong. If your life isn’t good enough (I mean really, really FANTASTIC) without dancing the tango in Argentina or hiking in New Zealand or taking that African safari, then you aren’t paying attention.

    Places and things are great – they can teach us so much and we can all globally benefit from the education (many of the commenters above make terrific points about what we can all learn from travel). But there is also nothing wrong with what is already here in our backyards…right, Dorothy?

  42. LPC
    LPC says:

    Penelope, have you ever been to China? I have found the culture to be profoundly, structurally, psychologically, different.

  43. JR
    JR says:

    You hated the farm in France, yet you’re still with the Wisconsin farmer. Hmmm

    As far as PT being controversial just to generate comments, well yah. Comments are the blogger’s mother’s milk. I’m convinced she’ll take ten blistering comments over five compliments any day. (And I’ve done my part to oblige.)

  44. meaghan
    meaghan says:

    I think that there are clearly merits to traveling, but I agree with your points. Sometimes people travel for the wrong reasons. Thinking it will give them answers about what to do in life…but really it will only make you more confused.

  45. P.Alves
    P.Alves says:

    I’m from a reasonably rich family in South America, now living i) the US (NYC and then North Carolina), and I find the culture extremely different here (individualism, competition, need for achievement), even in the same social-economic level.

    2 quick examples:

    I have friends who make beer at home in the U.S.. They are very competitive, always participating on contests for the best beer. In my native country, if you make beer, is to have fun and share with friends. Who cares about competitions?

    Other friends compete in marathons, and they go crazy preparing to the next one. In my native country, a lot of friends participate in marathons, but they couldn’t care less about winning or the time they make.

    Living abroad made me understand my culture much better, because now I have means to compare it with a different one.

    • P.Alves
      P.Alves says:

      Damn, the brackets made the text go away:

      “I find travel to be wonderful. I learn, I make new friends who are totally different from me, and I enjoy it. But I wouldn’t encourage YOU to travel, because YOU clearly don’t enjoy it. I also like baking, but can accept that you might not. I despise running. Running makes me tired and cranky and sore. But I don’t assume from that experience that other people shouldn’t run, because some of them seem to really like it.

      “What I got from your article is a sense of sour grapes. You had some lousy travel experiences. But you don’t want to think that you are a bad traveler, or just got unlucky. No, there needs to a deeper message about why travel is bad or at least unnecessary for everyone, not just you.”

      I couldn’t agree more.

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.