Every December, there’s really only one thing on my grown-up Christmas list. I don’t want socks (although mine have holes) nor underwear (holes too). You can’t find my gift at Target or Yankee Candle Company. Number one on my wish list is not a what, but a where: the gift of travel.
Selfishly, I usually buy myself this gift but, thankfully, Dr-Mrs-Dr. Curious shares my passion and travels with me. We bring the rest of the Curious family too. Our trips have certainly changed since children entered the picture, but they remain highlights of our year and of our lives.
When I talk about travel, I don’t mean a week binge-drinking at the beach. Now, there’s nothing wrong with some clubbin’ and hot tubbin’, and we can all benefit from this sort of “unwind and unplug” vacation sometimes. The term “vacation” is quite appropriate here, for its origin comes from the Latin vacare—to be unoccupied. Absorbing UV radiation on the beach with a Corona in hand can certainly serve to “unoccupy” both the body and mind.
But my favorite type of travel is quite the opposite: active, occupied travel, filled with seeing, doing, tasting, drinking, and just experiencing the place I visit. Exotic travel—the more foreign the better—can not only help me unplug from my current life, it can plug me into a completely different way of life.
People have either traveled abroad, or they have not. The former generally look back fondly on their travels and look forward to new ones. The latter might aspire to travel abroad one day, or they might not. I’m here to convince this group of naysayers that they should give it a try.
For a myriad of reasons, quite a few of my friends and family members are dismissive of international travel. I agree with them in one important way: it is possible to have a rich and meaningful life without travel. As much as I love it, travel is, after all, a hobby—not a necessity like food or shelter. My argument is not that foreign travel is compulsory, but that it can enhance and improve almost any life.
I could give you lots of reasons why I love travel, and why you should too (and I will). But let me start with some common excuses I hear from those who don’t travel abroad, and my responses to them.
Travel is too expensive. Roundtrip flights to Europe, a week at a nice hotel in a big city, and miscellaneous tours, food and souvenirs can set you back $10,000 without much effort. Long-haul flights to other continents approach $2000 in many cases—and that’s before you even spend a dime on the ground. I can understand why travel feels out of reach for many individuals.
However, a Google search for “budget travel” yields a 339 million hits. (For perspective, “bitcoin” yields a mere 282 million.) So yes, inexpensive travel abroad is possible. People do it every day! With a little bit of effort and know-how, an international trip can approach the price of domestic travel. Here are just a few techniques I use to drive down costs:
- Search for flights early and often. You will get the best deal for most international flights by purchasing tickets 3-4 months in advance. Some websites, like Google flights or Kayak, will even let you put a “price alert” on a certain flight, and will update you if they price drops.
- Use credit card rewards points. I’m not a credit card churner or points junkie, so I’ll leave the sophisticated rewards games to the experts. I open up a new card every few years for a big sign up bonus, but otherwise use my AMEX Premier Rewards Gold and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards to pay for all my daily expenses.
- Stay at an AirBnB: I’ve not studied this scientifically, but anecdotally AirBnB and Homeaway/VRBO provide great value compared to most hotels. On a recent trip, I reserved a 3-bedroom penthouse in central London for $500/night, less expensive and more comfortable than the two mid-range hotel rooms we would have otherwise needed.
I don’t have enough time. You are right: most Americans get far too little time off. According to this recent study, a staggering 23% of Americans get no paid time off, and the average worker receives a mere 10 days. I can understand the difficulty and hesitation with taking a two-week vacation under these circumstances.
My friends at Sightsee MD—a couple of married surgeons—make time in their busy schedules to indulge their passion for travel. Even 5 days or a long weekend in a European city can be enough to invigorate the senses and give you new perspective on the world.
Traveling with children is too hard. Alright, I hear you on this one. I have two children—a 4-year-old and 6-month-old—and dragging everyone to the restaurant down the street can be a challenge, let alone dragging everyone to Singapore.
You can read my previous treatise on travel with children here; in summary, it is a fantastic and worthwhile experience. Some may say travel with children is worse, but I say it’s just different. Keep your expectations low and your tolerance high.
Travel abroad is unsafe. Some travel is unsafe. For example, don’t go hiking in northern Afghanistan when one of you is pregnant, and then get kidnapped (like these two idiots).
But the vast majority of travel is extraordinarily safe, especially when compared to living your everyday life. The annual risk of dying in a plane crash is often cited at one in 10,000,000. The risk of dying in a terrorist attack varies by nationality, but is about one in 3,500,000 for Americans (this risk is skewed higher by 9/11. Excluding 9/11, it is one in 19,000,000). To put these numbers in perspective, your annual risk of death from a car accident is one in 19,000, from firearms is one in 25,000, from a home appliance is one in 1,500,000, and from a deer is one in 2,000,000.
You could pore over statistics all day, and perseverate about terrorism or plane crashes, but it is a fact that the risk of death or serious injury while traveling is low. You don’t see people stressing over getting killed by their toaster or mauled by Bambi.
No matter the actual risk, your perspective on the dangers of travel—and the innumerable other dangers of life—is a choice. You can choose to live your life in fear, or not. If you chose the former, you might never leave your house, but you could still drown in the bathtub (risk one in 800,000). I choose the latter.
So be smart about when and where you travel and take the appropriate precautions, but don’t let fear be your guide.
I’m simply not interested in travel. This is a hard nut to crack. If—after being convinced that international travel is possible, safe, and affordable—someone still resists with this excuse, I almost throw my hands in the air and walk away. Almost.
My response? Don’t knock it til you try it. If you have never traveled, you don’t know what you are missing. Pick a country in Europe or South America that appeals to you, and spend two weeks there. Don’t make too many set plans, and don’t use a tour group. Find a rental on AirBnB and get to know some locals.
Get back to me afterward and let me know when you are planning your next trip 🙂
My travel philosophy
I’ll round out this travel diatribe with a few more benefits of travel that I’ve come to realize over the years.
New culture, new people, new experiences! My wife and I spent three weeks in Nepal and India about five years ago. Talk about culture shock! Our guides in Nepal had never listened to Madonna. For their entire lives, they had been completely ensconced in the world of Bollywood and Indian music. It was new to us and fantastic.
I want my children to see the lives of others, and not just the neighbor kids down the street. As an American, It’s easy to live a sheltered, suburban existence, driving to our strip malls and massive supermarkets and taking most of it for granted. A wonderful and varied world is out there full of people from all walks of life, with views that may be starkly different from your own. Over the years, we have formed lifelong friendships with a number of people that we met on our travels. I want my children to have that opportunity as well.
No matter which country is listed on your passport, you are a citizen of the world too. Just because someone lives across some artificial border from you doesn’t mean you don’t have something to gain from meeting them, and they from meeting you. Go hug (or kiss) someone!
And it’s not just people! You can try a new language, food, sport, etc. when you travel abroad. The brain thrives on this novelty, and the opportunities are endless.
Anticipation and Reflection. Once the travel bug has bitten, you are permanently infected. I am constantly either planning my next trip or reflecting on some aspect of a previous travel. Although the actual travel experience may be relatively short, you can stretch out the joy of travel over much longer periods in your own mind.
Travel is really, really fun. (mic drop)
If you love travel, why? What benefits of travel did I miss? If you don’t travel, why not? What are the obstacles you see to travel, especially international travel?