Why I Travel (And You Should Too)

mountains!

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.

Jersey shore?

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.

cow in street
Such as “stray cow” life

Point/Counterpoint

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.

lago argentino

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.

Or like another friend, Physician on Fire, you could go part-time or even retire early to allow slower, longer trips.

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 🙂

Tango

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?

20 Replies to “Why I Travel (And You Should Too)”

  1. Great post! We travel for the exact same reasons. It’s also a time for “forced bonding”- kind of like “forced appreciation” and “value-add” in real estate terms:). The family spends much more time together than they would at home. Being in a different environment and experiencing new things together also builds stronger relationships and creates fond memories. Traveling with kids is tough though. We plan our vacs around kids’ interests and school vac schedules. That means a lot of beach/ amusement parks/ ecotourism trips during expensive peak season. As they get older, we’ll expand our repertoire to more cultural and historical locales.

    1. Hehe, “forced bonding.” I hear you! As a dual-working-parent household, we relish the chance to spend all day, every day with our children (and, not gonna lie, don’t mind going back to work after those two weeks). Variety is the spice of life, even when it comes to family time.

      My older child is now starting to remember things that happened in months past, so I’m hopeful he will start forming his own fond vacation memories now. For the baby, at least we have pictures 🙂

      Thanks and Happy Holidays!
      Dr. C

  2. Travel is fun, no doubt. Why it’s fun is harder to pin down. Should I care why? I mean, I eat the delicious ice cream on my plate despite not caring how it’s made (like you, I’m too Curious to know nothing about making ice cream and have made some myself, but you get the point), and I’m reading your curiosity blog, sooooo….

    Basically, we travel for novelty and variety. That’s it. Variety, timing, novelty and surprise are evidence based methods to delay hedonic adaptation. The adaptation I’m referring to is life itself. If my day to day were awesome I might not travel. But, With 2 kids and busy practices, my family days are Groundhog Days. So put your little hand in mine, there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t cliiiiiimb. Babe, dun dun dun dun. I got you babe…. dun dun dun dun, I got you babe. (Do you live close to Punxsutawney?)

    Without travel, the sweetness of everyday life would melt away. Like you, I have friends that “don’t travel”. I hear “Oh, we don’t travel…”. To which I think “you must hate good food, money, sex, playing with your kids and generally enjoying life”. I actually say, “Bummer, we should take a trip sometime”.

    I’ll be posting from Kauai in 6 weeks. Cool post to get me pumped for our Hawaii trip, Mahalo!

    1. Someday I have aspirations for a 6-12 month trip with the family. A lot of pieces would have to click into place for that to happen, but it’s certainly possible. I do worry that the joy of travel may fade a bit when it becomes everyday life. On the other hand, YOLO and hell yes I am doing it!

      Punxsutawney (did you know how to spell that without google?) is a few hours away, and I’ve never been there. I’ve heard the actual Groundhog Day celebration is a drunken mess. I know there is a solo radiologist who covered the small community hospital there for decades, and then passed it onto his son.

      Have fun in Kauai! We love it there. Which part are you staying?

      We will be in Mexico around the same time.

      Gracias and Feliz Navidad!
      Dr. C

      1. Dude, I you swing a 6-12 month trip I will be so motivated. I’ve been planting seeds with my wife about it. It seems so tough, but I think it could be done. I have been a teacher so I wouldn’t mind the year of eduction especially becuase it would be mutual,I’d be learning as much as them. My wife has excused herself from the teaching part.

        And I actually got Punxsutawney wrong by the s, but was close. Weird that iPhone autocorrect has Punxsutawney…..

        I was thinking about this post and my comments last night. Travel is a big deal to my family, and my wife and I are making some serious changes to allow more travel. It is actually becoming a major priority just after raising kids, being closer to family and friends and is now equal to work. This means I’m willing to trade work and travel. The ratio used to be maybe 20:1 Work to travel trade. I am willing to “buy” a 10:1 which is the goal by 45 years old (9 years). This will cost money in terms of lost income and travel cost. It’s just that important.

        We’ll be around Lihue but will travel all around the island, mostly to the south and west to Waimea Canyon. I’ll be hiking, kayaking and zip lining, eating poke, drinking rum and local beer and mead (yes there is local mead Nani moon) and learning some radonc at conference.

        A few years ago we stayed in Princeville. The Na Pali coast was awesome, but the northern part is pretty isolated from the rest and a several hour drive from the south and west. As you know, the island is round but the single road is not yet circumferential. It has a gap in the north. That adds to the charm IMO, but we’re excited to see the rest of the island.

        Sounds like you’ve been there too. Any suggestions?

        1. The teaching part of a trip like that is the most intimidating for me. We would likely try some type of cyber-homeschooling, at least for a large part of the curriculum. And since we send the kid to a private school, we’d have to make sure he could go back there when the trip is done.

          We stayed in Poipu for my wife’s conference at the Grand Hyatt there. We rented a house on the “greenway” and I ran on the paths there down to the ocean every day. I love the local feel to the island compared to the Maui and Oahu; it feels like people actually live there on Kauai.

          I don’t have any suggestions beyond what it sounds like you know already. Try the tiny bananas! I have been semi-obsessed with trying to find the Gros-Michel variety of banana since I read a book about its replacement with the current grocery store variety (Cavendish) following its near-extinction in the 50s. I have heard they grow it in Hawaii but couldn’t find it last time I was there.

          Happy Holidays,
          Dr. C

  3. You are speaking my language brother. Bring on the travel. My wife keeps reminding we can restart when my some is 4 or 5 and can appreciate it more. So for now we will go camping and wait for future international travels.

    1. My son just turned 4, and I can confirm travel gets easier. He can sit occupied with his iPad for hour upon hour. It’s a bit frightening, actually :/

      The west coast is an awesome place to live, but it does make international travel a bit more challenging. You gotta cross the USA first before you can get to Europe, and cross the Pacific before you get to Asia. But, Hawaii is just a few short hours away 🙂

      Happy Holidays!
      Dr. C

      1. We have 3 young kids, but made our first international trip in a decade this summer. Without them.

        We went to London and St. Andrews (Scotland) on a week long trip as a friend of mine was getting married. When I told my wife we should do it she basically laughed at me. But I was serious and we pulled it off — finding somewhere to park 3 little kids for a week is a challenge, but not nearly as challenging as traveling to Europe with them would have been.

        1. We’ve only done one trip without children, weirdly also to a wedding in Europe (southern France). It was before our daughter was born and our son was 2. It would be much more difficult to find childcare for both of our children now, as the younger is kinda high maintenance. She decided she doesn’t like bottles!

          I’m sure we’ll try a parents-only trip again someday. The best part about that trip to France? Sleep!

          1. Ah yes — we considered taking our infant on this trip and leaving the older 2, but 1 week traveling to/in/from Europe, trains/planes, small rooms, late nights — that would’ve been a complete nightmare. I don’t know when we’ll do another trip like that — nothing planned or discussed — but I am glad we did. The next big trip(s) we take will have one or more kids with us. I’m fortunate that we have 2 sets of grandparents willing to help out still. One set lives in town and the other a few hours away.

  4. I love to travel too, but am guilty of using the time and money excuses for not doing it more often. Next year I want to try my hand at travel hacking to try and make it a more regular occurrence. The last few years we’ve planned a big trip every couple of years and then smaller trips (like road trips to the mountains) in between. I find that even just a weekend getaway can do wonders for eliminating stress from work.

    1. Time and money issues are not necessarily invalid, but I think most people use them as excuses to never even try travel in the first place. There are certainly times in our lives when travel, especially international travel, is just not in the cards for whatever reasons. Like you say, smaller trips can fill that travel void in times like those.

      Thanks for taking the time to read, and happy holidays!
      Dr. C

  5. This is a beautiful post. My husband and I decided not to do gifts for each other and the trip to Hawaii was our gift. I am a travel addict. Traveler’s Addict Non-Anonymous is my club.

    I do miss the more ‘international’ travel and I hope I don’t become an “All Inclusive Vacation” or “Cruise” type of traveler (not that there’s anything wrong with that- I feel sort of trapped when I am in those settings- I went on a cruise for the first time ever a few years ago and I felt like I was in a Long Term Care facility, waiting for the next meal to be served). I always saw families while backpacking and marvelled at their ability to travel to third world countries with children.

    Two of my most favourite countries in the world are India and Nepal. Nepal mainly… I went 7 years ago to Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. That was my most favourite trip ever. For a country with different cultures and religions, I found that the people were very tolerant and kind to each other. I remember we were taking a public bus in Nepal and a Tibetan refugee woman with her infant was boarding the bus. It was crowded, no sitting space whatsoever. And then the baby was passed along until she sat with a lady who looked Hindi, and there were warm smiles everywhere.

    You would not get that experience in North America, nope. Haha!

    1. HA, long term care facility! I have never been on a cruise, and I don’t think I will be booking one anytime soon.

      Your Hawaii trip was a fantastic gift idea to yourselves. Actually, I never got my wife and engagement ring (with her permission) so we could take a 2-month trip to the South Pacific. We have never come close to regretting it.

      I’ve been a lot of places, but the Indian Subcontinent is probably the place that felt most “other” compared to the US/Canada. I can’t wait to go back someday, but my wife says not until the kids can control their own bowels 🙂

      Happy Holidays!
      Dr. C

  6. I love the post! My wife and I also value traveling because we learn so much. Learning about the world and processing new sights and sensations is really run and exciting. After all, we humans are curious by nature 😉

    Our travel philosophy is similar to yours. My idea of a vacation does not involve lounging around in a beach side resort. I can easily lounge by the beach or “unwind and unplug” in the comfort of my own home in San Diego. (And it would be much cheaper too!). My wife and I love history (I’d like to consider myself a history buff) and studying other cultures, so international travel is always valuable and fun for us.

    Not only is travel fun, it can potentially be life-changing. We try to travel as if we were one of the locals so that we can experience living life from a different perspective. Traveling/short-term living in small, densely populated countries like Japan and the Netherlands made us appreciate the value of space. It became more apparent why other people view Americans as wasteful and excessive. Here in the U.S. we grow up with an abundance mentality where big roads, big cars, big everything is everywhere and the “go-west frontiersman and cowboy in wide open spaces” is engrained in our culture. It’s not at all like this in many parts of the world, and without traveling we may not have known or understood. Experiences such as this changed our life as we became committed to living a simple life that was even more frugal, minimalist, and focused on reducing waste.

    We are in our early 30s and very fortunate to have professional jobs that allow us to take 10 weeks of paid vacation. This allows us to take 2-3 nice international trips together. Next year we our expecting our first child, so we shall see how much that changes our traveling 🙂

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comments!

      I would echo your sentiments that travel can be life-changing. One of my first extended trips abroad was in college to a rural part of Africa. It’s one thing to read or watch a documentary about someplace, but quite another to immerse your senses and experience the daily culture so unlike our own here in the U.S. I will consider it a prerequisite as part of my children’s education to have some type of extended travel abroad before they finish college. I’d love to take them myself when they are a bit older, if possible.

      Hope your adventures continue with the little one on the way. Ours have changed a bit, but certainly continued!

      Dr. C

  7. You speak my language. The only thing different is that we churn cards because it’s the only way our family with small kids can travel on a training budget. This pretty much sums why we do it:

    “We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed, and that changes everything.”
    -Jonah Leher

  8. How did I miss this post? I guess when you’re on vacation you’re bound to miss some things! Anyway, I found myself nodding along while reading–it’s weird how I feel exactly the same way. From prioritizing active trips over relaxing ones (no beaches or cruises for me!), to wanting to see how people from other cultures do things. I also enjoy seeing landscapes that I can’t see where I live. I went to see a glacier in NZ, and it’s receded a lot in the past years. This makes me want to prioritize natural wonders over buildings and things.

    Sometimes I wonder if those who don’t like travel are used to paid tours and all-inclusive vacations. Nothing wrong with them, but you can spend less and maybe don’t get the local experience, which is one of the reasons to travel IMO. But yeah, you wouldn’t believe how many people asked us if we did tours in NZ. Not only are they more expensive, but I’ve never had a fun time on them.

    1. I’m glad you missed it, that means you were having fun! Your pictures of the Milford Sound area on IG looked amazing. My only regret from our time in NZ is that we didn’t have time to get down there. Can’t wait to see your full report.

      I do sense a kindred spirit in you, with our common interests in travel, food, and personal finance (although we diverge on cashmere). Package tours are my nightmare. I try not to diss them too much, because I know they make travel easy, but how much can you really get to know the locals when you are wandering around in a group of 20 people.

      I love to travel so much I thought of making a second career of it, but I worry it may ruin the fun if it becomes work. We have ambitions to do a 6-12 month international trip with our children before they start to hate us in their teenage years. Until then, we’ll try to get out of the country at least once a year.

      Thanks for reading,
      Dr. C

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