Photo: Slava Bowman

What Is ‘Real Traveling’?

There has been a lot of debate in the travel community on what counts as “real traveling.” Prior to joining all of these social communities, I had no idea such thing existed. It seems like there are so many “rules” on what counts as “real traveling,” I don’t one how it’s possible for one to keep up to some of these demanding standards:

“You have to spend a couple hours at a destination and get a teaser of the culture or else it doesn’t count.”

“Airport layovers don’t count as being in a country”

“You have to spend at least several weeks there and go off the beaten path to really be there.”

“You have to eat at least one meal, stay overnight, interact with locals and do something non-touristy to really be there.”

“Going to Ibiza doesn’t count as being in Spain. You have to visit cities on the mainland to really be there.”

“Cruise stops don’t count. You’re only there for a few hours, you don’t get a passport stamp, and you’re doing super touristy things.”

“You have to do something of substance while there.”

“You only went to Delhi, you didn’t really go to India.”

Sigh. Do people realize how ridiculous they sound with these claims?

Are we really going to invalidate someone’s travel experience because they weren’t there “long enough” to your elitist standards?

Where did these definitions come from anyways. Is there a travel god out there that made the 10 commandments of traveling? Did Webster update the dictionary definition? Hold on, I’ll check.

Travel (verb):

  1. To go from one place to another as by car, train, plane, or ship; to take a trip; journey
  2. To move or go from one place or point to another
  3. To proceed or advance in any way
  4. To move with speed

Travel (noun):

  1. Journey; wandering
  2. The coming and going of persons or conveyances along the way of passage

Be (verb):

  1. To exist or live
  2. To take place, happen or occur
  3. To occupy a place or position

Visit (verb):

  1. To come or to go to
  2. To go and stay with (a person or family) or at a (place) for a short time for reasons of sociability, politeness, business, curiosity, etc.

Nowhere in these definitions does it state anything about airport layovers not counting as being at a place, eating a meal, cultural immersion, or spending at least a couple hours, a night or three weeks in a country. The only “fake traveling” is not traveling at all.

“Layovers Don’t Count As Being There”

A lot of people really try to push the narrative that airport layovers don’t count as being in a place because you’re not breathing the air or seeing anything of substance that is exclusive to that particular place.

Let’s say I had a 3 hour layover in Los Angeles before flying to my final destination Beijing, China. Three hours isn’t enough time to leave the airport, so instead, I’ll probably walk around the airport, read a book, and/or get something to eat if I’m hungry.

Let’s say a CIA agent was tracking me through my phone without me knowing of it, and the agent was traveling around the world trying to find me like I was Carmen SanDiego. What American city will they go to in order to find me? Los Angeles. Why? Because the tracker states that I am physically located there.

Let’s say I boarded my flight and safely departed the country before the agent arrived to LAX. The agent is going to be like “Darn it, she was just here.” Here = LAX and LAX is in Los Angeles. Therefore, I was in Los Angeles even if I didn’t leave LAX, the same way someone can say they were in France even if they didn’t leave Paris. If you are within their borders of their land, then yes you are there.

Where Did All Of These “Rules” Come From Anyways? As leisure traveling became more accessible and popular on social media, people started to make up rules to differentiate themselves from other travelers. Because of these fairytale definitions people found the need to discredit other people’s travel experiences because they weren’t there long enough, or they only visited the touristy part.

Travel blogger, Oneika The Traveller, coined a funny term for it: the SSS (“Special Snowflake Syndrome”).

Dan Andrew’s, of Tropical MBA, term: the “Middle Class Mind” could also be fitting. Both mindsets can be described as people who belittle others for not doing things the way they’re “supposed to” be doing, or acting like you’re special for doing something the “right” way.

People travel for numerous reasons. One type of traveling isn’t better than the other. It’s all relative and based on your personal interests. Staying in a country for a couple weeks and learning as much as you can about the place will not make you an honorary citizen; you were just privileged enough to stay in a particular country long enough to learn a couple extra things about the people and culture. And on the flipside, staying in a country for only a couple hours does not mean you weren’t there; you just didn’t see a lot. You can continue to use your fairytale travel definitions if you want as your personal guidelines, but at the end of the day, fact is greater than opinion.