Without a Passport: Is Traveling Domestically Really Traveling?
In all my jaunts to locales within the United States, never have I considered myself to actually be traveling in the true sense of the word. I go on vacation, I go away for long weekends, I visit family. But travel? Not unless I’ve got my passport with me.
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Then I overheard someone ask a friend of mine if he was going to be around for the Thanksgiving holidays. “No, I’m traveling,” he replied. Traveling? I thought to myself. He’s going to New Jersey.
A few months later, I began preparing for my own upcoming trip. Destination: Colorado.
I am simply going on a short vacation to visit family, I thought. Or am I? As I surfed the internet flight sites, the snippet of conversation I’d heard months ago pops up in my mind. My friend had simply gone on a half-day road trip across state lines and considered himself to be traveling. I’m flying across the country, from endless beaches and rolling green hills to miles high mountains that rise out of the sandy desert. I’ll be experiencing not only different sights but different people, different lifestyles … perhaps a different culture of sorts. As I prepare to take a several hour flight only to land right back on American soil, I ask myself, “Is this traveling?”
As I prepare to take a several hour flight only to land right back on American soil, I ask myself, “Is this traveling?”
While studying in Germany several years ago, I jumped on a train almost every weekend. Destination: Anywhere in Europe. I had no doubt I was traveling then, even though my apartment was just hours by land from wherever I ended up. Back home again, though, when traversing my own territory, I’ve never considered myself really to be traveling. No matter how far I go within the borders of the U.S., I’ve always seen myself as going on simple trips or vacations. These differ from travel in that I’m going away not to learn and experience and grow in the world but rather to relax, to get away, to visit people.
I decide to delve into the dictionary definitions of “travel” and “vacation.” To travel, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, is:
“To journey through or over.”
“to withstand relocation successfully.”
The same dictionary defines vacation as:
“a scheduled period during which activity is … suspended.”
“a respite or a time of respite from something.”
Not only are the two words assigned different concepts in print but also, I think, in the minds of most people who are serious about exploring the earth. If this is the case, I think, perhaps we should reconsider. Maybe short domestic jaunts should be given more significance.
Traveling Domestically Does Take Us Different Places …
No matter where we live, if we travel just a few hours we’ll arrive at sights that don’t fill our eyes every day. Even if our destination is similar to what we temporarily left behind – if we go from one small town to another small town, from one city to another city – that destination is unique and offers at least a little opportunity to experience something new. The greater differences that exist when we travel somewhere utterly unlike our homes – jumping from countryside to large city, from desert to beach – can allow us to live a very different existence for a short while. No matter that our journey doesn’t take us to a foreign land, we are, in a sense, still traveling.
Sometimes we take trips within the confines of our own country not for the purpose of relaxing on a vacation but to experience what our destination holds, just as we do when we leave the country. Maybe these trips can be classified as travel too. What is a camping trip to Yellowstone Park if not to experience beauty and wildlife unseen elsewhere? Why do millions of people fly into New York each year if not to be a part of a city unlike any other on earth? The U.S., indeed most countries, is large enough and diverse enough that even when we travel within their bounds we can wind up in an area very foreign to us.
Visit a domestic locale that differs very greatly from our own, and we might even feel that we’ve stepped into somewhat of another culture. People’s dress can vary greatly from region to region, from the fashion panicked East Coast to the more relaxed dress of the Mid West. As we travel from place to place, it is easy to see that the ways of the locals vary quite wildly. A great contrast can be seen between the fast paced, aggressive behavior of New Yorkers and the exquisitely polite and laid back attitudes of people living in the large and open Western states.
… But …
At home there’s no experiencing the awesome wow moments that almost stop us in our tracks when we realize we are walking down streets thousands of years old. We’re never completely surrounded by a different language, leaving us to communicate only through expressions and gestures. We rarely have eye opening exchanges with people about how our ways of life, our attitudes, and behaviors differ from theirs.
What Do You Think?
Does traveling within our home country carry the same weight as traveling abroad? We journey across the world to step out of our own tiny corners and experience all that foreign cultures can teach us. But can an education about people, lifestyles and cultures be found, to the same real and rich extent, within our own borders?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!