The best travel isn’t always the most travel
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Betsy Welch, a former Spanish teacher at Vail Mountain School, is traveling to New Zealand and points beyond this winter. Each week, we’re running an article and photos about her travels.
Often, the best travel experiences don’t involve a whole lot of traveling. What they do entail, however, is tagging along with someone who has lived, worked and played in the place that you’re visiting, and letting them show off what they think makes it special.
Away fly the anxious butterflies fluttering around in your stomach when you wake up in an uncomfortable bed in a strange hostel. Gone is the wondering whether you’ve picked the best fish n’ chips spot on the street when there are five in a row. And out the door is the tendency to feel like you have to buy a t-shirt or trinket in every souvenir shop on the strip for fear of not having enough evidence that you were there.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that the best travel is the most travel. People talk about “doing” places as if they were chores on a checklist. I can hear them now. “Brazil? Yeah, did that last year. Loved Rio but skip the interior -” much too buggy. This summer we’ll do Argentina ” check out the plains on horseback and then a few nights in a spa in Buenos Aires.”
“Doing” countries is not just for the luxury crowd, either. I have heard backpackers and budget travelers like myself talk about the countries they’ve done, and it makes me sad for them because it implies finality, a closed door, a book never to be re-read.
This different approach to traveling ” the one that is essentially hanging out with someone in a place that they know but you don’t ” terrifies these country doers. To a small degree, you have to set aside your personal ambitions and go with someone else’s flow. But in the process, you also open yourself up to a side of life there that most visitors never experience. Knowing where to find the best pies in Dunedin. Taking a five minute detour off the main drag to secluded surf beaches on the Otago Peninsula. Chasing sheep. Shopping for old-school hoodies at the thrift stores and having a beer at the retired servicemen bar in Auckland. Even though I might not have “done” wine country, I drank wine and swapped stories with people I never would have met on a tour.
Traveling on someone else’s time often means changing your own pace ” speeding it up when you’re exhausted but have to go meet a high school friend who’s only in town for the night, or slowing it down when you have a hankering to go check out a band at the local pub but your tour guide just wants to lay low.
Sometimes it seems that these adjustments and fine tunings to your natural rhythms are preventing you from getting the most out of a place, but the secret is that you’re actually getting permission to cut the front of the line, and they’re handing you a backstage pass, too.
Contact Betsy Welch with suggestions, comments and publishing contracts at firstname.lastname@example.org.