A question came up over dinner with close friends and active world travelers: “Where do you want to go?” for which there are naturally a full evening’s worth of answers. I think that we had the question wrong all along. Perhaps “Where would you linger?” might have been more enlightening. The value isn’t in seeing a place, it’s immersing yourself there long enough to get to know it. And, just maybe, for the place to get to know you too.
Would you choose to stay in a place long enough to learn its ways and figure out the language and tendencies of the locals? How else would you get to know it? An Instagram photo taken at the same spot everyone else takes there’s is nothing more than evidence that we were ever there ourselves. Is that enough? It says nothing of the experience of being there, let alone how we interacted with that place. Seeing hoards of people charge in to take the same selfie before heading off to the next photo op informs. It’s okay to be the tourist, but isn’t it better to stick around to enjoy the quiet with the locals when the last bus or cruise ship departs?
The frenetic, “sampler pack” travel, favored by many, and realized through a bus tour or a cruise, is a good example. Being part of a group that drops in for a few hours, sees a few things, buys a souvenir and ships off to the next place, allows you to see many things you otherwise might not see on a tight vacation schedule. And this has some merit. That sampler pack is designed to check boxes and quickly give you a very general lay of the land. When you only have a few days, isn’t it (sometimes) better to fill it with as much as possible? The underlying message is that if you love a place you can always go back to it. How many do?
Is modern travel inherently designed to allow people to keep up with others at a cocktail party? That may be too narrow and cynical a view. Shared experience bonds us in some ways, if only on a surface level. It’s a starting point from which we can go deeper if we wish to. Travel means something different to each of us, but the underlying fear of missing out (FOMO) seems to drive much of the industry. After all, bucket lists are real, and life is short, and available PTO is even shorter. So by all means, we should go see the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon and the Colosseum while we can. Checking boxes in such a way fills bucket lists… but is it fulfilling?
When I think back on the places I’ve been in this world, I think about the things I missed the first time around and feel a longing to return. With every trip, there’s a lingering feeling of a place not fully realized on the first go-around. It’s natural to want to return again. Do we wonder how we’d feel if we’d simply stuck around longer?
Great questions prompt great conversation, but also reflection. As with travel, a great question can open us up to all sorts of possibility only partially answered over a few drinks. Great questions linger even after the evening is over. Instead of always wondering “what’s next?”, we might try “what of now?”, and see where it leads us next.
After dinner and all the talk of places nearly (but never fully) exhausted, the question shifted to, “So, what are you doing this weekend?”, which prompted my response of not very much at all. Isn’t it funny that all the wanderlust revealed in a few hours together ended with such a statement? I think it points to quietly favoring savoring: A designed lifestyle choice, not general apathy towards getting out there in the world. A sense of belonging derived from being present and realizing the full potential of ourselves in that place and time. That’s what filling a bucket really means.