Embracing the depth of travel

Embracing the depth of travel

My wife has been on a Baltic Sea cruise with her mom for the last 10 days. I've heard they're having a blast and getting quality time together. I'm really happy for them.

I didn't go because I've never been drawn to cruises. It's an interesting thing because I've never been on a cruise ship but have no desire to either. Maybe it has to do with a past life trauma or something. I don't know.

But I do know that this isn't the way I like to travel or live.

  • I don't love crowds.
  • I avoid over-commercialization.
  • I prefer smaller intimate groups where I have a chance to really get to know others.
  • I enjoy taking my time to explore, pause and appreciate.
  • I like going off the beaten path to discover something new.

My way of traveling and living doesn't seem to fit with what my wife has shared about her cruise experience. Now of course she did the cruise how she prefers. But even still, the structured itinerary of so many hours docked at a port to explore a city feels limiting.

On the other hand, when my wife and I were in Portugal in early June, we took this countryside tour with Diogo and Rita, our 2 friends, and 3 other travelers.

Diogo and Rita picked us up in a vintage VW bus that has been part of their family. The tour went at a relaxed pace. The smaller group allowed for deeper conversations. And we got to visit a few areas that we wouldn't have otherwise.

One of the highlights of this experience was a picnic in a very small village of 10 homes, a couple of kilometers away from Diogo's and Rita's village. All the food was homemade from ingredients mostly sourced from their village (except for the cod and custard tarts).

There were in-season cherries, fresh-baked bread, 3 different kinds of cheese, pork sausage, cod fritters, fresh olives, wine, and a Portuguese liqueur made from sour cherries called Ginjinhais.

Everything was delicious!

After the picnic, we drove to a small fishing and surfing town called Ericeira. This was once a dying town that was brought back to life. I was told that the young professionals wanted to find jobs closer to Lisbon and were moving away while the older generation was dying. But Portugal added the town to some kind of surfing registry and this brought people. It's quite an upscale and hippy town now with health food stores, high-end restaurants, hotels, and of course surf shops. The economy has improved, creating jobs for the locals, but unfortunately with the growth, many locals are being priced out of living there. Situations like these remind me to be more mindful about how I travel. Tourism can be good for a country but at the same time be bad for its residents. I don't know what to do about this yet but definitely keeping it in mind.

While we were walking through the streets of Ericeira, I got to talk with Diogo. He asked if this was our first trip to Portugal. It was actually our third trip and we would gratefully come back again because there are still more areas we wanted to explore.

Diogo commented that tourism needs more travelers like Olga and me - people who are willing to come back to explore in depth. He said that so many travelers travel just to check off another city or country to move on to the next location.

Hearing this unlocked something in me.

Prior to this moment, I had unfairly compared myself to other travelers who had visited more countries or states than me. But hearing Diogo helped me see that more countries visited was not a high priority. I actually really enjoy visiting a city, town, country, place of interest... more than once.

It's never boring. There's always something new to experience. There are so many times when we go back to a previously explored area and have a new experience because it has changed, we changed, or the season or time of day changed.

I keep a running tally of where I've traveled and how many miles I've traveled - a suggestion from my coach. Considering what I've shared here today, I'm now not surprised that I've been to San Francisco California, 13 times, Sedona, Arizona, 8 times, Mexico, 7 times, and Thailand, 5 times. Overall, in the 50 years that I've been alive... I've visited 15 countries and 32 states, and racked up approximately 394k miles (using one-way straight-line distances, unless it was a road trip) which is equivalent to 16 times around the Earth! If I were to count roundtrip travel, that number would be a lot higher.

This is incredible to see it quantified like that.

The point here is that travel is a deeply personal experience that can be approached in many different ways. If you prefer the structure and convenience of a cruise ship or travel to check it off your list, go for it. 

If you're like me, you may find more fulfillment in exploring off-the-beaten paths with a smaller group. The joy of travel comes from immersing myself in new cultures, connecting with locals, and finding hidden gems in familiar places. As I continue to explore the world, I hope to inspire others, like you, to travel with intention and to appreciate the richness and diversity of our planet.

Tell me about you. How do you like to travel? What kinds of experiences do you prefer?

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