Ah, the age-old question of immersion vs. rapid travel (i.e., ticking destinations off a list in as short a time possible). I’ve experienced both styles of travel and have a clear favourite…but before we get to that, let’s look at the pros and cons of each.
Let’s face it, the rapid travel market is a big industry. Just visit Europe in the warmer months and you’ll see endless lines of tourist buses shuttling people of all ages from one monument or museum to the next. Many of us only enjoy a few weeks of vacation each year due to our high stress, low holiday jobs so packing as much into your two-week visit to Europe only makes sense, right? Rome to devour some sub-standard roadside pizza while lining up to get into the Colosseum…check! Pisa to get a photo of yourself propping up the Leaning Tower…check! Amsterdam to sit in a cafe and get totally…well, you get the general idea…
I’ve visited Europe and travelled this way. Sure, I saw a lot and did a lot but if I was asked to sit down now and give someone an account of what life was like in the countries I visited I’d struggle. The main benefit of this type of travel is that the difficult parts (e.g., getting transfers from airports or looking for accommodation) are taken care of but you’re often left tired after your whirlwind visit…and in some cases in need of another holiday to recover.
When I look back on my various travels and think about the people I’ve met, the cultures I’ve experienced and way that travel has shaped me as a person, it is always the times where I’ve chosen put my life at home on hold and immerse myself in another culture that shine brightest. My wife and I spent close to a year in Europe some years back and concentrated our time and energies on only a few locations. Most memorable was our eight months living in the Basque Country in northern Spain. Living in this part of the world has influenced every aspect of my life today from the way I eat to my decision to consciously prioritise spending time with family and friends over everything else.
It is easy to simply wish that you could uproot your busy life and move overseas for a year but it is difficult. Each time I’ve made the decision, I’ve returned home close to broke, without a job and feeling a little lost. Reality is though that while it is difficult, the benefits of living my life this way far, far, far outweigh the negatives. So for me, the ultimate travel experience has to be living in a foreign country. By investing the time, you get to see these destinations and cultures through a range of lenses, not just the over-priced, over-populated peak tourist season most outsiders experience. Walking the streets of San Sebastian in February with a light snow falling is far removed from the stifling summer months where you’re just another tourist face in the crowd. Stopping in for coffee or a bite to eat at your favourite pintxo bar takes on a whole new meaning when you’re greeted with a knowing smile from the owner and a polite nod from some of the regulars.
Putting your life at home on hold to live abroad for a significant period of time can impact your ability to climb the corporate ladder as fast as those around you (but hey… if that’s your priority in life you’ve probably stopped reading this post by now). It will also more than likely mean you’ll suffer bouts of home-sickness from time to time. But this is life. Regardless of what you do, there is always a good and a bad. If you set out on your trip knowing that there will be things you’ll miss and come up with strategies to cope through these times, the decision to live in another country will be the best decision of your life.