I’ve been travelling since I was a child, going for vacations with my family, so I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few countries by now: 30 from Slovenia to be exact, and I’ve also had the privilege of living abroad, in both Sweden and England. I figured it would be nice to keep track in a post to get a broader sense of how much of the world I’ve actually seen so far, so here it is, along with some of my deep thoughts about travelling. I have a scratch map that I need to take a proper photo of some day, but until then, this map should do:
The ones from my childhood travels will probably never get covered on this blog, as what photos there are must be lost in space somewhere and I don’t remember all of them clearly, but the more recent ones and my independent travels will be up, as soon as I clear my ever increasing backlog. 🙂
Obviously I’ve only seen some parts of these countries, as it is impossible to see everything, even if you live somewhere for a longer time. Everything everywhere is constantly changing for better or for worse, so it is interesting to come back to the same place after a while, or explore a new aspect of it. Much as I would like to, I will probably never visit every country in the world because of that, as going back to certain favourites to see my friends or enjoy a particular vibe again is just too tempting.
I do not believe counting countries should serve as a means of comparison among travellers or even as a source of competition, as visiting a lot of countries does not make you a “good” traveller. In my opinion, there is no such thing: everyone experiences travelling in a different way – some people spend a long time at the same destination, returning many times to explore it inside out, while others prefer to hop from city to city, and both of it is ok. I’ve done both depending on the circumstances of my travels and who I was with. When I am travelling by myself, I prefer to immerse myself into the local life at every new place I visit (usually through couchsurfing), but I don’t always have enough time or even want to, as travelling with my boyfriend for example, is our time and we want to keep it that way. So, I find it beyond ridiculous when people judge each other about their travel style and try to out-travel each other (quite a hot topic in the backpacker community).
While it is my wish that both tourists and travellers alike would be more aware of the impact their travels have on the local economy and the world in general, as there is such a thing as responsible tourism, I accept that not everyone is willing to do the research or, sadly, even care about it. At this point you may wonder, why I make the distinction between a traveller and a tourist, and although it may sound pretentious at first glance, I believe there is one. There is a saying that a traveller sees what he sees and a tourist sees what he came to see, or in other words, you find only what you take with you.
I’ve found that to be quite true – if you set out on your travels with an open heart and an uninhibited mind, you can find tons of new, foreign experiences that you can learn from, even if you only spend a day in a certain place. Whether it is learning something new about the country and the culture you are visiting, something deeper about yourself or even just a few phrases in the local language, you will come back richer for it. Travelling expands our horizons and makes us reevaluate our prejudice and mindset if we let it, so I believe no one should return home unchanged. Therefore, a good traveller for me would be someone who allows themselves to learn from their experience, be it short or long, good or bad.
Sure, some people cannot be happier to be back home and realise travelling and other cultures are not for them, but even they’ve learned something about themselves and others if they’d opened up to it. They will value their little home corner that much more, while they’ve hopefully re-learned and truly internalised that different people deserve equal respect and rights, despite being foreign and different. Even if you end up not liking certain cultures (believe me, there are people from some cultural backgrounds that I just cannot work with to save my life), it is hard to hate and discriminate once you’ve put a friendly face and a name to the prejudice. It is perfectly alright to stay away, as long as you acknowledge everyone else as fellow human beings with an equal right to exist on their own terms (provided that their way of life is not harming someone else, as despite trying to be open-minded and tolerant, I cannot condone the barbaric and oppressive practices usually performed in the name of religions).
There are of course (too many) cases of people sightseeing without learning and refusing to acknowledge anything beyond their own perspective, particularly in organised speedy tourism. That is not to say that I have anything against organised tourism as a whole, as many travel agencies offer well-organised, insightful trips led by knowledgeable, professional guides, who love their job, actually take the time to learn about the local culture and often even speak the language. Unfortunately, those trips are usually quite expensive – like everywhere, you get the quality you pay for.
I fully acknowledge that travel is a privilege, and that not everyone can afford to pay for the good tours or has the courage to go on their own. However, even if you are travelling with an unprofessional guide who can’t tell left from right, there really is no excuse for not learning anything while you are there, and those are the people that I call tourists, for lack of a better word. Being stuck in your pigheadedness and predetermined opinions even after travelling should be recognised as a psychological condition in my opinion, but well, not everyone can be reached with a kind word.
Long story short if you’ve made it this far: I believe that most of us should travel if we can (and trust me, if you cut down on a few meals out and re-evaluate your expenses, you just might find that you can), at least once in our lives. Even if it is just across the street to somewhere new, to the next city or to the neighbouring country, travelling is the best cure for unconscious narrow-mindedness, unwarranted prejudice and the all too common world-weariness and cynicism if we let it work its magic.