My Travel Quest

I recently finished reading Chris Guillebeau's The Happiness of Pursuit, which is a book entirely devoted to the importance of quests. 

So what exactly is a quest, anyway? 

And more importantly, how do we figure out what our own quest should be?

Chris's personal quest was to visit every country in the world. And at this point, his quest has been achieved: he has personally been to every country in the world. Awesome, right? You can read more about his journey on his Art of Non-Conformity blog, or in his books.

Learning a bit more about Chris's travel quest led to an obvious question: would I want to visit every country in the world? 

Surprisingly, I immediately knew my personal answer to that question: Nope.

My Travel Experience Up Until Now

I think the travel experiences we've had shape our travel goals, just like they shape any other category of goals we have for our lives. Getting out there and doing a bit of exploring will teach you more about the type of travel you personally enjoy and value than any blog post (or any book for that matter) ever could. This is just one of the reasons I think it's important to travel, whenever and however you can... because there is simply no substitute for personal experience (no matter what you are trying to learn.) 

Over the past 10 years, I've been to 18 countries. But what it means to visit 18 countries while going to school full-time then while working full-time is that the vast majority of my foreign adventures have been composed of 1-5 day stints in brand new countries to me... followed by a train or plane to the next place.

Let me break this down a bit.

There are only 5 countries in the world I've spent at least two weeks in consecutively: the USA (my home country), the UK, Turkey, and Argentina, (when I was studying abroad in those countries) and Hong Kong (when I was volunteering as an English teacher).

This effectively means there is only one country in the world I've spent two weeks in when I was in complete control of how I used my time, and that is the country I'm from.

Go More Places, or Know More Places? 

When it comes to traveling while working full time, the core challenge is always the same: balancing efficiency and cost effectiveness with the travel experience itself.

I mention this conundrum in quite a few of the posts on this site, because it has been the reality of my travel life for the past five years. My full-time job in finance offers relatively limited vacation time, resulting in a need to focus on efficiency on trips. The cost of that flight overseas, and the short overall time I have abroad whenever I'm able to go, actively push me to see more cities on each trip. I used to be MUCH worse about this in college, planning a mere 24 hours in some European cities I'd never visited.

How in the world did I expect to be able to experience a city in 24 hours? A CITY. In Europe. That 24 hours INCLUDED sleeping. Or if you were me trying not to miss anything, just skipping the sleeping part altogether. Please note: this is not a sustainable option. 

Although I may sound like I've learned my lesson, the drive to "not waste time" and "make the ticket worth it" and "knock countries off my list" is as prevalent when I'm planning trips today as it ever was. 

But I know it’s time for a new approach.

My Personal Travel Quest: To Know Places, Instead of Just Going Places

There was this trip in 2011 when I only planned to stay a few days in Florence, Italy. I made the mistake of not going to museums on the first full day (a Sunday) because I wanted to explore the city. Then the next day (a Monday)... the only other day I had booked in Florence... the Galleria dell'Accademia was closed. Because apparently, it is always closed on Mondays. 

In a nutshell: I've been to Florence and never seen Michelangelo's David.

Whether or not I knew it at the time, looking back on my travel experiences I've realized that trip to Florence was the moment my personal travel quest was established: I want to know places, instead of just going places. To travel slower. To not feel as if I’m missing major experiences in every city I visit. To have time to meet and interact with locals and other travelers. To take part in the everyday life of the places I’m visiting. And ultimately, to learn what that everyday life is like. 

Next time I go to Florence, it won’t be for any less than a week. I’ll find a favorite cafe and drink cappuccinos there every morning while writing or reading. I’ll walk every inch of the city while taking pictures during the day (to burn off all the coconut gelato I intend to eat). 

And I’ll definitely see David in person. 

What’s your personal travel quest? Do you prefer brief overviews of more locations, or slower travel? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.