So here I am, sitting in bed, smiling, reminiscing, my head running wild with positive thoughts about my travels as I scroll through my photo library to choose a new Instagram picture. ‘Saturate colours, turn up the brightness… and post’. I am not one to ever dare to think negatively about anything I have done with my travels, but in my peripheral vision there is a distant regret, glinting upon the horizon. It’s a tiny regret, so insignificant I don’t even want to notice it. But like a bully on the school bus using a mirror to blind you by the sun, it can’t be ignored forever.
Like most people in life, the biggest things I regret doing, are in fact, the things I didn’t do at all. And before you jump ahead, no, I don’t mean that I regret missing that popular tourist attraction I was itching to see or skipping a certain city because time ran away from me. But I regret the small things. I regret not sitting down for enough authentic meals. I regret not sparing a whole day to simply check out a local market. I regret not learning parts of the language, speaking to locals and engaging in their culture. I regret rushing.
As a traveler that always tries to fit too much into any time overseas, rushing is part of my identity that isn’t well suited to the relaxing backpacker lifestyle. Of course I’ve had my variation of experiences, staying at some locations for a week or two, but that’s not the experience I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the month long trips across Europe, fitting in 13 countries in 30 days. I’m talking about the three weeks in the USA that everyone seems to think is enough time to see the whole country. I’m talking about the two week long backpacking trip from Thailand to Vietnam.
I always had the belief that seeing more is always better. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you don’t really see a place at all if you rush it.
Like an Insta-famous bombshell with their seemingly perfect existence, maybe we don’t see the real thing, maybe we just see their highlight real.
Think about your hometown city, or one you know quite well. Are your favourite parts about that city the big tourist spots? Would seeing all of those tourist attractions sum up your city? 9 times out of 10 I would think not.
I’ve come to realise lately that the majority of my most treasured memories of places across the world are in places where I took my time.
I had almost three weeks in Canada, only staying in two cities and one town. I fell in love. I was relaxed, I saw so much, I engaged with locals, I ate maple bacon and other delicacies like beaver tails and poutine (Canadians: go ahead and laugh at the fact I classed them as ‘delicacies’ but you know they are!). I went hiking when there were warnings of bears, heck I even made it to a gym! I indulged in the simplicity of getting to know a town, a city, a country. I didn’t just visit Canada, I experienced Canada.
I think when we’re traveling we forget the most important part of the experience is to be relaxed and immerse ourself in the destination. During quite a few holidays I have found myself more exhausted at the end of every day then I would be on any given work day. Yes, it’s great to see everything and I will never regret what I do get out and see, but sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I took my time.
I wish I spent 3 weeks instead of 2 driving up the Californian coast and skipped that second visit to Mexico City. I wish I spent a week exploring Barcelona and avoided my two rushed nights in Valencia. But then will I regret not seeing enough?
That’s the trouble. Like I said, you will always regret more what you don’t do, than what you do, do.
I don’t regret my short stay of 3 nights in Mostar in Bosnia &Herzegovina. That was enough. I don’t regret spending just 6 days in San Fransisco. After rushing a lot of Mexico and California, 6 days felt like an eternity. I was able to take my time and indulge in every corner of the city.
I do however, regret only seeing Paris for a total of 4 days across two separate visits. I saw the Eiffel Tower. Twice. I saw the Louvre. Twice. I ate snails. Once. Once was enough. I walked up the Champs Elysees towards the Arc de Triumph. It seemed like I’d seen it all, but did I? Not even close.
My favourite city in the world, New York City, is so my favourite because I spent countless weekends there whilst studying across the Hudson. I took the trip every chance I got. I found cute parks in small neighbourhoods around SoHo. I found vintage record stores in Brooklyn. I discovered funky bars in East Village. My favourite parts of New York City weren’t Time Square or the Brooklyn Bridge (although I do love them). My favourite parts were the people, the culture, the food, the atmosphere; NYC’s personality. I couldn’t make judgements about the city and it’s qualities just from a trip over to the Statue of Liberty or a visit to the Empire State Building.
How you experience a destination is what defines you as a traveler or a tourist. Neither are bad, not one better than the other, but both so different. As a traveler you want to learn more about the culture you are visiting. As a tourist, you just want to see it.
As a traveler you want to see past the museums, the landmarks and the tour buses. You want to learn about the personality of your destination.
And for me, my biggest travel regret is having missed those small magical sparks because I was too busy trying to make fireworks.