We all know that person. Heck you might be that person and I’m totally not here to bash you at all. You have a count in your head of the countries you’ve traveled to and the number is something between 25-40. And that is truly awesome. However this past year after visiting Portugal for the second time and the UK for the forth, I realized that I stopped counting countries. And I am completely happy with that.
Here is why I have stopped counting countries and started counting experiences.
It’s about the place, not the border
I spent this past year living in Spain. You’d think that after 8-9 months of living in Europe, I’d have all the major things checked off. The reality is that I still need to make it out to Amsterdam. I also still need to explore Belgium, all of Scandinavia and the Balkans. In fact all of Eastern Europe is simply unknown to me. And yet, I don’t have this anxious feeling to start planning all these trips in order to increase the number of countries I’ve been to (14) to some high number like 37.
When my friend Karla invited me to explore the Azores Islands in Portugal, I said sure! In fact, I wrote about that here. While I had already been to Portugal (a weekend in Lisbon), I knew an adventure in the Azores would be unforgettable (and one a tad off the beaten path, which I love). Or last Spring break I simply could not pass up a flight Dublin-Liverpool for only 16 euros! Furthermore I’ve always wanted to do all things Beatles in that famous city. Had I been to the UK before? Sure. In fact that trip to Liverpool was my fourth time there! But that didn’t matter to me one bit!
I’m a people traveler
We all have our motivations for wanting to travel. For some, it’s all about the history. For others, it’s all about the food. For me, it’s always been all about the people. In addition to exploring a new place, I desire to get to know the locals. They typically have the best recommendations on what to do, see and eat. They also provide new perspectives and worldviews I would otherwise not get.
I’ve noticed different patterns in the way I travel. The only experience I have in central America is volunteering in Nicaragua for one month. I’m still connected with some of the people I met there on social media. When moving to Spain, the most important thing to me was immersing myself with Spanish people. It has always seemed like the most nonsensical thing to only hang out with Americans when living in a foreign land. So I only looked at flats with Spaniard roommates. This entire year, I always text my Spanish friends first when I want to go out. Overall, I continually force myself to befriend Spaniards. And I know my year in Spain has been more rich in experience because of it. Also, my Spanish has only gotten better this way.
This is also the reason I choose hostels over hotels. Hostels just cultivate a social environment. The best ones create a comfortable common area that you want to hang out in. That and hostel tours or pub crawls, and you bring everyone together. I’ve gotten into the most interesting conversations with my fellow hostel-dewellers. I’ve also arguably stayed out way too late.
Finally this desire to know people from all over the world is what drove my summer plans. Instead of working some job in the US to save up tons of money or just bumming around Spain, I chose to work as an aupair in the Czech Republic. I found a nice family with two daughters who live about an hour outside of Prague. I remember when I initially skyped with the father of the family, he was like “so we don’t live right in the city of Prague. Is that okay?” I’m sure other people he spoke to really wanted to be in the city center. However I told him that for me, it didn’t matter. I was simply excited to get to learn about Czech culture from Czech people. I’ll just be happy to travel here and there on the weekends.
Myself and some of my Spanish friends!
I love the less-traveled
I just love going to the lesser-known places. I love exploring the smaller towns of Spain. I loved going to the Azores Islands. This summer, I really want to experience the Czech Republic outside of Prague. At the end of the day, I just want to know how average people live their lives.
The Spain you experience in Madrid is far different than Spain in Granada. Also the France in Paris is far different than what I experienced in Toulouse. We all know that New Orleans does not speak for all of the United States, so the capital cities of other countries cannot possibly speak for every person in that country as well.
I find that so many Americans never travel to Europe because they think they have to do it all. I hear this a lot from people. We all know that the airfare is more expensive when you cross that ocean, so they think that they can only go when they have a month or more. The reality is, it is really hard to find a month where you can just go. We don’t get that vacation time unless were teachers.
However think if you did take the week or two you have, and you just went to a few places. Perhaps you chose England and France. You’d have an amazing time and will have experienced two new cultures. While it’s not everything in Europe (ps. It’s really hard to see everything), you will have been to Europe!
Whatever your reason is …
This is more just a reflection of where I am. I do find it funny that I count countries less than I used to. While I’m sure that 14 will increase this summer, I’m not overly anxious about it. I’m just excited to learn more about daily life in the Czech Republic.