I have never understood the term “well-traveled”. This term people use to define themselves has always seemed to go way over my head. What does “well” mean. And where does one have to have traveled to in order to be deemed “well-traveled”. Sure, some people have seen more parts of the world than others, but does this necessarily mean that they have “traveled well” or better than another individual? From Facebook, Instagram, and every dating app out there, individuals say they are (and are looking for) others well-traveled. Why does this descriptor define so many people, and why is it often used to single out others who may not have traveled as much?
Before leaving for Armenia, I didn’t consider myself well-traveled because I had never left the U.S. While living in south Texas, we did do family trips across the Mexican border to shop and for my dad to get his cheap prescription for Prilosec before it was over the counter. This was, however, before I was 12 years old, and then after that I didn’t cross an international border for another 10 years. Meanwhile, I traveled to 42 of the 50 states- but still others, and myself, wouldn’t consider me well-traveled.
People often say they join the Peace Corps to travel the world, but that’s a misconception. Peace Corps service isn’t traveling- it’s living in one country. With the exception of leaving for a twelve-day vacation to the northern bordering country Georgia (a place more famous for its wine than its peaches), I hadn’t left a geographical area of about 300 miles in over a year. This can begin to feel very enclosed to someone who usually went to three or four states all over the North American continent annually. Finally when I left for Mother Russia, I began to feel like I was traveling.
I can’t say that I have been to “Russia”, though, because- if you haven’t looked on a map, no matter what projection is used- Russia is big! So, I have been telling people I went to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Two very different cities, I was able to feel like I was in a different place than anything I had experienced in either Armenia or Georgia. I was beginning to experience things I had never experienced in the U.S. Signs were writing in Cyrillic without any English transliteration. Thankfully, I have been able to pick up the alphabet while living in Armenia. I was able to read the Metro signs and street signs. It was a fun experience. Then in St. Petersburg, a city more geared for international tourists, everything was written in English transliteration again, and I begin to feel a little less out of the Russian influenced world (still highly present in Armenia, some of Georgia, and ubiquitous in Moscow…obviously).
In St. Petersburg, I stayed in the coolest hostel (Soul Kitchen Hostel– look it up if you ever go to St. Petersburg), and for the holidays I hung out with Russians, a Korean, Germans, a group from France, a group from China, a girl from Sri Lanka, a guy born in Lithuania and living in Scotland, among others. Hostels are the greatest places in the world because you meet people from all over the world. In St. Petersburg, my traveling friend and I spent much of our time in the hostel because we were comfortable making friends there, in a comfortable environment, and didn’t want to leave. Still, we were meeting the world. I would say we were traveling well.
Once we arrived in Budapest, my friend’s friends came to meet us. A Polish girl and a French guy joined the Russian/American duo, and for four days we explored the banks of Budapest. Budapest coming more into the American tourist peripheral, I was surrounded by more Americans I didn’t know than I have been exposed to in a long time. It was a big culture shock for me. I was more comfortable hanging out with my friends from other countries because, other than my small Peace Corps community in Armenia, that’s what I have been exposed to for a year and a half.
In between, we were in Helsinki one day. I’ve technically been to Finland, as is noted by the stamp in my passport, but can I technically say I have been there. I experienced a whiteout blizzard- how one may picture Helsinki. But, because it was so cold, my friend and I went to see a movie. An American movie shown in English with Finnish subtitles. We were (probably) the only foreigners in the movie theater, we were doing something locals do. We ate Finnish candy, and we went to a café. We used Euros. I would think that is traveling well.
In Vienna, a place we were for less than 24 hours, we were led by a local who had lived in Vienna his whole life, and guided by his wife who had lived there for years. For brunch the next day, we ate at a café that was away from the city center. I sat at a table with three languages being spoken, and I was the only one who knew less than three languages sitting at the table. I felt like I was traveling well.
So, what this trip taught me, was to never feel like I am or other people are “well-traveled” because that doesn’t mean anything. Take the way you like to travel, adapt it to the sights you want to see, and how lazy or scheduled you want to be, and go with it. At the end of a trip you should feel like you enjoyed yourself and like you had experienced something new. My personal quote for my Tinder profile I’ll never make: Don’t feel well-traveled, feel like you’ve traveled well.
Individuals in the United States who get angry when others are not speaking English, remember this: The United States of America DOES NOT have a constitutional official language. English is not the official language of the United States. If you feel this way, that English should be the only language spoken in the country, go to Europe. In countries that have official languages, you can go into any café and find people speaking a variety of languages, and get this: NO ONE CARES. So, if anything, us Americans should feel cheated for not having been exposed to several languages or required to learn more in childhood. We all would be better and more aware for it.