Does Traveling Abroad Offer a More Valuable Experience Than Traveling Domestically?

My series on the philosophy of travel continues today by asking the question: Does traveling abroad offer a more valuable experience than traveling domestically? Think about it. Are the experiences traveling in your own familiar country of lesser value than traveling to a different country. "Where are you traveling next?"

As a frequent traveler and working in the travel industry, this is a question I ask and receive most often. I've been to a couple travel networking events recently in which guests were asked to write on their name tag where they were traveling to next. I often find that there seems to be pressure to answer the question with an international destination. People expect answers that are exotic or far-flung destinations and not places like Norman, Oklahoma. But does that make those destinations of lesser value?

Like most philosophical topics, this is a loaded question in which a simple yes or no answer doesn't quite suffice. Asking this question on Twitter was proof of that. When I asked the same question on Twitter, a couple people answered with yes, but most said that it really depends. There are many factors that come into play, including the distances between countries. In the U.S., for example, you could easily travel thousands of miles and never leave the country. The distance from Bangor, Maine to San Diego, California is over 3,000 miles. But take a look at Europe. It's a day's trip to several different countries from the Southeastern European country of Montenegro.

By the time I graduated high school I had visited well over twice as many states and countries as Lewis and Clark did on their great expedition. I even had my own great expedition at age 17 that had me visiting more states than Lewis and Clark on one trip. My family and I visited over 20 states on a three-week tour of the U.S. But does the fact that I've traveled abroad numerous times and visited most of the states in the U.S. make my experiences more valuable than the person who has only traveled the Eastern Seaboard?

I've written a lot about the habits of travelers in America. Compared to many countries, Americans just aren't travelers. People often complain about not having enough vacation time in the U.S., but then so many employees aren't even using the little vacation time they have. I've even had a couple people comment here on my blog that they don't find the idea of international travel very appealing. This coming from people who have actually traveled abroad. Have I then over-hyped travel? Am I just drinking the Kool-Aid?

My love for travel was sowed at a very early age. While most kids had such a sense of wonder about climbing trees, building a tent fort, and imitating MacGyver, I had been taken by travel. Stepping foot onto my first airplane at age five continues to be one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. I remember how fascinated I was about being able to wear shorts in warmer destinations in the winter and remember sitting on beach house steps looking so romantically out across the ocean, mesmerized by the crashing waves.

All of those experiences happened right here in my own country. I wasn't on an exotic island or in some far-flung destination. I was in my own backyard. Yet there was a sense of fascination about discovering my home country as if I was discovering a far off land. Yet I find that that wonder of travel from early in my life becomes harder and harder to duplicate as I grow older. It's not just enough to travel - I have to travel abroad. It's not enough just to have a scenic view - I have to have a scenic view of a wonder of the world.

As cliché as it may sound, I believe that beauty is in fact in the eyes of the beholder. I think we may not have what we consider valuable travel experiences in our backyard because we don't open ourselves up to it. It's possibly because we're too overstimulated. We have so much information and multimedia at our finger tips that by the time we actually visit that destination we've consumed so much information about, it's as if we've already visited and there's no sense of uniqueness to it.

A couple people had recommended Nepenthe to me as one of those "can't-miss" places on a trip last summer. As I saw the signs pointing to it and all the cars pulling in, I couldn't help but wonder if this was just another tourist trap. Yet I wound around until I found an empty parking spot and took the several flights of stairs, past the British telephone box and through the wooded area to the cafe. As I reached the top and then started stepping down onto the patio of the cafe, my slow walk had now turned into a much brisker walk, bordering on that of jogging. I got to the edge of the patio, closed my eyes, and inhaled deeply. This was one of those surreal travel moments: Standing on a patio on the top of a mountain, looking down on clouds that hovered just above the vast ocean with rugged cliffs stretching as far as I could see. It felt like I was in Europe, but I wasn't. I was just 150 miles south of my home of San Francisco in Big Sur, California.

To be honest, I prefer traveling abroad. I've traveled the U.S., having visited all but five states and taken three cross country road trips. However, no matter where you live, there are valuable travel experiences waiting nearby. You just have to open yourself up to it and have the eyes to see below the surface. Find a map and circle a region of it you've never been to and go explore it for a day or weekend. Or rather have someone plan a trip for you to part of your country that you've never been to. Don't do any research leading up to it, but rather let yourself be surprised. While it may require letting go of a little bit of control, you may just like what you see.

Do you think traveling abroad offers a more valuable experience than traveling domestically?