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An inch deep but a mile wide

March 12, 2011

When it comes to news, sports, politics, current events, travel, etc., I like to have some sort of knowledge about the subject at hand so that I can adequately converse when the topic arises. Perhaps this is why I love my World Book Almanac so much (so much that I haven’t even read it yet). I suppose I could be called a news junkie of sorts. I love the news. I also love random tidbits of information.

But what I really LOVE? Experiencing new countries and cultures. I had an interesting discussion with one of my brothers last night about this very subject, which is why I feel compelled to write about it.

Perhaps (and probably so) it’s because of my insatiably curious nature, but I love visiting new countries. I don’t need to spend a whole month there, or even a whole week, but just let me at least spend a day or two there. I promise I’ll come back later and spend more time when I have it, but for the moment, let me at least peek inside.

That’s more or less my travel philosophy. There are roughly 195 countries in the world. Okay, 196 since we now have Southern Sudan. And if I want to see them all, or most of them, I need to get a move on. I can’t bog down in one area for years at a time. As the title says, when it comes to visiting countries, I don’t mind being an inch deep but a mile wide. In my mind that’s better than being an inch wide but a mile deep. To focus on one area and jump in with both feet and never look back is not my preferred MO. It’s just not. But apparently we are all different.

I don’t mind if someone wants to discuss the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 and it’s ramifications back then. My working knowledge of Egypt might not afford me the opportunity to intelligently dive into that conversation. But do I feel sad that I haven’t spent the last 10 years studying Egypt’s history and politics and therefore cannot converse on the subject should it arise? No. I am content to say that I have been to Egypt on a superficial level, seen the pyramids, seen the desert wilderness where the children of Israel journeyed, sat near the springs of Marah, gazed up at Mt. Sinai, and have seen the artifacts from King Tut’s tomb on display at the Egyptian museum. Could I tell you who was Pharaoh after King Tut? Nope. But to me that’s okay. If I focused on drilling down through the layers of each country’s history until I felt I had gained enough knowledge to move on, I’d never make it anywhere.

Amongst travelers today there are basically two camps. There are the tourists who love to go see all the touristy sights. And there are those who don’t consider themselves “tourists” but who embark on the road less traveled (which also entails spending months in some remote location that no one’s ever heard of before). Those who purposely avoid the popular tourist destinations for some lesser known locale. One example would be a travel blog I read where the travelers purposely avoided Machu Picchu while in Peru because it’s so “touristy.” And of course amongst the barrage of comments that followed, there were those who whole-heartedly agreed, and those who disagreed.

And I have to say that while in part I understand where they are coming from, I disagree. I think there is a reason as to why certain places become tourist destinations. And that would be the fact that these places ARE amazing to see. Why aren’t people flocking to North Dakota to see some old mud hole? Well, perhaps because mud holes aren’t all that fascinating. Touristy places don’t just pop up for no reason.

So while I understand wanting to avoid crowds of tourists, sometimes that’s just the price you pay to see some amazing sight. I think you are selling yourself short and the experience short, if you avoid the touristy places just to make a point.

I say that a balance of both is a good thing. You don’t have to spend all day hanging around and under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. But to say you went to Paris and didn’t go to the Eiffel Tower just because everyone does that and you want to be different…just doesn’t make sense to me. You can see the Tower from practically all over Paris anyways, so you’d have a very hard time avoiding it.

So my knowledge of each country I visit might be limited. I might not ever speak their language, or spend years studying their history and culture. But there is so much out there to see, and I don’t want to miss any of it. If I settled down in one country and immersed myself in it, I might someday feel I had gained all the knowledge I could. But I would have missed out on so much elsewhere.

The end.

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