Round the world in 29 days? No thanks!

| September 15, 2009 | 21 Comments
balloons Round the world in 29 days? No thanks!

Around the world in 29 days? No thanks!

 The Washington Post recently ran a piece by Maryann Haggerty entitled “Around the World in Four Easy Lessons” wherein she wrote of an 11-flight vacation that circumnavigated the globe in the span of 29 days.

Citing their age and “jobs [they] couldn’t leave for long”, Ms Haggerty sets about planning an itinerary along with her husband that, by her own admission, would allow for “an average of less than four days in each of the eight countries [they] visited.”

Lately, Kathryn and I have been considering the reasons behind our settling on a timeframe of a year abroad, debating the advantages and disadvantages of being away for an extended period. And, while we haven’t quite agreed on a timeframe, we are both of the view that our trip abroad should be of a substantial length. Longer than 29 days, at the very least. But why?

In her article, Ms Haggerty writes:

There is an accepted template for what’s called round-the-world (RTW) travel. You must do it slowly—say, at least six months or a year. You must get off the beaten path, disdaining all those things that regular tourists are there to see, such as renowned museums or the Great Pyramids. You should probably carry a backpack, stay in the cheapest place in town and wash your clothes in the sink.

She’s right, of course. The accepted wisdom is that RTW trips should be of a certain length in order to immerse one’s self in another culture and to get off the beaten path. Slow travel implies an escape from the ‘tourist bubble’ and avoid the kind of tourist experience that is standardized, modified and commodified. However, we believe that Ms Haggerty’s style of RTW trip is the type of holiday wherein the vast majority of local knowledge of the area is imparted to the tourist by a bus driver (refer to our earlier piece on ‘How to Burst the Tourist Bubble‘). 

The problem with Ms Haggerty’s itinerary is that it approaches RTW travel from the perspective of a vacation, rather than that of worthwhile pursuit in its own right. Ms Haggerty’s itinerary falls prey to the North American belief that a vacation is a brief respite bookended by work. The problem with this view is that, for North American, vacations are often not unlike work—hectic and stressful. This frantic pace persists while “on vacation”, rushing from one tourist attraction to another—or as in Ms Haggerty’s piece, from airport to airport. This style of ‘travel’ is antithetical to the ethos of the RTW traveler.

The pervasiveness of consumer culture has sold us the idea that we should ‘buy’ travel in the same manner that we buy refrigerators and automobiles. And that’s no accident, as consumer culture sustains itself on the premise of an unending supply of consumer goods. What kind of society does this create? One that views air-conditioned and pre-packaged travel as a commodity.

Long-term travel provides the opportunity for rejuvenation and relaxation. While some might consider Ms Haggerty’s itinerary a vacation, I prefer to liken the notion of a RTW trip to that of a ‘sabbatical’. The notion of a sabbatical is said to have originated in Hebrew legend, referring to the ancient river of Shabat. Legend held that this river flowed for six days and rested on the seventh. Of course, the idea of rest and peaceful reflection is incredibly foreign to productivity-obsessed North Americans who have been led to believe that taking time away from work is wasteful.

A long-term RTW trip allows the traveller to hop off the treadmill and refocus one’s energy and vision. It’s an excellent way to recharge, take some time for yourself and see life from a different perspective. It’s an opportunity to be in a different environment—physically, mentally and emotionally. Check out our article entitled “Why Go Round-The-World?

While there’s no ‘correct’ length of time, most RTW trips last six months to a year; however, the length of your adventure is up to the traveker (and their budget). In my opinion, a year is the perfect amount of time to challenge yourself; it’s a period short enough to envision an end goal but long enough to be significantly challenging to keep up with over the long-term.

In fact, I prefer 366 days to 365—the proverbial ‘year and a day’. Why? Well, in medieval Europe, a runaway serf became free after a year and a day. All long-term travelers are, in a sense, runaway serfs, escaping from the conventions of ‘labour’, preferring the liberty of the road to the right to live conventionally but with fewer freedoms.

While the prospect of a dash around the world might appear exhilarating, it’s definitely not for Kathryn and me; we think it’s exhausting! Rather than attempting to check off as many “renowned museums” or “Great Pyramids” as possible on a trip, we prefer to take the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture. 

Ultimately, long-term travel is a protest against the style of vacation that Ms Haggerty champions in her article. In the same way that we prefer regional cuisine, local farming and traditional food to a Big Mac combo, we are attracted to reflective travel that emphasizes a connection to local peoples and cultures.

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Category: Dan's Blog

About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.

Comments (21)

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  1. Stephanie says:

    I agree that Haggerty’s trip style sounds expensive, stressful and not very fun or reflective. However I do think she offers some good tips. In particular “Remember, it’s your trip” spoke to me. Traveling around the world in a month is not something many people would think to try, so kudos to them for doing their own thing.

    If people want to spend crazy amounts of money hopskotching around the world seeing their top ten that’s fine with me. I probably won’t even run into them as I turtle crawl across the globe. But you absolutely right when you say that it is NOT the same thing.

    • Daniel says:

      As the french say “chacun à son goût”—to each his own. And I commend them for taking a chance on the trip. While it’s not for me, I don’t deny that it is interesting.

      However, there were a couple of points that I took umbrage with in Haggerty’s article. The first was that she and her husband were “too old” to backpack, as if her local supply store would refuse her a backpack without her showing photo ID.

      And, correct me if I’m wrong but there’s a very dismissive undertone in the article to those who choose to travel long-term, ie the claim that backpackers “disdain all those things that regular tourists are there to see”, which is patently untrue.

      Overall, I do have a problem with Haggerty’s co-opting of the idea of ’round the world’ travel. Just because you circumnavigate the globe does not mean that you’ve travelled the world!

  2. Corbin says:

    Hey Daniel,

    I’m with you, 29 days seems a bit too loco for my liking. I get that some people just do the 9-5 and are happy with that, and take their 2, 3, sometimes 4 weeks off (if they’re lucky). But if you’re truly passionate about travel, making a quick stop in Amsterdam, smoking a spliff, and being able to brag “yep, I did drugs in Amsterdam” is hardly going to change your outlook on life, nor have a profound effect on your future. (unless you believe weed is addictive, which it is not).

    I know I have been guilty of rushing through areas, and by the time I had left I always felt guilty for not giving said area, city, or country the time it deserved.

    Haggerty, you have to be high on Meth if you think that a quickie RTW Ticket is enough to fulfill a wandering souls wanderlust. If ur gonna do it, do it right. Maybe 6 months to 12 months is unreasonable if ur tied down to a serious career. But 29 days…I’ve been on benders longer than that.

  3. 29 days to go around the world? Wow! Are they just going to visit airports for stamps in their passports?

    I agree that it is their trip so they can do what they want, but there is a huge difference between spending a day in a country and spending a month.

    You can inline skate through the Louvre in a couple of hours and tell all your friends that you “saw” every work of art. However, I think many people would argue with your definition of “see.” Artists regularly sit down in front of a single painting and sketch for hours. That is the type of “seeing” I prefer in a foreign country.

  4. I agree with all of you guys — there really isn’t a point in trying to cram that much in such little time! For the last two summers, I’ve gone to Europe for just over two weeks each time. This summer I fit in three countries (well, mostly two – Turkey was just for one day), and the summer before, I fit in four. While I got to see a lot of great cities, even that felt rushed. I can’t imagine having seen half the world in that same timeframe!

    Like Steph says, it’s probably way more expensive and stressful to do it this way. They should just see a few countries now, save up and do this again in a few more years and see a few more countries. What’s the point of traveling the world if you’re not going to be in one place long enough to really experience it? They’re probably going to be spending most of their time on planes.

    • Daniel says:

      That’s how I likely would have gone about it, Emily — focusing on a particular region, a particular country—a particular town—somewhere and travel slowly though it. You know, the kind of travel where the local baker learns your name!

  5. I have to congratulate them for at least going out there and enjoy their travel. I think to each their own (their money, their time and their preference). Like she said in her article, they are city people. And I have known many of my friends who probably plan a trip like that. 1 week in 5 countries..

    However, I don’t think her advice is more for a real RTW trip rather than a typical long trip. The lessons can be used to apply to any trip. The advice will probably be different if you travel slower and taking your time.

    And I agree with you that I have to agree to disagree with her way of travel. I would rather save up and spend more time in few places than rushing around. Been there, done that and it doesn’t worth it. :)

    • Daniel says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Amy! You are absolutely spot on when you mention that they should travel any way they see fit! Re-reading my original post, I wish I had been more careful in drawing that distinction. Just because our thinking is divergent, doesn’t mean her way is any better than hers—it similar means to different ends!

    • Daniel says:

      Of course, I meant our way is any better than hers! Doh!

  6. Gourmantic says:

    To me, that would only be a degustation trip. Something to whet the appetite for further in-depth travel.

  7. Rhys says:

    I agree with most of the article linked, a lot of the comments too.

    I am 25 years old about to embark on my first long term trip (6 months in Australia), I’ve been to some of the most incredible places on earth (and yes Yanks, that does include that rock from sea to shining sea).

    I did Japan, South Korea & Thailand in 14 days, it was rushed, very rushed, but it should only whet the appetite (I’m off to Thailand this year again before going to Australia :) )

  8. Anil says:

    What can you really see in 29 days by going to all of those places. It’s basically airport hoping. Better to do to 1 maybe 2 places in that time and experience a place. I travel to see sights but also to engage the culture – you need time for both.

  9. Gourmantic says:

    Nah… I must have been hungry at the time. You can’t get the foodie out of this traveller! :)

  10. Mark says:

    We see round the world itineraries with less than 29 days regularly. Unfortunately. We specialize in booking RTWs online ex-Australia. I guess the difference for us ‘Down Under’ is that a basic round the world is only an extra 5-6 hours flying time than a return ticket Australia – Europe or Australia – East Coast USA. So many people will choose to fly that bit longer and come back with a few nights in New York and a couple in Hawaii, for example, instead of the boring old stopover in Singapore or Bangkok. Plus, as round the world tickets are non-seasonal in high seasons it can be a lot cheaper to keep going round the world. So I guess for us it’s a bit different than if you were in North America or Europe where so many of the world’s great countries are within a 2-8 hour flight…so that 30hour minimum flying time for a round the world sounds overrated for a short amount of time like 4 weeks.

    I must agree though that so many people rush it. I do think you can do a decent round the world trip in 6-8 weeks…just that so many people squeeze in too many countries seeing major cities like Paris for only 2 days. Come on people places like Paris need at least 6 days.

    • Daniel says:

      An interesting perspective, Mark. While living down under certainly comes with its advantages, I can see that easy and inexpensive air travel isn’t one of them. It’s amazing that so many Australians travel. It’s a good thing they are courteous tourists, because I’ve failed to come across a tourist trail that I wasn’t sharing with an aussie.

  11. I totally agree with you. 29 days is not a round the world trip, even if you really go round the world lol

    I love traveling and when I travel I like to immerse myself in the local culture and with only 29 days you can forget about that! Half the time would probably be spent on the road, plane or whatever mode of transport one is using.

    I really liked your comment “the kind of travel where the local baker learns your name!” … now THAT is what I call traveling :)

    I guess some people would be “satisfied” with just 29 days though. We’re all different and there are people who love traveling to cities, those who prefer off the beaten track trips, cruises, some just travel to shop! so it really all boils down to personal taste I guess.



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