Travel…Like it Was Back in the Day

“Hey Spence, since you’ll be settling down and not traveling, what will you be doing now?” I’ve gotten this and many similar questions over the past weeks. My response: “I’ll be doing the same thing I’ve been doing.” Big shocker: You actually don’t have to travel as much as you think you do in order to write about it. The fact is that when I move to San Francisco, not much will be changing. I’ll still eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, explore the area, chat with locals, and write about it. I’ll just have a more permanent address, and definitely a favorite local watering hole, and I’ll probably grill out more and have a beach of choice where I take long walks under the stars and ponder about life, dating, and the world; because that’s what philosophers do, right?

Think about some of the world’s most notable travelers. Who comes to mind? Probably Christopher Columbus and Captain James Cook are at the top of that list. But more practically, who are some others? Maybe Lewis and Clark and John Muir? But looking at how people travel today, how much did they really travel? Think about it. Lewis and Clark’s most notable trip went through what comes out to several states. Can you imagine the discussion around a few pints if Lewis and Clark were in attendance:

Joe Traveler: Guys, you just have no idea. We just got back from Southeast Asia, utilizing little more than a tuk tuk and a bus, and visited 8 countries in 30 days. And get this shit. They almost didn’t let us back into the United States because our passport had run out of pages!

Lewis: Sounds like quite the trip. How did you ration the food from your backpack?

Joe Traveler: Oh, come on. It’s called street food. Haven’t you guys ever traveled before? How many countries have you been to?

Clark: Well several, er…Well actually, it’s probably more like states. So a few states. More along the lines of a “Round The Northwest United States Trip”. An RTNUST.

It’s really only been very recently that it has become reasonable to travel such long distances. You can wake up on a sandy beach and later that day be hiking through the snow. Does that make Lewis and Clark’s journeys irrelevant? Should they even be considered less traveled? Of course not. Nonetheless, I think there’s a lot to learn from how people traveled back in the day.

You don't have to go to a volcano to have traveled.

I can hear some of you now: “Let’s get serious Spencer, this is 2011. Lewis and Clark were traveling to places that had never been traveled to before.” You’re absolutely right and the joy of discovering a new place for the first time can often never be reclaimed. However, I think there’s something that can be said for slower travel. I recently wrote a post in which I used the phrase: “The world is my playground.” In it, I tell a story in which I emphasize that even a day walking down familiar streets can have a certain luster to it. Can this be experienced by anyone? Probably not, because I think it takes seeing and experiencing the world in ways that many aren’t accustomed to. It’s looking beyond the glitz and the iconic landmarks to see what’s going on beyond the scene.

All too often, I take a photo with my phone, tweet it or post it on Facebook, and then I’m moving on to what’s next. It’s almost like if I don’t take a photo, then it didn’t really happen. Travel seems to have become more of crossing things off a list, taking photos of iconic places, and visiting distant exotic destinations. Now don’t get me wrong, I really want to visit Hawaii, Antarctica, and Bora Bora, but travel is so much more than that. When you ask someone about a particularly bare spot on the map, their response often is: “Oh you don’t want to go there. There’s nothing to see.” But is there? Maybe there is something there, but it just hasn’t been discovered, or even needs to be rediscovered.

Upon writing about my move to San Francisco, I got an email from Kristin of Take Your Big Trip, who had moved there and responded by saying: “There’s an adventure every weekend.” Now that’s the kind of thing I want to hear from travelers. Yes, travel is the seeing of sights, but it’s also much more. For me, it maybe for the 20th time, but in a way I’ve never seen it before. It’s conversations with locals, tasting new foods, and exploring areas that are widely unexplored. You don’t have to cross the pond or even step foot on a plane to do this. I love how Lauren Rains put it recently when she said: “Turn your backyard into the world.”

So my challenge to myself and my readers is this: Explore your own city as if it’s the first time. Go to a neighborhood people tell you not to visit, find a new restaurant, talk to a couple locals. You may be surprised what you find. I intend to be surprised at the things I find as I start exploring San Francisco. And the day I stop being surprised, will be the day it’s time for something to change.

19 Comments on “Travel…Like it Was Back in the Day

  1. Hey Spence!
    Amen to everything you’ve said here my friend! I feel like I am so lucky to be living in the time we’re living in… we are in that funny stage where we can travel pretty much anywhere in the world we want, and many of these places still offer that “off-the-beaten-path” feel.

    At the same time, while I am so lucky to have that opportunity, just as you mentioned here, it doesn’t mean we can’t still travel where we came from! I go on a bike ride every single afternoon at sunset around my surrounding neighborhoods near the beach… every time I go I notices something new, think about something different, reflect on something I hadn’t reflected on. It’s all about our mentality and our outlook and our attitude!
    Whether I’m biking along the beach in Thailand in St. Augustine FL, or the Jersey Shore (okay maybe not some parts of the Jersey Shore haha) – I can still get that traveling philosopher in me to discover the same things :)

    Great post Spence! I am sure it is going to inspire many other “travelers who aren’t traveling” :)
    – LAUR

    • Love what you’ve been doing by riding your bike to the beach. I think this travel takes a little bit more work on our part, but it can be just as rewarding as traveling to exotic destinations.

  2. I just found you through Skool of Life Tweet.
    Your name is the same as my oldest son’s: one of the reasons we uprooted for a year to Belize.
    Anyway, like you, I traveled alone at age nine, for the first time. Traveling is also in my blood, although I don’t do as much as I’d like to. I should follow your advice and “explore” Los Angeles.
    I’ve lived south of LA for 20+ years and don’t know it as well as Paris, where I grew up.

    • Let me know how your exploration of Los Angeles goes. I always love hearing how people rediscover those things that are somewhat familiar.

  3. I think you really hit the nail on the head with this line, “And the day I stop being surprised, will be the day it’s time for something to change.” And so ironic that you posted this now as I was JUST explaining this exact theory to someone in DC this weekend – saying that exploring one’s own town is just a legitimate form of travel as is an RTW.

    Can’t wait to see what you discover in SanFran, after all – it’s probably my favorite town after NYC.

    • Glad it was so timely Kir. I really think it’s tough, especially in the travel writing/blogging community, for people to not be intimidated and think that you’re only traveling if you’re going to Thailand, for example. There are so many opportunities right in front of us if we’ll take the time.

  4. Yeah.. you dont have to go to fancy places to travel. You could go around your country, see and do things you dont do normaly, that is already considered as travelling. As long as you explore, you’re alive.

  5. The whole concept of getting-to-know-my-own-backyard never even occurred to me until we returned from our one year tour of South America. I had come to hate my home town, because I associated it with work, work, and well, work. It was a city full of corporate snobs, and I couldn’t wait to escape.

    But when I got home, the sunsets were brilliant, the mountains were inspiring, and I began to see all the beauty that I had so easily taken for granted. Upon our return, one friend of mine stated: “You know other countries better than you know your own.” She was right, and I was embarrassed.

    Travel is indeed a great teacher!!

    • Love this Dalene. It has really taken traveling abroad to be able to appreciate coming back “home”. It’s weird to say that, but I really have come to have a better appreciation for my own country and the simpler things when I’ve gone to other countries and then returned.

      • This reminds me (a bit random); I just watched the movie Juno for the first time in a while recently and she says in the movie “I never realize how much I like coming home until I’ve been somewhere really difference for a while”. That line really resonated with me this time around, I am really looking forward to learning more about home after being somewhere really different!

        Your two comments just brought that back into my mind.

  6. Pingback: Tripper of the Week: Spencer Spellman | The Tripping Blog

  7. Thank you for posting this.
    I started a travel blog and made a twitter acct earlier this year. I have met some of the most amazing people because of it but the more i read, the more i tweet the more i just kind of wanted to hide in a closet. I felt so discouraged because im not a world traveler. Honestly? I dont even have a passport which i am embarrassed to admit.

    Life got in the way of those dreams (for the time being) and although i know ill have a passport soon and ill start seeing more of the world right now, this year it just cant happen. Id rather take the $ i would have spent going to Italy and pay off debt. Id rather work on myself ( i was in a car accident in december that messed up my back which makes hours on a plane or in a car very painful)

    Ive got about 3 or 4 blog posts half way written…all about day trips and neat things to see or do in Texas, Florida, Georgia, NY but i’m embarrassed to finish and hit “publish” because i dont want them to laugh at me.
    I’ve got dreams….BIG ones.I sit at my desk working my 9-5 job dreaming about all the places i want to go…all of the people i want to meet….about the life i want to live and i think i lose sight of the fact that THIS is my life right now.
    Its happening and i CAN blog about the day trips and the weekend trips. Every day should be an adventure whether i’m sitting at my desk, riding my bike around this beautiful island i call home or taking a trip to San Antonio for the weekend.
    Thank you Spencer.

    • Thank you so much Colleen. I really hope your comment resonates with others. I think it can be easy to really be intimidated because of so many that are so eager to talk about their trips to exotic places. And that’s great. I’m not knocking it, but I believe there can sometimes be the presumption that you’re only traveling if you travel frequently and to far off places, and that simply isn’t the case.
      There’s just something about those local places, in your own town or nearby, that I think you can really feel proud of because they aren’t the same, exotic places that everyone has already discovered, but it’s something you’ve come across in ways that others haven’t. There’s something to be said for that kind of travel.

  8. Pingback: The Weekend Escape: Self-discovery on the road « AnywhereAndHere

  9. I wanted to shout hear, hear as I read this! I love talking about my explorations in Pensacola and the surrounding Southern cities just as much as I love talking about our major trips to locales that are foreign to us. I think it is so very important to enjoy your own surrounding even if it is in Somewhere USA because there is beauty and adventure around every corner! I want my children to look for adventure everywhere even if it is just down the street!

    • Thanks Jen. Love seeing others who are already doing this!

  10. Great post! I know that when I first came back from Sydney I had to turn Seattle into my own personal travel destination because if I didn’t feel like I was still traveling, I felt like I was going crazy.

    Now that I’m about to leave Florence, I am finding myself frantic to see the things that I took for granted for the last year! I know that I have been lucky to see a lot here and according to me going home only means that I get to keep exploring. You make a good point about the photos as well. Sometimes I find myself conflicted as to whether I’ll regret not taking a photo, but sometimes I just don’t want to!

    I can’t wait to see what you discover in San Fran and you can show me around when I get there this summer!

  11. I really like your suggestion of exploring neighborhoods in the cities we live in. It’s hard for me to get excited about “exploring” Sacramento after living here for 9 years, but there are a lot of areas of the city I actually don’t know.
    You will be so fortunate in San Francisco because there are SO many things to do within a short drive, and the city is home to a diversity of world-class events. As long as you can handle the weather (hee hee), you will have no shortage of things to do there!

  12. Ha ha. You know sometimes I pretend that I’m a tourist, wear touristy clothes, take a nice big DSLR, backpack and do “touristy” things in my own city! It might sound silly but it’s a lot of fun! The whole week you have a real life, work and the same old, same old so let loose on the weekends and even if you can’t take a short trip, explore you’re own city like you’re seeing it for the first time!
    By the way Spencer, if you’re reading, please check out the new Facebook Travel App – Tint Travel ( It connects its users to the Facebook friends of friends all around the world for a safer, cheaper and more authentic travel experience! Have fun traveling like a local with this app :)

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