Just like food, wine, music, art and practically everything else that you can think of, people have very individual tastes when it comes to travel. Some people dream of being able to take an adult ‘Gap Year’ when they can put everything into storage; rent out the house (or sell it) and head off on their adventure of a lifetime. I fall into that other category — little and often.
When I say little and often, the emphasis should be more on the often and less on the little although it is possible to pack an awful lot into 72 hours or even 48 — particularly when your destination is just an hour or two’s flight time away. Those that sit in the epic, months-long travel camp would contend that to get to know a destination or people, you really need to spend weeks if not months there — immersing yourself in the culture of the place and picking up all the nuances that can easily escape the consciousness of someone who only pays a flying visit and whilst I wouldn’t argue with that logic as I’m sure that it’s perfectly true, there is a downside to travel itineraries that play out over months across multiple destinations or even continents.
Back in 1976, I spent a wonderful month travelling to various destinations across both the United States and Canada. Most of that time was spent staying with relatives in Oregon but I also got to travel up to Vancouver and a small town in British Columbia called Powell River — a town so remote that the only practical way to visit was via seaplane. I also spent a couple of memorable days in Chicago. I was visiting both countries for the first time. Indeed, it was only my third or fourth venture overseas and all the previous ones had been to Europe, so it really was a big deal.
For purely budgetary reasons, I travelled from Portland in Oregon to Vancouver in Canada via Greyhound bus, a journey of approximately eight hours and it was the first time that I experienced the phenomenon of sensory overload. My 8-hour bus journey transported me through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world and yet I found myself after a few hours not bothering to look out the window anymore, despite the majestic mountains that existed on the other side of the glass partition. For the first few hours of my journey, I was literally in awe of the scenery that I was passing through but despite its sheer beauty and scale I very quickly tired of it, my senses having become overloaded with the imagery that I had been taking in. It’s a phenomenon I’ve experienced time and again ever since and it has influenced me very much in the way I try to travel, when given the chance.
I am also quite confident that I’m not alone in experiencing that phenomenon. Here’s a simple exercise to test if my theory is true: recall the last time that you visited some major cultural centre or city in which you spent 48 hours or more visiting the ‘must see’ tourist sites whether they were cathedrals, castles, museums or other notable monuments. Did you not find after a while that no matter how magnificent in scale, sublime in architectural form or beautiful in aesthetic, the more you saw, the less impressed or engaged you became? That’s because our puny brains have evolved to only absorb an optimum amount of information or visual input and once that optimum input threshold has been reached, no additional pleasure or appreciation can be extracted beyond that point. Now, of course there are always exceptions to every rule and I’m sure that there are individuals out there who can visit 10 museums one after the other without drawing breath, but I still maintain that there is a limit to what we should try to experience as individuals within any given time frame.
I spent two weeks recently cruising around the Far East eating beautiful food three or four times day and boy was I glad to get home to a bit of plain home cooking! I also happened to meet some early retirees who appeared to be making it their mission in life to pack in as much travelling as possible, as quickly as possible and had already been cruising since the previous December (I met them in late February). Not only did I not envy them, but I could think of no worse way in which to see and experience the world because I believe that after the first couple of weeks of their multi-month itinerary, their minds and emotional responses must surely have become somewhat desensitised to what they were experiencing on a day-to-day basis.
So, be careful what you wish for. If you’re lucky enough for your numbers to come up in the next Lottery draw, take my advice and do not book a year-long odyssey of discovery around the world. Take a series of separate trips; each no more than two or three weeks long and with at least six to eight weeks of ‘normal living’ separating them. There is, after all, such a phenomenon as ‘having too much of a good thing!’