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Travel is Good. No, Really.

On my last Sunday in Italy during my most recent visit, I spent six and a half hours having lunch with some new Italian friends. (And as an aside, if anyone had any remaining questions about why I love Italy, let me reiterate that one lunch lasted six and a half hours. Case closed.) The conversation went back and forth between Italian and English, and for the most part it revolved around subjects for which I know the Italian vocabulary well – namely, food and travel. But one question from the host of the fabulous lunch forced me to dig a little deeper into my language well, as it was one I sometimes struggle with in English. “Why,” he asked me, “do people travel?”

Why, indeed.

The quick answer is that there are many reasons why people travel, but I do think that saying, “there are as many reasons to travel as there are travelers” is incorrect. There are some big over-arching reasons to travel under which you can group just about everyone who packs a bag and hits the road. And at the same time, most people are probably going to find they can identify with more than one of those reasons. But my opinion, the one I tried to communicate at that marathon lunch in Milan (albeit probably quite inelegantly, especially after much wine and homemade licorice digestivo), is that no matter what your reason for traveling – travel is good.

Now, this might sound like a statement straight out of the “duh” file to the travel addicts who read this blog, but hear me out.

An argument that mildly annoyed me a few years ago has turned into one I loathe – the “tourist vs. traveler” argument. But more than that, the whole genre of “us vs. them” arguments in the travel world turns me off as being completely unnecessary. Are there distinctions between travelers? Sure. But there’s more that unites us than divides us, as the saying goes. Because travel, no matter the kind of travel, is good.

For instance, while I might not be interested in going on a cruise, I’m more than happy to pass on information about cruises to people who are and listen to stories from their great cruise vacations. Just because I can’t lie out in the sun doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of people for whom a Hawaii blog will tell them about everything they dream of when it comes to vacations. While I might personally strongly dislike Las Vegas, if someone spends a couple weeks every year there and has fun doing it I’m going to applaud them and send them our Las Vegas travel guide to boot.

The bottom line, for me, is that if the alternatives are that you travel beyond the borders of your home town or you stay home your whole life, I’ll get behind the travel option – no matter what kind of travel it is.

Fundamentally, I think the biggest difference between the person who might opt for a cruise or a package vacation and the person (like me) who plans trips independently is education. And I don’t mean that one person is smarter than another, or has more years of schooling under their belt. I mean simply that the person who’s choosing the package doesn’t know how to plan an independent trip. The idea of putting together an itinerary and booking all the flights and hotels and transportation in a country they’ve never been to before is daunting. But rather than do some preliminary research to find out whether it’s something that would be easy enough or interesting enough to tackle on their own, they choose the package – and more often than not, they also have a great vacation.

When I get questions about traveling in Italy from people who are extending a package tour or looking for ways to fill their “port” days on a cruise, therefore, I see it as my job not just to hand them answers on a silver platter, but also to introduce them to the idea of independent travel. Sure, when someone asks for suggestions to fill two days in Rome at the end of a package trip before they fly home I can (and do) send them ideas. And when cruise passengers ask about what to do for the day their ship is docked in Venice, I absolutely send them my Venice travel guide. But in addition to those things, I usually also send them my articles about decoding Italian gelato flavors or about the different kinds of restaurants in Italy.

What I don’t have much of on the site, and frankly don’t send out much of in email replies, is stuff like specific restaurant recommendations. I figure if I give people the information they need to find a good place to eat, they’ll be able to apply that knowledge wherever they go. The idea being that if they can dip their toe into the sea of independent travel with a bit of encouragement, maybe the next time they’re thinking about traveling they’ll be more apt to feel comfortable planning more of it on their own rather than relying on a travel agent or tour company to tell them exactly where to go, what to do, and where to eat.

But again, I return to my premise – travel is good. Any kind of travel is good. I mean, unless the travel you’re doing is somehow hurting someone else, all travel is, in my opinion, good. So y’know what? Even if the person who emailed me about her cruise ship docking in Venice for an afternoon never books anything but more cruises and package vacations for the rest of her life, the fact that her passport got used (and that she had a passport at all) is good enough for me. We may not travel the same way, but we both like to travel. And that’s the part I choose to focus on.