A few weeks back I did a YouTube video on the subject (see bottom of the page for the embedded version for those of you who aren’t subscribed to the channel), but I wanted to cover the topic a little more in-depth in a blog post/newsletter so that you can understand more than what I rambled on about in the vid.
I promote immersion travel; that’s the basis of my immersion guides sold here through Marginal Boundaries, as well as in The Expat Guidebook. But there’s much more to it than simply the early retirement, absolute freedom and debt-free living. It’s also about The Human Experience. It’s mentioned in all of the guides but I haven’t ever written a blog post about what I mean by that…and exactly why I feel that immersion travel is superior to all other forms.
We are all of us One People living on One Planet. We all have the same blood flowing in our veins. Black, white, Asian, Canadian, African, homosexual, heterosexual, man, woman, child…it doesn’t matter. And one of the foremost reasons that those of us who do this for a living choose to do so…is because we get to connect with people on a personal level versus only ever exploring the world through the television, Internet, magazines and books. There’s something lost in the transition from human connection to media format, and while you can appreciate from afar you can never really know the people in another country…until you go there.
Something I think is lost in the backpacker lifestyle is cultural immersion. Flitting about, hostel to hostel, making brief stops in destinations to snap some photos for the blog, taste some new food, see some new sites, explore a new part of the world, experience a new adventure and so on and so forth, never really qualifies as knowing a destination. Experiencing, yes…at least from a traveler’s viewpoint, but you can never truly know a destination by only spending a few days, a few weeks or even just a few short months in it. If you want to experience the real culture you have to spend time immersing yourself in the depths of everything that makes that place so unique.
Forget the cost of living benefits. Forget the fact that for you, the universal healthcare plan allows you to save tens of thousands. Forget the relaxed pace of life and the sense of adventure and excitement of exploring a new place. Forget the international investment opportunities, lower tax rates and secondary passports/residencies. Immersion travel is also about connecting with the people. It’s about going native, learning how to understand the cultural sense of humor, the religion, the lifestyle and the people.
The average backpacker only ever samples the wares, taking little bites of each cultural dish as they pass but never really dipping into any one portion more than the others and moving on to the next buffet once they are finished sampling the wares from the first one. It’s a lifestyle of adventure and exploration, no doubt, and it’s one that suits some people very well, but it’s not the type of travel that allows you to really sink your teeth into a dish.
Immersion travelers, on the other hand, are eating large portions of each dish, choosing to stay at one buffet and stuff themselves on as many helpings they can fit onto their plate, moving on from the appetizers to the main courses, the deserts, aperitifs and beyond. The thought of the next buffet is the last thing on their mind; they are intent on exploring the diversity at this table as fully and as completely as they can before they worry about the next one.
It’s an unfortunate aspect of backpacking and being nomadic; you never really get to explore the depths of a country. I may have spent days and weeks traveling to Macedonia while I was living in Bulgaria, and I may have gone to Greece and Italy multiple times, but I never really experienced those cultures because I was only ever passing through, spending a few nights here, a few nights there, taking pictures, hanging out with people at hostels, kicking back beers with fellow nomads and enjoying myself…but never really getting to know the people behind the place I was exploring.
Through immersion, however, one gains the ability to connect, to explore the full potential of The Human Experience, to become one with the culture you are living in. You spend weeks that turn into months that turn into a year and then into two years and before you know it you’ve set up a new home…which can either become your permanent base of operations or you can use it as one of many different hubs as you work your way around the globe, setting up bank accounts and secondary passports and citizenships for your investment opportunities and medical tourism. But by spending time there, by living on the ground, speaking the native tongue, making local friends, dating local people, shopping at the local markets day in and day out, getting to know the names of the street vendors and the shop owners and the discount days and the best subway routes and which hours are worst for traffic…only through immersion do you actually transition beyond just-passing-through.
And only then can you truly know a destination and its people. A couple of nights of bar-hopping with locals while you are staying at the local hostel will never achieve the same level of connectivity that weekends of bar-hopping and hiking and movies and actual friendships and relationships can bring, and without that friendship, without those connections, you will never really experience the true nature of a city or a country. Instead, you are merely passing through, sampling the wares as you go.