The Travel Conundrum: Depth vs. Breadth
Photo from Etienne Gerardet on Unsplash
Photo from Tim Meyer on Unsplash
International travelers often face this dilemma: if I have limited time, should I see a little bit of a few countries, or choose one country and explore it in greater detail? As is the case with a lot of travel questions, I don’t think there’s one objective answer to this question; it’s a matter of personal taste. Supposedly, there’s no accounting for taste, but if taken literally, I would dispute this with some foods.
In my travel novel The Perfect Culture, I often talk about the Aristotelian middle, or moderation between two extremes. I would say this idea applies here as well. I’m not in favor of only seeing the capital cities or very large cities. In my view, it’s important to see smaller places to get a different perspective about a country. New York City is an amazing place, but it certainly doesn’t represent all of the U.S. Focusing too much on large cities is the breadth extreme.
On the other hand, I don’t think that it’s necessary to see every waterfall in Iceland, every famous church in Europe, every mosque in Turkey, etc. This is the depth extreme. Perhaps some travelers would disagree with me, but after a few waterfalls, they all begin to look and feel the same. You reach the saturation point, and the marginal benefit of each additional waterfall begins to become very small for me.
It is still possible to explore a country in depth without overdoing one aspect such as churches or waterfalls. Therefore, the question remains. If I have limited time, should I focus more on breadth or depth? I prefer the breadth approach for similar reasons that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Even if I have a variety of experiences in one country, it doesn’t provide the same stimulation as getting a taste of a few different countries.
When I traveled to the Stans for two weeks in 2018, I saw three of them: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. It is quite possible to spend two weeks in any of these three countries. However, I liked seeing the contrasts between the different countries. There was some variation in the food and certainly a lot of variety in the geography. Likewise, it is quite conceivable to spend three weeks in Turkey. However, if I have three weeks available, I would rather split the time between Turkey and Greece or some other country nearby.
If you really want to see a country in depth, there is no substitute for living there. There is only so much that you can experience being a tourist. It is possible to learn quite a bit regardless from an in-depth tour, but my personal tastes are inclined towards breadth, in Aristotelian moderation, of course.