How We View World Geography Based on Our Origin

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Every time I visit Europe, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. There’s so much to see and do within a relatively small geographical footprint. I could hop on a train in any direction from just about anywhere in Europe, and within a few hours I’d be in a different country with its own unique language, culture, food, and people.

This post was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

But I’m seeing this through my Canadian eyes; where you can spend a week solid on a train and still not leave the country. Where the only overland travel reprise from Canadian soil is the US (which, arguably, isn’t all that different culturally or linguistically, as much as I and many other Canadians generally like to disagree).

Here in Europe, people seem to have a different view of geography.

For example, here’s a conversation I had about the dating game with a friend from Holland:

Me: I once dated somebody in Canada who lived 500kms away. We would drive the 5+ hours to see each other on weekends.

Her: (shocked silence)

Me: Yeah, it was a little rough, but we managed.

Her: I just broke up with a guy because he lived too far away and neither of us could be bothered with the distance.

Me: Oh really? How far apart were you?

Her: A 40-minute drive.

Me: (shocked silence)

The Professional Hobo spending A Weekend in Paris while living in Switzerland. Geography

More recently, I mentioned to the homeowners I’m house-sitting for here in Switzerland that I might hop on a train to visit Paris to see a friend for a couple of days.

Again, my comment was met with raised eyebrows and confused blinking eyes. It seemed almost ludicrous to them that I’d go all that way for such a short time.

(Good thing I didn’t tell them I was also considering hopping on a plane to London for a couple of days as well, as they’d surely have written me off as bonkers. But even my Canadian blood figured that was just a wee bit too far out of the way for such a short time).

Two other Swiss friends cited the Glacier Express (an iconic train ride in Switzerland) as something they’ve always wanted to do. “Ah well, maybe before I die,” one of them said casually. Why haven’t either of them done it already, if it has been on their wish list for so long? I mean, it IS in your backyard, isn’t it?

Maybe not so much, depending on where you’re from and your geography frame of reference.

The Effects of Extreme Travel

I took distance and geography to extremes last year during the Ultimate Train Challenge, when I covered over 25,000kms across over 10 countries by train in just 30 days.

Contrast this to the 16,000kms I covered by train in a similar time frame the year prior – except all in one country (Australia).

In both cases, these travel missions were much more about the journey than the destinations. And in both cases, I collapsed afterwards from travel fatigue so pronounced that I needed weeks to recover.

But the stimulus – and recovery time required – from the Ultimate Train Challenge was significantly higher, due in part to flying through so many different countries and cultures in such a short time.

peaceful mountains of Switzerland with farmland in foreground


Fast Travel, Slow Travel

When I was planning a solo trip through Europe a few years ago, again I had stars in my eyes. I had about five months to play with, and after living in the large and geographically isolated country of Australia for over a year (including surviving the traumatic Victorian Bush Fires), I had become stir crazy for a change of scenery.

I had visions of blanketing Europe with “all that time” I had, but quickly realized that satisfying a tick list of desired destinations wasn’t enriching, nor was five months a particularly long time frame.

wandering the streets of Spain in 2010

That trip was my first realization that I preferred slow travel; with a preference to see fewer places in favour of immersion and getting an inkling of what daily life involves in the places I visit.

But old habits die hard.

Years on, with all sorts of slow and fast (and extreme) travel experiences under my belt, my Canadian blood got all a-tingle when I decided to spend this summer in Switzerland.

Over two months! That’s so much time! I’ll be able to see and do so much!

Ha. Not so much.

Despite a quick trip to Paris, I’ve stuck relatively “close to home” here in Switzerland, rarely venturing more than a few hundred kilometres from Zurich.

Living Somewhere vs. Traveling There

Now that I’m here “living” in Switzerland (even if only for a summer), and not traveling through it on a vacation or mad train challenge, I too, am starting to see world geography a little differently.

Yes, a couple of hours of travel in just about any direction could see me crossing a border between countries, cultures, and language.

But to what end?

What about the country I’m in right now? Where the language is still gobbledygook to me and where something as simple as a trip to the supermarket still fascinates me?

I chatted with an Irish fellow once about how he got started on his traveling lifestyle:

“Well, I spent the first 10 years traveling through Ireland, which – considering the size of the country – most people don’t understand.”

But now that I’ve spent some time in Europe, I think I’m beginning to understand – despite my own Canadian roots.

You can spend a lifetime exploring your own backyard; whether or not it’s close to somebody else’s backyard is irrelevant – unless, of course, you’re convinced that the grass is greener over there.

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15 thoughts on “How We View World Geography Based on Our Origin”

  1. Another Canadian here, totally guilty of misjudging geography. I haven’t even seen all of my own province (Alberta) so I don’t know why I manage to think a day or two would be enough time to see an entire province/state/country. I still do though, and I’d probably hopping from country to country if I was in Europe, before realizing I should slow down and enjoy where I am, as you’ve learned.

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  2. Ohhh, I totally did I pop in visit to Geneva when I was living in London, for a weekend – http://jouljet.blogspot.com/2006/02/coupe-davis-geneva.html Ha!
    I didn’t see anywhere near the “country”, but got a good tourist sense of the city….and loved it.

    I loved the option of weekend trips away when based in London, as I have done from Toronto this Summer.

    I think it’s about seizing the opportunities when they are there…

    But then as an Aussie, like a Canadian, it’s such a novelty to be able to travel for an hour or 2 and be in a different country!

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  3. Hi Nora,

    you should compare apples with apples!!

    In other words, travelling habits of a Canadian woman like you should be compared with travelling habits of Australian women ( same age, more or less ) because Canada and Australia are pretty similar: very large from a geographical point of view, underpopulated, lots of raw materials, similar historical and cultural roots.

    Holland is an European country, it is very small and overpopulated in relation to its dimension and even if local mindset is very advanced, it remains a small country with all the implied living habits.

    Another example: comparing travelling habits of single Italian women ( 25 – 35 ) with travelling habits of single American women ( same age range ) would be completely misleading!!

    It’s true we live in a global village but cultural and living habits still remain among western countries and in some cases within the same western country.

    All the best!

    Fab, greetings from Italy.

    PS I would have not dated with a girl 500kms away, but I dated with a girl 100kms away but it was a bit stressful!

    50 kms away would not be a problem at all!!

    But the average Italian man and woman don’t like to date with someone 50 kms away!!

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  4. Important Correction of my previous post!!

    Not:

    cultural and living habits still remain among western countries.

    But:

    DIFFERENT cultural and living habits still remain among western countries.

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  5. @Tash – I think short weekend-style trips can be lovely for two reasons: they offer a nice change of scenery (sometimes a change is as good as a rest), and they also offer a taste of a place – helping us determine if/when we want to come back and stay longer. So glad you enjoyed your summer in Canada.

    @Fab – For me, the whole point of this post is to illustrate how we view things differently based on where we’re from, not to compare apples to apples! And yes, as in your example there are also similarities (such as Canada and Australia, as was also observed).

    One of the reasons I love travel is to observe differences – in culture, attitude, food, economy, lifestyle, etc. I think it is why many of us travel. And I love to write about those differences too (as I did so here); I think it is what defines our cultures and makes us unique.

    Here’s a question for you: You say most Italian men and women who live 50kms apart wouldn’t date….but would you date somebody who lives next door to you? (Or is that then too close?)

    Thank you for sharing your viewpoint!

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  6. Hi Nora,

    I didn’t want to provoke you when I said:

    “you should compare apples with apples!!”

    I just took for granted that an effective comparison should be made properly!!

    Professional bias!!!

    I was in a hurry and I wasn’t considering the fact that you had written the post in total freedom just to illustrate and not on analysis purpose!!

    I will pay more attention the next time!!

    As far as your question:

    “would you date somebody who lives next door to you? (Or is that then too close?)”

    I have a simple and strict rule:

    never date ( seriously or just for a quick adventure) with a woman who lives in your usual environment: office, gym, neibourhood, circle of close friends and so on!!

    And this for a simple reason: if something goes bad, we’ll see each other very rarely if it happens, better still never again!!

    Obviously, I can afford a behaviour like that because I have a nice physical appearance and an acceptable character,
    if I were an ugly man and/or if I were a man with a terrible character, I couldn’t apply a strict rule like that!!

    All the best!

    Fab

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  7. Just an integration.

    As far as:

    “Obviously, I can afford a behaviour like that because I have a nice physical appearance and an acceptable character,
    if I were an ugly man and/or if I were a man with a terrible character, I couldn’t apply a strict rule like that!!”

    I took for granted that it also depends on the results of dating experiences, back in my early twenties!!

    Knowledge makes you smarter, experience make you wiser!!

    All the best!

    Fab

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  8. The conversations you had with a dating game partner is an illustration of how boundaries vary to people, much with geography. Living in the Philippines, surrounded by waters, we opt for speed travel on air however, the beauty comes to unfold when your plane touches down the tarmac of a foreign country, 2hrs or 4 hours away from your own. Indeed, our travels defined us and sets apart our own understanding of geography.

    Thanks for this. Cheers 🙂

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  9. @Wends of Journeys – Short-haul flights are also a common way of getting around in the Caribbean. Is air travel in the Philippines cheap enough that people do it all the time? Would you go to another island for a day trip?

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  10. This is so interesting! My sister is the nomad in our family while I am a homebody. It’s so interesting how people perceive travel. While in college I had no issue regularly traveling 5 hours to visit family and couldn’t understand why my (now husband) thought it was so far to travel. He grew up in the same area and didn’t have more than a 30 minute drive to see his parents. Now that we live full time in Maine (which I love) we don’t travel very much. First, we have a mortgage but that was our choice – we’re both homebodies. Second, we both feel like we have *so much* to see in Maine/New England still. There are so many nuances and sweet things in our own backyard we still haven’t experienced yet. We are hoping to go to Alaska within a couple years, but honestly we’re okay with being where we are. There are other countries I’d like to visit but I too, like the Swiss, have the “I’ll get there someday” mentality. For right now I’m super happy where I am and traveling within my own area to see new and beautiful nature. Not many people know that Maine has lots of natural waterfalls and natural rock slides and swimming holes deep in the mountains. 🙂 So while my sister blogs about traveling the world, I’m microtraveling in my own little piece of the world…and there’s still so much more to discover.

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  11. (side note: there is an amazing amount of different cultures in Maine, let alone New England. I never realized it until I started living here full time and had friends from all over the state. It’s interesting just how different S. Maine is from N. Maine, and I mean different. Different values, different ethics, different styles. Culturally, we’re all still Mainer’s but very very different. )

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  12. @Heather – It’s interesting how it was only until you moved to Maine that you discovered so many subtle nuances of the place that you find enriching. Our own backyard can be amazing, if we just take the time to check it out and stop looking to other backyards. 🙂
    (Coming from a full-time traveler, I’m sure this sounds a little bit odd…..but I have my own reasons for traveling, and it’s one of the reasons I like slow travel. There is no right or wrong answer or choice, I believe).

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