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The New Language of Travel - 'I've Done That'

18/08/2015 09:14 BST | Updated 15/08/2016 10:59 BST

Maybe it's the fault of the ubiquitous bucket list or maybe it's just a simple piece of arrogance and vanity but hostels, social media and tourist trails are full of the words, 'I've done that'. What's the problem? The problem is that I'm not talking about filling in a form or booking something, I'm talking about visiting a place or landmark.

'I've done Asia, I've done the pyramids, I've done Machu Picchu.'

'I've done that'

It's a disturbing and concerning attitude that seems to be increasingly pervasive among the gap year generation. It's mostly worrying because it turns places and countries into commodities and leads people to believe that travel is about getting the passport stamp, not about experiencing anything.

Hostel conversations are full of this, 'I went to New Zealand last year...' - 'yeah, I've done New Zealand too.' These travellers may only have been to two places in North Island but it doesn't matter, they've 'done' it and thus feel no need to return or in any way appreciate other areas of the country. While British travellers would be outraged if an American visited London and said they'd 'done' the UK, why is it at we can 'do' South East Asia after backpacking in Thailand and Laos for three months? I met one American who'd been to the Canary Islands and thought they'd 'done' Europe.

Ancient monuments or wonders of the world fall victim to this same under appreciative way of thinking. People 'do' the pyramids, Stonehenge, Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu and the Grand Canyon. They've been there, taken a selfie and ticked it off their bucket list - which is usually created around society's expectations rather than their own desires.

On a recent trip to Peru I visited Machu Picchu and encountered several travellers who hadn't really wanted to go or hadn't really had time to fit it in but had forced it into their trip anyway because 'people won't understand if I said I went to Peru but didn't do Machu Picchu, y'know?' Yes, I do know, because that's the second problem with the new language of travel. If it's not quantifiable, it doesn't count.

Quantifiable travel

When you go travelling or on holiday to anywhere, those back at home will often try to quantify your experience by using famous places in the vicinity. If you didn't 'do' one of those when they ask then...oh...but...why not?...you went all the way to China but didn't see the Wall? You went to Egypt but didn't go to Giza? Oh.

In the same way that people like to do 'quantifiable' trips, like travel across a continent, climb the three tallest mountains, walk/drive/cycle around the world, dive on the Great Barrier Reef or tick some other societally acceptable boxes, it can be very difficult for people who have their own individual aspirations, that don't include Everest, so to speak.

When I set out to sail...somewhere...on my boat fourteen months ago I was met with a lot of confusion. 'Where are you sailing to?' I was asked repeatedly. 'I don't know,' I would say, 'South I suppose.' Now it's much more complicated as I've reached Panama, a rather serious crossroads for the sailor. 'Are you circumnavigating?' is now the question and when I say no, I'm met with a sort of disappointment.

I could sail the same amount of miles in probably tougher weather to more countries but if I haven't circumnavigated, it doesn't count. It's not quantifiable. The general thought seems to be, if I'm going to make all this effort to sail long distance then surely I may as well circumnavigate and 'tick it off'.

It gets to a point when you realise you're only ticking things off to make other people happy, not yourself. It's easy to understand a trip to Peru if you're going to see Machu Picchu, but if you're not? People will ask why. What's worse is that you find yourself explaining why you've decided to miss something famous, to justify yourself. And it's often people who are at the extremes of travel themselves who demand such explanations; either those who don't really travel at all, or those who 'do' everything and try to 'tick off' every bucket list place they can.

Who are you travelling for?

When did this begin exactly? When did extraordinary travel turn from explorers going to unknown places for the love of exploration to the media telling us the top ten 'hidden gems' to tick off your bucket list. If it's your bucket list, how do the media know what's on it? And how is anything a 'hidden gem' if it's featured in a national newspaper? Copenhagen was a hidden gem last year according to one major British newspaper, probably much to the chagrin of the hundreds of thousands of Danes who live there.

There are still unexplored, almost inaccessible parts of this world and there are huge mountain ranges barely touched, even in Europe, because why go there when you could tell people you've climbed Kilimanjaro or Everest? I even overheard a British father, standing in Machu Picchu ruins, say, 'well I feel like I've done Machu Picchu now, shall we go?'

Travel for the sake of tick boxes not only undermines even the most basic reasons for travelling, but distills whole nations into one landmark, one ruin, one temple. A country is more than the sum of its famous places. And you can circumnavigate without ever leaving the Southern Ocean, thus never seeing or steeping foot in any country at all.

Who wants to tick off someone else's bucket list? If you've always wanted to do a yoga pose on the Great Wall of China then fine, go ahead, Instagram that shit and show the world you've achieved your dream. But if you want to go travelling to a place that doesn't feature on a How Many of These Awesome Places Have you Been to list, then that's good too, go.

Similarly, if you're British and want to travel domestically, don't be ashamed that you're not going abroad, don't feel like you have to tick off Snowdon or Stonehenge or Buckingham Palace to justify it - just do what you want, it's your trip.

So I'm not going to circumnavigate, I didn't love the West Indies all that much and I didn't 'do' the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu...I took the bus up. Suck it.