This is the Travel Take, where Matador’s writers and editors make the case for their favorite travel hacks, tips, and personal tics.
We’re living in a golden age of travel. There were 1.4 billion international tourists in 2018, according to the World Tourism Organization, and, thanks to technology, it’s never been cheaper to get from one side of the world to the other. Yet in this rush to see sights far and wide, it’s easy to lose sight of the wonders close to home. International travel has by no means lost its appeal, but there’s a strong case for this decade to be the decade of microcations.
A microcation is a vacation that’s fewer than five nights. Because of the time restriction, microcations generally focus on places close to home that you can get to by car or train. It’s the decision to make the short drive from New York City to the Hudson Valley for a long weekend (and then take another long weekend in Washington DC the following month) rather than a two-week stay in Italy, for example. Microcations allow everyone in a time-strapped existence to see more places throughout the year. They also often come with a lower cost — both monetarily and to the planet.
Microcations are far from a foreign concept. A study by the travel insurance company Allianz Global Assistance found that 57 percent of Americans took at least one microcation in 2018 (whether they knew the term or not), lead by 72 percent of millennials. Twenty-nine percent of Millennials claimed they’d taken at least three. Despite how much easier it is to travel abroad than it was even 10 years ago, microcations are very much a style of travel perfect for the current era.
The most existential reason why has to do with climate change. Flights contribute carbon emissions many multiples more than any other type of travel. Research dug up by the New York Times found that each seat on a flight from New York to Los Angeles equates to a month of human-generated emissions. Put another way, a 2,500-mile flight releases enough greenhouse gases to melt 32 square feet of Arctic summer sea ice. Compare that to taking a car, bus, or train to somewhere closer to home. There’s a reason people in Sweden flight shame.
Then there’s the issue of time. Americans, in general, work too much and don’t use the vacation time available to them. In 2018, some 768 million vacation days were left unused. That’s not healthy (literally, considering that people who work through vacation time are sicker and have higher levels of anxiety). While you should take all of your time off, it’s much easier to schedule a trip around a couple of days on either side of a weekend than it is to cross multiple consecutive weeks off your work calendar.
Finally, there’s overtourism to consider. Cities like Amsterdam and Venice are imposing steep tourism taxes, while sites like Machu Picchu are limiting the number of visitors allowed. Cities that cater to tourists are steadily losing bits of local culture as international hoteliers and business owners bring the same minimalist aesthetic to all corners of Earth. You don’t have to look far in a new city to find a third-wave coffee shop that looks just like the one back home. Plus, the economies of smaller cities closer to home may be in more need of tourism dollars than somewhere like Barcelona.
Spontaneity comes easy when you’re closer to home and aren’t required to plan a trip months in advance. The same technology that makes long-distance travel easier — ride-shares, niche travel media, and affordable places to stay and experiences led by locals on Airbnb, to name a few — also make last-minute microcations easier to plan with minimal stress.
I’m not suggesting that people give up international travel. Learning about other cultures through the first-hand experience is irreplaceable and can’t be done without making the journey. Still, it’s impossible to ignore the impact of excessive long-distance leisure travel. The answer to traveling with fewer downsides, somewhat paradoxically, isn’t to travel less but to travel more. Just do it in shorter, localized increments. Microcations give you the opportunity to learn about the places right outside your city’s limits — places that are easy to put off seeing when the other side of the ocean is the same travel time by plane.
If you have the means, take that big trip and soak up as much local culture, eat as much local food, and take in as many local experiences as you can. Just do yourself a favor and also fit some microcations into your busy life. The softer impact on your wallet, and the climate, can make each one the trip of a lifetime.