If you listen to many travellers discussing their visited destinations, there’s this very ordinary verb that seems to be reconstructed in a way that, I argue, harms traveling as an experience more than we realize. That verb? to do.
For example: Rather than telling me that you have VISITED, TRAVELED, or BEEN to Barcelona, you say “I DID Spain.”
Rather than describing Mount Kilimanjaro as a place you CLIMBED or TREKKED, you DID Mount Kili.
Listen to a traveller describe their stories and I can almost guarantee you that the verb TO DO is used in this manner. You might even realize that you’ve used it yourself.
Have you ever thought about how peculiar that is?
The oddity of the use of this verb after traveling astounded me last week as I was listening to a couple describe their travel goals: “Well, we DID France last year and Germany we did the year before that, so I think we’re going to DO Italy in the fall.”
The problem with using the verb TO DO in travelling contexts is that it eliminates any notion of experiencing or visiting a place and, perhaps more dangerously, it creates this sense of places being mere boxes to be checked off and filed away — a “been there, DONE that” mentality.
If you analyze the word ‘to do’ in the dictionary, you’ll realize that we English speakers have lots of uses for the verb: It’s an auxiliary verb that helps us form questions (i.e. Where DO you work?” or form the past simple negative “I DID not go to the mall yesterday”. It’s also a word used to describe something that we have created or performed or achieved “I did my math homework; I am doing research; I have done that puzzle before.”
You might be thinking “okay, so achieving or performing all sound like ideas that can be experienced.
True. Except that the verb ‘to do’ when used in travel is conjugated into the SIMPLE form of the verb in the past or a continuous (albeit ending) form in the present: I did Mali last year. We are going to do Italy in September.
The simple form of a verb means something has the ability to be completed. For example, if you say “I did my homework”, you imply that your homework is finished. If you say “I am doing Italy in the summer,” the past continuous form tells your listener that you will continue to be in Italy for a while, but not for an indefinite period of time. At some point it will finish.
Can we ever really finish a country? Did my 2 week holiday in Australia mean that I just did Australia – that I completed it, can check it off some list, am willing to admit that it’s over.
I understand that people do establish travel goals and by visiting a city or country that goal may have been achieved. But by saying you “did” that place, not only are you grammatically implying that you completely finished a place (which is quite non-sensical) but, additionally, it shifts destinations from places we experience to places we simply ‘do’.
In communication courses, be it writing or verbal, students are always encouraged to expand their vocabulary use to ensure that their diction clarifies meaning. In my opinion, ‘to do’ is a far cry from the best possible verb we can use to convey the meaning of visiting a place.
As travellers, let’s not cheapen our experiences by implying that they were quickly finished and checked off a list. And let’s not cheapen the great depth, beauty, and intricacies of places by implying that they can ever be fully “done.”