“Traveling” and “travelling” are both correct. The former is the preferred spelling in American English; the latter is the British spelling. In many places around the world, such as Australia and New Zealand, traditional British English has a stronger influence. As a result, people living in current and former British territories tend to prefer longer spelling variants, such as “colour,” “manoeuvre,” and “aluminium.” Even for words without longer and shorter versions, Americans and Brits sometimes use different letters, as in “pretence” (vs. “pretense”) and “analyse” (vs. “analyze”).
To be fair, many of these British spellings predate the American spellings. The United States adopted simpler variants and shorter spellings based on the work of one man: the lexicographer and linguist Noah Webster. At the turn of the 19th century, he wrote the dictionaries and textbooks that would come to define American usage. As the Encyclopædia Britannicaexplains, “Webster was instrumental in giving American English a dignity and vitality of its own. Both his speller and dictionary reflected his principle that spelling, grammar, and usage should be based upon the living, spoken language rather than on artificial rules.”
Webster decided that adding a suffix, such as the present participle -ing, should require double consonant spelling when the emphasis is on the last syllable in a multi-syllable word. Because the word “repel” has a stronger second syllable, “repelling” has two Ls. Words like “travel,” where the emphasis is on the first syllable, should be written with a single consonant.
So, that’s why both spellings work. Thanks to Noah Webster, Americans prefer traveling and South Africans prefer travelling.
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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “travel” probably comes from the vulgar Latin word tripaliare, “to torture.” That tells you how much people enjoyed journeys back in those days! By the 12th century, Old French adopted the word travail, meaning “work, labor, toil” or “arduous journey.” Use of the verb travailen in English dates back to 1300, and the spelling “travel” began appearing later that century.
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which likely dates from around 1606, we can see the line, “And yet darke Night strangles the trauailing Lampe.” In this example, we can see both the –ai- spelling variant and the use of the letter U for V sounds, which was common in the middle of a word.
The second edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1674) exhibits a spelling variant closer to the modern form of “travelled”:
And long he wanderd, till at last a gleame
Of dawning light turnd thither-ward in haste
His travell’d steps;
From these works, we can see that both the single L and double L spelling have historical precedents.
Merriam-Webster defines the word “traveling” as an adjective and lists “travelling” as a variant spelling.
The dictionary provides the following meanings:
going to different places instead of staying in one place
carried by, used by, or accompanying a traveler
Traveling can also be a conjugation of the verb “to travel.” Merriam-Websterdefines travel as, “to go on or as if on a trip or tour” and “to move or undergo transmission from one place to another,” among other definitions.
A “traveler’s check” is a preprinted check, used in the place of cash, intended to protect international travelers from theft. The Online Etymology Dictionary explains that the term originated in 1891.
A “travel-agent” or “travel agent” is a person or company employed to make travel arrangements. Although the term originated in 1925, the first travel agents (Cox & Kings) predated the moniker by over 150 years.
U.S. traveler Burton Holmes invented the word “travelogue” by combining the word “travel” and the Greek suffix –logue. A travelogue describes a piece of writing, a lecture, or a film about travel.
“Taking the path less traveled” is an idiom used to describe an uncommon choice. The phrase comes from the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken,” which contains the lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by.”
“Traveling light” is an idiom referring to someone who travels without much luggage. The phrase can also be used in a figurative sense to describe someone without ties or responsibilities.
“Belize is the only English-language-official country in Central America. As a popular tourist destination, English is spoken by everyone, and many prices are listed in U.S. Dollars (the Belize dollar is tied to the U.S. Dollar with a fixed exchange rate), making it a comfortable destination for first-time international travelers.” —USA Today, “Did you know? English is the Official…”
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.