Traveling vs. Travelling: What’s the Difference?

“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 Britannica explains, “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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Etymology

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. 

Definitions

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-Webster defines 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.

Synonyms

According to Thesaurus.com, synonyms for traveling include:

  • itinerant
  • roving
  • carried
  • conveyed
  • freighted
  • mobile
  • moving
  • passing
  • shipped

Other Words and Phrases

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. 

The Words in Context

“…Experts say that traveling by car may be the safest option in a pandemic — but road trips still come with risks.”
The Washington Post, “Hitting the Road? Here’s What to Know…”

“An expanding list of Canadian politicians are in hot water after being caught vacationing or travelling abroad amid a worsening COVID-19 pandemic at home.”
CTV News, “Growing List of Canadian Politicians …”

“New York City has introduced quarantine rules for international travellers following emergence of new Covid variants in countries like the UK.”
BBC News, “Coronavirus: New York City Orders International Visitors…”

“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…”

Sources: 

  1. https://www.etymonline.com/word/travail
  2. https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=travel
  3. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/traveling
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/travel
  5. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/traveling?s=t
  6. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken
  7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/tips/road-trip-rest-stop-covid/
  8. https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/growing-list-of-canadian-politicians-caught-travelling-abroad-despite-pandemic-1.5251039
  9. https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2020/02/03/english-official-language-these-five-countries/4556924002/
  10. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55432977