How great is it to travel? To meet new people, see new places, experience different cultures, live life the way life is lived somewhere else. Plenty of good things are associated with travel, but there’s one particular issue that can make traveling annoying: the spelling. Travel is easy enough to spell and not at all confusing, but “traveling,” “traveler,” “traveled”? These words are a common cause of confusion because some people spell them with one L while others use two.
Traveling or travelling depends on where is your audience. Traveling is the preferred spelling in the U.S. Travelling is the preferred spelling in the UK or in the Commonwealth. This American-British spelling difference carries for other forms: traveled or travelled and traveler or traveller.
To clarify, if you look through books or magazines for examples, you’ll see that both spellings are used, but the two-L version tends to be used in publications that also use spellings like “colour” or “flavour.” Those publications are written in British English, while the ones that use shorter spellings—“traveled,” “flavor,” and “color”—are written in American English. So the difference between “traveling” and “travelling” is really a variation of dialect. Both spellings are correct. Or, more precisely, neither one of them is wrong.
The word travel has more than one syllable—it’s a multisyllabic word. In American English, when a multisyllabic word ends in a vowel and a consonant (in that order), you double the consonant when adding a suffix only if the stress falls on the final syllable. For instance, in the word repel, the stress falls on the final syllable, which means that you double the consonant when you add a suffix: repelling. But in travel, the stress falls on the first syllable, so there’s no doubling.
“Traveling” and “travelling” shared the same fate as many other words in the English language that have two different spellings. The person who’s usually credited (or blamed) for this is Noah Webster—the Webster of Merriam-Webster dictionary fame. He was a linguist and lexicographer who greatly influenced American English. Webster preferred the shorter versions of many words that had multiple spellings. He included the shorter versions in his dictionaries, and, over time, they became dominant in the United States. At the same time, the rest of the English-speaking world gravitated toward the longer spellings. So, while both Americans and Brits can travel, the former can enjoy traveling while the latter can enjoy travelling.
The United States is pretty much alone in using the shorter form. Canada and Australia generally follow the rules of British English, and that’s why Canadians and Australians can be fond of travelling, not traveling.
By now, you probably know when to use which spelling—it should conform to the place your audience is. If you’re writing a paper for a college class in the United States, you should use the shorter spelling. However, if you live in the United States but are applying for a job in Australia, you could instead choose to use the spelling they prefer.