Much as I love the sound of my own voice (or the look of my words on a page), I started writing this as a way to encourage people to travel more and travel more widely. So let’s talk about what’s on your list. Don’t worry, I’ll start you off with some of my words.
When I was a teenager, there was one place on The List: Rome. I was a classics nerd and a Latin student and Rome was the pinnacle of travel goals. When I went at 17, I was not disappointed. Rome sated my ancient stuff desires and provided the romanticism I was seeking. When I returned 5 years later, my priorities had shifted, and my appreciation for Rome was compromised by my inability to find “the REAL Rome.” The city is gorgeous and filled with things to see and do and I couldn’t figure out where the Romans were (my fault, not Rome’s). That summer, in which I traveled widely in Europe and a little in North Africa, changed what my travel goals were to some extent: I wanted to get to know the places I went, not just see them. Of the many memories I cherish from that summer were the evenings we spent in Essaouira, Morocco, talking long into the night with the proprietor of a restaurant, the name of which has been lost to memory, along with my wallet that had the business card.
[Note: I recently went back to look at the photos I took that summer on a camera that had film. They are, to the last photo, blurry. I will not be scanning and uploading them. You would have nearly no idea what you were looking at.]
Leaving the tourist circuit behind is a difficult choice. How many times will you reasonably expect to visit a place and can you really afford to not go see a major attraction? I feel that acutely. It took me 3 visits to Paris before I braved the Louvre. But I have the luxury of knowing I will visit France many, many times in my life: my goddaughter is French. I visit her. I always tack on a couple of days in Paris. When I visit Paris, I pick one or two things I’d like to visit – the last trip it was…oh wait, nothing. I was in Paris last year on the most perfect spring weekend, a weekend during which it would have been almost a sin to be indoors – so I walked, I outdoor cafe-d, I struck up conversations with people at restaurants, I went in search of the perfect baguette with ham and cheese (still haven’t found it – have eaten a lot of B+/A- ones, but the A+++ is still out there). Fine. The time before that, we finally made it to the Pompidou and the Catacombs (definitely do the former, you can skip the latter). Despite having been to Paris more than half a dozen times, I have yet to go to Pere Lachaise, the Musee Branly, Palais Garnier, or made the trip out to Versailles. But the 2 hours I once spent drinking citron presses and people watching in the Tuileries are 2 hours I wouldn’t trade.
In fairness, on a short trip, you’re unlikely to make meaningful connections with locals or really understand what makes a place tick, but the glimpses I get may well be, at this point in my life, more important than crossing another museum off my list.
I do, actually keep a The List. The next 20 places I’d like to go. Last year, Namibia was the place on the list we visited; this year, though, we called an audible with Sudan – it hadn’t been on the list. I am actively pursuing a November trip and all of the options are The List locations.
The List has its challenges: New Zealand, for example, is a place that needs more time than we currently have. Even two weeks doesn’t feel sufficient. Rwanda, which we could competently visit in 10 or so days, will be very expensive as we want to go gorilla tracking. I understand why it’s expensive, and I support it being expensive, it’s just, at the moment, more expensive than I can swing.
Having The List is important to me. I have visited a number of places I would happily return to: it’s been 20 years since I was in Morocco, I’d love to see it again; we just got back from Namibia and I would go back in a heartbeat; that dive trip to Mozambique…I can’t stop thinking about doing that trip again (with fewer broken cameras); and don’t even get me started on how much more Malaysia there is that I want to see. But I am all too cognizant of the fact that time is a limited resource and there’s a lot of world I still want to see. The List reminds me how much I am looking forward to Turkey (I am not counting our 12 hours in Istanbul as a trip to Turkey), Sri Lanka, Colombia, and diving in Indonesia. It challenges me to risk the unexpected at the expense of the comfortable. The List reminds me why I like to travel in the first place.
So it’s your turn. Tell me some places on your list. Tell me why you put them on the list. Tell me if you’re planning on going any time soon and, if not, tell me what’s stopping you. I promise, I can learn to shut up and listen for a spell.