Right around this time of year, everyone from The New York Times to AFAR puts out their annual guide on where to go, what's hot and what's not. (Beautiful photography included, of course.)
Recommending places is something we avoid for one simple reason. There are as many different palates for adventure as much as there are different shades of purple. Everyone's got a different opinion. At best, I can only tell you where I like to go.
Traveling is for the resource- and time-rich, and if you can do it, you should be thankful you can do it at all. 1 For people that have less of these things, there's usually pressure to make every cent and second count. Cue the endless research, discussion and guides that are really nothing more than that: guides.
Destination lists aren't definitive authorities—nothing is!—but should only serve as reminders of places that get frequently lost in the noise.
Canada may be awesome, but I've got better things to do and places to see this year.
Broad strokes for individual context
Bear with me a second, dudes.
Finding the right place to go is like finding the right lipstick. There are an infinite number of choices, from matte and gloss options to figuring out whether you want Roman Holiday pink or Kiss Me Bubbles pink. I hate Date Night Kiss pink! Not only do I have to figure out the look, the shade, how long it lasts in use and the cost, I'm also thinking about whether it matches with my skin tone and if I have similar lipsticks at home already.
Everyone has different preferences, and everyone has their own method of exploring. Combine that with varied cultural backgrounds, travel histories, levels of experience and most people are better off spinning a globe and pointing to a random location to determine their next adventure.
It all belies one tiny little fact: Exoticism, or how we perceive exoticism, is directly related to our own personal exposure and what we perceive to be accessible.
That core principle tends to color everything about how we might experience a place.
Connecting to a place
A few years ago, I had this distinct conversation with a couple about London. I instantly found out I shared a ridiculous love for London in common with the husband, to the point where we couldn't stop gabbing over it. The wife sheepishly admitted she found it just OK, but the shopping was good. She asked us to explain.
I exchanged a glance with the husband, and then he added without much explanation, “It's just a vibe.”
That's all there was to it. I nodded.
Strange as it sounds, places have different energies and frequencies. No amount of poignant words, intense research or degree of interest can convey those things across distance and space. The last thing to add to the mix is an anonymous stranger on the Internet telling you where to go.
Some places consistently take the “top spots” more than others. It's often hard to find people that dislike London and Tokyo vehemently—in most cases, reactions are often lukewarm even at the worst end of the scale. These cities are usually considered the great destinations of the world because they are sprawling and diverse, and because they are so diverse, appeal to some baseline within every person.
There's often nothing to signify how it'll turn out. I felt no connection to the country my parents emigrated from the first time I visited Vietnam. This didn't change in repeat visits. It was an interesting note to a background and cultural heritage I was intimate with—a society I could communicate and function in!—but there was no personal gravitas pulling me to it.
If I took it one step further and really admitted the truth: I disliked it.2 Even that lack of connection was fascinating.
I've also fallen in love with places I never thought I would, perceiving it as a footnote or a stopover to some grander adventure: Malaysia (a prelude to Singapore), Jordan (a prelude to Turkey), Mexico and countless others. There's my list, and there's my list.
So go ahead, take those articles and throw it in the gutter. Forget Canada or Cuba if you don't really care, go where you think you might want to go and explore even if you like it or you don't. It's the whole point.
- Nothing will make you more grateful of this than meeting someone who may never be able to step outside the country they grew up in, ever, by sheer virtue of the fact they were born in a poor country and will probably never have the means to do so. ↩
- And then there's people that don't feel like they belong in the place they actually did grow up in. ↩