At the beginning of the year, and even at the turn of the seasons or the start of each new month, the internet is awash with lists of ‘must eat foods’ or ‘destinations you have to visit now’. When applied to new trends and surging popularity in various foods, music, and films, these must have/see/do articles make some semblance of sense. Travel, to my mind though, is not a commodity. So here are just a few reasons why you shouldn’t buy into the typical traveller’s checklist.
Countries Are Not a Consumer Good
There’s something deeply uncomfortable about boiling down large chunks of our planet into commodities that must be consumed if we are ever to be happy, fulfilled, and switched-on human beings. These places don’t exist merely to be posted on Facebook, or sanitised by the perfect Instagram filter for family and friends back wherever home maybe. Rather, every single country has existed in its own unique way for millennia, and will still continue to exist long after it’s lost its fleeting novelty value in the public consciousness.
Every single part of our world is vibrant, different, and home to someone, somewhere, at any present time. Treating travel in such a way that we cast vast swathes of the Earth as something that exists merely to be devoured by our eyes and our money is damaging, not only to the communities who already call the names on this particular year’s ‘must see’ list home, but also to our own wellbeing as people. We shouldn’t keep on propagating the unfortunate myth that humans are merely locusts, moving from place to place for our own gratification, simply because someone in the media told us to. We’re all better than that. Aren’t we?
Cultures and Histories Aren’t Simply There to be Gawked At
This is, unfortunately, a side-effect of the previous problem as well as an issue in its own right. With international travel today being so comparatively quick and easy, there’s now no longer any real effort or learning experience required for us to get to where we want to go. Whereas in previous years, if I’d have wanted to get to India I would have had to travel over land and sea slowly, met various different cultures along the way, and been forcibly enveloped by all manner of people and experiences, now I can hop on a flight in London and be in New Delhi in just a few short hours.
This kind of travel is necessary for most people with limited time and budgets, but it isn’t conducive to any attempt to understand the place or people we’ve just been dropped into the middle of. In fact, it breeds a typical tourist mentality in which we stick to fellow travellers and don’t make any attempt to be aware of local or cultural customs, and so we begin that age-old colonial problem of ‘othering’ the people whose country we’ve just arrived in.
‘Must see’ lists exacerbate this problem by treating cultures, as well as countries, as something merely to be ticked off on a long list of consumable experiences.
Everyone is Different
Quite simply, there is no ‘must see’ destination that fits everyone. Whereas a perfect white sand beach with world-class rum and salsa bars might be your idea of the trip of a lifetime, I might find it to be an exhausting excursion into a hot, sticky purgatory of sunburn and sickness. I probably won’t, but you see my point.
Similarly, if I told you that my idea of an exhilarating trip was driving myself to exhaustion exploring a remote mountain, village, or jungle, I wouldn’t expect you to always agree with me. The only ‘must see’ destinations are the ones that capture your imagination and spark ideas and feelings that are unique to you alone. A media-driven list won’t capture that for anyone, and it certainly won’t capture it for us all.
Some of us want to see everything, and for those people travel in and of itself is the aim. For some others, there will be places dotted all around the globe that have caught their imagination at some point and which they will hope one day to be able to visit. But for even more others, the place they really want to be is ‘home’, and all of these things are valid. With all of this in mind there is no one place that everyone simply has to see. It just doesn’t exist.
The World is Always There
In 2016 I’ve read that Iceland, Ghana, Canada, Azerbaijan, Cuba, and Montenegro are the ‘must see’ places to visit this year, to name but a few areas that appear on a number of conflicting travel magazine lists. So my question is this: Why? Why, this year above every other, do we all desperately have to visit these places? What additional fulfilment will we get from making 2016 the year we see such a discrepant list of countries and cultures? The simple answer is we won’t. The selections are arbitrary.
So by all means use these lists to discover new places. Use them to find new horizons, kindle new desires, and spark new and extensive plans; but don’t use them to further fuel the notion that because we haven’t seen – and, let’s face it, can’t afford to see – everything on this year’s ‘Top 10 places around the world this year,’ we’re missing out. We’re not, and that’s mostly because treating the globe as a ticklist, this year or any other year, is neither necessary, desirable, or even possible. And that’s absolutely okay.