Have you ever struggled to pick the perfect travel destination? This week’s post comes from W. Garrett Reynolds, a seasoned traveler who offers excellent advice on how to pick a travel locale. Thanks for being here, Garrett!
My fluorescent computer screen will not give me cancer. I know this because I am a medical professional by training, although mostly it’s because a guest speaker said so during one of my physician assistant classes. I sincerely hope this is true. From the beginning of my initial web search “temperature Egypt June” to clicking “submit” on Lufthansa’s purchase submission page, I have spent roughly 15 hours researching, comparing, pacing, calling friends and family, and procrastinating. Because of this, I have a working knowledge of where and when to travel for the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean, and I had to choose just one. I had 10 weeks to travel and no easy resolution to a simple question: Where should I go?
Carmen San Diego never had this problem
Let’s start with a few basic premises: The world is incredibly diverse, there is a lot to experience, and it is impossible to visit all of it.
I used to organize foreign travel around people I already knew or wanted to know better. Visiting someone was a great way to discover a new country—I had a host, a place to stay, and a cultural sphere to explore. The backpacker’s international lifestyle produces a lot of instant friends in a way that is only analogous to college and, perhaps, with especially liberally-minded people at professional conferences. A few beers here, a few indigenous imbibements later, a bunch of photos inadvisable for Facebook, and, all of sudden, everyone on a tour group, hiking expedition, or simply staying in the same hostel are bonded forever.
With a new job starting in a couple months, though, my new contract would not afford me more than the typical two weeks vacation to continue to explore the Big Wide World. Literally and figuratively, I was potentially looking at my last hurrah.
With no offense intended to my friends around the world, I had to think of places I would be sorry for not visiting. Forget apples and oranges—how would I compare the dragonfruits of Asia to the grapes of Italy? If I never saw the pyramids, would that be worse than never seeing the Acropolis of Athens? What if I never made it to Asia? Would I be in a room with fellow travelers and mocked because I missed an entire continent? I could hear their comments: “I can’t believe you have never been to Asia (or Italy, or seen the pyramids)! Have you seriously never been to the world’s largest continent (one of the most common vacation destinations, something every 6-year-old knows about)?” My mind raced with imaginary scorn.
Entering a matrix to come out of the rabbit hole: Southeast Asia vs. the Middle East vs. the Mediterranean
When faced with this kind of unique opportunity—having no particular place to travel or specific reason for traveling—these are the criteria I recommend analyzing and weighing, in order of my personal importance.
1. What is the objective?
This seems simple enough, but talking with other travelers, it’s a concept often forgotten. Is the purpose to relax? To sightsee? To meet new people? To experience a novel culture? Learn a new language?
In my case, I had just finished a three-month tour of South America, and I wanted to travel and be able to plan my trip as I went. Also, I would continue to need to keep up with management at my workplace via Internet and Skype. Convenience would be an advantage. Due to my familiarity from previous trips to Europe, the Mediterranean had a slight advantage here. Southeast Asia and the Middle East has a much more friendly technological and English-speaking business infrastructure than most people suspect, and I likely would have encountered few hassles there as well. But I could see myself spending a lot of time doing research about those unfamiliar areas while traveling, spending valuable sightseeing time tied to the dreaded computer screen.
2. How much money do you want to spend?
This is an important consideration and could be a deal-breaker. Were this my primary consideration, Southeast Asia would win in a landslide. It was certainly a factor, but this significant advantage was offset by the next criterion.
3. What will the weather be like?
Many online travel guides give good advice about when to travel where, and this is no small consideration. The weather can have a pronounced impact on feel of a place. Much of Southeast Asia experiences its wet season during the summer months. While it does not typically last all day, the unpredictability of rain increases hassle, and I did not want much hassle (see criterion #1). The Middle East is blazingly hot during the summer. It’s no accident most privileged Saudi’s head for the cooler beaches in the summer.
4. Gut-check: Are you going because you think you should, or because you really want to go?
This issue is not universal, but I have met a lot of backpacking travelers who go places because they “should” or “have to go” or to be a “completionist.” Some people see countries as merit badges. Hopefully, they are maximizing the fun they are having because there are real opportunity costs to travel. Going one place means not another, and time spent in an unknown country with poor tourism infrastructure means not going somewhere else with more sites. Conversely, if you’d rather be in a country with an incomplete infrastructure, you spend more time in a tourist trap.
All roads lead to more traveling
I eventually decided on a trip to Athens that takes me over land and sea to Italy. I still have to sheepishly admit I have never really been to Asia (only Istanbul), but I have no regrets. Maybe I could have just thrown darts, but no knowledge goes wasted. I have an early start for the trips I haven’t taken… yet.
What are your favorite travel destinations? How did you decide where to go?
W. Garrett Reynolds is a physician assistant in St. Petersburg, Florida, and occasional contributor to the Physician Assistants for Global Health magazine The Nexus. He is a former Arts and Entertainment writer for the University of Idaho publication The Argonaut and a recipient of a regional Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Garrett has traveled to 21 countries, the lower 48 United States, and intends to visit every country at least once in his lifetime.