How I like to travel, or, no beaches for me

After viewing plenty of travelers’ Instagram pages, I’ve been inspired to write a post about what I like to do when on the road. Before I move on with this, I’d like to say that this not meant to be read as a belittlement of other peoples’ styles, but rather a personal post of sorts. After all, we all have our own individual ideas on what constitutes a good trip eh?

For me, I always get surprising looks when I answer the question of, “If you could stay on a gorgeous beach or go somewhere colder, which would you pick?” Honestly, I think that, as nice as a beach could be, it’d get old very quickly. Besides, I feel like a sloth if I’m just lying around without anything to do. And then, I feel it’s a waste of a trip. I didn’t pay for airfare and lodging just to be a bum. There’s plenty of the world to explore, and for me it’s absolutely criminal not to delve into the local cultures. Look, I concede that sometimes there’s days when you don’t want to move. I get it. Just, take advantage of the fact that statistically, you are one of the lucky few to possess a passport.

Another thing I love to do is to visit the museums and/or cultural centers of each city I go to. (Hearing the muezzin and being able to visit a 400+ year old mosque in Sarajevo remains one of the coolest things I’ve experienced when abroad.) Sometimes it can be cliched, but there is no better way of understanding the local psyche like their attractions. Personally, it’s astounding for me that some people neglect to do this, even if lines are ridiculous. At the risk of sounding like a semi-deranged lunatic, my mantra is that travel should be meaningful. Why even bother traveling if you don’t engage with what’s around you? One pet peeve I see whilst on the road are the people who take the photos of super trivial things. I get it, Starbucks in Prague seems Instagram-worthy and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but guys, you’re missing the cup for the entire gorgeous city. Look up. Interact. Get lost. What you can find back home can be exciting at times, but if that’s your sole plan when outside your national boundaries, that’s a problem. On one hand, I know it’s not super enticing to go out of your way to experience culture when you sit back with a cold drink. The way I see it though is that the rest of life can be spent relaxing with those drinks. Why not spend time with memories? Plus, I’m an active guy, so finding the opportunities such as whitewater rafting in Bosnia (seriously, DO IT), snorkeling, hiking glaciers in Iceland, et al are things that get me excited. While you’re working on your tan, I’ll be sporting a badge of honor in the tan I got from paddling. (Debilitating sunburns aren’t included.)

One experience that stuck out to me was when I was sitting in a bus in Germany (via a cruise), and we were exploring the northern, coastal part of the country. My fellow passengers on the bus all opted to see Kiel and Lübeck, whereas other passengers had the options to either spend the day in Berlin or visiting a concentration camp. One woman was complaining that visiting a concentration camp wasn’t what she’d want as a cruise ship excursion because essentially it was “too depressing”. In a way, I couldn’t blame her-you didn’t want to think about the horrors humanity is capable of when you’re on a cruise. The flip side to that is, well, yes, it’s not all smiles, but when would you ever get a chance to see history in its rawest, bitterest form? Sometimes, you just need to make the most of your opportunities to learn regardless of the fact that may (temporarily) make you ponder and reflect. As I’ve constantly said, travel is the key to understanding, so chances like these are absolutely vital in my book. Never, for one second, forget how lucky you are to witness how others live and thrive.

Getting back on track to this post’s main idea, I’ll absolutely take a colder, lesser known destination any day. I won a free cruise almost three years ago, and I had the option of going back to Europe (the Baltic or the Mediterranean), South America, and Alaska. Guess which one I opted for. Yep, the Last Frontier. At the time, I thought it was a great decision and it still stands. I got to see a state that quite frankly, and I’m saying this with all due respect, doesn’t have a reputation. One of the most fascinating aspects was how you got to see life at a slower pace, and I’d most likely never be able to see that had I not chosen it as a destination. From the hospitable locals to the incredible nature, I can’t imagine being more enchanted by it all. Heck, I got to snorkel in Alaska, of all places! These are the memories I’ll always hold with me, and I think as a person and a traveler, the bar is raised for what I anticipate for future journeys.

Aside from the legendary Anthony Bourdain, some of my favorite travel writers are the guys who really go off the beaten track. Chuck Thompson and J. Maarten Troost best exemplify this: the former went to the notoriously fickle Democratic Republic of the Congo, of all places, and the latter literally packed up his life to move to the remote islands of Vanuatu, Fiji, and Kiribati. If you haven’t read their books yet, I highly encourage you to read some amazing acts of self-deprecation and borderline loathing. It’s great, and they both avoid the list of cliches you often see in travel writing. My point here is that super off the beaten path destinations end up resulting in far more salient journeys than your run-0f-the-mill ones.

All in all, I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made when traveling. I’ve seen some pretty awesome things and met some great people. Here’s to many, many years of traveling ahead along roads new and old!

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