Saturday, January 28, 2017

We Help Kill What We Love

As an avid traveler and experienced globetrotter, I often enjoy watching shows such as the two that are hosted by Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Anthony Bourdain likes to explore the world specifically through experiencing all different kinds of food. Although he is a chef, he also digs into the places, people, and cultures that he visits as well. I like watching these shows to get ideas for my next trip, learn more about places that I have plans to visit, and to relive some of the places in this world that I truly love.

Aside from simply recommending that you watch these shows, I'd like to reflect a little on something Anthony Bourdain once said on air. If I remember correctly, he was traveling in Laos and filming an episode of No Reservations. He was in a remote part of the country witnessing the monks stand in a line and receive alms when he commented that "that's the problem in making travel television, when we succeed, we inspire others to travel to the places we care about. And, in a sense, we help kill what we love."

On the surface, Anthony Bourdain doesn't seem like one of the deepest people you'd ever meet, but in that moment, he realized something and he had a great point. When we travel and visit new places, we often recommend to others that they should go. I find myself describing places as being "less touristy" in a positive way, but, in essence, when I do that, I am encouraging people to visit and essentially destroy what I loved about that place by making it more touristy.

Along with other avid travelers, I like to find the places that few people visit. There is nothing worse, in my mind, than being surrounded by hundreds of Americans (or just other travelers) taking pictures and buying souvenirs. I generally don't like the places that everyone says "you have to go". In fact, often when I hear about a tourist attraction that I "have to see", I think "what are my alternative options?" The Great Wall of China is a perfect example of this. Everyone told me I had to see the Great Wall and, although I didn't disagree, I wasn't very excited about going to the part of the wall that all the tour groups go. If that was my only option, I would've went, because the Great Wall was something I really wanted to see, but instead I sought out an alternative. There are other pieces of the wall that are close to Beijing, but most people don't visit them because they are overgrown and not maintained to look like they haven't aged over the last several hundred years. I didn't need to see the restoration of the tourist part of the wall; I wanted to see what it was really like (and it was a bonus that there were very few people there). But a problem that could stir my morals is that now that I've told people about this kind of alternative trip, they may go there too. And then they will tell people who also may go. Eventually this amazing part of the wall may be overrun by tourists and in great disrepair. So that is the conundrum. I want my friends, family, colleagues, etc. to have the same amazing experience I had, but in doing so it may kill the experience all together.

I'm not exactly sure what the answer is to this problem. I don't think ceasing my travels is the best choice, but maybe promoting conservation and traveling with less carbon footprint could be a start. I'm all about traveling light, taking public transportation, walking when possible. I prefer not to fly when I can take a train or a bus. I choose hostels and Airbnb over fancy hotels. So I guess I am a bit of a conservative traveler in a way. Now I need to figure out a way to promote this idea even more.

I feel like this was the heart of Anthony Bourdain's pondering too. I'd love to know if he has any alternative solutions or at least how he deals with this dilemma and still continues to travel the world. I might just have to keep watching his shows to see if he has further comments.

Monday, January 2, 2017

45 by 30

As we move into a new year, people often reflect on the year past. Seeing how I will be turning the big 3-0 in this coming year, 2017, I'm led to reflect on more than just the last year. Lately, I've been thinking about the last ten years of my life. It's been quite a decade!

If you know me well or if you've looked at my "Where I've Been" section of this blog, you'll know that I've been to 42 different countries in my lifetime (so far). Most people find this quite extraordinary, but what I find most amazing is that out of those 42 countries, I've been to 30 of them for the first time between when I turned 20 and now. Out of the 12 that I had been to before I hit the age of 20, I've been back to 7 of them in my twenties (some of them I've been to several times). That means that I've been to 37 countries in the last ten years.

As I've been getting closer to my next decade of life, I've been thinking about whether or not I should have a goal to hit before I turn 30. As I'm closing in on this milestone, a realistic goal has been getting clearer. It would be nice to be able to hit 50 by 30, but that seems a bit insurmountable at this point, even for me. At my peak, I may have been to about 20 countries in one year, but with my current job and lifestyle, this volume is a little bit  more infeasible. So a more realistic goal would be 45 by 30. That means that I have to go to 3 new countries before October 2017. Depending on how this year shapes up, that could be quite difficult or really easily. We'll have to see how things go. I already have a trip to Nicaragua planned in a few weeks, so that's a pretty good start.

I always like to think that my lifetime goal is 100 countries, but at the rate I'm going, I often think that that isn't ambitious enough. I have so many places I want to go, but I've already been to many of the easy marks in Western Europe where it takes little effort to rack up 20 countries in a year. At this point, I have a hard time imagining going to more than a handful of countries each year. I guess I'll just have to see where life takes me.