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I’m not going to beat around the bush; this is the last post here on The Traveling Philosopher. And by some definitions, therefore my last blog post as a travel blogger.
It was four years ago that I had recently arrived in Costa Rica, the first Latin America stop on what was to be something of an indefinite, long-term trip around the world. Just months prior I had started this blog, The Traveling Philosopher, as a place that I could color outside the lines. Somewhere that I could put on paper everything that was in my head, where I didn’t have to abide by a publication’s style guide or an editor’s do and don’t list. I wanted it to be an expression of my feelings. And there was a lot, like unresolved feelings about the passing of my father, anger at the loss of my dream job, disappointment at a pile of debt, and discouragement of an impending divorce.
Our tiny prop plane came to a stop at the end of Little Cayman’s Edward Bodden Airfield (located on one of two Grand Cayman sister islands) at what looked like little more than a bus stop for no longer than a bus stop to drop off and pick up a couple passengers. No longer than a couple minutes later and we were off again, but just for a grand total of six minutes before arriving at my fourth, and last airport of the day, Captain Charles Kirkconnell International Airport, on Grand Cayman’s other sister island, Cayman Brac. A destination I would later come to label as my most authentic island experience to date. I both wanted to tell everyone and no one about it.
Does travel, and more specifically, tourism, ruin a destination? This is a question I’ve repeatedly asked myself, and one that I’ve approached yet again following the big recent news that the U.S. and Cuba are restoring diplomatic relationships. As excited as I was to hear the news, what was most interesting from a travel perspective was seeing that on the day the news broke, there was an increase in Cuba travel searches on TripAdvisor by 300%. But as excited as I am about the possibility of traveling to Cuba and ordering a Hemingway Daiquiri at El Floridita, where Hemingway himself consumed many a daiquiri, my excitement is guarded, knowing what I’ve observed from destinations that have seen an influx from American tourists.
How many countries have you been to? That’s the question I’m most frequently asked. When I lived in the south I was repeatedly asked who my family was (or when I was getting married or having kids). When I moved out to the west coast I was asked what I did for a living. And now when I tell people what I do, I’ve been increasingly asked how many countries I’ve been to. All of these questions, however, seem to be a question of status. I live amidst a generation that is the first to have the accessibility it does to travel. A person with the desire and means could travel to every single country if they wanted to. And people have, like author Chris Guillebeau, who recently visited every single country (193) in the world, using frequent flyer miles and RTW tickets to travel to more than 25 countries per year before reaching his goal. And what a milestone. It wasn’t long ago that it was simply impossible to visit every country in the world. Now that’s possible.
I felt so Bilbo-esque four years ago when I said to myself, “Let’s go on an adventure.” Maybe Bilbo even felt like me, as if his life should have more meaning than it did. On paper, the age of 27 saw me with a philosophy degree, a divorce, debt, a recently deceased father, and a resume that most recently included video store clerk after being laid off from my dream job. So what was the natural thing to do? I’ll tell you what the natural thing was NOT to do. It’s not to quit the only job you have to start your own business as a freelance writer/consultant, leave all of your possessions, and then travel the world without any saved money.
But I did just those things. But while I’ve been fortunate enough to travel my entire life, I always viewed travel as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. A trip was simply the collection of experiences between the time I stepped onto the plane (or into the car) until I stepped off. I didn’t see travel as something that affected my life beyond the actual trip itself. That all changed, however, when I bought a one-way ticket to Central America.
I remember so vividly my first really proper international trip, to Johannesburg, South Africa 10 years ago. Though 10 years later I’m often tasked with the duties of documenting the highlights of destinations I visit, that first international trip was as much of a trip of lowlights (like our accommodations getting broken into twice and having a gun pulled on us in the township of Soweto) as it was of highlights (like attending my first professional rugby game and going on a safari through Kruger National Park).
Yet this summer has seen me do something that I largely hadn’t done before, and that’s revisit destinations abroad that I had previously traveled to. It’s brought with it a collection of experiences and feelings that only I could have had, and only I could have had in those destinations. It’s not a type of experience I could’ve had the first time I went to these countries, nor was it something I could have experienced without revisiting them. In that way, it felt like I was seeing the destination all over again for the first time.