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Where In The World?

Re-evaluating your priorities is the first step to getting travel back on the calendar…

By Doug Wallace

Now that you can’t go anywhere, where do you want to go? Moving beyond the pandemic reality, travellers will have fewer choices, more safety concerns and more inconveniences, all while likely to be strapped for cash. As retooling the nuts and bolts of international travel will make it more complicated than it already was, you’re going to need the whole experience – from door to door – to be worth the aggravation.

Adding to all the conjecture that fills our news feeds, I predict people will fall into either of two camps: those determined to tick a refined bucket list, and those who simply want the comfort that comes with revisiting a destination they’ve already been to. Where has proved meaningful enough to warrant your return?

I thrive on “newness,” sometimes to a fault, always searching for new hotspots, resorts or experiences, seldom going anywhere twice. But many people, particularly young families, welcome the convenience a familiar destination brings. “We can relax right away” is the reason I hear most often. Now I’m back-pedalling on my “return policy,” because I think the Great Reset includes travel immersion, a deeper and more memorable dive into a place you’ve visited before.

When people discover I’m a frequent flyer, the first question is: What’s your favourite place? It’s a loaded question that I answer with another question: Do you mean a city or a region or an adventure place or what? I’m trying to get more of a sense of their travel personality. The world is a big place. I do have a few places that hit all the high notes: a cultural heritage unlike my own, a heightened idea of hospitality, better-than-good food, interesting things to do…and soft beds.

I would go back in a heartbeat

I head up the hills of Ecuador to Otavalo on New Year’s Eve, checking into Hacienda Pinsaqui – a real ranch and not just some tourist trap. It’s the type of heritage home that’s been welcoming guests since 1790, South American savior Simón Bolívar among them. There’s a picture in the front hall of the owner’s grandfather entertaining Frida Kahlo. Close to midnight, a bonfire is lit to burn life-size effigies for good luck, a doll that represents the Old Year. A loud brass band churns out fast marches, cymbals crashing; people in funny costumes are dancing. That the resort doesn’t burn down is a miracle. The moment is seared into my mind.

Ditto my first full-fledged Northern Lights experience, on an Arctic cruise to East Greenland. A plucky expedition leader arranges for a night landing of the passengers, a feat that’s organized with military precision. The team rings a stretch of shore in a calm bay with glow sticks, and we boat over to lie on the soft grass and watch the aurora borealis. Nose tucked in my parka, I drift into a kind of trance following the river of colours shooting across the sky – a religious experience, and I’m basically pagan.

Some more snapshots: just outside the bustle of modern central Singapore, after a day of wandering the market hawker stalls and weaving in and out of the shophouse boutiques and the Hindu and Buddhist temples, we pull up plastic chairs to a big patio table at No Signboard Seafood in the Geylang district. We eat chili crab until we’re stuffed, my trousers fully gunked up despite the giant bib. A server pushes around a cart of frosted mugs, transferring everyone’s warm beer into icy-fresh glasses – perfect hospitality in the simplest of gestures.

After swimming with wild stingrays just outside the Bora Bora lagoon in French Polynesia, I jump into the aquamarine-blue water to snorkel with a lemon shark and its entourage of blacktip reef sharks, happy for the lunch we bring with us – and that lunch is not us.

Walking into an Indigenous Emberá village in Panama’s Darién rainforest, I see how simply they have lived for centuries, holding on to their roots in a way very few cultures have. My heritage ecotourism moment isn’t just fascinating, it’s a reminder that tourism doesn’t have to water down a secluded culture – it can help prop it up. Tourism empowers the Emberá, giving them sway with their government, instilling a sense of pride.

It just goes to show: whether you’re watching shirtless men pulling your supper out of the ground in Maui, or hopping into a balloon basket before dawn in the Turkish countryside or ordering a martini on the 52nd floor of the Tokyo Park Hyatt, perfect little travel moments are still out there, waiting to land in your memory bank one day.

Do I have a bucket list? Yes: the Canadian Arctic, South Africa, South Asia and more East Asia. Make a list for yourself, even if it’s only a mental one. I have a forget-it list as well: all the gay-dangerous places. I realize this is not helping the LGBTQ people who live in these unenlightened countries, but I need to feel safe when I travel.

At the opposite end of the scale, the gay-all-day spots like Puerto Vallarta, Provincetown, Palm Springs and Fort Lauderdale are amazing places in many respects. But a steady diet of them? Too much pudding for me, although I can easily see why people would flock to them.

Maybe travel is completely off your list, given this year’s stifling circumstances – too expensive, too iffy, too much hassle. I hear you if you want or need to continue to travel in place. But maybe you can use travel as an excuse, a reward after so many months of staying home.

I’m already researching my next trip, planning it now and rolling it out when the storm subsides – and it will. Remember all the things you love about travel in the first place and try not to worry about the unknowns. The mystery has always been more than half the fun of travel anyway.

DOUG WALLACE is the editor and publisher of travel resource and podcast TravelRight.Today.

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