By Laura Caroline Gingrich of University of Washington
You have the whole wide world at your fingertips - often the hardest part is knowing where to choose.
Everyone has a list of destinations they promise themselves to visit during their lifetime. People travel for endless reasons, whether it's to experience different cultures, see natural wonders of the world, dive into metropolitan epicenters, sample various cuisine, or learn about their heritage. Perhaps you want to go to Rome and throw a coin backwards into the Trevi Fountain like Lizzie McGuire, and find yourself while falling in love with pasta like Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love. Maybe you want to ride camels in Morocco like the ladies of Sex & The City, or put a "love-lock" on the Paris Pont des Arts Bridge (even if it might get taken off). Maybe you want to go to a third world country and help people in need, or temporarily move and work as a foreign language teacher. All these ideas are exciting options, because in every situation, you will be exposed to something unfamiliar and life-changing.
I recently had a discussion with someone about my study abroad experience and their desire to travel and do something similar. They listened as I recounted my explorations around Italy, my host country, and my additional travels. "I would love to do something like that," they said, "but I feel like everyone goes to Europe now. I know so many people who have been there. It's not really that unique anymore".
I was pretty shocked by such a statement. Since when was traveling anywhere not cool enough? What was more confusing, though, was that I realized I had heard this kind of attitude before. Social media has revolutionized the way our generation interacts and how we share our lives to others. Everything is public and interactive, and it can be a great platform to share our opinions. When I studied abroad, I posted countless pictures online and started my own blog to write about my travels, and I loved the reactions I got. Another example: this website, and the stories it publishes with the mission to inspire others to travel. The true beauty of social media is the real-time opportunity to share ideas and experiences.
But, social media is a double-edged sword. Everything is timed, edited and filtered to represent the most perfect image possible. We only show the highlights, the best parts of our lives, and it can feel almost inauthentic. In my opinion, this evolution in social media often impacts the way we portray travel. At times, it feels as though there is a subconscious but constant search for the thrill of "discovering a place first". Who is doing the most extreme, the most bizarre, the most shocking things on your Instagram feed? Those are the things we remember.
Naturally, the older you get, you're going to know more people who have traveled to various parts of the world, but doesn't it sound a little absurd to suggest that some of the most popular travel destinations in the world are overrated? Does standing underneath the Eiffel Tower have less value to me because so many travelers have done the exact same thing? Or climbing and taking a picture up at the top of the Florence Duomo? Marveling over the jagged Cliffs of Moher?
My answer: absolutely not. Besides your hometown and places you have spent an extensive amount of time, you will be a tourist in the majority of places you go. Being a tourist doesn't have to have such a stigma behind it! Any traveler is privileged to be going around the world. It can even be fun to be a "tourist" in your hometown and surrounding areas. That is how many people, including myself, deal with coming home after a life-changing international trip - exploring restaurants, bars, parks, hikes and more that were previously undiscovered.
When deciding where in the world to travel, we are all weighing our options based on the same basic things we research or hear from each other. Photos, movies, travel reviews, and the opinions of our friends and family- how else would we figure out whether a destination was safe, easily accessible, what to do there, etc.? Reading travel blogs and staring at photographs is helpful and enjoyable, but nothing close to actually experiencing that place. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do something "out of the box", or in contrast, visiting a place you've been fantasizing about since seeing it in a movie. The truth is, every new destination is unique, and it's nearly impossible to make a "wrong" decision.
It is important to focus on your own personal journey, not the experience of others. Every city, state, and country, has thousands of different things to offer. Your weekend somewhere will vastly differ from a friend who visits a few days, months, or years later. The places you will visit all have fascinating people, delicious different kinds of food you've never tried before, and unbelievable history that will blow your mind. Traveling will nevertheless change you and leave an imprint on the way you see the world - no matter where you go.
Whether the destinations we desire are seemingly simple or seemingly obscure in the eyes of others, every experience has its own unique value. Keep your adventures authentic while also utilizing the opinions and advice of others. A travel expedition is one of the few times in life when you can be selfish - listen to yourself, and see the places you want to explore. If it is a study abroad program, a backpacking trip around the world, or a weekend trip a few hours away from home, taking the leap to plan an itinerary of your most desired locations will make for the most rewarding trip possible. What do you want to learn from the sites and beauty of these new places? What impressions will be left on you by the cultures you see and people you meet while abroad? In every new destination, you will find a new part of yourself, and leave another part of yourself in that same place. Truly, no destination is the wrong place to go.