I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is it that draws an individual to a particular destination. Why do I love Paris? Why does someone else hate it? During this internal travel philosophizing, I began to dwell on what it means to “hate” a country or region. When people make this short, declarative statement as an aside, they may not realize that this simple statement carries great weight.
I too have been guilty of saying that I hate a country. For example, while on a Caribbean cruise several years ago, we had the opportunity to explore Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Although we were there for less than a day, the interactions we had with local residents and store owners made us vow never to return to this popular vacation destination. In essence, we hated Jamaica.
But is this possible?
To answer this, I really had to think about what I didn’t like about Jamaica. I didn’t like the fact I couldn’t find decent food outside of Margaritaville. I didn’t like being insulted and yelled at by shop keepers when I refused to buy their crap. Actually, I think that’s the real reason why we had a bad time. Even though these merchants are on the front line of tourism in Ocho Rios, their behavior guarantees visitors will leave unhappy and even scared. So while I may not like some of the people in Jamaica, I don’t think I really hate the entire country.
As I’ve gotten older and traveled to more places around the world, there is one fact that I keep noticing: most people are fundamentally good. It may seem a simple concept, but it’s just as powerful a thought as is hating an entire country. Now when I travel, I keep this in mind and when I do encounter rough times or the inevitable dishonest person, I remind myself that this is not the norm. The bad actors are the outliers and I should not let it color my feelings for the place I am visiting. Easier said than done though, right?
The sad fact is that while my interaction with those people in Jamaica lasted for about two minutes, it forever colored my perception of the entire nation. This is unfortunately how most people react when traveling. Didn’t like your hotel in Bangkok? Bam! The entire city must be miserable. Got sick from a meal in Rome? Boom! Rome is forever off your travel list.
Intellectually, I know that this doesn’t make sense, but it is just one of those primal reactions I think most of us have. Because of it though, I have a feeling that many of us miss out on a lot of great travel experiences.
Many people visit Jamaica every year and I think, for the most part, they enjoy their experiences. Will my one encounter eight years ago forever preclude me from exploring this Caribbean island and learning more about its people and culture? Of course the answer is that it shouldn’t, but that’s something I will have to mindfully work through.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, so I should probably stop blathering, but my take away from these travel musings is that even though we all have negative experiences while traveling, we need to take them for what they are – one time experiences. Having a wallet stolen in New York does not mean that all New Yorkers are thieves and having rotten weather while in France doesn’t mean it’s an awful place.
Our travels are snapshots in time. My trip to Jamaica isn’t like anyone else’s trip experience there and it will never be like anyone else’s in the future. When we visit a new country, we see just a small glimpse of its people, culture and history. That’s why I think that when we have bad experiences, when we say we hate a place, we actually owe it to ourselves not to avoid it, but to return and see what the next snapshot will show.
Keep Calm and Carry On