As I board a plane back home to Washington, DC today I find myself reflecting on my second experience traveling through South Africa. After my first visit last year to Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula I fell in love, but I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the rest of the country. I was worried I wouldn’t have the same feelings and frankly wasn’t entirely sure how the trip would go. Even though this trip was different, it was important on a personal level as it firmly entrenched in my heart a fierce love of this massive, sometimes misunderstood but always stunning country.
I get asked all the time where I love to visit the most; which countries are my favorite. I understand why people ask me this, but it’s an almost impossible one to answer. But after visiting South Africa again, I’m beginning to formulate a truly honest and comprehensive answer.
South Africa is different from so many other destinations; the width and breadth of the offerings here are dynamic and remarkable. Everything from urban to extreme rural travel is possible, making it a lot of fun to explore. But just like my experience last year what I love most here isn’t seeing a rhino or traveling up Table Mountain, it’s the people.
I think that the power the people of a nation have on one’s travel experience is entirely underrated. So many times people will say they love seeing the Eiffel Tower or going on a Caribbean cruise, but all too rarely do they mention the people and yet they matter the most.
Whether or not we realize it, a nation’s people define our experience. If the people are rude and uncaring, we tend not to like a destination. It’s just how it is. A tourism entity can spend millions every year, but if the people don’t buy in to the effort it simply doesn’t matter.
The people in South Africa aren’t just friendly, that’s not it. No it’s their fierce pride and love of country that transforms the travel experience into something much more. It’s hard not to sense the infectious love most South Africans have and by the end of the trip I noticed I was feeling the same way.
This pride is thankfully realized in many ways but most wonderful is how many times people have taken the time either in person or through social media to help me with my trip and to offer suggestions of what to see and do. This is absolutely invaluable and on both trips dramatically transformed the experience into something life-altering.
I write this sitting in South Africa, still high on the effects of a dazzling travel experience and so this post may be taken with a grain of salt. But if my experiences last year are any indication, I don’t think that this feeling will fade anytime soon. If anything, like a spicy Durban curry, the feelings slowly build and accumulate over time until the love of traveling in South Africa becomes just a part of one’s soul.