The most common question I get by everyone from causal acquaintances to interviewers is “Where is your favorite place to visit.” To them I know it’s an honest question, and they probably think it’s a good one. I have traveled a lot after all, so I must have an absolute favorite destination. Instead though that question throws me into a paroxysm of panic; I don’t have an answer to it and with good reason.
I have a bad habit of really enjoying most places I visit. Of course there are various levels to this love, from Head Over Heels to It Was Fine. There are only a very few places that I have visited that I truly didn’t like and would never consider returning to, so when asked to pick a favorite I don’t know what to say. The 196 countries in the world can’t be evaluated side by side like show horses. They’re each so different and varied that a sentence like “France is better than Germany” is impossible to make.
So what do I do? When asked to pick a favorite destination I turn the question around and ask them, favorite for what? My favorite European country? My favorite city? My favorite foodie destination? My favorite place to relax? My favorite adventure travel experience? My favorite place to get away from answering questions about my favorite place?
But the concept of a favorite destination seems weird to me. My feelings about places I visit are dynamic, always changing. To ask me a favorite anything isn’t necessarily going to get a definitive answer, it’s instead capturing my feelings at that particular moment in time. It will change and so I almost wonder what the point is. But amongst the many places I have visited, I do have some favorites so here is a brief list of some of my favorite places to visit and why.
Favorite City – This is actually always easy for me because my answer hasn’t changed in 20 years and I doubt that it ever will – Paris. It was Paris that welcomed me on my first big international trip when I was 17, and where I briefly lived for a month one summer. I’ve since returned several times and have a master plan to live there one day when I’m old and grey. I can’t say why exactly I love Paris as much as I do, it’s a very base and emotional response. I just do. The streets, the neighborhoods, the sounds, the smells, the people, the food, everything combines into one sensation of travel lust and I can’t properly explain it. There’s also probably some nostalgia wrapped up into those feelings, since it was the first place I explored it must hold some special feelings. That may be true, but I can’t deny or explain that spark of excitement I feel whenever I arrive into Paris, ready to explore my favorite city once again.
Favorite Place to Eat – This isn’t an easy one to answer and I considered providing favorite courses, but that would just be obnoxious. So I thought about it for a while and really dug deep to consider a location where I enjoyed all facets of most of the meals. No easy feat for a picky eater like me. But after a few minutes when I had the answer, it really wasn’t a surprise; the Middle East. I’ve only had the chance to explore a few countries in the Middle East, but I loved those I have visited. Specifically, the food in Jordan is without a doubt amongst my favorite in the world. What made it so good for me was a combination of small plates and no seafood. I love meals consisting of multiple small plates, which is also why I enjoy eating in Spain so much. But nothing is better than a lunch in Jordan comprised of hummus, fresh bread, falafel and five or six other small dishes. It really is foodie heaven. The larger meals, like mansef, are also delicious and I’ve often mentioned the sticky dessert knafeh as amongst my favorite in the world. An unlikely choice I think, but after you visit I think you’ll understand the decision.
Favorite Spot to Relax – I don’t typically enjoy relaxing, so this is a bit of a challenge. But the only couple of times I can remember relaxing in the past several years were both in the same state – Hawaii. Most people I think, in the US at least, lust after a vacation in Hawaii, the quintessential example of paradise perfection. Before I first visited I thought that this reputation was probably overblown, that it would be like any other beach destination. But I was wrong, thankfully. There’s something special about Hawaii, a feeling that grips you right away and forces you to slow down and relax. After a week on any of the islands, things like deadlines and emails don’t seem so important any more. And Hawaii is so much more than just the beaches. It’s a dynamically beautiful island chain, from lush mountaintops to yes, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Specifically, the two places where I was able to relax most were at the: Travaasa Hana and the Four Seasons Lanai. Both resorts are luxury and offer amazing service to their guests, but more importantly they’re remote. They force you to slow down and relax because there’s not much else to do. I need that sometimes, I need to be coerced to take things easy or I never ever will.
Favorite Destination for Adventure Travel – This is a more involved question than you may think at first consideration. In order for a country to be considered a great adventure travel destination, in my opinion, it has to offer activities that are absolutely unique to them, found nowhere else. So a zipline in Costa Rica doesn’t cut it for me since you can find ziplines everywhere. When considering unique activities and being an adventure travel pioneer, one place pops to mind automatically – New Zealand. If any one country can be credited with creating the concept of adventure travel, it’s New Zealand. For whatever reason, Kiwis have a certain proclivity to throwing themselves off of things and they’ve become quite good at it over the years. There’s an adventurous spirit in New Zealand, perhaps due to their remote location that permeates society. They invented the bungee jump and have since perfected it. It’s also in New Zealand where you can roll down a hill in a giant hamster ball filled with water or go white water rafting in an underground river system. You can take a helicopter to the top of a glacier and hike back down and enjoy some of the best whale watching in the world. In fact if you visit New Zealand you will only enjoy outdoor and adventure activities, it’s mostly the draw to the Land of the Long White Cloud and makes any trip there special, unusual and a whole lot of fun.
Favorite Country – I’ve been afraid of this question. It’s just too hard to answer. Comparing countries is apples to oranges in every scenario and to pick one as a favorite is to pick a favorite child. So I will begin this section with a cop out and answer my own country, the United States. No matter where I go and what I see, it all ultimately makes me appreciate my own country even more. We have a fantastic diversity here and it would take many lifetimes to see and do it all. That being said, there are certain countries around the world that I like more than others and where repeat visits are not a chore but a privilege. Some of those include: France, South Africa, Iceland, Australia, Croatia, Thailand and New Zealand. Each of these places holds a special place in my heart, they’re countries I have loved exploring and where I yearn to see more.
These are a few of my favorite travel destinations, what are some of yours?