I first started out to write something with a title like “Fact vs. Fiction,” but almost immediately I realized that even in addressing some common misconceptions about travel and travel experiences, ultimately it’s just my opinion. However, there exist I believe certain travel experiences around the world which are perhaps misunderstood by some people. Whether they believe a mediocre experience to be something fantastic or discount what are ultimately fun experiences. So today I thought I’d offer my onion, it really is just that, on some popular travel experiences around the world. Some of these are bucket list items, other more prosaic, but in helping eliminate some popular myths out there, my hope is that it encourages everyone to get out there and experience as much of the world as they can.
Ice hotels are awesome – Eh
We’ve all seen images of those fantastical hotels made entirely of ice, tucked away in the far reaches of the north in countries like Norway and Sweden. They look magical and I certainly fell under their spell, along with millions of others. While visiting northern Norway a few years ago, I had the opportunity to stay in one of those seasonal hotels – Sorrisniva near the small town of Alta. Inside, literally everything was made of ice, from beds and chairs to the bar and even a chapel for people who want to get married there. It was beautiful, but when it came time to sleep certain practical issues started to pop up. Obviously, there is no bathroom inside, so going into the hotel for the night you have to be prepared to not leave again that evening. Kept at temperatures between minus 4-7 Celsius, it was actually warmer inside than out, but even still I found myself bundled up in more layers than I would ever normally sleep in. The ice bed was sort of comfy, thanks to the fur pelts lining it, but what no one ever talks about is both the dead silence inside and the odd luminosity. There’s an eerie stillness to everything, with no movement of air, no sound and an ambient light that is reminiscent of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. The light inside never changes and it took me a long time to get used to everything, but once I did fall asleep I’d never slumbered more soundly. Sleeping in an ice hotel is a strange experience and while it’s not for everyone, I’m glad I did it. Once.
Elephant rides are harmless – False
Repeat after me: I will never, ever ride an elephant. Sadly, around the world there are many travel experiences, including elephant rides that may look like fun for the unsuspecting tourist, but which actually further the ongoing torture and killing of helpless animals. Whether it’s dolphins, tigers, lions or elephants, they all suffer as a result of these tourist activities. Elephants though perhaps suffer more than other animals, and that’s especially true in countries like Thailand. When talking about responsible tourism, it’s important to know that if you see an animal doing something that isn’t natural for them, then it took severe treatment to get them to that point. In the case of elephants, they undergo a horrible ritual known as the Crush which destroys their resolve and will to live through slow torture. Add to that the pain endured during the activities themselves, and you hopefully begin to understand why elephant tourism is so incredibly harmful to these beautiful animals. There are places though that not only help rehabilitate these beautiful animals, but invite visitors to help with the effort. That’s why I visited the remarkable Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, to give my time and money but also to interact with the elephants and to witness firsthand the extraordinary work being done at the facility.
Overwater bungalows are amazing – True
There may be no more iconic travel image than that of luxury overwater bungalows. For millions of us, they have fueled our wanderlust and while they’ve been copied all over the world, it’s in French Polynesia where they started and where the experience is the best. To enjoy a night (or several) in one of these amazing ethereal cabins though isn’t the least expensive thing in the world, and many people have asked me whether or not it’s worth the cost. When talking about any luxury experience, I believe that it’s not only a matter of preference, but how you want to invest your money. Yes, invest; I see unique experiences like this one as a personal investment. I’m investing in myself, in creating memories that I know won’t just last a lifetime, but will have meaning to me. My all-too-brief stay at Le Meridien Bora Bora in one of those famous bungalows was one of the best 24-hours I’ve ever spent. I can’t remember a time when I was more relaxed and content. I was happy, I was calm and I didn’t want my time in paradise to come to an end. So yes, for me that’s worth almost any amount of money but, ultimately, it comes down to what you enjoy and what you want from a trip.
Cruises aren’t for me – False
Cruising has never been more popular than it is today and thanks to that there really is a style of cruise out there for every kind of traveler. The problem is that so many people put down cruising without ever having even been on one. I can’t stand that kind of travel arrogance, it really drives me insane. It’s one thing to try something and not like it, but to cast aspersions on millions of people just because of how they choose to see the world is obnoxious. That being said, not every cruise is suitable for every kind of traveler but I do firmly believe there is a cruise for every traveler. From mega-ship to intimate expeditionary vessels, the itineraries and experiences offered today have never been more active, interesting and engaging. Do some research and I think you’ll be surprised.
Tours are only for really old people – False
My opinion regarding tours has been a very slow evolution. When I was young, I was also poor and decided I didn’t need any help to see new destinations, that when armed with a good guidebook I’d be just fine. While that is factually true, I didn’t realize at the time how much I was missing by doing that. A good walking tour can be priceless in the travel experience, especially if our time is limited. Finding and enjoying a well-executed half day or whole day tour is something I now truly enjoy, whether it’s the fascinating tours for the intellectually curious offered by Context or a delicious food tour offered by companies like Eating Europe, they always add a lot to my enjoyment of the travel experience. At one time in my life I never thought I’d join an organized tour, but a couple of experiences changed my mind. There are certain activities around the world that simply can’t be done properly without the help of an experienced tour company. That’s one of many lessons I learned while on safari with Abercrombie & Kent in Tanzania. There is no way I could’ve replicated that trip on my own, especially not with the ease and comfort involved. Abercrombie & Kent were integral in my enjoyment of the trip, helping me not only maximize my time, but have a lot of fun along the way. There are even great tours for budget travelers and while I personally have never taken them, group backpacker tours in Scotland and Ireland have been popular for a long time. There’s also a lot to be said for experiencing new places with other people, learning from their thoughts and opinions along the way. So, no matter what your travel style, keep an open mind.
Travel changes us all, almost always in ways that are incredibly enriching and positive. What all of these points indicate, I think, is how important it is to keep an open mind when we travel. Don’t listen to the snobs out there, that there’s only one real way to see the world. There isn’t. It’s up to you and your own personal tastes and as long as you’re having fun and learning something from the experience, then nothing else matters.