Oh, you’ve been to South-America? Which was your favorite country? Where would you recommend visiting?
Those were questions I’ve been hearing constantly. And true, there’s nothing wrong about asking this question. What I want to highlight is rather how you take and evaluate the answer you receive.
I’m talking about giving and receiving travel advice. Many people have asked me about my advice, and though I am sharing it (as you’re reading this blog), I would like to look at the topic of taking advice too seriously word by word.
The issue is that we don’t all think and act the same way. Neither in daily life nor whilst traveling. One might like coffee for breakfast, another person couldn’t live without their tea. The person who loves coffee will always rave about how coffee is the one thing that makes their morning, how it gives them the energy to get out of being groggy. And the person who loves tea, will not understand. Of course, if you share your favorite coffee brand with a coffee lover, they might like it as well (or not, because coffee isn’t just coffee 😉)
Let’s look at this regarding traveling. Someone just tells you how they loved their trip to Cuba. Cuba! You exclaim! That sounds like a great place. Strolling through old cafes in Havana, practicing Spanish with the locals…. You ask your friend about what they actually did and you get a ‘oh we had a really nice hotel. All inclusive! I love Cuba.’
In a way, you’re talking cross purposes. The person who went to Cuba might have had an amazing holiday. However, your idea of a holiday might look differently so this would not be of any help in your decision making.
Let’s make it less drastic and talk to someone who has backpacked and you were going to go backpacking as well. You’d asked them the questions I started this blog with. And the answers could be – Colombia is amazing! It’s the best country of South-America <3 (and I know many backpackers who’d say that). Once you did deeper though you hear about all the super nice people that they met on their way. And how much they danced salsa. That does sound fun. To most people. What if salsa is not your thing. What if you really don’t enjoy being chatted up by strangers all the time anywhere? Maybe you’d prefer countries, where people are less upfront in talking to you, where salsa isn’t such a big thing but hiking is. This might be why your friend who loves Colombia wouldn’t recommend the country you’re thinking of.
What I’m trying to say is that everyone will have slightly different preferences in what they like to see, how they like to spend their day and also by how much budget they have. Some countries can be much more fun when you have a big budget (let’s take the Galapagos islands for example). Some countries can be more fun, if you like the adventure of the tourism infrastructure not all being laid out for you yet (Bolivia, Paraguay…). Maybe what’s expensive to you is cheap to the other person? Maybe what’s ‘authentic’ means something completely different to you than to your friend.
I still think you should ask people. That’s pretty much how I organized my whole trip. Every country I went to I asked people for recommendations. But afterwards I’d ask myself whether
a) they’d fall into the category of things I wanted to do/places I wanted to visit
b) whether the time and effort would be worth traveling there,
c) whether it was within my budget and
d) whether I actually felt like visiting a place like that at that very moment.
I am including d) because I have experienced it many times that I had wanted to go to a place for ages and when the change eventually came up the urge had died down and didn’t come back.
B is all about how long it would take you to get to a place. If you have a small budget and wouldn’t be able to fly to a place that was a 20-h bus ride away, would you still go? I had cases where I answered this question with yes, and others where I told myself ‘no’. It really depends on whether you have the energy and think you will love the place that much that the journey to get there won’t bother you or whether you tell yourself that you might be able to see ‘old Inca ruins’ or a ‘jungle’ at another point of your journey.
No, you don’t have to see them all. That would make you very tired and travel-fatigued. Every waterfall, every cultural city would start looking the same. You’d forget the names of all the places you’ve been to. Yes, you would be able to tick off all the boxes but that wouldn’t give you any more to satisfaction.
Do what you really want to do.
Take the advice, check online for yourself whether it’s for you personally. Go out and explore, head to places you just found on the map, follow the trail that opens up spontaneously in front of you. Maybe next time someone asks you about advice those will be the pointers you’ll give them.