On a bus into downtown Seoul from ICN airport a couple years ago, I chatted with a French-Canadian guy who was interested in my travel experiences. He asked me a question that has always stumped me:
“What is your favorite country?”
I never know how to answer that one, because I honestly have no idea. When I started traveling years ago out of a search for something indefinable, I think I expected that somewhere along the way I would find the perfect place. As long as I had that expectation in mind, I was continually disappointed throughout the journey – or if not disappointed, I was certainly unfulfilled.
Since then, I’ve heard the “favorite country” question countless times. Now that this site has a fairly broad readership, I do interviews for other blogs at least once a week. Whenever the interview is with a travel-related site, I can always count on that question coming up.
My favorite country… my favorite place… hmmm.
Somewhere along the way, I decided that I simply don’t have one favorite place in the world. There are still a lot of countries left on the list, and of course many places in the countries I’ve already visited that I haven’t been to, but as of now, I’m no longer expecting one clear favorite to emerge.
Instead, I’ve developed a larger perspective, where I have not one but several favorite places in the world. Maybe it’s a cop-out, but I think it’s also a reflection that many of us enjoy different things about different places. No single destination is the best.
Here are some of the most beautiful places I’ve been to since I got serious about travel.
Image by Ewa
Ohrid, Macedonia – In the summer of 2007, I toured the Balkans by flying into Sarajevo (Bosnia) and out of Belgrade (Serbia). In between I took the long way around, traveling around through Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. In Macedonia I stopped for three days in the small town called Ohrid. I loved it.
Image by Slack12
Cape Town, South Africa – On this I am fairly conventional: Cape Town is my favorite city in Africa. I have good memories of spending three weeks there in 2006. I usually return to Jo’burg at least once a year for transit, but I haven’t been back to Cape Town yet. I miss it.
Image by d70focus
Pacific Northwest (U.S. and Canada) – Hey, I live here now – but I can still count it, right? I love Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland. I haven’t spent hardly any time at all in the interior part of the region, so I can’t comment on that yet. But here on the coast, life is good. I like the culture, the coffee, and the nature.
Image by Leo-Seta
La Gomera, Canary Islands – I’ve been to Tenerife at least six or seven times (I lost count) in between sailing from Europe to West Africa over the course of several years. It’s not a bad place to go, especially if you’ve been hanging out in Sierra Leone for six months before you visit. But one time Jolie, me, and a couple of friends took the ferry off to La Gomera, a much smaller and less inhabited island an hour away. We rented a car and drove on every road of the island, climbed to the top of the mountain, and watched the ocean.
Image by FDVG
Faroe Islands – North of Scotland and technically governed by Denmark, I spent five days in Tórshavn, the capital. I flew in from London via Iceland and almost didn’t make the connecting flight due to it departing from a different airport. (I had no idea until I was on the plane.) Once I finally made it, the Faroes were as breathtaking as reported.
Image by RahelSharon
The Old City in Jerusalem – I wasn’t sure what to expect before I went, but this is one place that lives up to the hype. Wow. I enjoyed visiting the Western Wall and walking through the streets at all hours. It’s definitely worth a trip, especially if you are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.
Image by NM
Damascus, Syria – Even better than Jerusalem, but naturally more difficult to get to. As a U.S. citizen, I had a hard time getting a visa to Syria, but when I finally made it to Beirut, Lebanon, getting over the border by land was easy. My stop in Damascus was fairly short, and I wished it had been longer.
Update: Before I published this post, I asked on Twitter for other recommendations. Here’s what I heard in the initial replies:
Itpodcast: Cathedral cove, NZ. recently featured in Narnia: Prince Caspian
zoewesthof: Merzouga, Morocco and anywhere in Galicia (Spain)!
obsalah : Petra in Jordan, one of the 7 wonders of the world (the new ones) not much known kind of hidden away
eighteyes : Canyon Dechey, Sighisoara -> Romania, Mono Lake, Lost Coast
theo_chiari: Québec City
ElasticMind : White Desert, outside Bahariya Oasis, Egpyt
Earl52 : Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina. Absolutely remarkable.
melissamcd: 2 of My Favorite Places: Camp Leaky (Tanjung National Park, Borneo); Bonaire National Marine Park
amoir : I adore ShinSekai in Osaka. ShinSekai is Japan at its most accessible, alive, vibrant, humble and real.
rose_w:The drive from Fairbanks, AK to the Artic Circle, desolate, breath taking and cool to say you’ve been there
krippl : Puerto Pinaso, Mexico. Better known as Rocky Point.
TheGirlPie: We LOVED our month at Ein Bokek at the Dead Sea in Israel in 10/01. No one else would though… it was beyond dead.
I’ll add to my list as I keep traveling. Early in 2009 I’ll be heading to a big part of Africa that I’ve never visited before – the region that includes Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. In the spring I’ll resume my OneWorld Round-the-World trip with visits to Haiti and South America. After that, I’m not sure what comes next.. but my journey will still be far from over.
But wait, what about you?
A couple weeks back I told you about 9 Overrated Tourist Destinations and asked for your feedback, which resulted in a great conversation. Is the Grand Canyon more than just a Not-Bad Canyon? Is Dublin worth visiting? I don’t think we ever came to a consensus, which isn’t too surprising considering how passionate people can be about travel.
Well, here’s your chance again – what would you add to the above list of beautiful places? Is there anything you’d take off? Let me know.
Header Image of La Gomera by Leo-Seta