Choosing a Destination

September 5, 2014 | 3 minute read | By Kevin Read

I lost track, some years ago, of the connection between the mental list of places I’d like to visit and the places I actually go. If I concentrated and got organized, I could probably calculate a priority order to my travel list, followed by a schedule that stretches years into the future and arranges clever combinations of destinations into efficient itineraries.

But mostly it’s chaos and spontaneous decisions. The list never seems to stay static and new things get added not to the bottom but somewhere in the vague and intangible middle. Ryszard Kapuscinski made me want to visit Yerevan and Baku after I read his book Imperium, and sometimes the sight of a map makes me feel guilty for how little I’ve seen of Africa. Then I’ll notice a photograph of cherry blossoms and decide I must at once gather my camera and get on a flight to Japan.

I haven’t been to Japan; a trip never comes from something as simple as seeing a photograph and then going. Somehow the travel stories of friends and shelves of adventurous books and endless pages of photographs get mixed up together until suddenly, out of all the options, a flight has been booked and its not entirely clear why. It’s unexpected boarding passes and arbitrary daydreams, with no obvious link between the two.

Which is to say that I’m going to Bulgaria, and I know where that started. Hiking around the valleys of Cappadocia in Turkey and an Argentinian man of unruly hair and dubious credentials insisted that the landscape we were walking through was similar to that of Romania, but there they have castles as well. My friend and I decided on the spot to visit the following year.

Then it turns out that, in an effort to save printing and editorial costs, Lonely Planet produces their guide to Romania in the same volume as their guide to Bulgaria, so my book of Romania was also full of interesting pictures and information about Bulgaria. And Plovdiv sounds like such a nice town. And why not do both?

So I’m going to Bulgaria, and thinking that the process that led to deciding to do that wasn’t such a bad one after all. Our plans rarely match up to our highest expectations, and the best memories and experiences are often not what we planned and expected at all. I vividly recall watching a military parade in Northern Chile which I only witnessed at all because my bags were stuck in a broken down bus in the Atacama desert and I was stuck in Iquique until they were freed. None of that sequence of events was mentioned in the guide book.

More importantly, though, is that the success of a trip is as much about you as it is where you go. It’s determined by how you approach the people you find, if you’re willing to learn about a new place or try new experiences. There are top ten lists and must-see destination guides and books on hundreds of places to see before you die (morbid as well as strangely pressuring), but none of them can take into account what you do when you get there.

Interesting travel is often about relinquishing control and letting go of plans. Only a handful of easily replicable experiences can make the published list of pre-death essentials; everything else you have to find for yourself and hope you recognize it when you do.

Not that the best way to plan a trip is to stick a pin in a map and hope that it’s safe to go there, and only partly because it would probably be in the sea.¬†Allowing for your preferences and experience is important, and its easy to miss out on things by not researching the options. But leaving some room for chaos is necessary in a good journey, and its not such a bad idea to start that process when you’re still deciding where to go.

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2 responses to “Choosing a Destination”

  1. Ryan Conway says:

    Hello,

    Awesome website! Great photos and travel advice!

    My girlfriend and I will be traveling around Eastern Europe in July/August and from searching through your photographs I learned that you have been to Bulgaria, Romania and Cappadocia in Turkey.

    I am planning the activities and just want to know in your opinion what is absolutely essential to see in these places??

    Thank you in advance.

    Ryan

    • Kevin Read says:

      Thanks Ryan, I’m glad you like the photos.

      Definitely the most memorable was Istanbul, ballooning and hiking in Cappadocia and exploring Buzludzha in Bulgaria. If you like riding the train, it’s a great area for cheap rail transport.

      In Romania, I really like the tour of the Palace of the Parliament and Bucharest is an interesting city, although there’s not much to do. Transylvania is great for hiking and outdoor activities. Sinaia was my favourite town in Transylvania, although in general I think you can get more out of the area if you have a car. Brasov is better for highlife and restaurants.

      Veliko Tarnovo was a great town to visit in Bulgaria and from there you can explore Buzludzha (independently – trip advisor can help find it and get you in, or Hostel Mostel run a very unofficial tour).The pictures of that place say it all. http://shuttersafari.com/buzludzha-exploring-the-ruins-of-communism/.

      In Turkey, leave loads of time for Istanbul. From Goreme in Cappadocia you can hike straight out of the town without needing a car. The ballooning all goes from there, but very early in the morning and it’s worth both going on a balloon trip and getting up on a different day to hike up to a ridge somewhere and photograph / watch them from the ground. Pamukkale was a little disappointing (the pools are OK, the town is awful) – if you do go, you don’t need long there.

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