What I Look for as a Traveler
Travelers all have preferences. Some like hot places, others like cold ones. Some prefer mountains, others beaches. Museums can be the core of one person’s trip and the bane of another’s. Interestingly, I don’t often see travelers talking about what draws them to specific places or what they look for when thinking about potential destinations. So, I figured…why the hell not?
Here’s what I look for as a traveler, what makes me say “I wanna go THERE!”, what makes me choose one corner of the globe over another:
Being able to feel like I’m touching history, literally or figuratively speaking. One of the high points of my trip to France this summer was the fact that I was living in an old, un-renovated shepherd’s barn from the 1570s. Every time I stumbled my way back home in the pitch darkness with only a candle to light my way to the barn, I had the same “magic moment” feeling that I get from the historical reenacting I do. History can be experienced without seeing or touching something old, however; the main draw that Mongolia and Central Asia have over me is the idea of seeing cultures that, while modern, have a connection to the past that no longer really exists in western civilization. I was almost an anthropology student in university, and it is still one of my major interests, because I feel that modern culture can oftentimes have more of a connection to history than we realize, if you know where and how to look.
Places with relatively little modern or western influence. This goes with the above. On my visits to Seoul from my little farming village several hours south on the Korean peninsula, I often felt like I was visiting New York City after someone ran it back and forth through a translator a few times. It looked and felt western, and though there were a few cultural differences and oddities, all in all it felt like exactly what it is: a foreign country’s interpretation of a generic western city. I like to feel like I’m going somewhere different, somewhere unique when I travel. If I wanted a slightly surrealist take on America I’d just go to Fargo.
Cold climates. I’ve talked a bit about this one before, so I won’t go into as much detail, but there are a few reasons for this preference. First of all, I tend to get along better in the more reserved, formal, stoic, some would even say closed cultures that often accompany cooler climes. I’m an oddball extrovert that likes to be left alone, and I have found that I’m more comfortable in cultures where that’s more likely to happen, and they tend to come with ice and snow. I also grew up in Texas and have had enough heat to last a lifetime, so the prospect of once again sweating through my entire bag of clothes in one day is rather unappealing to me. Plus, I have an affinity for big, furry hats.
Wide open places. Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Montana, and the Canadian prairies all have a strong pull on me for the same reason: they’re mostly empty. I really enjoy solitude, and some of my most cherished moments have been when I have looked around me and not seen evidence of civilization for miles.
Horse cultures. I grew up in Texas and had my first riding lessons when I was around 10 years old, though I became hooked on the idea of riding horses much earlier than that. I’ve always had, I think, a pretty good connection with horses, and though I don’t have as much formal experience as most folks in the horse world, my experiences have shown me that I do have talent and am a fast learner. I have aspirations toward doing endurance riding, and horse-heavy cultures have always fascinated me. Argentina, the American west, Mongolia, Central Asia, southern Russia / eastern Europe all call to me, and I would love to travel to some of these places with the specific intention of working on my horsemanship, maybe even doing something of a comparative study.
There are many other facets which can make a country or culture or even a single place particularly attractive to me, but these are some of the core ones, those whose siren songs rarely falter.