My favorite place in the world is not a place at all, but the places in between other people’s favorite places.
Twenty years ago, I was invited to dinner with the executives of a large travel company as the guest of honor; a representative of this new sort of thing called travel blogging. Up until then, I had never had to answer questions about my travelogue hobby, my photography or my underlying travel philosophy in person, but I prepared myself for any questions they might throw at me. Would they ask me about why I think improvising itineraries is important? Would they ask me about my advocacy for mangroves, or how I pack my truck before driving in the Baja peninsula?
But they had only one question: what is your favorite place in the world? I was deflated. I stuttered. I had no answer for them! I had never even thought about it. Twenty years later, I know how to answer this perennial question: My favorite places are the ones in between.
Generally, in travel, a favorite place is either a beautiful city or a wild place with prominent features, like Yosemite Valley. We might choose a favorite place because of its spectacular food, or its art, or the way the people treated us, or how we feel relaxed in a cafe, or for the splendid architecture.
But assigning favorites in travel is counter-intuitive to the improvisatory nature of travel; the idea that we are restless, looking for the next thing, discovering and seeking peace of mind means that there is a certain danger in becoming attached to our own qualifications for our judgment of a place.
It’s the way I feel when a friend tells me they finally bought their dream vacation home. Am I happy for them? Sure, but inside, I am sad that they have committed their future free time to a single place. They found a favorite, an ideal, and they are now destined to seek happiness through that attachment.
Places change quickly. The Minnesota I grew up in now has a culture that is unrecognizeable from the one I remember. The food is better, there is more diversity, but there is also a creeping anti-intellectualism. Reykjavik, Barcelona and Venice are all special places, but by assigning these places as extra special in an age where travel is easy, we have changed their nature. Maybe not better or worse; maybe just not deserving of singular superlatives.
I am generally happy with all the places I go, and sometimes, the place with the most unusual and delicious cuisine, or the steepest and most majestic mountains, doesn’t necessarily compel me to come back.
I sometimes say that the Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building in the world. I read about it and study it and love photographs depicting its many details. It may be my favorite building in the world, but I don’t necessarily need to see it in person.
That’s why my favorite places in travel aren’t places at all, but the places in between. The empty roads, the quiet trails, the alleys – the places I’m moving through.
As a traveler, I recognize that a place can come to resemble the perfection of a unique and ancient city like Venice, but if the weather is bad and I am in a foul mood, that view can crumble in an instant. In travel, the destination is less important than the traveling itself.
When I am prepared, organized, and in control of my itinerary, I am happy; I’m in an active state of discovery. My traveling is my brushstroke. Sometimes, all it takes is a sunny day or the discovery of a new bird or insect, or an unexpected conversation that defines the beauty of moving through somewhere. That mindspace isn’t more likely to open up at a superlative place like Santorini or Dubrovnik.
In my travels, I have never been interested in assigning a place as a favorite, because it’s antithetical to the joy of travel. That’s why my favorite place is simply the one in between destinations. The one I am moving through, discovering. No, it’s not about that place I just was, it’s about the next one on the horizon.
Assigning favorites diminishes travel, because our happiness as travelers is not defined by what we think of a destination; it’s how our heart flutters with a trail of dust in our wake.
- Erik Gauger
- : Erik Gauger is a father, a freelance web consultant and amateur travel writer based in Portland, Oregon. Gauger has been writing and photographing for Notes from the Road, his personal travelogue, since 1999. He catalogues his travels with handmade maps, large format film photography, travel sketches and illustrations, and long form essays on subjects ranging from travel philosophy to local characters to history and science. Gauger champions the idea that travel blogging is a powerful medium that is part art, part journalism, and that travel journalism plays an important role in activist issues about the impact of tourism and development.
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- : Notes from the Road is illuminated with large format photography, hand-drawn sketches and long-form notes on out of the way destinations.
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- : This is the first time this story has been published.