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Some would tell you to see the whole world, or to experience every place for it’s individual inherent beauty. Well, not everyone can go see the whole world, and not everyone wants to–and that’s fine. Some just want to find the nearest Caribbean beach and veg. Awesome.
Second, while, if you’ve got the mindset for it, any place and any time can become a moment of transcendental experience, some of us want a sure thing. I was wildly disappointed in Prague, finding myself updating my family by e-mail from a Starbucks and finding that the place’s inherent beauty seemed mostly perpetuated by its status as something of a city-wide museum.
But in other places I was able to work around my crushed expectations. In France, I was able to think past the McDonald’s form-fitted into the corner of an ornate building by focusing on what was around it, and by focusing on its essential irony. In Norway I was able to enjoy myself by getting out of the cities and experiencing a world where corporate modernity seems to be a luxury.
Before leaving for Europe for the first time I had certain expectations, mostly brought on by television shows and photographs I had witnessed throughout my life. Many times I would visit a place, like Pompeii, the south of France, or even Hollywood, and become put off by all which had been hidden in the un-photographed edges of what had fueld my imagination.
I believe that the key to successful travel planning is thinking clearly about why you want to go where you want to go. If it’s perfectly framed pictures that have drawn you, then try to imagine what is not shown. Look beyond the left edge of the photo, and if you can imagine a gaudy gift shop there and still find the place desirable, then go. If you can imagine what the place looks like without the careful hand of a skilled photographer/videographer framing each perfect moment and still believe in its beauty, then grab your bag.
In the same way, if you’ve been drawn by stories, by legends, by old movies, then be ready to find a world that may bear little resemblance to your expectations. The great invaders of history have shown little concern for your nostalgia–whether they came in chain-mail or with chain restaurants.
I remember having read The Canterbury Tales and being wildly excited to arrive in Southwark, in London. I went searching for the famous Tabard Inn, around which the whole story–the great, essential work of Middle English–begins. After searching for quite some time I noticed a blue historical marker above a print shop. The Tabard Inn was gone.
I was crushed, yet, when I set out for Canterbury myself, I left from in front of the print shop, with several very confused employees looking out at me taking pictures of myself with their store.
At the end of the day it’s a matter of preference, but with so many places to visit in the world this technique of deciding which locales to enjoy is one I’m starting to use more and more. Be sure of your motives and expectations and you’ll help to prevent wasting your time and money.