Quickly, I offer a disclaimer: I’m not going to tell you my favorite country to visit. But, please don’t go away. I didn’t choose this blog title just to get your attention. Rather, I need your help in answering the question. After all, it’s a good question, one that deserves a carefully thought out answer. So, what I’m seeking in this post are some criteria that we can use to determine whether a place (a country, a region or a state) is attractive and worth visiting. I’ve made an attempt at listing some elements to look for, and I need your feedback.
First, let me say that I’m not surprised that I’m often asked, “What’s your favorite country to visit?” After all, and as you probably know, I’m a traveler. I just took The World Traveler Challenge offered through Facebook, which asks players to count how many of the listed “countries” (some names on the list are not independent countries) they’ve visited. I came up with 53. That’s more than twice the number (23) of the average user – i.e., the average traveler who’s taken the survey. And, it far exceeds the number of countries that the makers of the App think people have been to (4). While I admit that using Facebook as a source of information, or even as a survey presenter, is a rather dubious undertaking, the results are instructive. If nothing else, they indicate that I’ve been to more “countries” than most people, and that I’d be a good person to ask about favorite places to visit.
The truth is that I don’t have a good answer – no single response. It really depends on why I’m traveling and what I’m looking for. Certainly, each country (or state or region) has its own charms, as well as its shortcomings. But, to give a single place the ultimate and highest rating of all is difficult. I’d rather step back and look at the elements of what makes a place good for traveling in, regardless of the specific motives for a particular trip. So, join me in examining some key ingredients for a good trip. And, don’t be intimidated if you’ve not been to many countries. I bet you’ve still got plenty of ideas on what you’d look for in a new place.
Here are my ideas on why to choose one country over another. My only assumptions are that you (and me, too, for that matter) are traveling for recreational and educational purposes. You want to learn about a new place, enjoy experiences that differ from your every day ones, and come home with stories to tell. Some key elements (not necessarily in order of priority) to look for are:
- Geography – a country that’s easy to get to and to get around in;
- Safety and security – you want to be able to focus on the country’s assets without having to worry about finding yourself in the middle of a shoot-out or catching an infectious disease. That said, it’s important to recognize that every country has some crime somewhere, so your security concerns should focus on the particular places (usually, tourism centers) that you’re visiting;
Tourism infrastructure – you want to be sure there’s sufficient comfortable (relative to your own standards) accommodations; restaurants with a variety of food options; transportation that’s safe, reliable and easy to access; and information about the place and its attractions;
- Affordability – if you’re at all concerned about your budget, you want to be sure that tourist attractions and services are available at the cost you can bear;
- Beauty – a subjective criterion, for sure, but a place that is attractive – in terms of its landscapes, localized natural features, vistas, architecture, people, art, etc. – is generally more compelling than one that’s bland;
- Diversity – as a curious and adventurous traveler, you want to get as much out of a new place as possible. So, if there are many types of natural habitats, peoples, cultures, historic and archaeological sites, cuisines, arts, and activities to partake in, your visit will be more interesting and story-worthy;
- Unique attractions or experiences – there’s a lot of value in going to a new place to see (or touch, smell, hear or taste) and try out something that you can’t find anywhere else. This something can be any of the diverse qualities mentioned above, or simply an interaction or occurrence that’s not part of your usual daily or life experience.
- The people – again, this is subjective, and dependent upon whom you meet, but the people of certain countries tend to be more open, friendly, helpful and engaging, and most of us find that our experiences are more rewarding when we’ve enjoyed our interactions with the local populace.
Before turning this list over to you for comments and additions, I’ll add one more element that I think is especially important for the future of good travel, and to ensure that we can have favorite places to travel to. It’s a criterion for the type of travelers that we’ve described here – those who want to grow their minds, hearts and bodies by engaging with unique and authentic people and places. Can you guess? It’s sustainability. A country that values and conserves its natural and cultural resources, sharing them with visitors while also ensuring that economic, social and educational benefits are conveyed to local residents, is one that will sustain its wealth and its attractions to visitors and residents, alike.
So, what do you look for when you travel? What makes a country, or place of any size, a good one to visit? And, the million dollar question: can you give examples of countries that fit the bill? That’s my World Traveler Challenge for you!