I wanted to do something a bit different with this post, and that’s talk about something I’ve noticed recently in the hope to spur on a bit of debate, and that’s in answering the question, ‘are unique travel experiences becoming harder to find?’
I’ll firstly mention, the above picture of Halong Bay, even though there might be lots of boats, I’m not trying to be negative about it, definitely visit there! It’s beautiful and incredible, and I’ve picked it because it illustrates the debate and what I want to discuss in this post quite well… In the picture, yes there are lots of other boats and people there, but does that mean it stops being somewhere you want to visit, and somewhere you won’t have a memorable and unique experience?
I might sound a bit silly saying this, but having been to somewhere like Lake Louise for example. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed visiting there. But if I’m honest, my overwhelming feeling of the ‘experience’ was one of being stressed, having queued to get into a car park that’s next to the giant hotel you never see in shots, before waiting for your turn to take a picture of the lake through the crowds of people… I didn’t feel any ‘uniqueness’ in it at all, and my idea I’d gained of the place from all the photos I’d seen, was extremely different to the reality.
So this is what I want to debate really. In our world where it’s so much easier to travel, are some of the most popular destinations becoming so visited, that it diminishes the experience? Is it getting harder and harder to find ‘unique’ experiences?
Why I’m asking about unique travel experiences
Since I’ve returned from travelling, and as someone who’s on Instagram following various travellers and photographers etc. I’ve recently noticed, that there a lot of people that travel in a similar style that I have, and have been to the exact same places… Especially in Asia, I recently saw two friends jump of the same tree as I did in Laos pictured above (probably the least touristy out of the four countries I visited). It seems that sometimes these days, for a lot of travel destinations or countries, there is a checklist of things to do and see, and EVERYONE does these same things.
When you see pictures of travel, often the professionals wake up for sunrise to get shots without anybody in them to try and present them in the most positive way. Having been to a lot of these places I often see, you realise why this needs to be the case… The ‘Arashiyama Bamboo Grove’ in Kyoto is a perfect example of this. We often see a solitarity person framed perfectly in the bamboo. Whereas the reality is, that it’s extremely rare that you won’t have to wait for all the other people to be out of the shot to get this kind of inspiring photo.
But then that begs the question, as a travel photographer or blogger, is your responsibility to capture a place in it’s most idyllic and attractive setting, using just the right filters to make it look incredible? OR should it be to capture the reality of what a place is actually like to visit? If so, how best should you do this, because it’s likely, not many people would be as interested if they just saw the realities of a lot of places…
My experience travelling in varying ‘styles’
As someone who has travelled with group tours, I’ll be the first to admit, this is probably why my experience of Asia was more of a package than you might find if you travelled yourself. HOWEVER, this was actually one of the reasons I chose to travel around Asia with a group, I wanted to see the highlights and get a sense of different countries in case I ever wanted to go back there. I chose deliberately to travel in all sorts of styles to get different experiences and decide which I preferred.
The other extreme for me was staying in a village on an island called Kadavu in Fiji, accessible only by boat or plane, and then another boat as there weren’t any roads. I was the only tourist to have stayed there, so got to see the real lives of Fijian people as a guest in their village, you can see me staying with Turaga my host, above.
So which of these extremes, a guided tour with a group, or solo travel in a village in the middle of nowhere, did I prefer? The answer to this; is that I enjoyed the experiences and they were ‘unique’ to me in different ways. Most definitely staying somewhere no-one has stayed before as a tourist and being able to be part of a different culture in such an inclusive way, meeting and spending time with such amazing and welcoming Fijian people was incredible. But I am still glad I went to see famous landmarks and wonders such as Angkor Wat that have put certain countries on the map, even if there were thousands of other people there too.
The answer to the question in this post, ‘are unique travel experiences easier to find?’, like a lot of experience with travel, will likely depend on the person… Is it more about seeing world famous historical landmarks, and it doesn’t matter if there are other people there or not? Or maybe it’s about immersing yourself in a culture completely different to yours?
Could balance be the answer?
No matter your opinion on travel, I think the answer should be to balance things out. I’ve found that, yes some of the popular landmarks can be touristy, busy and stressful to visit, but I’m glad I visited them, and sometimes when travelling with a group you can do and see things you wouldn’t do on your own (like climbing the volcano above, that isn’t accessible unless with a guided group).
If my whole trip was just busy, stressful tourist spots, perhaps my views of travel would be more negative… On the other hand, you wouldn’t visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, would you?
I think the way to find that uniqueness in travel, is to have a mixture of mainstream, and not so mainstream. See what the guidebook says, then throw it away and go speak to a local, see what they think… Even if other people have been to the same places you have, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their experiences will have been the same. It’s the people we’re with and locals we meet, that could hold the key to keeping that uniqueness in travel as the world gets smaller and smaller.
What do you think?…
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