Around this time of year, people who know me well start asking “So, where are you going this winter?”. You see, I’ve managed to escape a big chunk of Toronto’s winter for the last four years. I just hate winter. I hate those dark, cold days when the sun sets at 5 PM. I think I suffer from a mild (or perhaps not so mild) version of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). As the days grow colder and shorter, I feel apathetic, and tired. I have no energy, no drive. And it’s not just the psychological effects. As I get older I find that the cold wind makes my eyes cry, and the dry indoor air makes my skin flake and crack. Just awful. And winter up here lasts a long, long time.
To those good sports who say “But I like the seasons”, I reply “So do I: I like spring, summer, fall, spring, summer…”. You get the idea.
I’ve been able to organize my life so as to minimize the amount of time I spend in the frigid weather, but every year comes the question: where should I go? Choosing a destination is always a difficult endeavour, but even more so when you’re travelling for several months. The place has to be very affordable, interesting, safe, and have appropriate weather (sunny and warm, but not too hot). It’s becoming more and more of a challenge to find new countries that satisfy these criteria. So lately, I’ve been returning to countries I already visited: Argentina, Uruguay, Malaysia, Laos, Ecuador. I tried to visit different cities and regions in each, and perhaps tag one or two neighbouring countries that were new to me, like Chile, Cambodia, and the Philippines.
I am planning to write a series of articles this fall about “how to choose a destination”, just in time for your winter escapes (whether they are 1 week or 4 months long). Choosing a destination is your first task when planning a trip, and sometimes the most difficult. Several factors must be taken into account: your budget, how much time you have, when you want to go, what you want to do, what kind of trip you want to have (lazing on the beach versus cultural versus outdoor activities). I will talk about each of these aspects in the near future and make you an expert on destination picking!
It is tempting for me to go back to a familiar destination, but I also have my goal of visiting 100 (UN) countries before I die. In the last year and a half, I haven’t budged from my score of 52. (If you’re curious, here is the list of countries I’ve already visited.) This winter, I’ve decided to finally visit country #53: Burma (or Myanmar). Burma has recently effected some changes making it a more democratic nation. Tour companies have started to return, independent travellers have been flooding in (at least compared with the previous trickle), and I’ve heard that hotel prices have doubled. Consequently, I feel a certain urgency to visit before it turns into another tourist-swamped country like Thailand or Cambodia. Besides, I’ve wanted to travel there since 2005. I even booked trips twice and had to cancel for various reasons.
However, Burma is not a place where one spends an entire winter. For one thing, visas are only available for a 28-day visit. And secondly, from what I read, the internet is very slow, and WiFi is only available in some high-end hotels and a few cafes. So, the logical solution is to spend the remainder of the time in Thailand. This is the easiest country from which to enter Burma, and it also has a Burmese embassy that provides a quick turnaround for Burmese visas. I haven’t been back to Thailand since 1997, and I’ve heard that Bangkok has changed a lot. And Thailand is popular for a reason: the food, the beaches, the ruins, the markets, the low prices, the friendly people, not to mention a good infrastructure and good airline connections.
So there you go. Every time you choose a country (or two, or three) you eliminate dozens of others (*). It’s a little heartbreaking. However, if you’re a big travel nut, you know you’ll get to them…. eventually!
(*) Places where I would like to go over the next few years: Turkey, Madagascar, Tanzania, China, Brazil, Iceland, Southern Spain, Czech Republic, Berlin, Copenhagen.
What is YOUR next destination?