I’ve spent a lot of time on airplanes in the past few days, from Hong Kong to Singapore to Dubai to Istanbul to (finally!) Vienna. Somewhere on that last leg, super drowsy and unable to pull off a basic polite conversation with the guy in front of me, I started thinking about just how easy it really is today to get anywhere on the planet with little fuss and some modest expense.
I started thinking about a sort of epic travel “bucket-list” (to use the cliched term), places that I would want to experience more than anywhere else in the world. There’s obviously a lot wrong with this concept, primarily that the “experience” of a place is constantly shifting and anyways is built on nothing more than prejudices and expectations until I’ve actually gone. That being said there are certain locations/names/imagery from around the world that stick out in my mind. Also, I’m a big fan of making lists, especially when it comes to travel!
So assuming that I could go anywhere in the world, these are the top 10 countries (though not ordered in any ranking sense) I came up with. This list is actually pretty doable, though several of these countries seem to require pretty deep pockets (at least as an American):
* East Timor (I really like traveling in Indonesia, and I get the feeling Timor L’Este would be an ever more chaotic version of that.)
* Papua New Guinea (Wild wild wild. Wild jungle, wild SCUBA, traditional tribes in the heart of the jungle. Sign me up.)
* Iran (I’ve heard nothing but positives about the hospitality and people here, and I’ve actually got a friend who’s in Iran as I type this. Definitely possible, but from my understanding a visa for independent travel is out of the question for U.S. citizens.)
*Morocco (I have mental images here of deserts and markets and mountains and camels and winding alleyways and delicious food. True? Who knows? I definitely want to see, though.)
*Israel (After traveling through Mongolia with two groups of Israelis, I’d really like to check out this politically charged place. Jerusalem, in particular, sounds like an amazing vibe and a great place to spend weeks and weeks. I actually have it in my mind to visit Israel shortly before I have to get a new passport (Jan 2016 at the latest), so this could realistically happen in the next few years.
*India (chiefly Ladakh) (Ladakh because of the way it was described to me in Nepal, and India just because its so big and diverse and colorful and different. I’ve thought about it several times, but never been willing to put aside a 6 month block entirely devoted to India. Is that even enough to get a taste?)
* Trans-Nistria (One of those sorta-states, I’d made plans to visit while I was in Moldova and ended up scratching them at the last minute. Described as a last haven for Soviet Communism with exceptional Brandy and beautiful women. I wouldn’t have expected to leave Moldova having not seen enough, but this definitely makes me want to return.)
*North Korea (Hermit kingdom? Crazy autocratic government? Difficult to get into? I’m totally in. Why else do you think I’m headed to Turkmenistan in a few weeks?)
* Comoros Islands (Beautiful islands, beaches, a rash of recent civil wars, SCUBA, and a culture seemingly vastly different from mine. Somehow it strikes me as an African outpost of Micronesia, with a heated political history thrown in for good measure.)
* Madagascar (Just next door to the Comoros, these two would combine to make a really interesting trip.
The list of 10 cities I came up with, though, has a few less practical items. At least two are meant to be a bit unstable right at the moment, and short of religious conversion or exceptionally reckless bravado I’m probably not going to one of the others. Top 10 cities in the world, Stephen-style:
* Herat, Afghanistan (I’ve been reading a lot of Great Game literature recently, and Herat just keeps popping up. So much history, so important to Central Asian colonial politics, and supposedly a beautiful setting tucked into a valley and surrounded by mountains.)
* Macchu Piccu, Peru (I love hiking, I dig architecture, and enjoy playing at photography. This just combines all three, now doesnt it?)
* Moscow and St. Petersberg, Russia (Again this may be in part due to my recent reading choices, but these both strike me as excellent places to go live large for a while. The descriptions of St. Petersburg in Crime and Punishment, as well, would probably be the makings of a great literary tour of the city.)
* Sana’a and Socotra, Yemen (I wouldn’t be happy visiting one without the other, and it sounds like Yemen is kind of a political mess at the moment. Brilliant old architecture, crazy indigenous plants, and big empty deserts to explore nearby. Actually, perhaps I should have moved this one to the countries list?)
* Rapa Nui, Chile (Aka Easter Island.)
* Mecca, Saudi Arabia(Right… this one is going to be tricky. How can you think of places like Jerusalem and Bodh Gaya, though, without desperately wanting to visit here as well?)
* Cairo, Egypt (Oddly, it was spending time in Dubai’s Old Town that made me really want to seek out Cairo. Something about the busy cityscape with minarets towering over all makes it seem like a good place to go and take some photos. The food and shisha don’t hurt, either!)
* Baku, Azerbaijan (New money oil town, and departure point for ferries over the Caspian Sea. Also, Zoroastrian Fire Temples! Absurdistan was totally based on Baku too, right?)
* Zanzibar, Tanzania (The name itself would be enough. The Stone Town and natural attractions and spice markets make the appeal even stronger.)
* Fez and Marrakesh, Morocco (This is the only country that pops up on both lists, which maybe shows how interested I am to go. On any Africa trip plan, Morocco will be one of the first stops.)
I should say, here, that I’m not at all about to book a flight and head to most of these places. So, the more …worry prone… members of my family need not be overly concerned. These list are just places in the world that, given a guarantee of safety and the slightest provocation, would be on my itinerary in a heartbeat.