Some travellers want the whole world. Some people want a tiny corner of it. I would put myself in the former camp, though I’ve noticed over the years that my travel obsessions seem to be categorised in continents, or groups of countries. I’ve also noticed how these shift over time, and have been thinking about why that is.
This post is really just a combination of thoughts and reflections on this subject.
From the age when backpacking became a reality rather than simply a dream, my primary interest was South America, which later extended to “Latin America” when I thought culturally rather than strictly geographically.
I’ve known a lot of people whose wanderlust seemed to be aimed more at South East Asia. Others find Europe the most inspiring travel destination. It’s not to say that because someone is most interested in X continent, they’d avoid travelling anywhere outside of their focus area. But, it is interesting to map out our travel interests in continents, and see how they can shift over time.
When I was around 17 – when the idea of travelling was still mysterious yet appealing – I remember browsing through photos of South Africa, probably in a gap year brochure that I’d picked up somewhere. Around the second year of university, my fixation with Latin America began, and South Africa became a blurry dream for the future.
Then, 10 years later, at the age of 27, I found myself looping back to the dreams I had as a 17-year-old.
I certainly cannot say “I’ve done Latin America”. Travelling is not about ticking off items on a list. Often, the more you travel, the more people you meet, the more places you hear about and hence the more places you add to your list. I would guess that for a lot of people (and certainly for myself), travel just feeds travel.
And yet, in the past 18 months, my travel dreams have certainly shifted from Latin America to Africa. Being the reflective type, I’ve tried to delve into my mind and find out why that’s happened. Here are some ideas:
- Spending a substantial amount of time in a certain place
Again, travelling isn’t about crossing out entries on a list. However, as I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in Latin American countries over the last five years, I figure I ought to start here.
Perhaps, having spent a lot of time and having had the opportunity to visit lots of places in Latin America, my mind has wandered to other, “newer” places.
Certainly, two months in Mexico last year was an incredible experience, and one for which I am truly grateful. Going (much) further south, I’ve also had the opportunity to visit Brazil a couple of times for work, and have another work trip planned next year. These trips have allowed me to tack on some holidays and see places which had been very high on my “must-visit” list: Iguassu Falls and Buenos Aires.
Oh yes, age. The debate on how much we change as we age is an interesting one, but for myself, I can certainly say that I’m not the same person as I was at 22 when I was setting off for a month in Chile.
As we change – or grow, or whatever you’d like to call it – our travel interests likely change too. Perhaps there’s something especially appealing about Latin America as a new-to-travelling 20-something. It’s a great backpacking destination, full of beautiful landscapes and incredible culture. It’s not too far off the beaten track, and hence is pretty accessible, even on a budget. Maybe the same could be said about South East Asia?
Africa, though… Perhaps there’s something about Africa which feels more off the beaten track? Perhaps it seems more expensive (and thus less of a possibility for a recent university graduate) because a lot of the time when we see pictures of Africa, we see luxury safari lodges?
I can’t pinpoint the exact reason, but I’d be surprised if age didn’t factor into the equation to some extent.
- Knowledge and understanding
About two years ago, I was chatting to a woman who grew up in Zimbabwe. She told me a little bit about the country and her experiences there. It then occurred to me that I knew next to nothing about Zimbabwe. In fact, I knew next to nothing about Africa.
Europe’s involvement in Africa, and the fact that this seems to be completely brushed over by our education syllabus, is a whole other subject which I could go on about for a long time. For now, suffice to say that I’d never really learnt about African history.
What I did know, two years ago, was that I hated the typical, Western portrayal of Africa, with Bob Bloody Geldof and his buddies set on painting a picture of a desperate continent of poverty and famine and an absolute dependence on the white saviour.
So, it’s been my mission over the last couple of years to acquaint myself with African history, politics and economics. That’s not a small task, so my focus has been primarily on Southern Africa and Nigeria.
Certainly, reading books, watching documentaries and TedTalks and gaining a (still rudimentary) understanding of a continent draws you to it.
And so I find myself, at the age of 28, quite fixated on Africa, particularly Southern Africa. I’ve recently been lucky enough to visit South Africa, if only for a brief holiday, and hope to will definitely return as soon as I can.
So, a couple of potential reasons for my own shifting continental dreams: experience, age and knowledge. I’m sure there are plenty more, but it’s been an interesting exercise for me to reflect on this shift.
If for some reason you’ve stuck with me to the end of this post, then thanks very much. If you have any thoughts or reflections on this subject, please do share them with me!