20 life-changing trips – and how to make them count
I recently received a WhatsApp from my friend P. “What am I doing?” she wrote. “I have almost no money in my bank account, I am in the process of buying a house and yet I have just booked a vacation in Mexico.”
“What?” I answered. “When do you go?”
“This Thursday!” she answered. “I asked you !”
She did it ? I scrolled through our messages. It was true. Earlier in the week, she had sent me a link that I forgot to click on. I clicked on it now. My iPhone screen immediately bloomed with images of blue skies, bluer pools, and happy people drinking cocktails. “Good for you,” I typed, adding a smiley emoji, a cocktail emoji, and a sun emoji. I was really happy for her. She had had a difficult year. Faced with a gray and dull British winter, who among us wouldn’t want to fly off into the sun?
January is a gloomy month. No wonder this is when people start planning their summer vacations. However, who am I kidding: I usually start searching for hotels on Google on December 27, right after the Christmas cheese has been put away. This year, more than ever, I think back to the words of the poet Andrew Marvell: “But behind my back I still hear / The winged chariot of time draws near”. Or, for those with a more populist bent, Queen’s words: “Forever is our today/Qui attends pour ever anyway?” Because if there is one positive thing to come out of the pandemic, it is a reminder to seize the moment. Nothing makes you appreciate your freedom more than having it taken away from you.
If lockdown was characterized by everyone sending each other cheering memes, then after lockdown everyone was sending each other links to exotic vacations. They are my porn. Forget watching the latest episode of The Tourist: I’d rather spend an hour on i-escape planning a visit to Western Australia, where it was filmed.
My desire to experience vacations in faraway places is so intense that I forget the vow I made as a child never to embark on a plane trip longer than 10 hours. Who was this child with blinkers? A child who was clearly afraid of flying, but has grown into an adult who believes life is too short to live in fear.
My childhood was not really dotted with long vacations. Or even a short vacation, because my mother was afraid to fly. The first overseas vacation our family took was to Spain, via a 36-hour coach journey so strenuous it’s a wonder it didn’t deter me from lifelong travel. When it came to exploring the world, my mother’s apprehension rubbed off on me: while all my friends were taking gap years in France or Peru, I went straight to university. It wasn’t until years later that my wanderlust was ignited, thanks to a work trip to New York. Driving over the Triborough Bridge and seeing Manhattan loom up before me – so big, so exciting, so strange – has changed my life. We all have a special place that we missed visiting during the pandemic, and New York was mine. How I longed to chat with a taxi driver en route to the Whitney, or walk along the High Line to the Chelsea Flower Market, where I would feast on lobster roll, Clamato juice and aged white cheddar popcorn. Anyone who believes the world is globalized hasn’t tried ordering a non-GMS Chinese takeout of brown rice and steamed – not fried – bok choi outside of Manhattan.
Like many people, I’ve spent too many of the past two years with my head bent over my phone, scrolling through old memories of vacations past. Did I really go to Iceland? In what year was Marrakech? Did I really go straight from Ibiza to Venice in 2017? Joni Mitchell was right: you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Now that the journey we took for granted has resumed, it would be remiss not to seize every opportunity with both hands. After all, we have almost two years of stasis to catch up on. We can’t reclaim that time, but we can maximize every moment to come.
And we go. We’ll go further than we ever thought possible – so far that our refrigerators, sofas and badly needed bathrooms are a distant memory. We will cycle through the Dolomites, play golf in the Algarve, stand in awe of the Taj Mahal and marvel at the pyramids. We will do this oft-promised safari in Kenya, even though we are afraid of spiders. We will visit the old school friend who emigrated to Vancouver in 1992. We will climb Machu Picchu, and failing that, we will take a picture of it. We’ll drink mojitos on Copacabana Beach, a place that has intrigued us ever since we heard Barry Manilow’s record, because why should Lola-she-was-a-showgirl have fun?
In addition to the new distant pastures, we may also return to our favorite old haunts: the towns of our honeymoons; the ski slopes of our school outings; and the beaches of this disastrous backpacking holiday where we lived on beer and shrimp for three weeks and fell in love with a tour guide called Somsak. We are older and wiser now. We are also less deprived and do not need to stay in a hostel. We will go further and better, with minds as open as our horizons. We also won’t be so tense when things go wrong. What if we were seated next to the toilet on a long-haul flight? It’s all part of the journey. Remember when we couldn’t fly at all?
We will never forget. Instead, we will remember to remember, in minute detail, every sound, sight and smell our destination generates. We will travel differently, mindfully, learning new cultures and respecting them. We will talk to the people we meet and we will listen to them. We will learn. We will learn that a tan is great, but sightseeing feeds the soul.
Above all, we will be grateful: for the opportunities life has in store for us, and for a world that has opened up again, allowing us to bask in its glorious sunshine or rain. We don’t know what the future holds – only that it is there, asking us to fully experience it.
Admire the Iguazu Falls
The northern tip of Argentina’s Misiones province, named after the Jesuit missionaries who first settled the area in the 17th century, has one of the country’s few remaining stretches of subtropical hardwood forest. In this park, Iguazú National Park is home to bright-billed toucans, colorful parrots, raccoon-like coatis, and howler monkeys, as well as harder-to-find jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, and giant anteaters. spot.
The centerpiece of the park are the Iguazú Falls, which comprise some 275 separate falls spread over a 1.7-mile-wide fault where the Iguazú River plunges to join the mighty Paraná. Devil’s Throat – the tallest and loudest waterfall – is nearly 500 feet wide and 270 feet high. Gravity-defying palm trees cling to vertical cliffs, swifts bob in and out of brown-hued waterfalls, and thousands of butterflies flutter around the spray. Walkways above and below the falls make access easy, and although swimming is prohibited, there are plenty of opportunities to soak on a boat trip or by standing at the base of the waterfalls.