This post was made possible by the generosity of another writer. It does not reflect my views and I do not endorse the content.
Travel is something that’s very easy to put off. If money is tight, we land a great new job or even if we’re planning to start a family, with low cost flights and hotel bookings made on a ‘free cancellation’ basis there’s often little consequence to changing our minds and postponing a trip. After all, the world will still be there when we finally get around to travelling; or so the argument goes.
Perhaps this is true, but what we can’t predict is how the places we want to visit will change while we wait for the right time to go. I made my way to Berlin in 1987 as a fresh-faced teenager, travelling from East to West and back again and seeing the Berlin Wall not as a relic of the past but as a very real and formidable barrier dividing the people of a great city. When I hear people today wandering what it was like to visit a divided Berlin I count myself fortunate to have come when I did and experienced something that no-one else is likely to experience.
On the flip side I’ll always regret putting off that first visit to New York until the spring of 2002. I will never know what the old view was like, either from the top of the World Trade Centre or from the Staten Island ferry looking back to the Manhattan skyline at sunset. You read about places in guide books and travel sites and naturally assume that they will be there just as described when we’re ready to see them.
Syria is another case in point. On my visit around the country in 2009 I was met with kindness, curiosity and felt safer than I had in almost any place I’ve been. Not for a moment would I guess the country would be engulfed in such a tragedy only a few years later. The Crusaders’ fortress at Krak des Chevaliers, the Citadel in Aleppo and the souks in Damascus, all of which evoked such strong memories are now damaged or destroyed. When Syria emerges from its hell and once again welcomes tourists, as it surely will, the loss of these historic treasures will mean that visitors will never again experience the country in the same way.
Some of the world may become easier for us to visit if we put off our travels for another day that suits us. Look at Burma and how tourism has flourished in the last few years as the country has begun to open up politically. If Cuba becomes a major tourist destination for Americans in the next twenty years, how will that change the way the country looks and feels? How about North Korea – will it remain a hermit state or will the winds of change sweep through and bring about a revolution. Should we see these places now and see them as they are? Change when it comes can be very rapid.
Others places sit on perilous geographic fault-lines. People in major cities on the Pacific Rim live with the risk of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions while scientists look at the likelihood of major natural disasters in Istanbul and Naples and say that it’s a question of when rather than if.
Our lives change and it’s only natural that we fit our travel plans around our more immediate concerns around money, health or relationships. But when we look at the world and plan out our travel dreams into the future, it’s worth remembering that the world can change every bit as quickly as our personal situation. If you leave your dream destination for too long at the top of your wish list, you can’t guarantee it won’t change by the time you’re ready to see it.