If I was offered a free trip to an unspecified destination, I would accept without hesitation. It doesn’t matter to me if it was a third world country, a tropical paradise, a hiker’s haven or a futuristic city, as all travel destinations have something to teach you.
For me, one city that really got me thinking about positive changes I would love to put my efforts toward in the United States was Copenhagen. As someone who is passionate about sustainability, I was enamored with the city’s love of biking, their carbon-neutral hotels, their eco-friendly New Nordic Food Movement, their focus on green shops and experiences, and their goal to be the world’s first carbon neutral capital by 2025. Copenhageners make going green look effortless, but I think what really helped was a mixture of concern for the environment as well as a well-planned infrastructure that allowed for such things to exist. For example, while I bike around Brooklyn back home, I avoid going long distances, mainly because there are rarely any bike lanes, meaning you’ll inevitably find yourself two centimeters from a speeding bus at any given moment. If we had the types of bike lanes that Copenhagen has — which includes everything from super bike highways to green bike routes to national bicycle routes — I would ride all over the five boroughs and back. It was a really inspiring trip for me, seeing the possibilities for being a truly healthy and efficient city.
Another trip that was the complete opposite but still had a profound impact on me was Ghana, Africa. I still remember stepping into the tiny international airport in Accra, not seeing my driver at the arrivals terminal and feeling so lost. Once I finally found a ride to my accommodation the hectic streets were overwhelming, locals banging on car windows trying to sell toys and fruits, vehicles honking, hoards of people on the street corners, pot holes everywhere. I hated it immediately.
Oddly enough, by the end of my month-long trip there I spent the last night crying because I didn’t want to leave. My time in the country was in Achiase, where I not only lived with a local family, but became part of one. After awhile I learned to deal with the constant shouts of “oberoni!” (foreigner!), as I realized people were just curious about where I came from. I became accustomed to the sights and the smells, even learning to enjoy them (or at least appreciate the fact I was privy to experiencing them). While I wouldn’t say Ghanian food is my favorite, there were a few dishes — mainly Red Red and Peanut Soup — that become meals I looked forward to. Coming home to a living room of goats, playing with old tuna cans and deflated tires, and having locals come up and pinch my white skin to see if it was real all became the norm for me, and what was once scary became expected.
To me, there’s no such thing as a bad destination. If you can keep an open mind and really allow yourself to be immersed in the local culture you’ll be able to learn something from the trip, and maybe even be affected by it in a way that changes you.
Do you think there is such thing as a bad travel destination?