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Notes On Why I Hate When People Ask What My Favorite Country Is

favorite country

What’s my favorite country? Please don’t ask.

Yesterday I went to open a new bank account. Thinking it would be quick and painless, I didn’t bring a book, snacks or iPhone (I know, crazy!) as I normally would. Silly me. After 42 minutes of watching one bank employee — in my head I called her Belinda — flirt mercilessly with her burning object of desire (I also concocted a storyline for her), she finally remembered that she was the holder of the coveted check-in clipboard and called my name.

To open an account I needed two forms of ID, which meant I couldn’t just show my basic information driver’s license, but also my thick passport. Suddenly, my banker, Joel, forgot that I was a New Yorker in a hurry trying to open a new account and instead looked at me as if I were his travel agent.

“I have to ask…what’s the BEST PLACE to travel to?”

I was in no mood at this point. “There is none. It just depends on what you like.”

Apparently, he also noticed I didn’t have a ring on my finger.

“So, do you ever get to take a guest on these trips?”

Yes, and when I am able to the first person I think of to take is the bank teller down the street. Whom I met once. And who annoyed me.

“No, never. Sorry.”

After wrestling with his questions we finally got the account open, and I was free to continue completing the 1,001 other things on my To Do List for the day; however, as I grocery shopped, bought my grandma a birthday card and edited photos from a recent trip, I couldn’t help but continue to be haunted by Joel’s question, a question I get almost on a daily basis:

What is the best place to travel to?

favorite country

My boyfriend and I scaled Indian’s Nose in Guatemala at 5am to take in this epic sunrise. Now that’s romance!

There Is No Answer

I may have been short with Joel because I wanted to get my account open and leave the bank as quickly as possible, but the truth is there is no real answer to what the best destination to travel to is. It’s all based on personality, perspective and what happens to you during the trip. For example, you always hear what a romantic city Paris is, and while I personally thought it was okay, I have no desire to rush back or take my boyfriend there. In my opinion I’d rather try a new adventure activity or hike a high peak with him instead of eat croissants and stare at the Eiffel Tower. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point.

While many people love Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I’ll admit it was my least favorite place I visited in Brazil. Not only because I almost mugged, but I ended up staying in a not-so-great neighborhood, Gloria, instead of by the water. Maybe if I’d chosen a hostel right on Copacabana Beach my opinion would be different. Instead, I thought the colonial town of Paraty was much more laid back and also had a number of outdoor adventure activities in beautiful settings, while Ilha Grande provided me while the island paradise Rio had not. While I didn’t love Sao Paulo itself, I ended up meeting some really fun travelers, and because of this it became one of my favorite stops on my four-month South America backpacking trip. This is a perfect example of how sometimes a favorite destination isn’t about the destination at all, but the people you meet while there.

Then there’s Ghana, Africa. Most of the people I know have no desire to travel there, but I absolutely loved it. This is because I was doing volunteer work there, living with a family and really immersing myself in the culture, going to church, playing with local children, teaching and even attending weddings. Where I was the food was mainly rice water and snail kebabs and there wasn’t really anything for tourists to do; however, for me the educational and culturally enlightening nature of the journey — not to mention the relationships I foraged with my house family, the children I was working with and the other volunteers — made it an extra special place.

It’s like when a friend just returns from a romantic vacation and boasts how all her and her boyfriend/husband did was lounge on the beach. To me — a person who can’t sit still for more than 4.2 minutes –this sounds terrifying. You guys just laid around… for hours? For days? For a week?! My boyfriend and I just returned from a week in Guatemala where we hiked until our legs almost fell off, slept in treehouses and drank copious amounts of Cuba Libres. Now that’s romance — to me anyway.

favorite country

Downhill mountain biking in Colorado — my kind of adventure!

I Get It

I’m not saying I don’t understand where the question is coming from. I do. But people need to realize the “perfect travel destination” is completely subjective. Sure, I can enlighten you about the places I’ve been; however, where you should go will depend on what kind of experience you want to have. And while I don’t mind offering travel tips — in fact, I love it, which is why I do what I do — this one question in particular tends to get under my skin.

I feel the same way when it comes to published “10 Best” lists. Ten best for who? The 10 best restaurants, hotels, attractions, cities, etc will be completely different for me — a solo backpacker and devout foodie — than a just-married couple or family with children. There are just too many factors for the word “best” on its own to have any meaning.

Instead of trying to find the “best destination,” attempt to find the one that will give you a unique experience tailored to your interests.

What are your thoughts on the question of the world’s best destinations?

Recommendations:

Global Gal Travel Wallet [Travel Style]

The Solo Traveler’s Handbook by Janice Leith Waugh [Travel Books]

How Solo Female Travel Changed My Life (And How It Can Change Yours, Too) [Blog Inspiration]

Fox 40 Sonik Blast CMG Safety Whistle [Travel Gear]

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Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

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8 Comments

  1. Megan on May 29, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    This is why whenever I’m asked the question I emphasize the “Personally” I start the answer with. I have friends obsessed with Germany while I found it only okay. Though I’ll gush over Thailand or Morocco. It all depends on what appeals to the individuals.

  2. Jessie Festa on May 29, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    @Megan: Great tip! I actually have to do that when I tour guide, too, or people who are actually locals get really annoyed that you haven’t mentioned their “best pizza joint.” ha.

  3. Brett Domue on May 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I get this question a lot, and always hate trying to answer. I usually just answer with something like “I really don’t have a favorite, they’re all so different, but there are so many places I’d still love to travel to.”

    • jess2716 on May 29, 2014 at 7:36 pm

      @Brett: That’s a good answer. Hey, it’s the truth! No matter how many places you go to there’s still so much more to see and experience.

  4. Alexis on May 30, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I have the same reaction. I change my “favorite” country constantly. Usually I say things like my favorite place with a beach or with the mountains or with lots of culture. So there are different reasons for each one I suppose. Usually my favorite is the last one I visited and had a good experience in… haha.

    • jess2716 on May 30, 2014 at 10:10 am

      @Alexis: Funny you say that. Usually my response is something like “Well I was just in South Africa, so South Africa.” A week later I might say, “Well I was just in New Orleans, so New Orleans.” Just really depends on what my most recent experience has been.

  5. Alejandro on June 11, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I think there is a crazy difference that people tend not to think about when vacationing instead of traveling. The guy laying on the beach for days is vacationing. A time where you go to relax, unwind and rest from your normal routine. Travelling to me means exploring, discovering and experiencing all that a place has to offer; which usually will leave you wiped out when the trip is over (4a.m. hikes and chicken buses). That’s one of the reasons why people will choose one place over another as their ‘best’ place.

    P.S. Im from Guate and loved your blog about Indians nose!

    • jess2716 on June 11, 2014 at 2:59 pm

      @Alejandro: So true! And I’m very jealous that you’re from Guatemala. Do you still live there? I’m dying to go back and maybe stay for a few months!

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