GATA’s Guide to Choosing a Destination

Not every trip can be nor should be an epic, life culminating “dream trip”; but every travel experience should excite, invigorate and inspire you in some way.  If you have the time, money and occasion to take that “dream trip” you’ve always wanted, great! Go for it! Unfortunately, most of our opportunities for travel do not meet this criteria.  Most of the time we have a finite amount of time or money or both, and sometimes even if we have the requisite resources, it’s just not the right time. For example, I have always wanted to go to Scotland.  As a kid, I was obsessed. I would buy ridiculously overpriced books on the country and spend hours drooling and dreaming over pictures of the highlands and the Isle of Skye. I have now travelled to over 30 countries….but still have not been to Scotland, even though that has been my dream destination since….forever!  Well, that changes this summer, as I have saved up some money and am planning an epic trip to celebrate my 30th birthday. I will be spending 3 weeks in Scotland with the man I love to celebrate the occasion–I have the time, the money, and the occasion to make it a trip worthy of all my years of dreaming.

Here’s another story about planning a trip and choosing a destination….  A few years back in the days I spent working a desk job like a “responsible” adult (overrated, not recommended),  I found myself with an accumulation of three weeks vacation. Obviously, I was going to have some sort of international adventure; the question was where?  At that point in my life, I had already traveled most of South America and much of Africa and Europe. I was (and still am) saving New Zealand (and with it Australia)  for a time when I have months to spend instead of mere weeks. So the obvious choice was Southeast Asia. All backpackers and free spirited young folk do Southeast Asia.  It is a backpacker’s paradise and a staple in any serial travelers country collection. In fact, it was hard to believe that I hadn’t already checked it off my list.

So, I started planning my trip (see “GATA’s Guide to Planning a Trip”).  Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Sounds amazing, right? Right? RIGHT?!  I kept trying to psych myself up, but I just was not feeling inspired. I wasn’t excited.  I was planning a trip to somewhere simply because it was somewhere that I hadn’t been before and that lots of other people go to.  Not good enough reasons.

No, when I thought about it, I realized a few things…. First of all, Southeast Asia is hot and swampy.  I hate being hot. I HATE BEING HOT. It is a region renowned for its beautiful beaches and crazy partying.  Well I’m not much of a beach goer, and I loathe drunken, drugged, loud, hostel-staying backpackers…. So, no wonder I wasn’t excited.  

Now, this isn’t to say that I will never go to Southeast Asia, nor that I wouldn’t enjoy traveling the region.  It just wasn’t a good fit for me at that time, and my reasons for going, mainly, that it was somewhere I hadn’t been, were not sufficient to justify the trip.  

I stopped my Southeast Asia planning and instead started thinking of what I love — mountains, wilderness, hiking, being challenged and far from crowds and cities.  At that point a beam of sunshine pierced through the dismal grey Michigan sky and shone upon me, and it was clear. NEPAL. 3 weeks trekking through the Himalayas–yes please!  It is everything I love, and it was somewhere new that I had never been! It was so obvious and so perfect, and I was immediately EXCITED. That excitement and renewed passion was, and is, how I know I have chosen the right destination.  (My trip to Nepal was epic and amazing and incredible in so many ways….unfortunately, not the actual topic of this post).

The point of that story is the following:  The opportunity to travel is a privilege. Don’t waste it by going somewhere simply because it is somewhere that other people like to go or because it sounds exotic.  Really examine why you want to go somewhere, and if you are not feeling excited or inspired by your destination, reevaluate and consider what it is that makes you feel most alive.  What inspires you? Take the time and money you have and chase that–wherever it may be. Remember that it’s okay to save your ultimate dream trip for another time, for when you have more time or more money or have the right person to be your companion.  

If you are still having trouble deciding where to go, contact us and we would be happy to give you some ideas.

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By Participant December 2016

Sorry for the late post guys, but I am finally back in the states and currently suffering from Ecuador withdrawal. I’m still trying to cope with the fact that it’s all over. Well Ecuador, it has been a total blast. I’m lucky enough to say that for the very first time ever I visited a third world country and helped out people who needed it the most and actually became what I consider my friends. Between all of the traveling from place to place (from Quito to Yunguilla to Mitad Del Mundo to Papallacta and finally back), delicious food, and the community service (did I just forget an intense soccer game?), I couldn’t have possibly asked for anything more. I’m also going to be brutally honest: this experience opened my eyes to way of life that I admit to not fully understand or ever begin to imagine, yet still appreciate at the same time how people in this society help out another in times of need. It truly makes me grateful for all that I have in my life. I will never forget any of the friends I encountered here, nor any of my experiences, nor the breathtaking scenery within this incredibly beautiful country. This might as well have been one of the best weeks of my whole 22 years. Ecuador, you will be greatly missed.

By Ashley Simon

Today, we arrived in the hidden village of Yunguilla. For those of you who are not so geographically savvy, Yunguilla is about 1-2 hours away from Quito, in the middle of, well, basically nowhere. Even though this small town lives off one small store and the working mentality of its citizens, I don’t think I have ever seen such humble and content people. Upon our first day of arrival, we were greeted by the friendly smiles of home stay families. For the next week, we would be emerged in the houses of these strangers who we knew nothing about. Little did I know that these “strangers” did not posses any qualities of being “weird” or “strange.” My homestay mother welcomed Lilly and me into her home with a warm smile and fresh popcorn. Within the first few moments, I knew that I felt right at home in this hilltop abode. One of the moments that has touched me the most since I have been here is when I was working in the artesian shop with one of the most warm hearted women that I have had the chance of meeting. Being able to help out “Leely” with making crafts to sell in the little store was an experience that I would never of thought could teach me so much. As we began to work, she told me about the paper that we were drawing on. Every single piece was recycled and the materials were either second-hand or completely natural, such as leaves or flowers. As I began to draw, I realized that I did not really have room to mess up. I didn’t have paper and fresh markers at my beck and call as I do in the United States. These recycled paper cards were sold to villagers and tourists in order to further gain profit for the community. As Leely and I began to talk, she told me that she works three days a week and each day, 8 to 10 hours. She does this while balancing raising two daughters and working as an avid member and citizen of Yunguilla. Her story inspired me. Seeing her be so passionate about the glitter paint and colored pencils that went into making these heart-felt crafts reminded me of how blessed I am to be able to take art class and visit museums and buy a fresh poster board and markers any time I have an upcoming project. Being here in Yunguilla is an eye-opening experience for me, and I have become more thankful for the little things, such as making Mother’s Day cards in a little shack with the presence of genuine companions.