Lying atop the powdery sands of a brochure-worthy beach soaking up the restorative Caribbean sun; or lying inside the claustrophobic tube of an MRI scanner while being plunged into darkness when the provincial Indian hospital loses power. One is the stereotypical dream vacation, the other just a bad dream. But guess which is the experience you are never going to forget?
I once spent a perfectly delightful fortnight in Belize with my wife. We went snorkeling off the world’s second largest reef, explored jungles and ruins, ate delicious freshly prepared meals, and, of course, lied out by the warm, gently lapping surf of the Caribbean Sea. It was essentially the kind of getaway one would hope for: relaxing, recharging, and a true escape. However, when we returned home, it was not like friends and family were lining up to view slideshows of sunsets and toucans or hear stories about sunbathing.
And then there was my trip to India, where I slipped on mud (at least I told myself it was mud) and smashed my knee on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, landing myself in that aforementioned, electricity-averse hospital. And where a cheap space heater short-circuited and partially burned down the wall of my equally cheap hotel room. Or where the taxi I was riding in sideswiped a bus and the cabbie jumped out to argue with the bus driver, abandoning me in the car that happened to be stopped across railway tracks, which I only discovered when a crowd of onlookers pushed the car out of the way of a rapidly approaching train. Or when, on the night of Tibetan New Year in Dharamsla, I stumbled into a drunken street fight and a shower of broken glass as someone was pushed through a store window.
Clearly, these are not events you choose to include when planning your travel itinerary. Nor could my trip to India be in any way described as relaxing. But I guarantee that friends did not fake interest when I would relate my stories. And not only will I not forget my time in India anytime soon, I eagerly await my return trip to the country.
I am certainly capable of enjoying a lazy beach vacation as readily as anybody. But as someone whose time spent traveling is a scandalously low percentage of my life, I more often than not seek out the “difficult” destinations. When travel is challenging and unpredictable I am far more likely to collect the experiences and encounters that will fuel a lifetime of fond recollection and travel nostalgia. Being shaken out of the pedestrian routine of everyday life is what makes foreign travel so rewarding.
So, the next time you find yourself caught out in a thunderstorm, or lost in a foreign county, or forced to navigate a city during a transit strike, remember that it still beats being stuck back home in a cubicle and will provide stories and memories that will far outlast the length of your trip.