I’ve led a fortunate life so far. There are a lot of ways to measure good fortune. Money, health and happiness are probably the most common. One way I conceive of it is that I have had a lot of opportunities to do the many things I’ve wanted to do. The dictionary definitions of freedom often refer to it in a negative sense. It is the absence of coercion that determines whether you have freedom. This works, of course, but it’s a bit unsatisfying as well. Turning it around a little, greater abundance of opportunity and choice must be markers of increased freedom. It’s in this way that I’ve been truly privileged, much of it through no direct action on my own. I recognize that, and I’m extremely grateful for it. I’ve just tried to make good use of it.
Where I’ve been
The opportunity to travel is among the ways in which I am most grateful for my good fortune. The map below from Matador Network depicts the twelve countries I’ve visited including my own. My brother is even more avid. He’s basically a professional traveler, even though his current “countries visited” count sits slightly below my own (for about another week). We don’t keep score on this. If anything it’s a point of mutual encouragement because we both enjoy and value it so greatly. I like to think that anyone who truly loves to travel would say it’s much more about the experiences than simply keeping a tally of where you’ve been.
David has been to: Canada, People’s Republic of China, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Portugal, Spain, United States.
Get your own travel map from Matador Network.
Still, there’s a certain sense of satisfaction that comes from taking stock of where I’ve been. It certainly brings back a lot of great memories. The Matador map is a useful tool to start from, but it’s also a bit of a blunt instrument. It tells you nothing about my actual time spent in the places listed.
For example, the map doesn’t tell you I lived in Costa Rica for about four and a half months “studying” abroad where I rafted the Reventazón, helped nesting sea turtles near Tortuguero, and jumped off the cliff in the crummy pic at the right in Montezuma. The map doesn’t tell you I’ve been to Spain three times, that I’ve spent hours wandering the Alhambra, hiked Montjuïc and Parc Güell, or seen Las Meninas up close twice. It doesn’t tell you that my wife and I trekked the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, watched a Chinese orchestra perform at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, or had garments made at the famous South Bund Fabric Market in Shanghai.
If this sounds like some kind of bragging, that’s not my intention but I’m okay with it. I cherish these trips and memories. They represent some of the best times and included some of the best people in my life.
But the map doesn’t just undersell your most meaningful travel experiences. It can oversell the others as well. The map indicates I’ve been to France, but fails to mention that it was for a 20 hour layover in Paris. We crammed as much into that time as we could, but it doesn’t do the place justice. It doesn’t tell you that my time in Morocco was just a little more than a day and only in Tangiers. Again, an experience I wouldn’t trade, but I’m hardly an expert on the place. My wife and I spent about a week in Mexico last year, but almost all of it was at a resort in Cabo San Lucas. We had a great time, and made the most of our few opportunities to interact outside that sort of bubble environment. I enjoyed that type of travel more than I thought I would, but I don’t regard it as an authentically Mexican experience in the way my time in other places comes much closer.
The map leaves out all these details. Which is fine. That’s not what it’s for. These sorts of checklists can be a great way to refresh your memory on the things you’ve done, though I worry a bit that they can also lead to social media envy when shared. It’s helpful to remember just how unlikely it is that your friends and family are actively trying to make you feel less satisfied with your life when they share these things. Considered on balance, it’s good, harmless fun.
Where I Want to Go
The Matador map also reminded me of how many places I want to visit that I’ve yet to see. That list is endless. I mean that in a literal sense. There are places I wish I could visit that I don’t even know exist. Given the ability to travel across the universe and limitless time, I don’t think I’d ever lose interest in seeing new places. Such ambitions remain frustratingly out of reach, though I’m game for cryogenic preservation until we’ve got that sorted. Or someone can just build me a TARDIS. That would do nicely. In the meantime, I’ve decided to compile a slightly more realistic list. The map above reveals that I’ve been to twelve countries. I repurposed the Matador map to select the countries I hope will be my next twelve.
This list is wrong. Which is to say it is inaccurate, or at least it will be very soon. Possibly tomorrow. It’s already the second iteration since I began drafting this post. Choosing just twelve places is impossibly limiting. I’ve neglected Africa entirely, even though I’d love to see places like Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Madagascar and more. Huge swaths of Asia are left out, and tomorrow I’ll likely tell you that India, Thailand and Vietnam should have been there all along.
Europe is pretty well represented, but what kind of idiot doesn’t count Greece and Italy among the places he most wants to visit? This idiot *points thumbs at self*. And what of the Americas? Why Chile and not Argentina or Paraguay? How can I ignore Machu Picchu in Peru? Who wouldn’t want to visit Cuba or Jamaica?
Making this list is impossible. But whatever. It’s a good start. It’s unlikely the twelve countries listed below will actually be the next twelve places I go. Opportunity and circumstance will probably see to that. The map is aspirational, not for its specificity but for the simple act of thinking about it. I do want to go to all these places. Whether they remain in the top twelve or not is inconsequential.
So go ahead. Make your own Matador map. It’s a fun little exercise. But when you’re done, think about the places you’ve yet to go instead of the places you’ve already been. It may not feel as self-affirming or even as satisfying, but it’s more likely to get you planning that next trip.