I wish I could say that travel was all about the places you go, checking destinations off a list. But it’s not quite so easy. It’s also about when you were there. Places are ever-changing. They can be destroyed by natural disasters or war, evolve with a regime change, or even by the tourists that visit them. Heck, some places will actually disappear (the Maldives). Here are some of the places I’ve been surrounding these types of distinct moments.
Hong Kong – I went in the year prior to the changeover from British colonial rule to Chinese government. I haven’t been since 1997, but I’m sure it is different in many ways. Similarly, Macau was a fishing village when I went, and now it’s one of the richest cities in the world.
Berlin – I went just a couple years after the Berlin wall fell, and you could still see quite a dichotomy between the East and West. I’ve heard there is still a difference in culture, but in a way that neighborhoods have different flavors, not quite like an Iron Curtain of separation. In the early 90’s, you were able to buy real chunks of the Berlin wall. Now, beware of knock-off spray-painted concrete sold by street vendors.
New York – My family planned to spend Christmas in New York. And then Sept 11th happened. There was no discussion about cancelling our trip; we felt stronger about going to be part of a city in solemn solidarity. I can still remember seeing ash in the doorways of buildings and missing person flyers posted around Ground Zero.
Kathmandu – We chose to go to Nepal in October, but April was our second choice. If we had gone in April, we would’ve been there for the 2015 earthquake. Instead, we were able to see temples and ancient structures that have since crumbled.
Even time of year can affect your experience with the weather or festivals that transform a city (a trip to Venice in rainy winter where St. Marks square floods is different than Carnival). It’s also about the time in your life. Surely, you take away different aspects of a place relative to your own experiences (and the company you keep). Paris can be an educational art tour with a class, a romantic trip with a lover, or in my case, a solo rite of passage, etc.
Whenever you decide to travel, there is no time like the present! Get out there, enjoy it. Don’t wait around for something historic to happen. Find uniqueness in the time and setting you are in.