REGRETS. Every trip has a few. A niggling voice at the back of your mind getting slowly louder, eating away at you as it lists all the things you should’ve done. And it all starts with someone telling you, “So, you visited [insert destination]. Did you see x or y or z? Oh, why not? I thought that’s what everyone did. Oh, I see, you did that instead? Was it fun? But didn’t you want to see x? No. Oh, I see.”
Hmm. By the end of the conversation, you not only feel your experience has been devalued but you’re filled with regret about what you didn’t see. You may have visited the destination, but did you have the ‘right’ experience?
You’ve been to Rome — but did you see the Sistine Chapel? No, it was closed. You’re going back, then? To really see it? What about Peru, surely you visited Machu Picchu? What’s that? The trail was closed? Poor you. When are you heading back, then?
A few years ago, on a trip to Queenstown, New Zealand, I was obsessed with visiting a fjord called Doubtful Sound, having read in a Sunday paper about the no-nonsense names the locals had given the surrounding landscape. The mountains there were remarkable — so they’d called them ‘Remarkables’; the Sound was ‘Doubtful’ as it was ‘doubtful’ a boat would return if it ventured into its waters.
So, ignoring the guidebook advice, I skipped the usual tourist trip to Milford Sound and headed to Doubtful Sound, feeling relatively content. But at the back of my mind ever since there has been a niggling voice, telling me I should have followed convention and gone to see Milford Sound — the day trip ‘everyone’ tells you to do if you don’t have much time to see everything.
In hindsight, I should’ve squeezed both in, and perhaps taken the Shotover Jet boat-ride down the river. Or the duck tour (don’t ask). After all, this was a long way to go to not do it ‘right’. There have been times since, I admit, where I’ve considered going back and ensuring that this time I get it ‘right’.
New York, as a destination, has got it sussed. It’s a city that knows if you go once, you’ll be back again. There’s no way you can see and do everything in one visit — even though Manhattan Island is a mere 13.4 miles long (a fact I’ve never forgotten since stumbling across it). Culture, nightlife, bars, spas, history, the sights. You can try and pack it all into one weekend, but you’ll still be left wanting to return — to a different neighbourhood, for a new experience.
I’ve been back three, maybe four times. And if I were asked again? I’d jump at the chance. Because it’s no longer enough to just go somewhere; it’s also about knowing somewhere. Going once is rarely enough to see everything, to really appreciate a destination. So you can have that conversation without feeling like you haven’t really seen a place.
Of course, regardless of the precision of your planning, there’s always one reason or another why you could only do what you did. Not every traveller has oodles of time to wander aimlessly to discover a destination; most of us use some kind of guide, whether in print or downloaded on your latest phone or gadget.
But best-laid plans can always go awry. It happened again last year, in Cyprus. There’s a beach near the village where we stayed. And every guidebook told me it was a good beach and, perhaps, we should’ve gone there. There were reasons we didn’t — I can’t quite remember what they were now — but the reasons were there. And instead, we headed to the best beaches we knew. Now I look back and don’t feel I did justice to that village. Or its beach.
No regrets, then? Easier said than done. But I have accepted there’s always going to be a niggling feeling in the back of my mind — about the ‘one’ that got away. Time to go back, then. Once again.
No regrets — a quick travel check list
1. Take a guidebook: Take three. One to read on the plane. One to take with you when you’re touring and one as a back-up. Make sure one of these has a detachable, waterproof, crease-proof map. Of course, none of them will be quite right and you’ll end up picking up the local guide with its freebie map, to use for navigation — overruling the three guidebooks you packed for this purpose.
2. Use technology: If it’s available, then ensure you have access to it. Location-based technology is your friend. Take spare batteries, solar-powered devices for recharging, etc. Buy and download guidebooks with maps onto your phone.
3. Time: It’s precious. Accept you can’t see and do everything. Love the phrase, ‘I’ll be back’. And, more than likely, you’ll be back and it will be a much richer experience because of it.