In this time of forced quarantine and limited travel options, I recently released a seven-part series of Top Ten travel photos from each continent on my website Customtravelart.com. For the benefit of my loyal cadre of readers on my Trip Accomplice blog, I’ve shared links below to each of the seven posts – all in one place! I hope that you can derive some joy, inspiration and comfort from these images and that they might tide you over until it’s time to get out there in person once more.
And if you haven’t already done so, I invite you to visit my Etsy shop Custom Travel Art by Ben for great gift ideas for the traveler in your life
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages worldwide, I consider myself fortunate for two reasons. The first is that neither I nor any of my loved ones have been infected (as of the time of writing). The second, while less-important, is something of a miracle: In one of the rare moments of my adult life, I had no trips planned even before this virus began running amuck.
This is not to say I can’t empathize or even sympathize with the millions of people who did, and now have to somehow accept that in addition to the loss of employment, health and the freedom to dine-in at their favorite Mexican restaurant, there’s the loss of that much-anticipated vacation that is now put on hold, perhaps even indefinitely. If that describes you, know that you have my condolences. I too mourn your loss of the vacation that never came to be.
In the meantime, while we’re (mostly) all at home, binge-watching TV and avoiding our bathroom scales, there are three easy steps that you can take that will help to temper this loss, even if it can’t replace it. I’ve dug through the Trip Accomplice archives to bring you these still-pertinent suggestions, which I can sum up in three words: Relive, Review & Research.
Early on I shared some insights on the benefits of keeping a travel journal in the post An Accidental Autobiography. At this point I’ve chronicled more than 26 years worth of travel in this very manner, and now that I’m stuck at home with more time than usual, it has been a great opportunity to read through their pages and relive the memories that would be completely forgotten had I not written it down. I’ve also taken the opportunity to interrupt my TV viewing with videos taken from past trips, allowing me a glimpse of the world at large that I am currently unable to experience in person without a ventilator.
With weeks if not months of quarantine ahead, this is a great chance to catch up on going through those thousands of digital photos from your last few trips that exist solely on your hard drive, and do something that will bring them to the light of day. Years ago I wrote a post Photo Book Basics for the Traveling Photographer in which I detailed some tried and true techniques to transform those gigabytes of unseen data into a showcase presentation that will properly preserve your trip. In summary, it’s time to choose the best 150-300 of your travel photos and organize them in a way that will tell the story in a way to engage even the most apathetic of audiences – with the added bonus that you can do everything online and have it shipped straight to your house with no social distancing necessary. Sure it takes some time, but for most of us that’s a rather moot point at the moment.
If history is any indicator, this too shall pass, which means that at some point we’ll all be free to move about the planet to fulfill our wanderlust postponed. So why not get yourself ready by starting your research? One of the first posts on this blog was me waxing poetic about the joy of guidebooks, a nod to the pleasure that comes from planning trips, not just going on them. You can address your wanderlust, if not sate it, by discovering the details you may have overlooked during your original trip planning, or get started on a new one. Of course YouTube is filled with travel videos of varying degrees of watchability, where you should be able to find some video footage of your intended destination. And if you haven’t already read it, I shamelessly must recommend my 2015 travel ebook You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper (a surprisingly-prophetic title I might add) for some great advice on destinations across all seven continents.
Stay Safe and Dream On
It’s still too soon to predict the when and how this current scourge will pass, but hopefully by following the abovementioned advice it can do something to fill in the time and even allay the anxiety and disappointment of vacations lost. By turning your attentions to something you can control, perhaps you too will be able to subsist on memories and projects until it is once again time to venture out into this amazing planet, where we will be free to gather with friends, to embrace our loved ones, and find paper hygiene products in abundance, the way life should be.
Do you have a suggestion or comment on how to handle wanderlust postponed? Leave a comment below.
Say the name Antigua and most people’s minds conjure images of sugar-white sand beaches with a laid back Caribbean vibe. They think of a popular cruise destination or a place to do some offshore banking. What they don’t think about is the possibility that there could be another one—another Antigua that is. But the fact of the matter is that long before Antigua (along with Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles) earned a spot on the jet-setter checklist, the other Antigua, situated in central Guatemala was the only Antigua in town.
If you lived back anywhere between the 1500’s and 1700’s, instead of thinking about the relatively obscure British colony at the mention of Antigua, you’d be thinking of the seat of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, which encompassed most of Central America. For 200 years after its founding in 1543 this was the military center of Spanish Central America until the 1700’s, when a series of major earthquakes devastated much of the city and prompted officials to change venues for the capitol. Today, the historic center retains much of its colonial charm and is a worthy entrant on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
I arrived there late at night after a 45 minute ride from the airport in Guatemala City. In town there are historic boutique inns converted from former mansions that reflect the local flavor—which is about as thick as the morning coffee. From my balcony I could see a wisp of smoke rising from one of the three volcanoes that surround the town, serving as a reminder that as tranquil a setting as it is, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. After a delicious breakfast in the authentic courtyard, we were off to the main square which houses a shady park centering important buildings such as the town hall and cathedral. The latter also showcases some impressive remains from the even-larger edifice it used to be before the earthquakes. All around are archways and pillars garnished with flowers spilling over the sides. Combined with the silhouette of volcanoes in the background, it has the look of a movie set depicting colonial times. When you realize that this is all real and none of it is for show, that’s when it hits you that this is a truly special place.
For those looking for some luxury, an upscale lodging option is the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. This five star hotel is a former monastery, and has preserved the original Baroque architecture along with many artifacts that are proudly put on display. Since Antigua is nearby to Guatemala City and a lot more pleasant a place to stay, this is where well-to-do travelers and VIP’s are likely to base themselves out of. As an example, the day I visited the Clintons were in town, though apparently were too busy to join me for lunch.
Given the relative safety (compared to the rest of the country) and pleasant climate, it is not unusual to see many North American and European ex-pats strolling the peaceful cobblestone lanes or enjoying a coffee at the square. I imagine that they too were once tourists passing though until they found this little-known gem and decided to stay. Can’t say that I blame them. Between the enchanting setting, low cost of living and mild climate, there certainly was a palpable pull to spend more time to appreciate all that it has to offer.
So while I enjoy a white sand beach as much as anyone, in my book the Antigua I think of when I hear the name is nestled in the highlands, surrounded by volcanoes and steeped in history. No offense to the other Antiguans (& Barbudans), I’m sure their island is quite lovely as well. But I’m sure even they would be pleased to see the faded glory of the city that shares their name, and would be willing to admit that the world is big enough for more than one Antigua.
What do the Great Pyramid, Great Barrier Reef, and Great Wall of China all have in common, besides the title “great”? Interestingly, it is the same thing they have in common with the Tower of London, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Give up? They are all considered World Heritage Sites, a designation by UNESCO-the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Regarding the World Heritage List, UNESCO’s stated goal is to “encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” In layman’s terms, it seeks to preserve the most meaningful, historic and naturally beautiful places on earth. And while the list’s occupants such as the historic center of Rome, or the Galapagos Islands may be familiar to most people, their status among the world’s premier destinations may be relatively unknown.
When it comes time for me to begin considering ideas for a trip—also known as: always—my first order of business is to peruse a given destination’s World Heritage Sites. It’s been my experience that in the 66 WHS I’ve visited (out of 981 total worldwide) every last one was worth the trip. Most are no-brainers. I mean, who doesn’t visit the Taj Mahal when in India? But there are lesser-known sites that were like finding hidden treasure. A case in point is the Goreme National Park, in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This unique collection of troglodyte dwellings and surreal rock-formations is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever heard of—let alone visited. So as a rule of thumb, when considering a destination, always check to see if there are any World Heritage Sites within striking distance. Your photo album will thank you for it.
To find a complete list of World Heritage Sites along with more information, you can log onto the official web site at http://whc.unesco.org. There is also a fantastic unofficial site at www.worldheritagesite.org where travelers the world over post their comments, observations and words of wonder at these bright spots on the world map. After perusing them yourself, you just may be so moved with appreciation to include one or two of these World Heritage Sites on your next trip at home or abroad.
Have you visited a World Heritage Site? Tell me about it!