Travel Goals Master Checklist: Part V – Asia

This portion of the Travel Goals Master Checklist series of blog posts focuses on Asia. Not surprisingly, much like its counterpart in the real world, it is the biggest in both size and number. Spanning a land area far beyond that of any other continent, Asia is a medley of cultures, technology and history that cannot be matched. From the ancient desert bastions of the Middle East to the frenetic metropolises of the Orient, Asia holds the lion’s share of destinations on the Travel Goals Master Checklist, and as I’ll go on to explain, that’s for good reason.

But before we do, if you’d like to catch up on the entries from some of the other continents, click the following links for North America and the Caribbean, South America and Antarctica, Africa, and Europe.

Bali, Indonesia

With its dazzlingly green terraced rice paddies, expansive beaches and Hindu temples, Bali is an amalgamation of natural beauty and a deep cultural heritage. Even just mentioning the name Bali is sure to conjure images of exotic beauty, so it was a sure-thing to rank a place on the top 72 world-class destinations.

Borneo, Malaysia

Speaking of exotic, Borneo is the epitome of off the beaten path, with ancient rain forests and Southeast Asia’s tallest peak. Add in some unique animal life, such as the orangutan and proboscis monkey, as well as prolific coral reefs, and it becomes readily apparent why I felt compelled to add Borneo to the checklist.

Cappadocia, Turkey

At the western edge of the continent, this region in Central Turkey is renowned for its surreal landscapes of eroded volcanic rock. Floating above it in a hot air balloon remains one of my favorite life experiences, and given its incomparable characteristics, Cappadocia is a must-see destination for anyone with an appreciation for history, unique architecture, natural beauty or all of the above.

Coral Atolls, Maldives

Though I had been dreaming of getting to the Maldives long before they became an Instagram phenomenon, I still haven’t managed to do so – yet. But that doesn’t make this idyllic archipelago of coral atolls surrounded by some of the most appealing water on earth any less worthy of their spot on the checklist. Just Google a few pictures and you’ll see why this remote destination in the Indian Ocean is the stuff that travel dreams are made of.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

It’s hard not to be impressed by Dubai. Sitting on the crossroads between East and West, this glittering city is the world showcase of all that is glittery and artificial. Rising out of the barren wastes where the desert meets the Persian Gulf, this incredibly modern playground has become one of the most interesting – and indulgent – urban centers in the world. Love it or hate it, Dubai is a player on the world scene and earns its place on the Travel Goals Master Checklist.

Great Wall, China

In a land full of famous landmarks, the Great Wall of China was an easy Top 10 entrant on the checklist. My own travels brought me only to the Badaling section outside of Beijing, but seeing this famous structure snake its way across the hilly landscape does not disappoint regardless of where on its expansive length you choose to observe.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

While there are a number of beautiful karstic regions around the world, none are perhaps as famous as Ha Long Bay off the northern coast of Vietnam. Rising precipitously out of the water, these dramatic islands are home to caves, beaches and ancient temples. This geological feature is world-class and Ha Long Bay is a fitting nominee to represent it on the checklist.

Hong Kong, China

With the only skyline that can rival New York, and the cultural bones of its Chinese and British history, Hong Kong is a top contender among world cities, and a worthy destination to appear on the checklist. Despite the overwhelming modernity in its current iteration, there’s still a sense of original flavor despite the homogeny overtaking Asia that makes Hong Kong a must-see city.

Marina Bay, Singapore

While on the topic of must-see cities, the tiny island nation of Singapore has found a pleasant blend of urban necessities and natural spaces that makes it a top rated destination in Southeast Asia. This is particularly evident in Marina Bay and its signature showpiece, Gardens by the Bay; home of the Supertrees, lovely outdoor gardens, and artistic pavilions, all in the shadow of the impressive Marina Bay Sands hotel. I’ve yet to see a nighttime setting quite like this one, and felt impelled to include Singapore on the list

Mount Everest, Nepal

Of the 72 destinations on the Travel Goals Master Checklist, Mount Everest will likely be the last one I could mark off, assuming that I could even get to them all. Even the trek to base camp is far beyond my level of physical fitness. But considering its fame as the highest peak in the world and its role as a perennial bucket list favorite, there’s no way I couldn’t add it to the checklist, even if that’s one circle I’m unlikely to ever cross off.

Mount Fuji, Japan

Few natural landmarks are as inherently entwined with a national image more than Mount Fuji, Japan. This almost perfectly conical mountain on the outskirts of the megalopolis of Tokyo is a peaceful counterpoint to the modern megacities that surround it. I know I was quite impressed when seeing it for the first time from the window of a bus, and given its easily-recognized iconic value, it was a no-brainer for inclusion on the checklist.

Palawan, Philippines

Though my own travels in the Philippines did not take me to Palawan, travelers in the know recognize the island – and its main draw, El Nido – as a tropical playground that can easily be confused with paradise. The islands of the Philippines are simply stunning, and I chose perhaps the most famous of them all for the list in honor of this recognition.

Petra, Jordan

Even if you couldn’t care less about history, Petra, with its cities carved out of rock, is world famous thanks to its cinematic exposure. While you’re not likely to find the holy grail inside (see the previous sentence for context), this World Heritage Site has both the historic, architectural and recognition value to represent the wonders of the Middle East on the Travel Goals Master Checklist.

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket and the surrounding Phi Phi and Similan Islands are a convincing stand-in for paradise. With gorgeous beaches, tropical foliage and amazing dive sites, if peninsular Thailand’s most popular destination is not on your bucket list, it’s time to revisit your list.

Seoul, South Korea

It’s impossible to discuss the topic of major cities in Asia without mentioning Seoul. It has emerged as an economic and cultural powerhouse that punches well above its weight. I haven’t yet visited myself, but recognize that it is a player on the world scene, and deserves its spot on the master checklist.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Home to the sprawling Angkor Wat complex, Siem Reap is like something right out of an adventure movie. The remnant pagodas and temples smothered in rain forest draw visitors the world over, making this an indisputable candidate for the list.

Taj Mahal, India

In over 25 years of travel, I’ve yet to see a building that could match the splendor (yes, you read that right, splendor) that could equal the Taj Mahal. This is one of those places you can see a million times in pictures or on TV, but when you see it in person it makes a far deeper impression. Only the Pyramids and Eiffel Tower could be considered on par with the Taj Mahal in terms of recognizability, and as such, its place on the checklist was instantly assured.

Yangtze River, China

Had I not seen the Yangtze in person, I may have overlooked it as a candidate for this list. But after seeing not only the majestic scenery but also the major role the river plays in the lives of those who live alongside it, I was convinced that this impressive river and the region that surrounds it belongs on the checklist. See it for yourself and you’ll likely agree.

The Travel Goals Master Checklist

With Part V of the series I’ve now covered 65 out of the 72 destinations on the master checklist. How many can you check off? Even if that number is zero, the beauty of the checklist is that it inspires a person to new adventures and specific travel goals. If you’ve enjoyed the artwork and want a Travel Goals Master Checklist to display in your home or office, please visit my Etsy store to order a copy for yourself or the traveler in your life.

Coming soon, Part VI . . . Australia and Oceania

Have you been to any of these destinations? Or do you have a favorite in Asia that you feel should have made the list? Share it with your fellow travel lovers by leaving a comment!

Introduction To Travel Philosophy

When it comes to travel, clichés abound. I’m not going to repeat them here, but suffice to say they all have one thing in common: they reflect their originator’s travel philosophy. What I mean by the term travel philosophy is the mindset, or attitude of the traveler—an abstract, ethereal concept that is far deeper than the act of simply moving from one place to another.  A business person may travel around the globe, visiting city after city, but that has very little to do with a mindset. They travel because they have to, and the act, while necessary, is no more remarkable than your average commuter that day in and day out travels to a city that they never get to enjoy. Yes, what I ‘m speaking of is the deliberate act of traveling to acquire an experience: seeing new things with one’s own eyes and gaining the subtle nuances of firsthand exposure that cannot be successfully transmitted by any form of description.

It is with this definition in mind that I introduce the subject here on my blog. I do so because without establishing the WHY, the WHERE and HOW are diminished, and essentially without context. So here is a few basic tenets of my own travel philosophy, and perhaps they just might coincide with some of yours.

1) Travel To Experience Something New

Driving on the left, from the right side of the car
Driving on the left, from the right side of the car

If I wanted everything to be just as it is at home, I would never have left. Travel exposes a person to different ways of doing things—some better, some not—but nine times out of ten it simply comes down to being different. Whether driving on the left side of the road in New Zealand & South Africa, taking a nap in the middle of the day in rural parts of the Mediterranean, or the traffic free-for-all of India, these variations on a theme (namely: what you’re used to) enrich a person’s life for the better—if only to help one appreciate what they have.

2) People Are People

Disembarking along the Yangtze
Disembarking along the Yangtze

On a Yangtze River cruise I was introduced to this important fact. Our tour group was taken to a school in Wanzhou, China where children were instructed in Chinese acrobatics. While being seated for the performance, my father and I were separated from our group and sat down among the local farmers. As these kids flipped, twirled and balanced enormous vases on their noses, what struck me the most was the reaction of the audience. We all gasped at the same parts. We all expressed sounds of admiration at impressive feats. We all laughed and applauded at the same things. That’s when it truly struck me on a level that I’ve always known but never clearly saw until that moment. We are all the same. We all want the same things. We all have the same hopes and fears. (Don’t worry, I won’t break out into “It’s A Small World”). There is no reason to hate people of other races or nationalities because people are people—even if they’re in China.

3) Sense of Place

The Loud & Traffic-filled streets of India
The Loud & Traffic-filled streets of India

To me, it’s not just being able to have another stamp in my passport and add another pin to my wall map that inspires me to travel (though I do enjoy those things). For me it is being able to comprehend what a given location is like—or sense of place—that brings me great satisfaction. As a kid I used to watch Met games in my parents’ bedroom and spin my dad’s globe to see where my finger would land. Not only did I learn a good deal about geography, but it also led me to wonder what these places with such exotic-sounding names were really like. Once I became of age to travel about the globe freely, I took great pleasure in transforming these names on a map to a real image in my head. I no longer see them as just labels with vague images to go along with them.

I no longer see: ‘Italy’, but I relive the musty smell that permeates the old buildings. I smell the fresh basil in the terraced gardens. I feel the pebbles under my feet as I stand knee-deep in clear water. Similarly, I can no longer see a map of India without hearing the incessant beeping of horns, smell the smoky smell that is everywhere and the resulting haze that makes all structures on the horizon appear as if seen through gauze. That’s a sense of place, and that’s what I am always looking for.

In summary, these are just a few of my basic philosophies as to why I travel. I will add more in the times to come. But for now I’d love to hear your own thoughts on what moves you to travel—not just move from one place to another. Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.