What better way to make your mark on the travel world than by completing an incredible itinerary in a year, right? The New York Times is looking for someone to do precisely that. A couple weeks ago the company put out a call for an intrepid traveler to join its staff on a one-year contract, taking each of the 52 destinations featured by the paper in a year and turning that list into an itinerary. Twitter and Facebook were agog. It would be heaven, right?
I respect the move for its ability to attract attention and even maybe to show off a little bit of what each of the destinations has to offer. But I see roughly zero chance of accomplishing the stated goal in a manner that is compelling content.
We are seeking a journalist who, over the course of 2018, will go to every destination on our list and tell us the story of each place and the story of life on the road. The ideal candidate is a permanent student of life and astute documentarian of the world. This person should have a well-worn passport, the ability to parachute into a place and distill its essence and to render a compelling tale with words and images.
Living out of a suitcase for a year is not impossible. Nor is telling good stories along the way. But switching location every 3-5 days makes that a way more challenging task. And the idea that one can “distill the essence” of a location in just a couple days on the ground is pretty ridiculous. Especially trying to do that 50 times in a row.
Put aside jet lag and language challenges and it is still a brutal task. I know, because every year I do it just a little bit.
Read More: Does a bar count as a cultural excursion?
Hit-and-run travel is what I call it and I’m guilty in many cases. A day or two here and there is far from rare in my adventures. Generally speaking I love getting to drop in on a city and see what I can see in a limited amount of time. But I’m way too smart to believe that I’m to the point I can tell the story of a place based on such a short visit. Sure, I can tell A story of a place. We all can. But that’s far from getting to understand what life is really like, far from understanding the essence of a place.
Earlier this year I had a couple nights in Antwerp. It was my first visit to the city, though my 5th(ish) to Belgium. I can talk about the foodie scene a bit thanks to an amazing meal we had while there. I can talk to the architecture of the city center because we managed to explore that a bit. And I even could’ve adjusted the itinerary to hit the old port area and some of the museums there, ones that show off a modern edge to counter the history of the Plantin-Morteus Museum’s historic printing facility, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent a day mostly drinking beer instead, which is also cultural in Belgium, so maybe that counts.
I did Reykjavik as an overnight stop twice before spending a week on the island. I’m pretty sure I need another few weeks to get a proper feel for the place.
I spent a full day wandering around Shanghai, searching for dumplings of every variety. I had great experiences, but I’m hardly authoritative on that topic for my efforts.
Ditto for Macao/Macau or Santa Clara, Cuba. Or the Faroe Islands. Or Palm Springs. Or Taipei. Or Fukuoka.
And those are just the ones I can remember visiting in the past year. I know there are many more. Great trips with amazing experiences, but hard to claim I really “did” those destinations.
It is a glossing over, a quick hit. And that’s okay if that’s what a schedule permits. I’m happy that I managed to visit for a couple days and understand part of what Antwerp is like. Just how I’ve done for dozens of other destinations over the past decade and beyond. But I’m under no delusions that I’ve distilled the essence of anything, save for perhaps my sanity.
Maybe I’m just no good at it. But I’m guessing that’s not the problem. I suppose we’ll see once the reports start rolling in. But given the recent “just traveling for the instagrams” study results I cannot help but think that’s all the Times wants anyways, not the real story of the place.
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