You will find one bazillion articles telling you about ‘X places to visit before you die’. I’ll tell you a secret: places do not matter. Obviously, one place can cause completely opposite feelings on your first, second and hundredth visit. I hated Manila for the first 10 visits. Still hating it. Berlin made me ‘meh’ on my first visit. It was pretty okay afterwards.
In travel life, we have two types of remarkable moments: moments that make you hold your breath: ’Shit, if only I survive through this – it is going to be a great story!’, and moments when you exhale: ’This is perfection’.
Think about perfection. About moments you will never forget. They are not tied to particular places, they are bound to certain events, audial and visual impressions that you must seek to experience. On a place and good company you are free to decide by yourself.
> Swim in the sea of glowing plankton
Like that scene from Life of Pi. It is all true. One night you might go for a dip in the warm tropical sea – and find yourself floating in glitter. Like a goddamn fairy queen. When you swim, the little fluorescent bastards envelop your body like a shawl made of glowing particles, and follow every movement of your hand leaving a magical trail on the water.
> Aurora Borealis
Even knowing the science behind this celestial phenomenon, you will most likely leave your jaw on the floor the first time you see the Northern Lights. Sometimes, they just furtively glow through thick clouds, like an extraterrestrial green gas filling the atmosphere. Sometimes, an emerald highway winds through the sky, like a piece of some alternative universe. But if the night is clear and freezing, and millions of stars shine above you, Aurora showers upon your head in fluttering rays of green, blue, pink and yellow, and the edges of its curtain dance in an otherworldly rhythm that makes your heart tremble at how incredibly beautiful this world can be.
> Whalesharks and whales
We live in big cities, we construct gigantic buildings, great expectations and huge problems. Every now and then, it is wonderful to feel yourself tiny and make your troubles fade away in the face of magnificent nature. Whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world, can reach 10-12 meters in longitude, live up to 100 years, and accidentally suck you in with their 1,5-meter mouth. They probably won’t, because they feed on microorganisms. Whether you’re lying at the bottom of the sea, sailing on a boat or swimming right next to them, whale sharks will melancholically mind their own business. Back in 2011, I accidentally jumped one, and its skin felt like spotted sandpaper. (Don’t do this, touching them actually feels like you’re invading another world). Looking in the eye of this giant creature will send shivers down your spine, justing imagining what sorts of underwater wonders it has seen.
> Looking into the vast emptiness
Ocean, snow or sand. It is frightening and lonely when you are in the open sea with no land in sight, in the middle of a desert surrounded by endless dunes and nothing more, or alone in the Arctic field of snow where only the sun livens up the white surface. It is lonely and so, so empowering.
> Abandoned places of former glory and ruins of history
Not the ruins swarmed with Chinese tourists. Abandoned places in the middle of nowhere that once were somebody’s home, full of life and stories.
Still unbelievable that the show got cancelled after one season. Where I grew up, the glowworms do not fly, but blink at you from the grass. One of my earliest childhood memories is watching glow worms crawling around my dad’s workspace, on a summer evening. One of my brightest travel memories is walking in the Philippine jungle of Mindanao in the middle of January and suddenly stumbling upon a fairy kingdom where thousands of fireflies were floating in the air. At first I thought I had sparkles in my eyes. Then I tried stretching my hand to catch one of the glowing creatures. But apparently without fairy dust they just silently laugh at you and float away.
> Sunsets and sunrises
There are so many of them happening in your life. Don’t let them turn into routine.
If you are choosing one place to see before you die, let it be that place outside your doorstep. Place you’ve never been before.