Let everyone else have Paris. You have Bordeaux, Eze and Besançon. Sure, they’ve traversed the bustling streets of Madrid, but you’ve danced on tables in Albacete and eaten queso manchego in La Solana.
Yes, everyone who went abroad snuck a picture while smoking weed in a coffeeshop, but they’ve probably never been to the original Haarlem or fallen in love with the canals of Maastricht.
Sure, some of your friends tried to recreate “The Hangover 2” in Bangkok, but you’ve swum through the Emerald Sea cave to find the hidden beach of Ko Mook.
Traveling -- anywhere -- is absolutely one of the most rewarding, humbling and fantastic experiences you’ll ever have.
So no, I don’t wish to disparage the people who choose the Casablancas over the Agadirs, the Buenos Aireses over the Bariloches, but the best times I’ve ever had traveling were in the places I never quite expected to be beautiful.
These are the places I’ve never seen pictures of, never painted the scenes in my head as a child – these cities, towns and villages held no expectations and were all the more gorgeous for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with Paris enough to move there, was blown away by Marrakech, sighed with the best of them in Venice – but nothing took my breath away quite the way Edinburgh did, or the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.
I’ve never quite been so pleasantly surprised as I was by the Grotta di Nettuno in Sardinia that allowed me to swim deep into the month of November.
There’s just something about having no expectations.
Because the cities that are supposed to blow your mind, of course, will, but the cities you’ve never even heard of will catapult you to another plane of ethereal existence. They can’t be taken for granted.
Life is all about these hidden gems, straying from the beaten path and finding places and memories you can have all to yourself.
The places that don’t have the requisite monuments that you absolutely have to take pictures of – these are the places you can explore without the medium of a tour bus or through the crowds of tourists.
Yes. Go to London, but also head to York and amble across its walls and stop in Newcastle to party with the Geordies. Visit New York, but explore the deep valleys of Colorado and the rocky shores of the Pacific in Oregon.
Take your pictures holding up the leaning tower of Pisa, but wind your way around the trash mounds and under the clotheslines of Napoli.
Because life is about more than just “being abroad” with Facebook albums "Florence 1-3"; it’s about finding yourself at a party where no one speaks your language, or in a seaside village whose inhabitants think that New York City is a place in London.
It’s about abandoning your self-actualization as an other and immersing yourself entirely into places that couldn’t care less about accommodating you simply because you’re a tourist.
It’s about feeling like a traveler welcomed by a place’s indifference to you. In places where there are no English menus and no double-decker tour buses blocking the streets.
It's just you and the beach; the jungle; the winding, cobbled streets. There's no artifice, no should-haves or necessitations. Hidden gems are to be wandered on their own terms, without maps and by the whim of your two feet.
I’ve done Oktoberfest in Munich and I’ve climbed the Spanish Steps of Rome, but I’ve never had a better night than in a town the size of one city block in Switzerland, tucked under the mountains with no pretense, just the sheer will to explore.
It’s all about that feeling you get when you’ve found yourself in some impossible situation, in the outskirts of some city you can’t pronounce, when you just look around and think: I shouldn’t be here, it makes no sense. Nothing in your life has pointed to this instant.
It's that moment you throw your head back to the sky and just laugh because you couldn't have written this in your wildest dreams; you become aware of how fantastically lucky and absolutely privileged you are to share this one moment in time with these unimaginable circumstances.
Travel. If you have the money, if you don’t. Find a way -- even if it’s just crossing state lines. And if you’re lucky enough to dig up the French cities from under the shadow of the Eiffel tower, go for it.
If you discover a bus that will deliver you from Rio de Janeiro to Curitiba, don’t hold yourself back. If you find a dusty caravan willing to chauffeur you from Venice to Split, never say no.
Because the best part of forging memories is not living through others’ and following the same stale patterns of footprints already cast hundreds of times before.
The true spirit of travel is about making each moment, minute and instant entirely your own -- and losing yourself to it blindly.