A Counter-intuitive Approach to Selecting Your Next Travel Destination
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You're already dreaming about your next travel destination. You're already planning for those free days or weeks you still have coming up this year.
Whether in-country or abroad, I bet you're considering the destination your traveller friend recently gushed about. The same one listed on the travel bucket list of every other person you know.
Or perhaps, your mind's stuck on the top destinations that the travel blog you read was raving about. Or maybe you're saving some income for a sunny sandy adventure in that famous vacation island nearest to you.
Good for you. And congratulations. You're one highly rational human being.
But if you're always predictable in the rationale behind how you select your travel destinations, I have one word for you.
Selecting travel destinations the normal way is boring.
Okay, I'll rephrase that. Selecting travel destinations the normal way can get boring.
Dreaming, planning and saving up for the same predictable places, year on year, time after time, all the time, screams "boring". The key phrases to note here are: "time after time" and "all the time".
Sometimes, you need to shake things up a little. Sometimes you need to hand the reins to that rebel inside you.
Go counter-intuitive every now and then. Make things a teeny bit unpredictable.
This the best way to tick off places you would otherwise never get the chance to go to in this lifetime. And it's certainly the best way to spice up that travel resume of yours.
So here are twenty ideas to help you select your next out-of-country travel adventure.
They're bound to take you from boring, predictable and yawn-worthy to interesting, unpredictable and gawk-worthy. They'll kick you out of that conventional comfort zone that a lot of us usually find ourselves in when thinking about a trip or vacation. Some of them can even work for in-country selections.
But before we go any further, I'll give you fair warning. Some of these ideas might dent your wallet if you follow them to the tee and the randomized results find you unprepared.
Like I said. Fair warning.
Now let's get started.
1. Make a list of destinations, in alphabetical order, that you have at some point considered to be "boring" and pick the first one you've never been to.
The first rule of escaping any comfort zone is seeking out things you'd otherwise be avoiding. Even "boring" ones.
I know. "Boring" is worth avoiding. I try as much as possible to eliminate it from my life. Be it a thing, a person, an experience or a place, if I whiff any version of "boring", I'm out. But sometimes, the label "boring" is just a subjective judgement born out of zero first-hand experience.
When it comes to destination selection, step away from the archetypal "boring" tactics (pun very much intended). Challenge yourself to head out to "boring" places so as to find out if your opinions and imaginations are justified.
Going somewhere with low or no expectations, means you might actually be pleasantly surprised. And if you aren't, at least you'll prove your initial thoughts right. Or you'll work on creating some "awesome" out of the "boring". Either way, you'll get to be the protagonist of a very interesting experiment!
2. Think of a world language that you think would be very difficult to learn and choose a destination where people speak it.
It's very natural to favour a country that presents the least amount of friction for you as a traveller. And who doesn't want a trip with the least amount of challenges?
Language problems are one of those need-to-avoid issues that we consider when planning a trip. We'd much rather go towards a language like ours, a language close to ours or one that just sounds nice or easy.
Back when I was chosing a place to go to for my English-teaching exploits, I picked Latin America right away. I had long obsessed over Spanish and I really wanted to learn it.
But if I really wanted to challenge myself, I would have gone off to the Far East! Japan, to be exact. I think Japanese would be tremendously difficult to learn. Particularly since my tongue nearly jumped out of my mouth to run for its life that time I tried to pronounce a Japanese sentence.
So don't shy away from challenging yourself. Head out to a country where you'll have to struggle to communicate. Go where you'll have to do a lot of gestured communication. And you'll have yourself a truly memorable experience.
3. Out of the list of destinations that are visa-free or visa-easy for you, pick the one you've never ever in a million years thought of going to.
Behavioural experts usually say something close to this: if you want to get yourself to do something you don't exactly feel like doing, get rid of any potential obstacles or possible chances for excuses.
So if you have a bunch of countries or places you've never in a million years considered going to, get rid of the obstacles. The visa hustle, the embassy visits, the works.
Well, of course you are not a magician who can suddenly make the world borderless (though I wish you were). But you can go about it in another way.
First, check the list of countries you don't need to beg for visas for (you can check here) and then choose the ones you've never thought of going to.
Even if it's the kind you've never considered worthy of your attention, it's still low-hanging fruit. So why not take your chances and enjoy?
4. Choose a destination with a cultural practice or element that absolutely scares you
They say travel is a mind-opener. I say it's more like a mind-bender - if you're open to it.
See what I did there? It's bending if you're open. And it's merely open if it's not bending.
You could have an open mind and still stay true to your normal mannerisms and deep-seated beliefs. If you experience a bit of mind-bending, you challenge those mannerisms and deep-seated beliefs.
The best mind-benders are destinations with cultures that are considerably different from yours. Especially ones that scare you. The scare is mainly your lizard brain screaming for help because it senses you might want to redecorate in there.
It's this kind of "redecoration" that helps you grow and understand the world better.
The lizard brain is afraid of change. But don't worry. Forget the fear. The lizard brain will adapt. Quite easily actually. It's reptilian after all.
5. Pick a destination with a population that predominantly practices a religion that's totally different from yours.
In the same spirit of seeking out mind-bending experiences, you should also consider a destination whose people practice a religion that is considerably different from your own.
The point here is not to switch up your religious beliefs. You're free to do with your beliefs as you please. The point here is to play witness to another religion and maybe doing this will allow you to understand yours better.
6. Select a destination you have very easy access to but have never really put it on your snobby list of places to go to
Everyone has a snobby list of places to go to. Everyone. Don't deny it. I know you have one. I also do.
The problem with these snobby lists is that they are hardly ever unique. If even the aliens of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are aspiring for those exact places, it's clear that everyone in the Universe wants to go there too.
If you keep going to these places all the time, your travel resume will become so predictable that a special kind of yawn will be named after you.
Switch things up a little. Consider the destination you have easy access to. The one you've always dismissed for one reason or another. It's about time you showed it some love. It might just blow your mind!
7. Pick a destination that a friend or family member went to and hated
This reminds me a certain country in Africa. I'll not give it's name but just know it sort of rhymes with Siberia.
Some years back, two friends went there and came back with harrowing stories. Harrowing because that's what they expressed as they narrated their experiences. A lot of their feelings for this country were leaning heavily towards an interesting kind of hate spectrum.
Obviously, I got curious. I really wanted to experience that country for myself so that I could make my own conclusions. Lucky enough, I got a chance to go there years later. Actually, I sort of jumped at the chance. How bad could it be, right?
And so I went.
It turned out to be a whirlwind experience. I ended up confirming my friends' grievances. But I also put on my objectivity glasses and made my very own unique experience. One that stretched, bent and blew my mind. That country handed me one of the most notable and life-changing experiences of my life!
If someone you know didn't like a place, then that's exactly where you should go!
8. Set your sights on a destination you've been to before but ended up having a less-than-pleasant experience in
So what if you caught a terrible case of diarrhoea from the weird food you ate and it lasted for about two weeks. So what if you got robbed twice (or was it thrice) in a span of a few days. So what if you experienced the annoying kind of in-your-face racism while you were minding your own tourist-ing business. So what if the economy was so pathetic that you couldn't easily find toilet paper and had to use paper napkins for six months. So what if the people were too nice and so much so that they creeped you out.
Go there again. Go there again and create new experiences. Until then, be happy that you have some hilarious stories and life-changing lessons to share.
9. Think about going to a destination that was the setting for a not-so-great news story, a disturbing trending story or a documentary that gets you squirmish
Another rule of comfort-zone-related escapism? Follow the weird. Go directly towards the odd.
If a destination is starring in a series of journalistic antics, or is subject to an intruigingly odd trending story, or is the setting of an eye-opening documentary that made you squirm, perhaps you should head out there.
Journalists need extra help from people like you. People who can go to the ground and get some first-hand experience. But in this case, you are not doing it for them. You are doing it for your own selfish reasons. Selfish reasons such as curiosity, adventure or plain old rebellion.
As long as the place is not war-torn, or in an extreme humanitarian crisis, I say your selfish reasons are valid. It may seem like a bad decision but you know what they say, bad decisions make great stories!
One such "bad decision" I'm thankful I made was Venezuela. I landed there during the early stages of its economic crisis and my year-long stint taught me a lot, to say the least. It gave me life-changing experiences and of course, great stories.
10. Don't rule out a destination just because it's been featured on travel advisory lists
Let me make this clear once more. Just in case it gets lost somewhere in the thick of my loquaciousness. I'm not in any way advocating that you go out to war-torn countries or places knee-deep in some kind of humanitarian disaster.
Well, you could if you would like to volunteer or work with a humanitarian organisation. But if that's not the case, do your best to avoid such places.
Now back to my point.
Don't rule out to a destination just because of its fateful inclusion on a travel advisory list. Especially if it's one of those special cases that are the least deserving in those lists. The ones that don't quite fit in that group that they've been forced into.
If you do your due diligence, you'll find out. A quick search on Facebook would tell you all you need to know. It would tell you whether a destination is indeed a no-go zone or if it's been made so via exaggerated reports.
I say this because I've been in Kenya while it's been featured on a couple of travel advisories. I also know friends who've been in countries similarly featured. However much the international media might try to show you otherwise, sometimes it's only a very small part of the country that's actually "burning".
11. Pick a destination with a Wonder you've never heard of that almost made it to the final New 7 Wonders of the World List.
Another interesting way of choosing your next travel destination is to go with something mesmerising that you'd never have thought of.
You can do this by heading out to places with Wonders you've never heard of. In particular, Wonders that almost made it to the New 7 Wonders of the World List. I say this because if a Wonder made it to the final seven, it's probably already featuring in your travel bucket list clichés. So why not seek an off-the-beaten-path experience instead?
Have a look at the Wonders that didn't make the final cut here and take your pick!
12. Choose the most underrated destination on any Most Underrated list.
Yet another interesting way of fighting predictability with your travel choices is to opt for completely underrated destinations.
Here's how to do it. Get your hands (or eyes) on any "Most Underrated" list you can find and choose the most underrated entry.
In case you're not sure which one's the most underrated on any list, use country size and population to guide you. I believe, the smaller the country, the more likely it is to be underrated. You could also just analyse the list and pick the country you know the least about.
Choosing an underrated destination means you'll have low enough (or just the right amount of) expectations. This will allow you to approach your travel experience with a greater sense of objectivity. And once you've nailed some objectivity, you'll be more aware and more content with whatever comes. The exact recommended mindset for travel.
13. Select the neighbouring destination of a destination that is extremely famous for tourism
Next to every South Africa is a Namibia. Next to every Thailand is a Cambodia. Next to every Peru is a Bolivia. And next to every Italy is a Slovenia.
You get my point?
Next to a country that's a big shot when it comes to tourism, is a neighbouring country that's worth considering. The neighbouring country probably shares similar natural wonders as that big shot (nature doesn't know about borders). The neighbouring country probably has less touristy shenanigans going on (think emptier beaches). The neighbouring country might even be cheaper due to less demand (more bang for your buck).
It's all part of being unpredictable with your destination choices.
So go on, don't be shy. Show that neighbour some love.
14. Go totally random and do an eyes-closed pick
In case you're spoilt for choice with the already mentioned ideas, then the perfect solution for you would be to embrace some randomness.
Do an eyes-closed pick.
Let fate decide.
Remember that fair warning I gave at the start? Be sure your wallet is prepared.
Here's what you do. Grab a list of all the country names possible, unalphabetise them so that they are randomly listed, close your eyes, move your selection finger up and down the list repeatedly like a drunk maniac- perhaps five times, then let it stop where it feels like. Where it stops is your next destination.
Another option would be to use a map of the world that's stuck to a wall. Close your eyes and throw something sticky (chewing gum from your mouth or so). If it lands on land, that's your destination. If it lands on water, chose the closest country from there. If it lands outside the map, you can either plan a trip to Mars or keep trying until you get an Earthly destination.
Or you could simply use this video.
A cheaper trick would be to use a map or a randomized list of just one particular region of the world. This would give you a little more control over your choice.
15. Be very random by choosing the destination you consider to be the "least interesting" in a list of countries with the same first letter as your second name
Second name because I believe it's more likely to be the one that's uniquely spelt. If it's not, switch to your first one.
"Least interesting" because that's a great way to go counter-intuitive. It's a great way to stretch your comfort zone boundaries. If you deem it "uninteresting", then go there to prove yourself wrong, or (sadly,) to prove yourself right.
And a list of countries that have the same letter as your second name because we want to enhance the randomization effect. An effect that could potentially turn this entire thing into a expensive gamble. But if you are up for it, by all means, do it!
16. Go extremely random by using Google Maps
Yet another extremely random tactic of choosing your next travel destination is making use of Google Maps. The search box, to be exact.
Simply type in the first three letters of your second name and wait for the suggestions.
Congratulations! Your next travel destination is that first place name that pops up.
In case your name turns out to be weirdly other-worldly and no results come up, try the last three letters of that same name. If that also doesn't work, switch to your first name and hopefully that'll save you.
17. Simply pick the first name you've never heard of from the UN list of countries.
The best way to find out about a country you had no idea existed is to jump on Wikipedia for a few enlightened minutes of reading. The next best way is go on YouTube for a quick search of the best travel videos for that country. And the ultimate best way? Going to that country yourself.
Never hearing about a place then soon after finding yourself there, is the realest form of magic there is. So go find your magic wand and use it to pick a never-heard-of country from this list.
If you find yourself in an interesting situation where you've heard of all those countries (which makes you truly exceptional), then simply choose the one you know the least about.
18. Consider a destination with a devastating history
Truthfully speaking, this is the hardest one for me.
Choosing to go to a place where the overriding story is that of devastation is something I don't normally do. Choosing to go to a place marked by an absolutely devastating portion of its history is something I normally avoid.
Be it a genocide, a holocaust, a war or a debilitating natural disaster - I usually choose not to immerse myself in the topic especially by way of visiting memorial sites or dedicated museums. I'd rather not. I'd rather not instigate sadness into any travel experience.
While in Kigali, I actively chose not to go to the Genocide Memorial.
While in Cambodia, I had planned not to visit any genocide-related memorials. But a group I ended up travelling with, had it on the agenda. And so, I reluctantly found myself inside Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
It was heart-breaking. I'll never be able to unsee some of those images.
But being there, seeing everything and feeling terrible about it does something weird to you. You see humanity in a new way. And you connect with that place in a strange way. That country becomes a beacon of hope stored somewhere in your mind.
Don't ignore destinations with devastating histories.
19. Don't rule out a destination that's in the red on the World Risk Index.
Keeping in mind that you shouldn't be chasing destinations that are war-torn or in the middle of calamities, you still shouldn't discount countries listed in red in the World Risk Index. Or any countries unfairly considered "high-risk" by a few select people.
I'm saying this as a Kenyan who's lived most of her life in a country that's in the red in that Risk Index. Mild red though.
But I've had the adrenalin-filled pleasure of existing in countries in the deep dark red.
It's a little scary to find yourself on a beach in Boracay, when a couple of islands a way, Mayon (the most active volcano in the Philippines) is threatening to erupt.
Ok, it's not a little scary. It's very scary. Especially when you find yourself Googling like a lunatic to find out if the potential eruption will affect the island you're on. Or to find out if the ash to be spewed will affect the escape flight you are meant to take in a few days.
But then, you look at that beach again and you are in awe. You are here, in this beautiful place.
What could happen could happen. Google says you are safe but something unpredictable could always happen. And unpredictable things can happen anywhere and at any time. All you can and should do is be present in that very moment. It's your job to savour that present moment. Even with some fear lurking around.
Some places will force this out of you. Don't rule them out.
20. Pick a destination that will soon not be in existence
A bunch of other interesting picks for travel destinations could be countries or places that will soon not be in existence for one reason or another.
It could be due to political pressure or perhaps natural forces. Either way, if a place is soon going to disappear, that's a pretty good reason for you to go there. I mean, who will recount tales of that lost destination to your kids and grandkids if not you?
Choose the best fictional place you can think of and work around that.
Excuse me as I book my flight to Wakanda for next week. Or perhaps I could go by bus. The place is located in East Africa, is it not?
Okay, enough with the joking. I had to poke some fun at this because some people certainly took it too seriously!
I'm not sure if the Wakanda searches point to the success of the movie or the success of the seemingly never-ending ignorance about Africa. But that's another story.
My bonus point here is, once you select a fictional destination, Google an actual place that's closest in resemblance to it and plan to go there.
If you can't go to your exact fantasy land, settle for the next best thing.
Or you could do a themed staycation.
There's probably no next best thing for Wakanda in the real world but I'll be on the look out for it. Until then, African print obsessed staycations filled of hand Xing will have to suffice.
Here they are gain:
Which of these ideas would work for you and which ones wouldn't? Let me know in the comment section below :)