I wrote most of this post while we were in South America but never put the finishing touches on it and published it. I came back to it today because it still resonates with me, and I thought it was worth posting. Enjoy!
The title of this post is something that I find myself thinking every once in a while. I try to push the thought away as quickly as it appears, but there are times when I just can’t help myself. Before you think that I’m constantly judging others for their choices, I’ll clarify that I’m talking about the way that I think about my own travel. With so many different places to go and things to do, and an even bigger variety of ways to do them, it’s hard not to second guess myself and feel like we’re maybe not doing things in exactly the way they should be done.
When we were in Cusco, I had a brief conversation with another Canadian traveller about our plans for heading to Machu Picchu. He asked me which trek we’d be doing, and I let him know that we weren’t going to be doing any trek at all. Instead we’d be making our way up there by train and bus. He was completely shocked by this, and said to me “No way. There’s no way you can come to Cusco and not do one of the treks to Machu Picchu”. While I know that hiking through the Sacred Valley would be an amazing experience, for various reasons it just wasn’t going to work for us, and I attempted to explain this to him. At that moment I felt like I needed to justify our choices so that we wouldn’t somehow seem like “lesser travellers”, whatever that means. There was no convincing him, though – we were most definitely doing it wrong.
I’m giving this guy more screen time than the space he really took up in my head. Look me in the eye and I’ll tell you without hesitation that his attitude was ridiculous, and that no one should make those kinds of judgements about their fellow travellers, or fellow human beings for that matter. But the hardest voice to silence is the one in my own head. Zevi and I have realized that we just aren’t “museum people”. They honestly aren’t a lot of fun for us and we rarely feel like we’ve gotten our money’s worth when we go. We’d rather spend our cash eating at a great restaurant or seeing a cool show or doing some kind of outdoor activity. Even with that knowlege, it’s hard not to feel like we’re doing it wrong when we talk to people who rave about Bogota’s Botero gallery, which we skipped, or Arequipa’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries, which we gave a pass to as well. Are we missing some sort of key experience if we don’t check these things off our list? In my heart I know that we’re not, and we’re doing our trip in exactly the way that works for us, and that’s the only thing that matters. That doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of irrational self-doubt where I question the choices we’re making, though.
I’ve realized that the worst thing we can do is take someone’s else version of “doing it right” and try to apply it to our own trip. We love hearing about things that other people have loved along the way, but the fact that our newfound friends tell us that we just have to go somewhere, seriously does not mean that we do. We’ve made the choice to skip Iguazu Falls. It’s a real shame that we won’t be able to make it there, because everyone we talk to tells us it’s a showstopper, but it just isn’t going to fit within our budget and our itinerary. With a month in Argentina, many would be shocked that we won’t be making the trip there, but that’s just the way things are going to work out. And that’s ok.
In Puerto Maldonado we met a couple who decided to skip Machu Picchu altogether. For a second, I found myself feeling incredulous – how could they miss out on what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see something so iconic? I quickly stopped myself when I realized that I was thinking about their journey in the same way as that guy in Cusco was thinking about ours. As strange as it might seem to me, the choice they made was the right one for them, and it’s not my place to declare that their somewhat unorthodox decision is the wrong one. As with most things in life, it’s best to just worry about what we’re doing and appreciate that everyone is doing what they’re doing for their own reasons. I’m going to keep on spending hours in farmers markets and leave the must-see museums for everyone else. When that doubting voice in my head starts to creep in, I’ll take another bite of ceviche and remember that as long as we’re being true to ourselves, there’s no reason for regrets.