Checklist Trips

Forget serendipity.

I’m going on a checklist trip. The Internet is full of them—bucket lists, trips-of-a-lifetime, must-see-before-you-die trips. They feature the usual suspects: the Great Pyramids of Giza, Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Eiffel Tower, Venice, Des Moines (some of the lists are sponsored). Put a check beside all the big sights or you haven’t really lived.

I’m headed to Beijing. Great Wall: check. I’ll take a photo so you know what it looks like. I have photos of the Pyramids too—they’re pointy. Too bad my pictures don’t show how I was forced to flee the famous monuments pursued by a camel-riding local who seemed not to understand the English phrase, “No thank you, no thank you, no thank you, please I just want to sit here, I don’t want to ride a camel, can’t you please leave me alone, please stop chasing me, you must be insane, help me someone please.”

Checklist travel is overrated. It’s not just that the most famous sites are by definition tourist traps; it’s not just that their popularity often works to erode what once made them unique, or that a sense of wonder is hard to maintain when you are looking at something you’ve already seen in 1,000 photos even as you attempt to evade hordes of dogged vendors selling remarkably similar trinkets. The real problem with checklist travel is that too often it’s someone else’s checklist. Rushing around on a global scavenger hunt has to rank among the worst of travel philosophies.

Lists do not allow for serendipity, the source of so much travel joy. The Colosseum, the Pantheon, and other attractions of Rome are like homework—something to take care of before you really start to discover the city.

Seven Wonders–type checklists do have their uses—at least they get you travelling. I want to see Beijing but if I had been motivated by a desire to check off the Great Wall it would serve the same purpose. And seeing the Eiffel Tower is certainly a great idea. But if you’re going to Paris just to see the Eiffel Tower do yourself a favour—stay home with a romantic comedy instead. It’ll pop up in a hotel window eventually.

Photo by Steve Burgess.



Post Date:

January 17, 2014