Lonely Planet Writer

Favorite Place in the World

Travel talk is a lot like the "Price Is Right Game" Plinko. You drop little chips that bounce on metal pegs unexpectedly left and right (like chatting between stolen wallets, great banana pancakes, taxi scams, mountains climbed, dandruff). Eventually on the gameshow, the chip lands in one of the side-by-side buckets that offer prizes ($5000, $1000, $0). For travel talk it usually leads to a single question: "What's your favorite place you've ever been?"

After spending about a couple days of every five traveling since 9/11, more or less, I get asked this a lot. I tend to have two answers:

[smug reply] Travel isn't a contest, brother. Sounds like bongo-circle chatter, but truly travel is less about the destination than how you travel. Seeing Red Square, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and Tikal were remarkable, each, but I had about equal fun driving alone across Nebraska's panhandle and seeing where Crazy Horse died. Or across Bulgaria. Though some are places I'm more likely to return than others (for example, I'll never stop going to Mexico or Vietnam -- the latter's version of "The Price is Right" shown below), I can never say one is the best, or even the favorite.

[real reply] Home. Nothing really beats home after a long trip. When your travel radar and curiosity are still on overdrive, after a trip on the Trans-Siberian or a train ride to Montréal, and you see where you live more closely, with more perspective than before. It's the only time I really stop and chat with strangers, note tiny architectural details atop an early 20th-century apartment building, how waitstaff are dressed (or the fact they give you free coffee refills!), and how we line up for bagels or sit wherever we want in movie theaters.

Home's great in those days before it starts to settle to routine, BUT it takes travel to find it.