Our trip last summer to Cambodia and Vietnam inspired some interesting conversations with a certain generation, all of which started along the lines of, “You’re going where?” For many people who lived through the Vietnam War era, the very idea of traveling to such a forbidding part of the world is unimaginable. But in fact, Vietnam and Cambodia are no longer forbidding at all. The Vietnam and Cambodia that existed when I was born are virtually unrecognizable from what they are today. This speaks to an immutable truth, which is equally applicable to travel as to life: The only certainty is change.
You can trace the patterns of history along the paths of travelers. Looking back over the course of a mere 100 years, you can see how conflicts and political alliances have alternately closed off and then opened up new frontiers for travelers to explore. Once upon a not-too-distant time, Baghdad – indeed, much of the Middle East – was a sought-after destination for well-heeled travelers. Huge swaths of the French countryside were literally a no-man’s land for years after World War I. The beautiful capitals of Eastern Europe (Budapest, Krakow, and heavens, half of Berlin!) were locked behind that bleak Iron Curtain for decades. Cuba was “just another Caribbean island.” Meanwhile, shifting borders and changing climates have created new countries (hello, Kosovo) and set expiration dates for old ones (bye bye, Maldives).
An article this week in the UK’s Telegraph highlighted fifteen places you wouldn’t have been able to visit just 15 years ago. Colombia, Sri Lanka, Angola, Myanmar, Bosnia: all were unthinkable in 2002. And all of them are now burgeoning with tourism. (It’s also notable that many countries recently locked in the midst of war or other turmoil are turning to tourism to help them recover. Travel is, truly, its own form of diplomacy.)
Although it’s discouraging to tally the conflicts that have roiled the world, I ultimately find this cycle of change hopeful, and not just for the sake of travel: even the worst, most intractable conflicts will someday end. What parts of the world inaccessible to us today will be the tourist hotspots of the next generation? Could Afghanistan and Syria be the Next Big Thing? With hope – and hopefully in my lifetime – they will be.