No hacks, deals or insights here. But if you love travel — like, truly love travel — I think this will resonate with you.

Talking to a friend recently, we came to a very simple and profound point on what makes travel so elusively wonderful. It’s all about clips, windows and moments in time.

We were discussing Hong Kong, and shortly thereafter Ukraine, when a comment about Hong Kong’s unfortunate changes in governance and utterly bizarre Covid-19 protocols prompted me to say “I’m glad I had my time there, I’ll probably never go back”.

And that’s it — that’s why travel is a thing to grab by the horns with all your might and run with, when you can. You never know when a country will change, a war will break out, or the once simple opportunity to visit will be removed.

Or, in a vain sense, when it will become overrun with mass tourism and lose its charm.

Image by Michael Siebert from Pixabay

Never Miss A Beat

I’m ashamed to say I never made it to Ukraine. Not yet. I will. Mark my words, I damn well will. I’m going to splurge when I get there too. As many can lament, life often gets in the way of best laid plans and too often I prioritized easier, “planning free” trips over things I wanted to do in Ukraine.

I feel so connected to the people of Ukraine right now, but not as connected as many who did make it there. They have my heart, my sympathy and my utmost respect, but I can’t imagine how much stronger that feeling would be, if I had seen these cities in the news face to face.

Ukraine was bubbling into travel trends, with its diverse regions and cuisines, art and the powerful Chernobyl Nuclear Plant open to visitors before it all came crashing upon us. I should’ve gone.

It’s just one example of the elusive and powerful nature of travel, but the message is what matters.

Travel is priceless for many cliched reasons, but also because it’s so elusive. Two trips are hardly ever the same and in just a matter of years, sweeping change can transform any city or region. I’d love to get back to Hong Kong, but I no longer believe in my heart that I will.

I’m glad I had my time there.

I feel lucky to share stories of my times there. Yet, I feel sad that my daughter may never get to hike up to ‘The Peak’ and bask in the endless glow and buzz of the city below. Who knows where a conflict may bubble, or nature may change a landscape.

I am now prioritizing all the places that do require planning, or that would be best impacted by an influx of visitors. I’m also prioritizing places of extreme natural beauty, because who knows how long that’ll be the case. I want to take those opportunities while they’re there, in as conscious a way as possible.

After years at home, I’m sure no one needs any added inspiration to get out and turn that proverbial bucket list into an action list, but I wanted to take this historic moment in time to remind people of how elusive travel can be.

It’s the most wonderful, the most exhilarating and the most educational thing one can do, and if you don’t want to sit back one day and say “I wish I got some time there”, I’ve got to say, there’s no time like the present.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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21 Comments

  1. Profound. For me Hong Kong was the single greatest place in the world – fascinating on so many different levels – but most of my trips there were a few days here or there after a business trip or on the way back from someplace – and the best airline and airport in the world made it so easy to do that. Never would I have imagined that it would be ruined so thoroughly in such a short span of time over something so ridiculous – a place which has gone utterly insane with irrational fear. I wish I had spent more time there when it was special.

  2. I’ve had similar thoughts about travel experiences in a points and miles context: flying first class on some airlines that aren’t available any more, e.g., Korean before they ended their partnership with Chase, Thai before the pandemic or even ANA to Japan (which is still available). I probably won’t repeat that US-South Africa Q Suites flight anytime soon either.

    1. So true! A lighthearted but important aspect of it all. Your comments are exactly why I keep low balances on my loyalty programs. I earn, I burn, I repeat. Few values getting better, many getting worse — and so many experiences disappearing. Gotta hit it while you can! Thanks, Carl!
      G

  3. Spot on…. there are several destinations we are glad we spent time in when we could/would (i.e.Hong Kong). And a few that we’d like to see but never will (Great Wall, St Petersburg).

    Grab the chances when you can and it makes sense… may not come around again….

  4. Indeed, I daydream about the days when I can hit up a spa in Macau again. Hong Kong is just fine but was more of a transit city for me.

  5. Glad to have been to Russia, China and Ukraine and Taiwan a few times, but Putin and Xi Jinping have now taken travelling the Siberian Railroad off my to do list.

  6. It’s “vain”, not “vein”.

    Also, quite mindblowing to say you feel “connected” to the people of Ukraine because you wanted to travel there and never will. What planet are you on? Do you have any idea of the pain these people are enduring, and how absurd a statement like yours is? Contextualise a bit before writing articles like this please, it’s the respectful thing to do.

    1. I agree. How utterly patronising. I feel connected with black people because I’ve seen a few. Seriously, this sort of emoting is childish and beyond parody

        1. Not everyone has to come up with someone to forcefully show solidarity with Ukraine. Also Russia and Hong Kong haven’t fallen off the face of the world. One may disagree with the politics currently in place, but it doesn’t mean ‘forever.

  7. Gilbert, thanks for sharing this, it was moving for me to read this.

    If you are ever inspired to do so, and if this even remotely applies to you, which reading your recent posts, it might not… I would love to see someone like you talk about what traveling is like right now, and whether it is as fun as it used to be. I myself have lost my travel mojo a bit, even though I now can go to lots of destinations again, I for some reason am not really booking much.. I have several family members and friends who have said the same. For what it’s worth, Covid is not the reason at this point in time, I am concerned now that Covid version one has changed to Omicron.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on this, and if this does not resonate, no biggie!

  8. Why do gays love to travel and blog about it so much ? Is there any non gay travel blogger out there ?

  9. I’m glad my wife, 4 year old son and I were able to walk through Checkpoint Charlie and spend the day in East Berlin. I’m glad I was a frequent visitor to San Francisco before it turned into a sewer. East Germany is gone , but there is hope for San Francisco.

  10. Nice thoughts, just glad we got up and went when we could..
    Yes, got to HKG most years in transit, but always did 2 or 3 days each end of a trip.
    Meant to have gone for Feb just gone via hkg to hkt and dps, but not to be.
    Did get to st Petersburg on a cruise, prob won’t ever get to Moscow tho.. will keep trying for Bali, Malaysia, Thailand and it’s islands. Once they stop this test on arrival nonsense.

  11. Hong Kong is a great place. We’ve known since the handover in 1997 that changes would take place. As I see it, the changes as of now are minor but get exaggerated in the press. They shouldn’t concern a visitor. In my youth I visited the USSR and loved it. Great people even though they were referred to as the Evil Empire. I also visited Russia after the fall of the USSR. Again, great people but the country seemed to feel the west had done them wrong. Don’t let the politics of the day color your views about travel as situations change all the time. By summer it could all be over and Andorra may be the country the world wants to hate on. Just go where you want, but not while bombs are dropping. Everywhere needs tourist dollars.

  12. Life is cyclical and if one accepts that, then sadly it also shows that geography & politics are as well. Of course it doesn’t make travel to some spots any less sad when we recall our favourite memories. Hong Kong probably isn’t going to be a place I want to visit again in my lifetime but for younger people it will just be another Chinese city on their agenda but having first visited in my youth it is vastly different even without China’s intervention. I first went to the USSR in 1970’s & Ukraine & other now independent states were part of that – in those days one couldn’t step foot anywhere without a government guide both in and out of your hotel whether it be in Moscow or Kiev. Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir and many other places I have been are also forever changed many for good and many not. Yugoslavia is now several beautiful countries and wars fought since my first visits. And as Dave said, it was always a highlight to have a Checkpoint Charlie passport stamp but luckily for those in the old East Berlin, they are now free. And as Cal says, things change so as fortunate travellers we can make decisions as to when and where to travel. And to be honest I think the sheer volume of travellers can sometimes have as negative effect on destinations as politics so its up to us all to become mindful visitors as the global footprint is ever increasing & choices ever changing. To visit so many Asian and Pacific destinations now is horrifying compared to the way they were 50 years ago but if one is visiting for the first time they seem like paradise so its hard to make a universal judgement – just enjoy the moment and the experience for what it is because we know everything changes!

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