I just read an interview with Patricia Schultz, author of the extremely successful travel guide “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” whose first edition publication in 2003 presaged the bucket list craze.
She has since published a second edition, which includes another 200 entries, so if you’ve somehow managed to see the initial 1,000, you still have your work cut out for you.
Depending on how much travel baby boomers — the youngest of whom turn 50 this year — have done earlier in their lives, they face a daunting task of keeping up with Schultz, who says in the interview that she has now visited all the places she’s written about, though when the first edition was published, there were about 200 she hadn’t seen but wanted to include anyway. That’s perfectly fair.
What intrigued me most was her answer when asked to name one absolute must-see from each section of the book, which is divided into global regions: Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Islands, the U.S./Canada, Latin America, and Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda.
Her responses were Europe — the fjords of Norway; Africa — the Okavango Delta in Botswana; Middle East — Jerusalem in Israel; Asia: Kyoto in Japan; Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Islands — Tasmania off the coast of Australia; the U.S./Canada — Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah; Latin America — Quito in Ecuador; Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda — Dominica in the Lesser Antilles (Caribbean).
This is a perfectly reasonable list, and of course all such lists are completely subjective. Schultz is well qualified to offer it.
I’m going to offer a different list, for baby boomer travelers in particular. One of my criteria is to see these places not just before you die, but before they die — or at least lose some of their luster. (I don’t want to get too morbid here, but as we all know, there are endangered treasures around the world.)
Europe: While the fjords of Norway rival just about any place in natural beauty — I highly recommend the Hurtigruten Norwegian coastal voyage that travels to the top of Europe and sails up some fjords along the way — I would have to pick Venice, Italy, for Europe. Yes, it’s overrun with tourists much of the time, but there’s a reason for that: no matter how many other cities claim to be the “Venice” of this or that region because they have some canals, Venice is alone among cities for sheer wondrous man-made magic on water. See it before it sinks.
Africa: I haven’t been to Botswana’s Okavango Delta — it’s certainly on my own bucket list — but my must-see spot in Africa is Victoria Falls. The sheer power of the “Smoke That Thunders” — as it has long been dubbed by natives of Zimbabwe and Zambia, the two countries that share the falls — is mesmerizing. (The Smoke That Thunders” refers to the combination of the swirling mists and constant roar that the falling waters of the Zambezi River generate.) While Victoria Falls itself isn’t going anywhere, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe’s idea of building a theme park — complete with hotels, shopping malls, banks, exhibition halls, and conference facilities — in the shadow of this stunning natural wonder is misguided tourism promotion at its worst. See it before Vic Falls turns into Niagara.
The Middle East: I can’t quibble with Schultz’s choice of Jerusalem, which I think is one of the must-see cities of the world, and certainly subject to future threats. But don’t overlook Petra, the half-hidden ancient city carved out of rock in the Jordanian desert. While I don’t believe Petra is endangered, continuing strife in the Middle East — including refugees pouring into Jordan from Syria — makes many Americans nervous about visiting the country. Don’t be — Petra is an easy drive from Eilat, the Israeli Red Sea resort, and the border is open between the two counties.
Asia: Kyoto’s temples are a global treasure, but the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, perhaps the world’s most beautiful structure, is more endangered by the ravages of pollution and, no doubt, too many tourists. Go see it anyway, before it crumbles. If you don’t want to add to the damage from human footprints, gaze at it from a distance. But don’t miss seeing it.
Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Islands: It’s hard to pass on Milford Sound and Fjordland in New Zealand, but in keeping with my endangered theme, I’ll go with Yap in Micronesia. Most people, I’ve found, look at me with blank stares when I extol the virtues of Yap, but maybe “the land of stone money” rings a bell for baby boomers who remember Ripley’s Believe It Or Not comics, which once featured it. In Yap, the favored local currency is giant carved round stones with holes in the middle, resembling enormous earrings. The stones just sit in someone’s yard or line the public pathways because they’re too heavy to move, but it makes sense to the local population — just one of many things I love about Yap. See it before scads of ATMs start spitting out U.S. dollars.
Tomorrow: U.S./Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Last Week’s Travel Quiz:
In 2012, international tourists spent more money in the United States than in any other country. Which country finished second?
The answer is A: Spain, which took in less than half of the U.S.’s $126 billion.