5 Travel Destinations That Get Under Your Skin

Travel destinations provide different experiences for different people.  An energetic city break for one person is a stressful and tiring nightmare for someone else.  A backpacking adventure can be eye opening and exhilarating or it might feel uncomfortable and scary.   Volunteering in a developing country can be life changing for some but ethically uncomfortable for others.

But there are a handful of destinations that seem to have a consistently profound effect on travellers who venture there.

These are the places that leave their mark on us.  These are the locations that change the way we look at ourselves.  These are the destinations that provide experiences that invite us to reassess our own beliefs and lifestyle choices.

Whether it’s the landscape and wildlife, the history and culture or the character of the local people, these are the travel destinations that we simply cannot forget.

A destination can get under your skin in different ways.  It may provide unforgettable lifelong memories.  It may introduce new and rewarding relationships into your life.  It may instigate a new hobby or interest.  It could also provoke conflicting thoughts that continue to haunt you after you leave.

A travel destination gets under your skin when it invigorates your mind, revives your heart and warms your soul – and continues to do so long after you have returned home.

These are my ‘under the skin’ destinations.

1. Antarctica

Kellie-Netherwood-2

“I regret visiting Antarctica, it wasn’t that great” – said no one, ever.

I have never heard of anyone returning from Antarctica disappointed and I was certainly no exception.

The challenge of describing the world’s wildest, coldest and most remote continent with mere words feels overwhelming.  Photographs provide incredible memories but fall short at capturing the scale of the landscape, the silence that is deafening, the personality of the wildlife and the unpredictability of a continent that plays by its own rules.

It is the closest experience to being on another planet without leaving this one.

Not only does Antarctica allow you to disconnect from the outside world, it insists upon it.  There is so much to see and experience that there is no room in your thoughts for anything other than the moment you are in.  As you are introduced to feelings and emotions you didn’t know existed within you, you begin to feel the essence of the continent crawl beneath your skin.

Amidst the size and intensity of my surroundings, I became more self-aware of how small and insignificant my individual existence on this planet is.  And yet the natural beauty and wildlife I was experiencing reminded me how important our role as a human race is to its sustainability.

I left Antarctica feeling more alive than I had in years.  I had drawn so much energy from the magical bubble I experienced it in that I continually find myself craving a lifestyle that replicates it – a lifestyle that forgets the past, ignores the future and embraces the moment.

2. Cambodia

Cambodia-2

It wasn’t just the dust that was under my skin within hours of crossing the border into Cambodia, it was the essence of the country itself.  My introduction to the country in 2008 was an eye-opening education into a nation that is embracing the future under the cloud of a traumatic past.

My first visit was a short one but it changed my life.  It was in Cambodia that I realised the priorities in my life were out of balance.  It was in Cambodia that I questioned the material lifestyle I worked in a stressful career to maintain.  It was in Cambodia that I re-awakened my love of travel and meeting new people, and vowed to take a career break to do more of it.

A year later I returned to volunteer in the country that would imbed itself further, and permanently, under my skin.  It would be a heart warming and heart breaking experience.  I would meet some of the bravest, kindest, strongest people I’d ever known.  I would learn there is a difference between being poor and living in poverty.  I would meet inspiring characters that sacrifice their own happiness to help those in need.  And I would feel helpless as I encountered the sickening reality of the vulnerable being preyed on.

I’ve visited Cambodia more than any other foreign country and it continues to conflict me.  I leave each time feeling inspired by the strength, resilience and fun-loving nature of a population determined to embrace the future.  But I also leave haunted by the realisation that humans are capable of inflicting such horrors on each other.

3. Africa

Africa

Imagine Africa and images of war torn countries, famine-hit regions and wildlife poaching fill your mind.

Visit Africa and add images of enlightening, energising, uplifting and thought-provoking adventures.

Fall asleep to a wildlife lullaby of lions roaring and hippos grunting.  Sip a cocktail as the sun falls over the Indian Ocean.  Search for the Big 5 on a game park drive.  Dance with locals who are proud to share a piece of their culture with you.  Hike up a sand dune for sunrise.  Get your blood pumping with a bungee jump or white water rafting.  Return the friendly waves of children running alongside your vehicle.  Enjoy the wide, open spaces of the vast countryside.

I was introduced to Africa a decade ago in Morocco and Egypt.  More recently, I travelled south to explore Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique.

Every country I visited drained my senses with an overload of wildlife, culture, nature, personalities and history.  Every destination in Africa was unique.  Every day in Africa was different.

But Africa is a continent in conflict.  And I left it feeling conflicted.

As I was entertained by the daily battle for survival on the Serengeti where one animal’s prey is another animal’s predator, I was reminded of a more disturbing battle: the one between man and beast.

As I bought a banana from a friendly vendor in Malawi, I was reminded that next year’s crop is never guaranteed in a land where nature can turn against man with unforgiving ferocity.

As I laughed with friendly children in a school in Kenya set up by a foreign charity, I was reminded how damaging well-intended foreign aid has been to a continent rife with corruption.

As I danced with happy and entertaining characters in a Rwandan village, I was reminded of the black cloud that sits in an otherwise blue sky in a country recovering from horrors inflicted on Rwandans, by Rwandans.

As I enjoyed sunrises, sunsets and spectacular scenery, I was reminded of the environmental damage we, as a human race, have inflicted on parts of the world.

As I left Africa with a promise to include a return trip in my future, I wondered what the future of Africa itself holds…

4. Myanmar

Myanmar

I first visited Myanmar in 2010, shortly after the ‘democratic’ elections that were received with mixed reactions in the international community.   Despite the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from decades of house arrest, Myanmar had been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent times and it was difficult not to form pre-conceptions before my arrival.

But I was determined to leave these pre-conceptions at home and explore the country with an open mind.  And I was rewarded with one of the most magical travel adventures of my life in a country rich in charm, culture, history and beautiful landscape.

Visiting Myanmar felt like opening a door into a charming world where time has been standing still.  I shared roads with horse and ox carts, motorbikes, bicycles, trishaws, pedestrians and an increased presence of cars in larger towns.  I observed a strong Buddhist faith where highly respected monks interact with civilians on a comfortable and regular basis.  I visited temples that rival those of Angkor in Cambodia and explored a beautiful and diverse landscape of lakes, rivers, mountains, temples and caves.  I was invited into the basic but comfortable homes of friendly locals and was served tea everywhere I went.  I interacted with people living a traditional and basic life in the countryside in addition to those embracing change, education, modern technology and the future.

I was welcomed into the country by some of the friendliest, hospitable and kindest people I’ve ever met.  I met people who are proud of a culture they are keen to share with you, who are equally curious about your lifestyle and country.

But despite my attempt at exploring the country at face value, Myanmar’s turbulent past was always in the back of my mind and I left the country feeling conflicted about what I had experienced.

Like most travellers to the country, the highlight for me by far, was the people.  I was humbled by their kindness, inspired by their positive attitude and warmed by their friendliness.  I was excited that travellers were returning to the country to give these people the opportunity to continue their interaction with the international community and reap the opportunities it would create.

But I am also aware that tourism has the ability to both destroy and enhance a culture.  I left the country hoping tourists explore it responsibility and understand they are part of a generation who has the opportunity to shape the impact tourism has on Myanmar.

 

5. Bhutan

Bhutan

Whilst parts of the world are in turmoil with blood being shed in countries fighting for democracy, there is a nation that peacefully introduced its first democratically elected government in 2008.  This country had been governed by a much loved monarchy since 1907 and not only was the change to democracy instigated by the Throne itself during a time of peace, stability and development, but it was initially opposed by its people before being reluctantly accepted as necessary for the country’s future.

This peaceful and spiritual oasis lies in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas and is called Bhutan.  Dwarfed by its neighbouring giants India and China, it is the geographical size of Switzerland but has a population of just 700,000.

Exploring Bhutan gave me the opportunity to discover a nation who are proud of and have retained their cultural identity.  It is a place like no other and visiting it felt like stepping into a magical vortex frozen in time.

A nation that believes Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product sounds too good to be true and I found myself constantly searching for the catch.

I didn’t find it.

Instead I found a country guided by a strong Buddhist faith that is deeply imbedded in all aspects of daily life.  I met friendly people who are proud of their culture and wear their national dress with pride.  I explored breath-taking landscape and enjoyed stunning views from peaks including Tiger’s Nest Monastery.  And I learned more about the history of a country that only opened itself to the outside world in the 1906’s after a period of self-imposed exile that focused on maintaining its culture, independence, individuality, faith and peace.

I left Bhutan questioning my own lifestyle.  I left Bhutan critical of the emphasis the western world places on material wealth and capitalisation.  I left Bhutan intrigued at the impact their new open door policy would have on a population that had peacefully existed without it for so long.

I left Bhutan with more questions than answers.

 

What travel destinations have got under your skin?

 

Inspirational Travel Quotes and Why We Travel

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Wow Kellie, you know how to give people a travel ich 🙂 I love the locations you mention, not because of the stunning photos, but because of your reasons. I love that you get under the skin of where ever you go and share it with us all.

    Merv.

  2. Great post! I too have a list of places that have gotten under my skin that have still yet to leave. Some places stay with you forever. For me, Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica is a big one. The people there were so kind and welcoming, always looking out for me. Also, Tanzania. There is so much to say about that beautiful place but words still can’t describe the people or the landscape. I’m headed on a backpacking trip this fall and will be visiting India, Nepal, SE Asia for the first time. After reading about Bhutan on this post I might have to add it to my travel list this year!

    • Costa Rica is still on my bucket list and I completely agree with you on Tanzania, it’s such an incredible place! I hope you manage to visit Bhutan, it’s such a magical place and you can fly there from Nepal 🙂 Happy travels – I am sure the whole of SE Asia will get under your skin, it’s an addictive continent.

  3. I completely agree that Africa has a way of getting under your skin! I lived in Malawi for 4 months and compare it to a turbulent love affair that, when it’s good, it’s so very very good. But when its bad….!!!

    I’ll be in Burma in November for a week and I can’t wait to explore this amazing country!

  4. Great post…5 places that I would love to visit! Your photos are so inspiring. You have captured some amazing images. Your words also paint a wonderful and inspiring picture. Thanks for sharing a slice of your travels.

  5. Wow – what a list! Haven’t been to any of these places, but we are saving for South Africa for summer 2014. We travel with our boys so do have some limitations. As for places we’ve been, we all still talk about Belize and the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. Love to travel – just don’t get enough time and money to do so.

  6. I’ve got Turkey and Portugal under my skin. They are both amazing. I’d go back there any given day to have some more of their awesome foods and to enjoy the local spirit. Speaking of food, I also loved Thailand and China for their local cuisine.

    • I agree with you re Turkey, I loved it there, although I visited there over ten years ago, so am keen to return soon to be reminded on why I enjoyed it so much! I haven’t yet been to Portugal, so it sounds like I need to add it to my bucket list!

  7. Egypt. So much so that I took my mother to visit too!

    We visited some of the lesser visited rural areas too which were amazing. It was like stepping back in time.

    Mum wanted to visit the Pyramids, Cairo Museum and some of the temples. She was very surprised that her highlight of the trip was visiting the rural areas.

    • Oh yes, I agree with you! I visited the Pyramids on my first day and thought ‘yes, that was amazing, I could go home now and say Egypt was great. And then the journey really began and the pyramids kept dropping further and further down on the ‘highlights list’!

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