I can see the question forming on their lips and I instantly backtrack in my mind– what did I just say to prompt it? I know better. I thought I could avoid it this time – will I go tactful, flippant, or just make up an answer…or can I just pretend they phrased it differently?
In slow-motion the lips of the person across from me begins to pucker in formation of the “wh” sound followed by the soft opening of the palette for an “a” and ending with the abrupt staccato of a “t.” There’s just no stopping them now.
“What country is the best country you’ve visited?!” they gush.
Arghhhhh! Can I run and hide?
It’s as if all of the countries are in a police line-up and I have to point out the suspect.
“That one right there. That’s the best country in the world. The rest, psh, don’t even bother.”
Now I’m being cheeky here and I’m treading dangerously close to coming off as snotty, but I’ve been to a bunch of countries, how can I announce a single country that’s far better than the rest? That’s just not fair to all of the countries that have people and experiences I loved.
They’re all different. And sometimes I feel like the question is being asked in the spirit of gaining an absolute recommendation – I tell you my favorite country so you can go visit and you will love it too!
But it doesn’t work like that. Travel’s personal; what I love you may not. I loved something about each country I’ve visited over the past two years – and yeah, some countries jived better with my travel style, foodie preferences and learning goals, but each one is memorable in some way for me.
So How Do I Answer This Question?
I normally rephrase the question into something I can answer and feed it back to them:
– “Oh, you want to know some of my favorite experiences! Well yeah, I can tell you some of those:
– I loved India for the food. I loved India for other reasons too, but my love affair with Indian food is epic.
– The sweet and gentle “Sab bai dii” sung into the evening air from the vendors at Laos’ night market sticks with me to this day.
– The crisply fresh smell of absolutely pure and clean mountain air several days into my Himalayan hike – now that was awesome.
– And spending several hours getting randomly serenaded with a dozen different versions of the Happy Birthday song on Fraser Island in Australia gives that giant sand island a fond place in my heart– I still find myself humming the insanely catchy Israeli birthday song!
I could go on. And on. And on… (A “thanks for putting up with me” is in order for my St. Pete friends who get subjected to my every random and wistful recollection when I visit home ;-).
Those memories make me love each of those countries…and I’ve had experiences that make me not too in love with a place too. But whether they were good or bad they’re my memories and I would hate to taint a person against a place they’ve always dreamed of going just because I was in a bad mood the week I was there.
But What if That Answer Doesn’t Suffice?!
Nearly every time answering with experiences is precisely what the person was actually asking.
But occasionally it’s not.
“No, but you one has stick out as better than the rest. Which one is the best/greatest/coolest/grooviest of them all?”
I tell them India.
Why do I tell them India? Because it cracks me up. One person sputtered. The other gave a thoughtful nod. Neither was expecting that answer.
And I figure it like this: India offers up a huge range of awesomely human experiences and you could spend a decade exploring it and never be done. It’s definitely not a great fit for every type of traveler. The sputter-er will hear my answer, think I’m nuts and discount it, move on with their lives and travel to some country that meets their idea of “best.” Awesome! The thoughtful nodder will consider this an affirmation that it’s worth a visit and perhaps put it on their travel list. Awesome as well!
Either way, there’s no way to pick “the best country in the world,” so if you ask me more than once you’re going to get a very different answer every single time!
So tell me, what’s your favorite country in the whole wide world? ;-)