A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it's a poor substitute for experience. A travel epic is not the next best thing to being there.
Several years ago, I was invited to take part in a survey. I would be paid $100 for participating. All I had to do was answer these few simple questions in an online quiz to see if I were eligible. Like a sucker, I bit.
A phonecall came the next day. The person left a message telling me I was in, and to call them at this number first to verify my interest, and to let me know the time and place.
Even after verifying, I still wasn't sure if this was on the level. I kept expecting to be asked for my credit card info at any moment. But true to form, I decided that the best way to find if you're walking into a trap is to try to spring it.
Unfortunately, it was legit.
I was asked to sit in the waiting room with a few other people, and we helped ourselves to the plate of wraps and cans of pop that had been provided. When the time came for the survey, we were sat in assigned seats and given a sheet of looseleaf and a pen.
The survey was sponsored by an unnamed group involved in domestic tourism. We were called together at this particular time because we all fit a specific demographic: the Virtual Tourist.
According to our survey results, we were fond of learning about other cities and countries, reading up on famous places and landmarks, even reading about other cultures, but less inclined to go out and experience them in person.
Guilty as charged.
After a while, we all got the sense that the sponsor was interested in how they could entice us homebodies into travelling.
Fair ball, I thought. I'd rather they ask me outright rather than mining my personal data and monitoring my activities.
I made my thoughts known in the most constructive manner I could. Everyone did. By the time the survey was over and the hundred bucks collected, my interest in travelling was rekindled.
Fast forward a couple of years to July, 2008. I've just returned from a business trip to Edmonton with the boss. No sooner do I return to work, when there's an email in my inbox. It was from one of the outside salesmen at head office, giving me my itinerary and confirmation details for my flight to Mexico in January. It seems I'd been invited to attend the company's biannual sales meeting.
Mexico was a blast. Two hours of meetings, and four days of sunshine, sand, surf, Sol beer, and Tequila. Going through my DVD's worth of holiday snaps this morning brought it all back in living colour... the hot sand, the cool surf, the annoying American retiree who thought he could make himself more readily understood by speaking louder and slower, the taste of the beer, I could even feel the terrible sunburn I suffered.
Before we arrived at the resort, the boss and a few others advised that, if I wanted continual good service, to carry a stack of American dollar bills for tips, giving one to the waiter after every second or third drink. Leave it to me to inadvertently find a way around that...
On our outing into town, I decided I had to have an authentic Mexican soccer jersey. I managed to find a little shop that carried jerseys, and a Barcelona jersey caught my eye. Not Mexican, but what the heck.
#10, Lionel Messi. One of my all-time favourite players.
Right next to it was an Atlas Guadalajara jersey, which I liked and thus purchased.
I wore the Atlas jersey to the hotel's lounge after dinner. The boss pointed out that the staff were staring and pointing at me, smiling. When it came time for refills, I slipped the waiter a greenback.
"Oh, no thank you, amigo!" he said, "It is our pleasure!"
Turns out, Atlas were the favourite team. Who knew?
That was a year ago. I remember it as though it happened last week. Going through my pictures brought it all flooding back. In this respect, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
But if I were to look at these pictures without context, without having experienced them, they would be worthless. The pictures worth a thousand hollow words.
So, put away your books and turn off your computer.
Get out there and experience different places. Get out there and experience life.
A picture of a cat won't purr. A picture of the surf won't get you wet.