Get Off the Couch and Live!
Most people under 40 – if they haven’t been permanently bonded to their La-Z-Boys by reality TV, World of Warcraft and Facebook – are likely to find this new and updated edition of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die an exciting reminder of just how incredibly bountiful and seemingly inexhaustible are the planet’s natural and man-made attractions. If this travel guide doesn’t get them off the couch and down to the passport office, nothing will.
The same should apply for people over 40, though the sheer volume of this overstuffed valise of a book, and the endless wonders within, might make some feel as if the prospect of ever seeing even a fraction of the world is impossible in the time that remains. (The title of this book, one of the few things about it that I didn’t like, makes it seem like what should be a pleasurable and mind-expanding activity is, instead, a daunting race against the clock.)
There are two ways of traversing this 1,200-page guide or its IPad companion app: Read it straight through (a nutty thing to do, but perhaps enjoyable for dreamers and armchair travelers), or approach it from one of two ends: Either by checking out what it has to say about places you’ve visited or lived in – in other words, seeing if the book manages to capture the essence of the places you already know and love – or by checking out locations you’ve never even heard of and seeing if the book can persuade you to go there next year, or the year after that.
In the latter category I encountered, just in one 20-page stretch, Pulau Langkawi (“the Jewel of Kedah”), Melakah, Pangkor Laut Resort, Mergui Archipelago, Inle Lake, Shwedagon Pagoda, Amanpulo, Phangnga Bay, Boracay, and half a dozen other tempting and redolent destinations in Southeast Asia. The pictures are small but well-chosen, and the descriptions will fill anyone whose heart still beats with longing: “The powdery soft sand here is so white that it glows at night and turns pink when it reflects the sunset.”
If you’re not interested in Southeast Asia for some unfathomable reason, no worries: The book covers every corner of Earth, including Courmayeur, Bornholm, Lalibela, Tolkuchka, Bubbling Rotorua, Hardangerfjord, Eje Cafetero, Rangiroa and the Mogao Caves. How many of these have you visited? Me neither, and that’s what makes this book such an exciting exception to the typical travel guides that cover mostly familiar destinations like Venice, Hong Kong, Hawaii or New York (though of course it covers these, too.)
When it comes to places I know well, the book seems to be well-researched and accurate, though I can assure its authors, researchers and editors that in fact no one in Chicago refers to hot dogs as “red hots”, as in, “I think I’ll have a red hot for lunch.” I also can state with assurance that its mumble-mouthed admission that “Kyoto’s beauty can sometimes be elusive” is the understatement of the century; this amazing destination was, as the book notes, spared by Allied bombing during World War II, but was not spared by Japan’s concrete-happy urban “planners”; discovering its fantastic beauty requires patience and an extremely high tolerance for congestion and noise. (Why don’t travel writers ever just tell the simple truth? We’re grown-ups; we can take it.)
But this well-edited and well-written book otherwise does a reasonable job of capturing the essence of that city, and San Antonio’s River Walk, and Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Wat Pho, and Takayama, and the Galapagos Islands, and Oxford, and the pubs of Dublin, and Siena, and the relative handful of other places I have been lucky enough to see with my own eyes.
First published in 2003, this updated edition has added 28 additional countries, including Ghana, Qatar, Latvia and Vanuatu, and 200 new entries, for those who might think that Earth, and its attractions, are finite. It’s not, and if you’ve seen very little of it, it’s time to get cracking.
The reality, of course, is that even if you’re young and full of energy and have all the money in the world, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll ever see even a quarter of the fascinating and delectable destinations herein. But it’s exciting to dream and to speculate, and managing to encounter even one additional location on this list is better than sticking around for another season of the Kardashians. As Auntie Mame put it, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Pick up this bountiful book and, within the limits of your budget and your physical capability, get off the couch and live!