Off the Map

Everyone has his or her own list of dream destinations, place where, if we had the time, the opporutnity, the money, we'd drop everything for the chance to experience. Places that we are so drawn to that we'll flip right to an article about them in the latest issue of our favorite travel magazine, or suffer through PBS' ceaseless contribution requests to hear the scoop straight from Rick Steves.

My friends and I often discuss our travel wish lists, exhausting an extra hour at dinner with visions of street souks, petit bistros, and Icelandic hot springs. New destinations are easy to add to the list. We catch a photograph of a place we've never heard before and we're hooked — we have to go there someday! And while it's fun and magical to imagine the moment we step off the plane and into that long-awaited adventure, our travel fantasies are undoubtedly biased.

Because, in addition to our Must-Gos, we also have the Oh-Nos, the places that violence, politics, and war have figuratively wiped off the map for anyone who's not a soldier or a citizen.

As eager traveler, we like to think "the world is our oyster." Advancements in cultural and eco-tourism encourage this notion — that even far, far away is still within reach. We always think about all the places out there for us to explore, but rarely do we dwell upon the reality that there are some places we never will. There are countries that will never have their own guidebooks, that will only occupy our fears and never our dream.s

Dismal circumstances have marked these places with a foreboding X, and we quickly write them off as "too risky." To do so may be quick, but it should not be easy. Because when we erase a destination from our personal maps, we also erase all of its stories — the people we'll never meet and the things we'll never see. And the world we try to understand, to capture and contain with our words and our photographs, become a little bit smaller.

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