A pair of internationally minded writers, a chef, an architect and a landscape photographer made a list of the most extraordinary adventures a person should seek out. Here are the results.
Alwa Cooper, Ashlea Halpern, Debra Kamin, Aileen Kwun, Miguel Morales, Dan Piepenbring and
One July morning, a five-person jury — including the writers Pico Iyer and Aatish Taseer, the architect Toshiko Mori, the chef and food scientist David Zilber and the landscape photographer Victoria Sambunaris — gathered over Zoom to debate what, exactly, constitutes a “travel experience” and how some might rise above the rest. To get the conversation started, each panelist had nominated at least 10 selections in advance of the call; their job now was to slash that list from 55 to 25.
The participants were all polite, often deferring to whomever they deemed an expert on a particular subject: Zilber, who worked at Noma and co-authored the Copenhagen restaurant’s 2018 book about fermentation, on outstanding restaurants; Sambunaris, who traverses the country several months a year by car to capture her images, on the spectacular topography of the American West. They were also quick to sacrifice their own darlings, particularly if they felt they were too familiar (Petra, Machu Picchu), too obscure (Alvar Aalto’s Muuratsalo Experimental summer house in Säynätsalo, Finland — a Mori selection), too personal (driving the Karakoram Highway connecting Pakistan and China — something Taseer heard about from his father) or too commodified (a Nile River cruise, most hotel stays). As Iyer put it, “Hotels offer luxury and comfort, but they rarely touch my soul.”
Some panelists rescinded nominations for experiences they hadn’t had themselves, despite having dreamed for years about what it might be like to, say, hike through Japan’s remote Yakushima Island National Park, the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke” (1997). (“I feel like I don’t know if going there would destroy or enhance my fantasy,” Mori said.) Others opted to keep in the mix selections to which they couldn’t personally attest — proving how powerful our collective imagination can be. If something seemed too easy, they worried it might not be special enough. At the same time, not every experience chosen is rare or difficult to access: Sometimes it’s just a matter of opening your eyes (or mind) to whatever magic a place has to offer.
The panel considered safety, too, with some participants concluding that what might make a destination “dangerous” is largely, though not entirely, shaped by personal history and worldview. Others wanted to be sure readers were asked to conduct their own research before deciding whether or not to set out for a certain place, as situations on the ground can change rapidly. At the time of publication, the U.S. State Department had issued its strongest possible warning — Level 4: Do Not Travel — for four of the destinations on the following list; several others have been categorized as Level 3: Reconsider Travel. But most of the panelists agreed, time and again, to include politically, ethically and ideologically fraught locations. “War-torn countries and places in conflict right now haven’t always been and might not always be,” said Zilber. “I don’t think [their current status] should negate their inclusion.” (In the months between when this panel met — on July 20, 2022 — and the list’s publication, the world continued to shift: the Russian war with Ukraine deepened; Iran erupted in protests following the arrest and subsequent death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman accused by the country’s morality police of violating their hijab law; and Ethiopia and the Tigray Defense Forces, a paramilitary rebel group, agreed to a cease-fire after two years of ruinous civil war.)