Ask an Expert: What is Your Best Travel Experience?
When people realize how much I’ve traveled, I’ve never had them ask about my best travel experience. Instead they usually ask, “What is the best place you’ve traveled to?”
While it seems like an obvious question, it’s impossible for me to answer. Instead, I like to reply with, “let me tell you about the most amazing experience I’ve had instead.”
Yes, while I find it difficult to narrow down to one place I’ve visited as the best, I don’t even need to think about what the most amazing experience has been.
The experience of absolute silence
Maybe what makes this THE stand out moment is that I’ve only experienced it once in my entire life.
Best travel experience
Steve and I were touring around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington the week between Christmas and New Year which meant we had the park practically to ourselves.
As we pulled into a parking area located in Olympic National Park, the only other car we had seen all day was just leaving. Big, fat, wet snowflakes started to fall and quickly began to cover the earth.
A small break in the trees surrounding the lot announced our destination. A hiking path, which was little more than a clearing made in the old-growth forest.
Each step we took on that path landed softly, almost soundlessly on a carpet of leaves and decaying plants. Instead of being hard and frozen, the path was spongy. Giving slightly underfoot.
As we moved deeper into the forest, I looked around to take in my surroundings. Surprisingly, this section of the park is considered a (temperate) rainforest. It didn’t look like I had imagined a rainforest would be based on photos from the Amazon or from the movies. In fact, it didn’t seem like a rainforest at all.
Instead, it looked ancient, mysterious, and mystical. It reminded me of Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood. The forest seemed knowing, like it held the stories and secrets of life through the ages.
While we walked we searched for wildlife, but even birds and squirrels could not be seen or heard. It was as if all had taken shelter in their homes in anticipation of the snow storm swirling around us.
After an hour of hiking, even the dense branches of the tall evergreens which lined the path could not stop the snow from blanketing the forest. The added layer of accumulated snow on the path further muffled our footsteps.
We crossed over a small foot bridge and the trickles and burbling of the small stream below us could be clearly heard. It was the loudest sound left in the forest besides the ones that we made.
I became aware of the swish of my coat as my arms swung with each step, and it seemed like a disturbance of the surrounding peace. Even the whispered conversation between Steve and myself seemed illicit. As if Mother Nature herself was shushing us with the same level of consternation reserved for those who speak during church.
This was a fitting feeling as the soaring spires of the ancient trees, the picturesque setting of the snow covered foliage, and the quiet peace deepened by the blanketing snow created a sort of spiritual reverence.
Then we stopped, took a moment to look around and agreed to be silent to listen for signs of wildlife. What we experienced instead was complete silence. While I cannot know how complete the silence was, I have no other way to describe it except absolute.
I felt a growing pressure on my ears as if they were leaning out, almost straining to discern some small sound. Nothing could be heard or detected. At some point I realized that I was even holding my breath as if my sub-conscience realized that even this sound was unwanted.
The absence of sound was an extraordinary feeling that was, at the same time, uncomfortable. It was a moment of complete isolation. In this vacuum, it was easy to question life. To wonder about existence and what illusions we create.
We savored this moment, this experience for a short while and then agreed to turn back. Throughout the hike we had not seen any tracks or sign of life. The overwhelming silence was the final factor that made us realize the futility of searching for wildlife in this weather.
While it was not cold, in fact the mild exertion of the walk had us unzipping our coats and removing our hats to stave off the heat, we were getting wet from the snow. We decided to turn back and head for our car.
Can you believe that something that lasted for such a short moment could have such an impact? That this accidental experience would be the best travel experience?
Maybe referring to it as my best travel experience is misleading.
Maybe it is unfair to share such an experience that cannot easily be replicated or even had.
Or maybe, what I’m trying to share is that the best travel experience is something that touches you, makes you reflect on life, or causes you to grow.
For each of us the best experience will be different. Even Steve, who shared this experience with me, has a different ‘best’.
I’d love to hear about your most memorable or best travel experience. Please share in the comments below.