Travel Experts vs: Destination Experts
“The City of Mostar Can Be Done in a Day”
“You Can See Split in a Day, Maybe Two”
Today I responded to a travel blogger on IG who claimed that “all you need is one day to see Mostar.”
When I see comments like this, it makes me cringe.
I understand that not everyone has the time or luxury to stay in one place long enough to really experience it on a deep and authentic level, and I get that. That’s not what this blog is about.
I know that many prefer “fast travel” and ticking off as many destinations as possible. This method has its own merits. Going “broad” instead of “deep” DOES give one a holistic perspective about humanity, cultural differences, and adapting. It can be life-enriching.
I’m not necessarily knocking “bucket list travel.”
However, many bucket list travellers are in it JUST for the sake of travel itself. I used to post those memes about collecting passport stamps as being the end goal itself. The stamps prove that you know how to purchase a plane ticket, pack, get through security and customs, board a plane, cross borders, exchange currencies, figure out taxis or car rentals, check into a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb, and navigate a new city. (all without losing said passport)
Those are all great skills to have.
I also have a few “bucket list” destinations I may visit in the future in Africa, and later in Asia. I look forward to the journey itself.. of discovering new places, and getting a broader perspective about the world, one place at a time.
However, knowing what I know now, I’m not going to write about those places as if I’m an expert on the destination. I know what I don’t know. A lot of travel bloggers have no clue what they don’t know, but they think that they DO know, and position themselves as experts.
There is a big difference between being an expert on travel, and an expert on a particular destination.
Choosing the pace and depth of your own travel experience
Rather than talk about which is better, I want to present a different type of travel as a viable choice. Some may call it “slow travel.”
This does not mean that you need to sell all your stuff and move to a place for 90 days at a time like I do.
I’ve met people who had plans, only to end up staying longer in a place than they intended because it felt right, and because they were enjoying themselves. They didn’t regret slowing down.
I will add that these are also people that work on the road and can work from anywhere, so this isn’t a conversation about money or privilege. (other than flexibility and a good passport) That’s a topic for another day.. maybe.
You don’t even have to travel internationally to do this, or even beyond your own hometown. I remember how my parents would rent a car and meander up the California coast. If they were drawn to a particular road or restaurant or inn, they would stop and hang out, enjoying the view over a bottle of wine. They would discover new places and actually talk to locals and other travellers.
They made room for discovery, exploration, and for magical moments.
You don’t need to have a huge budget or a month of vacation time. You can apply the same concept in a long weekend.
However, when it comes to international destinations, this principle has the potential to offer even more. For many, the chance to travel or live abroad does have more personal meaning attached to it, which is directly related to establishing a connection to a new place.
This is what I mean by slow travel and creating a deeper, more authentic connection to a particular place, if one chooses to do that. This choice is what’s missing from a lot of travel advice given these days.
To be super clear.. this blog isn’t about “who has the most meaningful experiences abroad” or an Eat Pray Love thing. I spend a large portion of my time doing things that are TRULY location independent, which means it really doesn’t matter where I’m at. Things like working online, hanging out with dogs, and doing household chores. I could do these things in Denver or Sarajevo.
The blog is SPECIFICALLY about the phrase:
“You can see everything you need to see in a day in_______. ” Because a travel blogger spent a day there, and of course this makes them an expert.
How could they possibly even presume to know what’s best for YOU, based on such limited experience, not just on a destination, but YOUR preferences and travel philosophy?
The skills and experiences that you WON’T get as a bucket list traveller:
1. The advantages of interaction with people in their own language. It is a cliche that is hard to put in words, even in my native language. I’m not talking about learning how to say “hello, please, and thank you” when you are dining at a restaurant, although that is a wonderful start.
I’m talking about hearing, speaking, reading, and going about life in the language of the place you are visiting or living in is like the difference between watching a movie in black and white with mono sound on a small screen to watching it in full color, on a broad screen, with surround sound.
This isn’t about a “should” that you practice just so you can seem smart. When you interact with real people, in THIER language, in THEIR territory, it makes a HUGE difference. You will gain insights about a place that you will not if you resort to your own native language.
2. The often sought-after “authentic” experience or connection to a place. This is kind of a hot topic and trend lately. Again, not every travel experience has to be “authentic” in order to have merit.
But you can’t have it both ways. It’s unrealistic to expect to “tick off” as many countries as you can off your bucket list by staying in a place for a day or two.. AND at the same time have a truly authentic experience based on a connection to a place.
Yet these are the people that claim to be an authority about a particular place they have almost NO experience with.
Am I telling people that they “should” stay for more than one day? No. I’ve only spent a few days outside of my apartment exploring Sarajevo when I lived there, due to work. Same goes for Belgrade. Did I enjoy and get a lot out of those days? You bet.
Would I tell others that they can experience Sarajevo and Belgrade in a day, and “should” only stay a day, because I was only aware of the few things that could be “seen” in a day? NO.
Ask a local.. but also consult your intuition
I remember watching some Chinese tourists get of a bus, walk to the old bridge in Mostar, take a few selfie shots, and then get back on the bus, probably for Sarajevo.
I remember the tour guide telling me that for all that trouble, they could probably be just as well off downloading a photo from the internet. I think there is some truth in that statement. Same goes for the people that go to a concert just to record the thing.
We then talked a bit about the “heart and soul” of Mostar. Granted, it’s a pretty wounded heart and soul, but it HAS those things on such a deep level that I’ve been able to gain access to via:
• Listening to local people. Usually just about everyday life. But Mostar has multiple undercurrents that can only be picked up on if one LISTENS. You won’t get this just by taking pictures or even just listening to a tour guide.
It has to be lived, to be experienced:
• The buildings and the stories they have to tell
• Shopping at the local market
• Making new friends.
• Talking about an exhibit
• Taking in the music in a cafe, on a daily basis.
• Going to the gym and speaking only in Bosnian.
• Learning how to cook a local dish.
• Having coffee with a neighbor who shared personal info and insights about life, in her native language.
• Having Bosnian songs go through your head.
• Feeling almost like a Bosnian.
• Knowing that Bosnian isn’t exactly the right term, even! (Croat, Serb, Bosniak, Bosnian, Hercegovina Croat… etc. )
• Having a friend from Croatia ask you what it’s like in Sarajevo.
• Walking from the East Side to the West Side during the Christmas season.
• Curating a soundtrack. To me, this meant immersing myself for a longer period in the language, the sound of the prayer calls from the mosques, the church bells on the Catholic side, and Sevdah music.
• Getting to know people there. I had the opportunity to date a Croat while living on the East side while I was in Mostar. It was a great personal experience, and certainly gave me a perspective I would have never otherwise had. Of course not everyone is going to end up on this path.. that ‘s not the point. The point is about leaving room for things like this to happen, even if it’s just for 3 days instead of one.
Other personal benefits include:
• Creating memories that go beyond taking selfies on a bridge.
• Better photos. I take a LOT of photos. But it can’t take the place of actually being present, and being present takes time. It can’t be rushed. I also think that photos turn out better when we take the time to learn, be present, and recognize a place and its people rather than just look for the best photo op to upload to social media.
• Assimilating to the culture to your desired level. This could mean creating a sense of belonging. It could also mean being comfortable with belonging “everywhere and nowhere” at the same time, which is likely more appealing to an older, wiser traveller or expat at a certain point.
Of course, after a day in Mostar at the bridge, you’ve seen it all. Move along now, there’s nothing more to see here.
How FOMO and trying to experience as much as you can in a short time can backfire
You’ve probably heard of FOMO. (Fear of missing out) It’s real, and a very natural human response.
This is why travellers with limited time ask for advice on where to stay in this region if they only have 10 days. That’s totally reasonable. The goal is to get an overview and not miss out on something really cool.
FOMO on a whirlwind tour, by trying to stuff in as many experiences as you can in a short time, often has the opposite effect. By moving so fast, you end up missing a lot of really cool things that are right there in front of you. It also has the potential to kill a sense of enjoyment pretty quickly.
When you tell people that “one day is sufficient,” you are essentially leaving NO room for magical moments to happen.
I’ve been treated to live, intimate musical performances with striking sunsets, rakija, sevdah music with everyone singing along, and conversations in both English and Bosnian about life, travel, and living in Mostar, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, and Bosnia in general. And I’m not even mentioning some of the magical moments I had in Croatia and Serbia!
Some of these experiences happened within DAYS of my arrival, so if one doesn’t have the luxury of time, the concept is relative and can apply to just about anyone not in a rush.
Go to any place and there will be a story about it that goes way beyond what tourists are “guided” to see. For example, a festival, slava, or patron saint day can be a big deal in this region.
Belgrade has cultural events that you can savor for days. Dalmatian islands and the coast are tailor made for slower pace and are full of hidden gems that take time to discover. These are not tour bus destinations. They are meant to be taken in at a slower pace, and include micro experiences like tasting new foods, getting flowers or lighting a candle in a church, or just taking in the same experience that a local would.
The art of meeting friends for coffee or lunch is also wonderful, and obviously has to unfold at its own pace. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited into people’s homes for slavas and even Christmas dinner. It’s also possible to have experiences like this in a limited time. My first time in Zagreb.. I stumbled upon a bar and ended up having a beer with some locals and listening to a conversation about European politics and the perception of Americans.
Even the mundane can be enriching. I could write a whole other blog about that. I think I will!
There are many more examples of authenticity in experiencing a place on its own terms and pace, and in taking in the vibe and history. (Which I study)
And yeah, there’s the homeland war. On one hand, it’s good for the war to be in the past and to not make it the primary focus. On the other hand, the evidence of it is still everywhere in BiH. It’s RIGHT there in front of you. To me, pretending it doesn’t exist and glossing over it isn’t really the way to do Mostar, Sarajevo, and Potočari any justice.
It’s not something you want to bring up in everyday conversation, generally speaking. Although it can and sometimes does come up.. the best thing to do is let the person telling the story, who has experienced it, do the talking and determine the direction of the conversation.
The immediacy and recency of it, as well as the rebuilding and transformation taking place almost right before my eyes, is something difficult to put into words. Every time I return to Mostar and see a building restored… yes.
For this, I DO recommend taking a few tours, reading books, and asking local guides questions as you go. There are many great guides who do an excellent job in sharing their knowledge and direct experience. If you are a history nerd, you can always go deeper.
But you won’t get it all in a day, by a long shot.
Here are some examples:
• Talking to the receptionist at the war photo museum at the west end of stari most in Mostar and gathering photos of the EXACT spots that were destroyed in the war. I would then find those EXACT spots and photograph them as they are today, with the guidance of the receptionist and a tour guide by the bridge.
• Going on a guided tour and discovering what was happening in the neighborhood you currently live in. What was occupied, and by whom. Where artillery shelling came from. Where the front lines were. And yes, where there might be mines.
• Brief conversations with people in Sarajevo what it was like during the siege, and personal tours of the city.
• Living in Potočari: I have friends that had family and friends that died in 1995. It makes everything a bit more personal, although of course I’ll never completely comprehend what happened here.
It has become a project for me. The more I learn, the less I realize I actually know.
..and Old History
Then there is just the fact that old cities are just steeped in layers of history that can’t be taken in in just a few hours. As you explore an old city, you can’t help but wonder: What happened in this fortress back in the days of Ottoman or Venetian rule?
Let’s be honest, too. There is beauty, heart, and soul, but there is also the dark undercurrent.. which is something that is still quite hidden.. and perhaps too disturbing to shine a light on fully.
As with any place, there is the sublime, the beautiful, the good, the mundane, the bad, the ugly. Even the evil, disturbing shit that everyone knows is there, (and should not forget) but isn’t meant to be front and center in our conscious awareness.. otherwise we would go mad.
This isn’t just the case with Bosnia, but other places around the world as well. No place is without its dark side.
I think that having foreigners who are actually interested and care about a place, but without interfering, is a positive thing. It counters the “zoo” vibe that is often present during tourist season.
Anyone who says they can take it all in in a day clearly doesn’t know a damn thing about Mostar.. or Split, or any one of the other destinations you can find on this website.
Nature and the outdoors
This alone requires its own blog. This region is so diverse when it comes to microclimates and ecosystems, and each is gorgeous and worth spending time in. Maybe it’s a good thing that mountain biking and hiking in the hills above Mostar is still a well-kept secret?
Determining that a place can be seen in a day diminishes the essence of a place for the sake of convenience.. so that it can fit neatly into the field of awareness of your average tourist.
To say that a place can be experienced in a day is like saying that a person is only worthy of a one night stand, without bothering to get to know them.
Or going to Paris, taking a picture of the Eiffel tower, and leaving.. and THEN telling others that all you need is one day to experience the city
Maybe it’s time for travel bloggers to talk about ONLY what they know, present choices, and allow other travellers to decide how long they want to stay in a particular destination.
Whether you decide to stay for a day, a week, or a few months in a place is ultimately up to you. I hope that whatever you choose, you have access to information that is truly helpful.