If you are traveling the paths set forth to you by a travel guide that thousands of others are buying, then you can bet that you are mostly going to meet other travelers, who are living very similarly to you and who probably have a similar background. You'll see a lot of beauty, of course, but you also won't meet anyone who actually lives in these places.
Now don't get me wrong, I was screaming my way down the 200 foot dunes in Huacachina with everyone else and loving every minute of it. However, I try to make those types of tourist excursions the exception, not the norm.
It's impossible to believe that your trip will be new or different if you do everything that someone else is telling you to do.
The most important factor to decide before leaving for a trip of any length is what you want to get out of it. Do you want to have the maximum number of "Facebook photos", the shots everyone will recognize and be jealous of? Or do you want to get to know a place a bit better, meet locals and learn about the culture of a place. Neither is better, it's really up to you to decide which is right for you.
For me, people were the most important factor. I wanted to leave South America with friends I could go back and visit, knowing I had another place I could call home. After five months of travel, I realize I haven't even nicked the surface of South America, and that's okay. Staying a bit longer in each place rather than hurrying up to get from one place to another saved me a lot of stress and allowed me to settle into each unique area.
I met a British kid in Taganga who was hyperventilating as he tried to figure out how on earth he was going to fit in all of his plans into five days before he had to leave Colombia. While I lounged in my hammock and sipped a beer on the hostel rooftop, he sat with his back to the sunset as the sky was cast in fiery red, orange and violet hues. Swinging gently, I studied his face, at the anguish carved onto it and I wondered why he was doing this to himself. I saw someone who was so wrapped up in the planning of it all that he couldn't see what was right in front of his face.
The worst part about it? He's hardly the exception. Whenever we find ourselves at a hostel, there is the nightly ritual of note comparisons that happens while everyone has an early evening beer before going out or heading to bed. The usual questions of how long are you traveling, where have you been, how long have you been out and where do you go next were fun in the beginning. This effectively becomes a "which boxes have you checked off game, but eventually the ironic sound of defeat in their voices as they told us things like “I only have 4 months to travel, and couldn't fit it all in” become too much.
God forbid we tell anyone "we have been in Peru for over a month but didn't make it to Machu Picchu."
I think it's time to change the dialogue of travel and to remind everyone that the only person you are traveling for is you and if you decide to skip Macchu Picchu to do something else instead, that's okay.
At the end of the day, it's not the pictures you'll remember but the memories you create. When so much time is spent stressing, worrying, competing and documenting, you lose a little bit of the magic of living in the moment of freedom. Take your moments back, put you eyes before your phones or cameras and enjoy the beauty that is in the world, no matter where you are.