Are We Ever Really Experts?
Are we ever really experts?
Short answer: No.
So now you can skip the rest of this blog post, since you’re an expert on whether or not any of us is an expert. You big smarty-pants, you.
I began to wonder on this question after visiting with a friend a while back. She told me about her adventures around Alaska, detailing specific spots and towns that I had never been to. At that moment, I had to admit to her that I don’t know too much at all about our state beyond Anchorage.
Had I been to Talkeetna? No.
Homer? Not since I was nine.
I felt like a total Alaskan failure. I’ve lived here my entire life and I’ve rarely been more than two hours outside of my home town. And even then, it was never for long. Yet, I’ve given advice to people, told them what to pack and where to go and when to visit. People have looked to me to be their expert several times. And, while I’ve never steered anyone too wrong, I had to stop and wonder if anyone should listen to me on this topic.
This thought led to the next question: If I can live here for 22 years and still not be an expert, then why should I trust a blogger to guide me through my travels? Once a bastion of hope for those wanting to get off the beaten path, travel blogs have become mega-conglomerates that don’t offer much more than the Lonely Planet guides, but with less research and expertise.
Yeah, there’s that word again. Three days in Paris doesn’t make us an aficianado. And yet, the internet makes it so easy to crank out these ultimate lists and grand sweeping suggestions. It begs us to pretend and put on an act, to assure our audience (whether it’s an online audience or a friend in conversation) that we know exactly what we’re talking about.
There is no difference between a hack writing a catch-all India guide after spending a week there, and me telling my relatives that they just have to visit Chena Hot Springs when I’ve never been?
At what point do we admit that we are talking out of our asses?
After spontaneously booking tickets for a go-around in Europe last week, I began to do my research. I furiously Googled Ireland, Italy, the South of France, and basically everywhere in the world I’ve ever wanted to go. When I dig into research, I dig in deep. I found a million and one self-identified experts on these locations. None of them had the credentials to back them up, touting only a few days here or there in each place.
So I did the unthinkable: I cracked open an old-school travel book. Like, with hotel ratings and shit. And I got exactly what I needed. A little bit of expertise.
And it taught me a great lesson for both writing and life. Never, ever assume that you know something until you’ve seen it, experienced it, tasted it, or felt it yourself. And even then, question everything. Never tell others where to go or what to do. Instead, inspire them to go and do something in the first place.
And I did feel inspired. I realized how wrong it was for me to bitch and moan about not being able to travel these past few years, when my back yard is literally a tourist destination. There are thousands of miles of land to explore, and I’ve stuck to a very small section of it.
That’s about to change.
I started small. A trip down to Whittier, one of my favorite crappy little seaside towns. Alaska’s full of them, and Whittier is the crappiest in the best way possible. I climbed up to the window of an abandoned building. Actually, I made The Fiance reluctantly agree to climb up to the window (for, you know, science). Here, you can see him questioning how much he really loves me.
I stood on the docks and let the wind whip my face, felt the heavy rain pour down on me, and smelled the fresh fish being pulled in from the water. I wandered aimlessly for hours, with no itinerary, watching the residents of the town come and go around me. And I felt glad to be alive, and to be here, in this moment, in this place.
So no. I’m not an expert. But I hope to be someday, and this summer is the beginning of it all. I’m putting in the legwork and paying the exorbitant gas prices to make it happen. I’m giving Alaska the voice and the visual platform it’s always deserved.
How many times have I wished that a writer would dedicate blog posts to Alaska?
The answer is, a lot of times.
Now I’m going to be the one doing it. And that, in itself, is a dream come true.
Until next time, keep learning.