This past november I visited China for the first time.

I was fortunate to go there with few expectations, which meant that every turn revealed something new, every conversation was a chance to learn. I saw China’s explosive growth everywhere I looked; I also noticed its environmental consequences. I realized that the authoritarian government is part of the reason the country has accomplished so much so quickly; I experienced what it was like not to be able to access favorite Web sites. I talked with businesspeople about the opportunities of China’s fast-growing economy; I saw the health and education problems of migrant workers who are moving by the millions into urban areas. I admired the modernization of the cities and the growing prosperity of the people; I listened to locals concerned about losing their culture. Because I was so open to the experience, the trip was filled with the unexpected.

Which brings me to the theme of this issue: “Unexpected takes on expected places.” I believe our challenge as travelers is to bring the enthusiasm and openness we have for new places (like China, for me) to destinations that we know.

How do we do this?

When we travel to a familiar place, we can seek out the unfamiliar—the unexplored neighborhood, the untried activity, the unmet subculture. We can dig deeper to discover new and different shades of the life that we already know there. Or—and this is perhaps the most difficult—we can set our preconceptions aside and look at what is familiar with fresh eyes. Maybe we will find that things are not quite as we thought.

At AFAR, we try each of these avenues. We offer a mix of familiar and not so familiar destinations: France and Ethiopia, Italy and Iran. We take approaches you may not find in other travel publications, showing how a culinary whim led to a real connection in Laos or using a political caricaturist’s drawings to recount a Baltic cruise. We delve into a familiar culture to take you to unfamiliar depths: On the shores of Switzerland’s Lake Geneva, for example, we reveal a little-known wine-growing region that dates back 900 years. And we close the issue with an essay by author Tony Horwitz, who thought he knew Australia but came to understand it only when he stepped back from his U.S.-centric viewpoint.

We hope you discover something—some place or some angle—that is new in each issue of AFAR. We hope AFAR inspires you not just to take a trip, but to explore the world with a fresh perspective and a desire to find the distinctive in every place you visit. As always, let us know where travel takes you. Send your stories to

Good travels,
Greg Sullivan

This appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of AFAR Magazine