When going on a vacation, a variety of factors can contribute to the overall quality of your experience. For me, the three biggest contenders are good food, good friends, and good location. However, if I had to go with just one, good location would win hands down.
When I travel, the first thing I'm looking to do is broaden my horizons. Food is certainly one way to do that, but it only constitutes a small part of how we can experience foreign cultures. And friends are surely great for the company, but they can also keep your mindset trapped in familiar territory while abroad. That's why food and friends are really secondary considerations for me while traveling. After college I backpacked alone through South America, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the food and longed for some familiar faces now and then, the most salient and enjoyable part of the experience was becoming immersed in a totally foreign location.
Actually, I'd go as far as to say that the experience would've been less enjoyable had I brought any friends with me. That's because when I'm visiting new places, I'm also looking to meet new people; traveling with friends can be great, but traveling alone really forces you to step out of your comfort zone and mingle with strangers. I had actually planned the South American journey months before with a friend of mine, but something came up and she was forced to drop out. The first few days after landing were terrifying. I'd never traveled alone before, and could hardly choke out two words of Spanish. But after a few torturous days of hanging around the hostel, I couldn't stomach the boredom anymore; I decided that I'd force myself to learn Spanish and talk to the locals. The next 2 months gave me some of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Finally, while most people take vacations as an opportunity to relax, I like to take them as an opportunity to challenge myself. Good food and good friends are great for relaxing, but they're not priorities if I'm seeking to push my individual boundaries. A good location, however, can provide a worthwhile challenge that food and friends alone will not--my 2 months in South America thoroughly convinced me of that. Learning a new language, meeting new people, learning to live with only what I could fit into a backpack--these were the challenges that this new location threw at me. Even today, I still consider the experience an important part of my coming-of-age.
These are the reasons why good location comes first for me. Now, don't get me wrong--I love good food as much as the next person. And you can bet my friends will tell you how much I cherish each and every one of them. But good food and good friends will both be waiting for me when I get back at home. Vacation is for getting away, and for that, a good location is crucial.