When people plan to travel there are three practical things to consider: How to get there, where to stay and what to do. Most people choose a travel destination based one one thing - imagery. Most people do not want to visit a place that they haven’t already seen or experienced in one way or another. They see beautiful photos on Instagram, a friend returns from a trip and has pictures that inspire them, or they read a novel about a place and then they want to see what that place is like. People often travel to see where things are filmed or where a story is set; fiction, after all, is always set in reality. Take Harry Potter travel destinations or Game of Throne filming sites - these places are not merely touristic - they are deeply important to many people who go there for what they represent: a childhood memory, a , a deceased grandparent who read to them or even 7 years of devotion to an HBO program. There is a wonderful sculpture in Belfast that we will see this fall honoring C.S. Lewis called The Searcher. I am fairly sure I will break down and cry, but it will be worth it.
Last summer we visited all of the Jane Austen sites we could squeeze in to 11 days in England and her little writing table was so inspirational and evocative, people were wiping their eyes and smiling all around us. I think the most overwhelming site I have ever experienced was Anne Frank’s bedroom. As you climb the stairs at the historic house you round the corner and there is this little room with a small, single bed pushed against the wall upon which one can still see her little magazine clippings of fashion and entertainment - that little hope that she still had of having a life, of romance and glamour, of NORMAL is the most horrifying and heartbreaking thing I have ever seen.
I don’t know if people know this about themselves; they just have a vague desire to travel somewhere and they don’t consciously realize where this desire comes from. Books and films have a hold on our hearts that we want to explore.
Between the time we spent in Scotland and the month we were in France we spent a week in England. One of my goals was to visit Haddon Hall during the Artisan Market Weekend. The Princess Bride was partly filmed there - it was fantastic! (See the cover photo for this post!) When you read poetry, novels, and history it becomes part of your experience. It is a part of your self, your narrative, even if you have never actually been there. Often we travel to the setting of these experiences that we have had second hand. There is so much more meaning and attachment to the setting than one realizes until you arrive... people get that starry look when they recall seeing the Wailing Wall, the door that Princess Buttercup walked through, the Wardrobe, the fields of poppies, Anne of Green Gables’s farm, a secret garden, the bunkers, the battlefield, the collection of magazine clippings, the little, round table where Austen wrote her novels with a quill pen, the streets, the churches, the castles, Platform 9 3/4...one of the best ways to travel is to go to the places you have already been.
If imagery doesn’t inspire you enough to get you to travel, an event may be the reason you are finally going to update that passport. Some friends of ours are going to weddings in Provence and Venice this summer - a great opportunity for meaningful travel and to explore the environs! Another reason people travel is education. As my husband and I are both foreign language teachers specializing in K-12 immersion language acquisition, we know many families who want to travel with their bilingual children to places where that language is the native language and they have the opportunity for cultural immersion as well. I own a small travel consulting business and at least half of the travel I arrange is for this purpose. Knowing even a little of the language spoken at your destination is key to making the trip more fun, meaningful and EASY.
A sport or a cultural event is another way to make an automatic connection to the place you want to visit. If you are a runner, contact the local runner’s association and see if there is a race or fundraiser you can join. If you play a team sport, see if there is a practice you could participate in. Often the town council web site will have links to this information. Any interest can be the doorway to more meaningful travel. A close friend of mine who is an accomplished fiber artist and instructor always finds a craft guild that she can connect with and another friend of ours seeks out dog owners of the breed she favors.
So many people we know want to travel but don’t know where to go. They say, “I want to see the Eiffel Tower.” Why? If they hate big cities and have never used a subway that is going to be one big disappointment. What they might really enjoy is a tour of Monet painting sites or learning how to make French bread! The point is to find a connection and a focus that will challenge you and fill you up, not just check a box on a bucket list.