Give your travels new purpose — here’s how

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If you’re reading this website, you love to travel, and odds are you’ve been to a lot of place on this earth. But while travel is worthwhile just for the thrill of  discovery, sometimes you feel as if it lacks meaning — another country, another hotel, another tourist attraction.

The good news is, there’s a cure for that. There are many ways to give your travels a deeper meaning, and turn the usual tourist itinerary into more a personal and fulfilling  experience. One is just to do some in-depth research on your destination before you go, or try a long-stay vacation to really get to know the place. But there are others you may not have thought of.

Here are a few suggestions that can help give your travels new purpose.

Trace your roots

Genealogy has become a lot more popular in recent years, and it’s likely to get even more so as the boomer generation gets more interested in retracing its family histories. If you haven’t been to the places your family came from, there’s an opportunity for a trip filled with discovery and personal meaning.

In fact, since most people’s families have roots in more than one city or country, you could likely make several  trips to find all the places involved. As I wrote here, I’vePuerto Vallarta church got Madras, India on my bucket list because my great-grandfather was born there. But to make the journey complete, I should also visit the original family home came from Trowbridge, England, and a few places in Ireland.

Be a voluntourist

Mostly we travel to enjoy ourselves, but consider travelling to help someone else by taking part in a volunteer project somewhere in the world. These vary from helping with an archaeological dig to teaching at a rural schoolhouse to building a community centre, and there’s no shortage of opportunities. Even some enlightened holiday tours now include a day spent on a local project.

I’m a bit ambiguous on some of these programs, since they sometimes seem more aimed at giving you a fun trip than doing something useful. And even though you’re volunteering your labour, some of these programs still cost quite a bit (often the fee includes a donation to the cause). But many are well worthwhile, and rewarding to boot — and you were probably going to spend a similar amount staying at hotels and traipsing around to tourist sites. If you want a look at some of the options available, try this website.

Follow in the footsteps

As I wrote here, I’ve had some of my best travel experiences following the footsteps of authors in places as diverse as Paris and the South Pacific. Movies work just fine, too: someone just told me they’re keen to visit Vienna because that’s where the characters in Before Sunrise had their one-night romance. In Mozart's house Viennafact, if you’re visiting Vienna, check out the museum devoted to the movie The Third Man, set in the city — not to mention Mozart’s old house (left).

Apart from following the characters in the story, you can also follow the author him/herself. The places where authors, artists, composers and musicians lived and worked are preserved all over the world — in fact, many have been turned into museums. It’s almost always a satisfying experience, standing in the spot where they created their great works and imagining the scenes they saw looking out the window: see my post on Ernest Hemingway’s hotel room in Havana.

Explore the culture

Hotels are great, but it’s hard to really get a feel for the culture of a city or country when you’re staying with other travellers in an international hotel chain. If you truly want to learn about a country and how its people live, consider trying a homestay. You live with a family in their home, see their daily life, get the inside story on what it’s like to live there. There are ways to do this in many countries: it can be as simple as renting a room through Airbnb, or staying in a casa particular in Cuba.

Another way to get a better understanding of your destination is to learn the language, and you can combine both purposes by doing a homestay course where you stay with a family and function in their language. This kind of immersion is the best way to learn a language the way people actually speak it, rather than the way it appears in books. And you’re contributing a little money directly to the local economy.

Pursue a hobby

It’s great to have a hobby, but it’s even better to expand that hobby to include the whole world. Most hobbies have international appeal, so it’s no problem to find places to pursue them in other countries. You can also find events such as tournaments and conventions where you can connect with other hobbyists, whether you’re all about Woodpecker, golden-front running, antique collecting or kite flying.

As I wrote here, I’ve had a lot of fun photographing birds around the world, and the hobby has taken me to a lot of places I probably wouldn’t have gone without the lure of getting a resplendent quetzal or a Cuban trogon in my sights.

Trade places with someone

While we’re talking about living in someone else’s home, why not make the experience mutual and exchange homes with someone in another country for a few days? There’s a worldwide network of people who do just that, and home exchange websites that help them get together: you can find them in the Travelling Boomer Resources.

Doing the exchange is not too hard: you join the service and post your home, then search for another member with a home in the country you want to visit, and negotiate an exchange. Sometimes you even get a car to help explore your temporary home.

So, there’s six ways to make travelling a more fulfilling experience. Odds are you’re already using one or two, but hopefully, you’ll find a suggestion here that can add some excitement and meaning to your trips. And if you have some suggestions that aren’t covered here, leave a comment and let us all benefit. The better we travel, the more we learn.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

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