World travel is gradually becoming smoother week by week. As we look forward to 2023, we look forward to experiencing the world fully.
From the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, from Great Britain to Eastern Europe, from North to South America, from Australasia to Asia, from Africa to Antarctica, we look for inspirational moments.
BE IN THE MOMENT
Each of us will have our own, probably slightly different, definition of a great travel experience.
It can be a meeting with a local, a delicious meal, a sunset behind palm trees, or a more private moment where we just fully appreciate how lucky we are to be on a trip.
But usually we can just count on being the filter. We recognize our most valuable travel experiences simply because they’re the first thing we tell our friends about. Very often it is an encounter with another person.
+ For me, it’s a conversation with a woman who runs a street stall in Lusaka, Zambia, which she made entirely (and quite beautifully) out of discarded soda bottles.
+ Still in Africa I am sitting in a safari vehicle and watching a young male lion sleeping. His nose suddenly twitches, his eyes open, he lifts his head, looks straight at me, pauses for a moment, then immediately falls asleep again.
+ It buys a peach at the market in Avignon in southern France, then sits on a bench by the medieval city walls, bites into it and tastes the sun and the terroir itself.
+ In Prague, a young woman is observed scooping ice cream out of a tub and curling and gluing it around the previous curls to make a beautiful “rose” in my cone. (Then stroll across the Charles Bridge with it on a summer’s day.)
+ In Singapore it is a glass of Bandung – rose syrup with milk.
+ There is an arctic memory from the Northwest Passage. From afar it looks like a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the pure white snow. Then I see the “lump of coal” – the polar bear’s nose.
+ And in the US, it’s the fall colors of New England and a diner with red vinyl seats and a singing waiter in New York City.
REAL & IMPROVISED
Authentic experiences are real, often unscripted, perhaps unique, and stay with us to reflect on long after the moment has passed.
And research says they’re exactly what travelers want and expect after the pandemic shutdown.
The travel industry knows that many guests want more than the average wine tasting in the cellar, remain focused on experiences and rise to the challenge. I see itineraries increasingly incorporating visits and excursions with more traction – visits to local homes, time spent with regional producers, and more emphasis on grassroots connections.
An important piece of the puzzle is the work of the local guides. When we take tours or river cruises or shore excursions, the guides are often the local people we spend most of our time with – the storytellers we listen to; our new, albeit temporary, friends. Good leaders make great days.
Accompanied by a good guide, we no longer drive through the countryside and its villages ourselves in the car, but are invited.
And on tours and excursions we are so often on the road with like-minded people. And being with our new travel friends might not only enhance the experience — it might be the best part. Great and lasting friendships can be made along the way.
REAL & WRITTEN
We might think that the biggest travel moments require a happy coincidence – but not everything can be ad hoc when we travel. Our trips need structure and infrastructure – we fly with an airline and maybe join a cruise, river cruise, bus tour or train trip.
Does that take away authentic moments from us? Absolutely not. Because the key ingredient is . . . Well, us and our openness and attitude.
CONTRIBUTE OUR INTERESTS
Some authentic experiences are very powerful because they encompass a lifetime of interest.
It is good to take this into account when planning your trip. Bring your interests into your plan – look for places, bases, tours and cruises that mean something to you. If you are interested in food and cooking, think of places that don’t interest you with local produce but are there at the right time of year and take cooking classes.
If you’re interested in quilting, kayak paddling, or wine tours, try adding an element of that.
+ On a tour of Australia’s Red Center and Uluru, a traveler told me her highlight was a quilt exhibition in Alice Springs.
+ For me in Greenland it was the opportunity to paddle an ancient qajaq (Inuit kayak) between icebergs. It was made using seal skins over a walrus bone frame.
+ For a wine-loving reader, it was a visit to the Pheasant’s Tears Winery in Georgia in the Caucasus, which has an 8,000-year-old wine culture and is recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.