I have never been disappointed by a visit to London. Paris or Tokyo. Or for that matter, by a tour of the hill towns of Italy, or India. In addition to the thousands of destinations I have visited in a life-time of travel, I have a list of a thousand more I would like to visit someday. And maybe I will.
But about two decades ago, I discovered a better target for travel than destinations. Rather than organize my trip around places — the iconic cities, monuments, streets, regions, countries — I’ve learned that I get 10 times the reward when I organize my travel around passions.
I follow some personal obsession and then I go to the places it takes me. I go where the love is. For a while I kept bees in our backyard and when I traveled I would track down native beekeepers. Getting to regions where beekeeping flourished and then seeking out local beekeepers to see how they kept bees brought me to people and places I would not have chosen otherwise. But more importantly, I was rewarded with intimacy, adventures, and enjoyment beyond what I had been seeing before. Each year for family vacation we try to follow one of our children’s passions, so one year we chased dinosaurs. We rented an RV and drove around the US West to see as many active dinosaur digs as we could. Those overlooked archeological sites acted as a lens to focus our attention so that when we passed through the iconic places, they appeared brighter and more interesting. In Asia I am totally obsessed by pilgrimage sites, like Nashik in India (photo above).
That’s what happens when you travel around interests. You’ll skip some of the canonical destinations (how can you not stop in Rome?) but wind up in a place you’ll find even far better than Rome. And if there are beekeepers in Rome (and there are!) or dinosaurs in Beijing (there are!), when you do arrive there your interests will make these destinations far more interesting.
There is no end to what kind of obsessions you can follow around the world. Food is a very popular passion, and justifiably so because it can lead deep and true to an inner core of culture. I have friends who hunt down cheeses in Europe. But other follow different sirens. I’m thinking of the guy who bikes canal paths. I met a couple bent on visiting every map store in the world they could find. Of course there are trainspotters, and boutique hotel fans, almost cliches. But the stranger, more distinctly unique, more weirdly YOU your passion is, the more it will reward your travels.
Surely there is something that would thrill you to encounter in another place? Seek it out — it’ll take some planning — and let it shape your meanderings. I can guarantee you, it’ll be the trip you most remember.