Types of Tourism that Appeal to Me

As someone who happily forgoes new electronic gadget or pair of jeans in favor of adding to my ‘Adventure Fund’, I’ve managed to go on quite a few amazing trips in my life. Along the way, I’ve gotten better at understanding what makes for a memorable vacation. I’ve compiled below a few of the kinds of tourism that appeal to me.

Tourism that takes you out of your comfort zone

I understand that not everyone feels this way. Aren’t vacations supposed to be a chance to just sit on the beach? But when I look back on great trips, the common thread was being physically active. Vacation can be a great opportunity to get in shape. You finally have some free time and energy. What’s more, you’re in a new place surrounded by new people, and this can take some of the pressure off trying an unfamiliar new sport or activity. I never would have gotten into yoga if I hadn’t wandered into a class off the beach in Mexico. I had two weeks to look like an idiot around strangers I’d never see again, and by the time I got back home and went to the local yoga studio, I felt light years more confident. If you live in the suburbs and are vacationing by the mountains, all the more reason to get out the door. Go on a hike, take a rock-climbing class, or sign up for a white-water rafting tour. You’ll have a great time and work up an appetite for dinner.

In fact, I try to think of my trips as less ‘vacations’, more adventures. I have a running list of adventures I can’t wait to go on: trekking the Inca Trail all the way to Macchu Picchu in Peru, kayaking in Alaska’s Glacier Bay past icebergs and penguins, hiking in New Zealand’s South Island (where they shot the Lord of the Rings movies!), or whitewater rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the U.S. A great thing about these kinds of trips is you get to draw out the experience for weeks even before leaving, as you plan logistics, buy gear, and pore over maps.

Rafting - Jacaré Pepira River, Brotas, São Pau...

Rafting – Jacaré Pepira River, Brotas, São Paulo, Brazil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Volunteer or Work Tourism

Often when you visit a place, you feel as much a stranger when you leave as when you arrived. Where there’s a big culture difference, a language barrier, or a significant economic gap between you and the locals, you may feel especially disconnected. I think often the response is to stick around the resort and only interact with other tourists. This dynamic has always really bothered me.

The idea of volunteering or working while on vacation sounds like a wonderful way around this. You’ll meet people and see places you wouldn’t have otherwise. There are a lot of ways to do this. You can volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, teach English, volunteer as an assistant on a science research expedition, or just about anything else you can think of – just do a quick Internet search! I once worked on a trail crew in the backcountry areas of New Mexico and Arizona. We worked in National Parks and Forests cleaning up trails. It was hard work but an incredible experience. I learned so much about desert ecology and Native American history in the region.

I also like this idea because it lets you give something back to the community that’s hosting you. Not to mention that it lets you try out an interest or live vicariously as a teacher, scientist, Park Ranger, or whatever other shoes you think you’d like to step into. Maybe you’ve always loved wine. Why not spend a week harvesting grapes at a vineyard in France? They’re always looking for short-term help.

The Cultural Challenge

Tiếng Việt:

Tiếng Việt: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another type of tourism that appeals to me is the trip where I’m deeply challenged as a person. It can be really difficult to visit a country that’s very different culturally from what you’re used to, and where you share no common language with the people around you. But that’s no reason not to go! I traveled to China a few years back and spent a lot of time far out in the country where no one had ever met an American. My Chinese was limited to ordering lunch and haggling at the market. The stares took some getting used to, as did children touching my hair or tugging on my clothing. I remember being on a fourteen hour overnight train trip on a train that was unbelievably crowded. I was crammed with seven other people into four seats. It was too uncomfortable to sleep but I had no way of communicating with my fellow travelers. Until, that is, one of them pulled out a deck of cards. With some trial and error, hand gestures, and laughter, I eventually figured out the rules of the game (it was a bit like a combination of poker and War) and spent the entire night playing cards with these new friends. Tourism like this can be stressful and difficult (a few days later I sprained my ankle and had a very frustrating time trying to find an ankle brace) but you’ll certainly never forget the trip. Even if it’s just once in your life, I think there’s a lot of value in visiting a place that is very, very different from your home, and trying to keep an open mind and positive attitude toward what you encounter there.

Trips that are Truly an Escape

Finally, any trip you take should really feel like a departure from whatever you’ve been doing. I like the ‘rule of opposites’ in thinking about tourism. Save the trip to the tropics for February, and see if you can go skiing in July. Whatever you do, search out those opportunities where you really are getting away from it all. When I leave for a trip, I like to feel like I’m really leaving everything behind. That sense of escape lets you be open to learning new things, both about the place you’re visiting, and about yourself.

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