A disconnect is evident in the experiences travelers seek and those they realize through their vacations. The world’s most popular tourist sites — the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Louvre and more — were found to be a big disappointment in a recent study.
Imagine that you spend months, perhaps even a year or more, planning a family vacation or romantic getaway to visit a new destination. You dream about it and plan out all the little details that will make your experience special. Your excitement builds as your departure day approaches, but when you finally arrive, the real experience leaves you flat.
Years ago, when I planned to visit Stonehenge I had imagined I would have a spiritual breakthrough upon being near the ancient stones. Instead, I walked slowly along a path in a long line of other travelers, separated from the stones by fences and guards. A vantage point to merely view the stones and meditate was impossible.
Recently, I traveled to Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, one of the major icons in Australia. An early morning visit to the rock promised a mystical experience as the sun rises and transforms the monolith into a variety of stunning shades and tints.
The reality of my experience was that the crowd of early morning visitors was oppressive, and any potential attachment to the icon was lost when tripods were shoved in front of my vantage point to guarantee other viewers better photographs.
A bit more research and planning before I arrived would have resulted in a different, and probably more meaningful, way to experience this site. Indigenous guides offer an up-close and personal introduction to their ancestors and the spirituality of the area through a small group walking tour.
If you are seeking to find meaningful experiences from your travels, I suggest including destinations and activities beyond the traditional ways of encountering the icons. Don’t settle for the “same old, same old” trip most people take. Instead, venture out to discover at least one special, not-to-be-found-anywhere-else experience that could transform your trip.
One of my most vivid memories of Australia is of awakening early by a river in the Outback to watch the myriad colors in the sky as the sun lifted over the trees and hear the birds’ chirping reach a crescendo until the sky turned blue and the sun seemed to cease its movement. All sounds then stopped.
This experience bonded me to the country and gave me a story to cherish of the vast land and its beauty. Our travels take us on journeys from one place to another with the promise of expanding our knowledge and understanding along the way. To avoid disappointment on your vacation, veer away from the established ways to see the favorite sites and reach out to the rich experiences available by finding the soul of the country and its people.