Yesterday I wrote about suggestions to enhance the travel experience based on an article that recommended getting out of one’s comfort zone. Chris Reynolds advised travelers to go to church. Or Temple. Or mosque. People in religious institutions in distant destinations are, he reminded readers, often happy to see visitors and extend a warm welcome. Ruth and I have been in mosques in Albania and Istanbul, in temples in Prague and St. Louis, and in churches and cathedrals everywhere.
Go to campuses. We found an unusual museum called The Dax Centre on the campus of The University of Melbourne in Australia that specialized in art created by people with schizophrenia and other debilitating mental conditions. The ladies who gave us a tour took us into the archives to show us their favorite artifact, a multi-threaded jacket that had been created by a woman who turned her therapy into a colorful craft project. Many universities offer campus tours. On them you often get to talk to alumni and students.
And finally, Chris suggests that you “look beyond the usual hotel suspects”. In other words, travelers tend to rely heavily on the people behind the check-in or information desk to provide guidance. One time in Dallas I talked to a concierge about a Texas writer he admired, and he switched Ruth and my accommodation from an ordinary room to a huge historic suite on a floor with a reputed resident ghost. It was both surprising and fun.
Here are three additions to Chris’ list based on personal experience. At some point, talk to a seat mate on a flight or engage other browsers in attractions you are visiting. On our way to New Orleans one time, for example, I chatted with a woman who frequented this city on business. She told me about her favorite attractions, like the voodoo museum I had no knowledge of. It was both crowded and fascinating. There are lots of good things to see everywhere you go that are not in guidebooks or learned about by surfing media. People who are seeing an attraction that you have also chosen to see are often like-minded or can provide a different perspective. In McAllen, Texas, earlier this year Ruth and I talked to 2 locals who passionately disagreed about the border wall. Listening to people who experience contentious issues like border security daily can provide real insights.
Go to the local visitors’ center, not to ask about known attractions but to find out if the locals who work there can tell you about places to go that are not commonly known about. We learned about the Marine Building in Vancouver, BC this way.
Finally, learn and use the names of all people you come into contact with. While in Adelaide, South Australia, we went to the Haigh’s Chocolate Factory for a tour. One tour had just ended and the next one in half an hour was full. The woman giving the tours, Katharine, sat and talked with Ruth and me during her break. She not only gave us a personal tour, she went and got samples of her favorite candy so we might taste chocolate covered apricots.