These days, it’s just not enough to go to Paris and visit the Eiffel Tower, walk over the Tower Bridge in London and then grab an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. Now that travel’s easier and cheaper, so many people have done these things that they’re just not special anymore. And I think that’s the reason why some (including me) go a bit crazy about planning a special trip with an unusual theme.
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Travel agencies have started to recognize people’s desire for themed trips. These days you can find tours based on books or movies, on historical journeys, or pretty much any theme you can imagine. But you might have guessed I’m not a big fan of tours: so when I’m talking themed trip, I’m definitely talking a make-your-own deal. It’s a lot more fun.
Great Themed Trips That Have Already Been Done
There’s something about making a trip with “a point” — even a fairly nonsensical point — that makes people want to do these kinds of journeys, and to read about them too. A lot of travel narrative books these days cover these sorts of trips, and I’ve read a couple of great ones recently. Where Underpants Come From by Joe Bennett is one such example — Bennett is a New Zealander who decided he wanted to follow the manufacturing process of his cheap pair of “Made in China” underpants, and the journey took him through Shanghai factories and out into the countryside, along with a side trip to Thailand where the rubber for the elastic in his underpants came from.
I also enjoyed Batting on the Bosphorus, Angus Bell’s odd juxtaposition of chasing people who play the English game of cricket across eastern European nations; then there’s Greasy Rider, Greg Melville’s story of stopping at key environmentally-friendly spots across the United States as he attempts to cross the country in a car powered by the waste oil and fat from fast food restaurants. Get the idea? I think there are as many ideas for themed trips out there as there are travelers — and probably more.
I think there’s a lot to be said for planning such a trip. For one, it’s fun. Planning a trip like this is even more interesting than the usual planning, and I love that already. Having a focus for your trip makes planning in some ways easier, too, because you don’t feel obliged to see and do “everything” that crosses your path. The Eiffel Tower becomes a non-compulsory part of a trip to Paris. And while doing the research you need for this style of planning, you’re bound to discover all kinds of interesting information that the average traveler misses out on.
Even more important, this kind of trip is likely to connect you up with local people a lot more closely. You’ll probably need to contact locals in advance to arrange parts of your trip — like in the Underpants trip, where Bennett got into contact with Chinese people from all walks of life, including in shops and factories, before he even got on a plane. That can certainly help you to learn more about a country and is definitely likely to provide some more unique stories to reminisce about after the trip is over.
The Downsides to Themed Trips
One danger on this kind of themed trip is you could get so focused on your theme that you do miss out on other great things around you — yep, the opposite of the good point I just mentioned. So make sure you allow time to experience stuff that may not be on your themed trip’s agenda but might still really interest you.
Another potential downside is basically that the people around you might think you’re a little crazy! Whether it’s your family and friends who scoff at your unusual plans before you leave, or locals at your destination who think your mission is too odd to help out with, I’m sure every one of the authors I mentioned above came across some kind of problem like this along the way. Of course, life is too short to worry too much about what other people think — but be warned.
I guess that because I love traveling, quirky ideas for themed trips are popping into my head on a regular basis. For example, I’d love to do a road trip around the United States where the next destination always started with the next letter of the alphabet — my ABC drive, so to speak. I’ve also wondered if I could put together a round-the-world trip that stopped (only) in every country which matched the nationality of students I’ve taught in the past — that’s about a thirty-country trip at the moment. And the list goes on, but then they get too ridiculous to publish.
What about you? Let your imagination go wild — or perhaps you already have a fantasy themed trip — and tell us what kind of crazy travels you would like to do!