Why Themed Trips Are Cooler Than You Think

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.

Tourist Ants at the Eiffel Tower, Paris © Adrian Boliston

What’s Good About Making a Themed Trip

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.

Where in California?
© pimpexposure

Your Own Themed Trip?

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!

  1. I am currently on my own extended themed trip. Because I don’t have the time or money to go very far, I’ve been taking little roadtrips from my home in Kansas all around the Midwest. I’m going from Kansas to Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas and a few more places as well.

    My theme: I’m on a yellow brick road trip to see all the interesting, unique and just plain weird roadside attractions I can find.

  2. Hey Kris, that’s a neat idea!! Great to think you don’t need too much time or money to get out there and find some weird stuff … there could be a book in that!

  3. I’ve thought about writing a road trip book! For now, I’m just writing a blog about the Yellow Brick Road Trip. And I’ve been enjoying reading yours Not A Ballerina!

  4. Amanda –

    Been toying with the idea of doing a U.S. road trip in search of unique Indian restaurants, and, naturally, writing about it! I foresee a combination of restaurant profiles with travel writing and a historical background of how Indian food made it to the U.S.

    Glad to have stumbled upon this post! What’s your theme trip idea? I dig your blog.

  5. Great article

    Themed travel is something i love and definately want to explore in the future. Last year i travelled around britain with a very vague theme of finding the nature of “Adventure” which was broad enough to let me do a lot of things but also took me to places i wouldnt ordinarily go. The next themed Travel i have planned would be to visit on a road trip all of the places mentioned in the Johnny Cash song “I’ve been everywhere.”

  6. I’m currently reading a book I found called “Four Letter Countries: The Zany Adventures of the Alphabet Traveller” where the author David Jenkins decides to visit the ten countries that only have four letters in their names. It is a fun read so far, so the idea of themed trips is getting out there!

    As to my own trip that I’m in the middle of, I’m not sure if it is *themed* per se (does visiting every country in Europe count as a theme?), but before leaving I came up with a list of things I wanted to accomplish called “55 Things in 555 Days”. 131 days in, five completed, 14 in progress, but I’ve been fairly stationary for the past two months, so when I get on the move again, that list will improve.

  7. @ NjClarke, the Johnny Cash road trip idea is a great one! You should do it.

    @ Antra, I’ve heard of that book but haven’t read it yet, it’s a cool idea. Good luck with your 55 things in 555 days!!

  8. @NjClarke, I’m a huge Johnny Cash fan! I’ve always wanted to go to Folsom just because of the song. I’m from Tulsa originally, which is mentioned in the song. If you want some suggestions of places to see there let me know. There’s some particularly interesting roadside attractions there.

  9. I agree 100% on theme tours, Amanda. To make a fun theme tour takes a bit of planning and research but that just adds to the anticipation of the big event.

    I’m planning foodie/wino tour to Spain and France for mid-September. I feel as if I’ve already been there!

  10. @ Skylab, music culture definitely sounds like a good travel theme. A few ideas spring to my mind already …

    @ Rob, food and wine, sounds perfect :-) I agree, a bit of extra planning and research is not a bad thing – in fact it’s half the fun! Enjoy your trip in September.

  11. Great article! My first consciously themed travel was a wonderful experience: “Volcanoes, Ruins and Revolution” in Central America. Even with seven weeks, three themes was too many and I fell well short on Revolution. Still, I learned much more than I would have without specific interests and I have a theme waiting for me when I return :)

  12. Most of my travel seems to be ‘themed’ recently. My husband loves rock climbing (and I enjoy it, too!) so recent trips have includes side trips to Castle Hill in New Zealand and Fontainbleau in France. I’m waiting for him to suggest a trip to Colorado, next…

    Another wacky trip was a friend – she timed her honeymoon to coincide with a belly dance conference she wanted to attend in Cairo.

  13. Thats a great idea Amanda, and very inspiring. I’m starting to think about the various wacky things you can “theme” your trips on.

    How about Fear Food theme! Hah, all those food they make you eat in Fear Factor are delicacies at other parts of the world… it’ll be cool to visit them and eat the food right with the locals!

    Obviously, Lord of the Rings themed trips are all the rage now, judging from the numerous brochures promoting LotR tours when I was back there last Jan..

  14. I would love to make trips to all the countries that have hosted major soccer competitions (world cup, european cup) in the past two decades and record how such events transform the socioeconomic and cultural landscape.

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  16. I think themed trips are a great idea! They would also make great travel memoirs! I’m planning on moving to Europe this year and I’d really like to do one around “castles”

  17. When our kids were young, we did a Laura Ingalls Wilder literary pilgrimage, which was much more interesting than we’d ever have guessed. We got a substantial dose of American history at the same time.

  18. We’ve been travelling none stop for the past two years and have never considered theming our adventures. It looks like an interesting way to spice up the sometimes bland act of visiting ‘tourist’ sites. Plus having a check list of spots to see might be quite exciting and may give more focus to our itinerary!

  19. Fun ideas! I love to trace my ancestors and follow their footsteps on heritage quests–sometimes from birth far away to immigration to destination–finding houses or places they would have known.

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