Itchy feet. Wanderlust. The travel bug. There are many names for the desire to travel. And now, more than ever, there are a myriad of different ways you can satisfy that desire. There’s adventure traveling and voluntourism and eco-tourism and medical tourism and heritage tourism, just to name a few.
Adventures in Preservation’s trips, for example, give participants a chance to partake of purposeful heritage travel. But what is heritage travel, really? A big part of heritage travel at AiP comes from the opportunities jammers have to get their hands dirty and to feel—literally—the history of a place, be it the Bronx, Albania, Italy, or anywhere in between.
This tangibility is important, but it’s not the only defining characteristic of heritage travel. The chance to do hands-on history through preservation and conservation projects is a wonderful thing and offers many one-of-a-kind experiences. But there is so much more to heritage travel, things that are a part of Adventures in Preservation trips and can also easily be a part of your next travel adventure, no matter where you’re going or with whom.
The ever-trusty source Wikipedia gives the following definition for heritage tourism, citing the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation: “travelling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past.” Of course, you can crack open a history book to learn about the past experiences of a people, but getting up close and personal, as it were, brings those textbook concepts to life.
This includes tangible physical structures and material goods, and the less-tangible cultural traditions like food, music, and dance. Those less-tangible aspects of culture have the advantage of being transportable, but if your goal is to have the most authentic experience and to gain the highest level of cultural understanding, then I don’t thinking whipping up some Barilla pasta in your kitchen counts as really experiencing Italian culture. Without getting into the ongoing debate facing our globalized, digital world of what exactly authenticity is, I think it’s safe to say that eating pasta in a medieval Italian palazzo heightens the experience.
Connecting to a sense of place goes beyond eating delicious food in historic locations. Music, dance, folk art, and crafts play important roles in many cultures, and experiencing them is a vital part of heritage travel. No matter how well you may think you know a place, there are sure to be new, unique cultural traditions to discover.
There’s another aspect to heritage travel, too. Traveling to connect not just with a culture or cultural history but rather to connect with your own personal cultural history and family tree is becoming increasingly popular. This often includes traveling to get to know traditional cultures, along with trips to see old churches, cemeteries, and houses.
Heritage travel encompasses both the tangible and the intangible aspects of cultural—feeling the past through work or study of buildings, art, and material culture, and “feeling” out the community, the people, and the traditions. It’s digging up a plantation house in Virginia, studying frescoes in Italy, and plastering Ottoman-era houses in Albania. It’s checking out the local market in Turkey, visiting a Catholic cemetery on All Saints’ Day in Poland, observing a demonstration of traditional Croatian dance just yards from the Adriatic coast, and cowering from people dressed up as violent Alpine spirits. And that’s just a start.