The desire to connect with one’s ancestry has probably been around for as long as humans were capable of passing on oral histories. But in the 21st century, heritage tourism — the act of traveling to the land of your ancestry in order to reconnect with your roots — has been taken to a whole new level.
In the era of genetic testing kits, heritage tourism is not only becoming more trendy, but also more accessible to people who may not have known their genetic makeup or the origins of their lineage (though it’s important to note that genetic testing isn’t always accurate or equally effective for those with non-European origins). Noting that it’s seen a 500 percent increase in ancestry-related travels since 2014, Airbnb announced a partnership with genetic testing company 23andMe in May 2019 to create a combined product experience that would make heritage travel even easier for customers. In one end-to-end experience, you can now get your ancestry report and immediately receive recommendations for homes and Airbnb Experiences in your ancestral homeland. One such example is learning about the ancient techniques of natural dye on a heritage trip to Mexico City.
These companies are not alone in this, by the way. Ancestry.com has also seized the momentum by partnering with Go Ahead Tours, and companies that offer travel packages are offering experiences specifically geared toward heritage tourism.
If you’re going to take the leap and buy that airfare, there’s probably never been a better time to take that journey, just from the standpoint of resources alone. But being thoughtful in your approach never hurts, and it’s worth considering what you want to get out of your trip well ahead of time so you can return home feeling fulfilled and inspired. Here are a few ideas and considerations to keep in mind as you plan your heritage travel.
Some Heritage Tourism Tips And Ideas
1. This doesn’t have to be a one-and-done deal
Try not to stress so much about nailing the details of your trip down that you forget to make room for spontaneity. It’s never a bad idea to leave a few things for the next time you visit, and if you’re like a lot of people (especially in the United States), you probably have ancestry from multiple locations. According to 23andMe data, the majority of its customers have at least five populations in their genetic makeup. No matter how varied or complex yours is, start with the basic premise that understanding your roots is an ongoing process, and one you’ll be enjoying for the rest of your life. There’s no need to “see it all” or “have it all figured out” by the end of your first trip.
2. Decide what your priorities are
Some people will go as far as to track down long-lost relatives through genealogy research (if that’s at all possible). Others will merely be content to be tourists in a land that provides a distant and intangible sense of familiarity. Are you going because you want to connect with other people? Is it important to you that you track down the exact town or village you came from? Are you more interested in cultural heritage (like museums), or connecting to the land directly through hiking, camping or swimming? There’s no reason why those things would have to be mutually exclusive, but there are also limits to how much you can fit into a vacation. Choose wisely.
3. Ask not what heritage tourism can do for you, but what you can do for heritage tourism
It never hurts to be a conscious consumer or tourist, so wouldn’t it be especially meaningful to leave a positive impact on the land or culture that birthed your entire existence? According to a study by the Travel Industry Association, heritage travelers are usually predisposed to this already, as they often spend more time and money at their destinations than other travelers (and are more likely to visit and support economies that aren’t already major tourist draws). A great way to support the local community is to patronize establishments and tours that are independently and locally owned (versus a major chain hotel). Here are some more ideas for being a conscientious tourist.
4. Do your research before you go…
…but expect to continue your education when you arrive. Some good pre-trip exercises could include reading a history book about the country, taking some language lessons, researching your own family’s history or surviving connections, and potentially even reading about current events there. It’s best to assume there’s plenty that won’t click into place for you until you’re actually there, however. A great way to fill in the gaps in your knowledge? Talking to the people there and learning about their perspectives! Which, of course, brings us back to the language tip.
5. Consider ways you can be hands-on in your travels
Depending on the kind of tourist you are, it can be somewhat alienating to spend an entire week shuffling from museum to museum — or at the very least, difficult to walk away with an authentic sense of “connecting with your roots.” May we suggest avoiding popular tourist spots, as well as opting for attractions you can actively participate in? Airbnb Experiences can be one place to mine for ideas, but you can also look for local cooking classes, take a dance lesson, or learn an ancestral craft or skill if there are classes nearby you can readily sign up for.