Travel guidebooks along with tourism and booking websites are the first place most people turn to for travel ideas, research, and planning advice. I use all three myself extensively, but an excellent way to step outside your travel comfort zone is to hear destination advice from a live person and have the chance to ask questions and gain confidence.
Talking with your family, friends, and co-workers is a great start, but how do you find people in your community who have already visited places on your wish list? How do you discover exotic and unknown destinations and talk to an enthusiastic person who has been there and back and is happy to share their experiences with you? For that kind of insider advice I turn to my local Travel Meetups and seek out events near home or work where real people are speaking to the public about places, history, and travel.
By now most people have heard of Meetup or have a general notion of what a meetup gathering is. The official website is Meetup.com plus you can find similar online communities that let users organize groups along common interests. What makes meet up like social events exciting is the opportunity to step away from your computer and talk with people that share your hobbies or interests. Meetup.com is by far the largest source of groups and events and according to its stats it has over 7 million members belonging to a whopping 79,000 local groups on every imaginable topic (browse several categories to see for yourself). Searching on the keyword “Travel” today I get 4,476 matching Meetup groups which is truly amazing.
You can search for Meetup groups in your area by entering your city name or zip code without even signing up for an account (membership is free but running a group costs money). Click to join one or more Meetup groups (there is absolutely no obligation to attend any events) and you will start receiving email notifications and most important, you will be able to RSVP for upcoming events. Since online privacy is a concern, you can choose to create a public username that is not your real name, like you can do on most websites. I do however recommend that you upload a photo so that people you meet at events can find you afterwards and connect online.
As for myself, I’ve attended numerous monthly happy hour events as a long time member of The San Francisco World Traveler’s group, each scheduled during the week in the city after work. In my experience everyone was friendly, willing to talk about their personal travel experiences, and full of questions for the other attendees. When you show up to this particular meetup you have the option to donate $1 to their chosen charity (UN Foundation – Nothing but Nets), after which you simply grab a drink and mingle.
What makes it super easy for attendees to find each other to give out or receive trip advice is not technology but the use of a good old fashioned name tag.
Each person was asked to put their first name down along with 3 places they wish to travel to next. So your goal is to introduce yourself to people that are interested in traveling to places that you have already visited and strike up a conversation. Other members will quickly find you based on the places listed on your own name tag, and this pattern of exchanging travel ideas will repeat throughout the evening. It was the most effortless social event I’ve ever attended and I departed each meeting having met many like-minded people and learned a ton of vacation tips.
Bookstores hold literary events all the time, bringing in authors with recently published books to do a reading, sign purchased copies, and tell their story. The key is to find out in advance about author events, book festivals, and themed speaker series happening in your area. I suggest that you go to the website of your favorite local bookshop and see if they have an event calendar email sign-up list. That way you’ll be the first one to know when an author is speaking about a subject that can help you prepare for your next trip.
Travel writers aren’t the only authors who publish books that can help you make your next vacation count. Consider browsing the shelves for titles related to history, current events, sports, hobbies, time management, and work-life balance. Not into non-fiction or self-help books? Novels are often set in a specific place and time, which may relate to where you want to go or what you want to do on your next vacation. Of course you’ll gain more from the speaker if you buy and read the featured book first and prepare a few questions to ask either during or right after the talk. Who knows… maybe you’ll end up getting invited by the author to continue the discussion at a local bar or restaurant.
While the word “academic” might make you think the lecture is for experts only, you may be surprised by all the approachable talks given on topics related to travel and world cultures in your home city. I’ve been to numerous events at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco where authors of travel, history, science, and political titles discuss their books and offer deep insight into destinations both ancient and modern. Universities and museums are another excellent source of lectures which are often open to the public and only require a reservation or small entry free. Check out university websites to search for the event calendar and visit the official website for history, science, culture, and antiquity museums to sign up for their email newsletter.
A talk about the well-hidden city of Macchu Pichu might pique your adventurous side to visit Peru and hike the Inca trail. A lecture about the economic and societal changes in China could give you a newfound interest in Chinese culture and its influence on the world. Recently I attended a Chinese New Year sponsored lecture series at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland where the speakers were university professors with extensive experience teaching in China. Their slideshow presentation gave me the desire to visit Beijing soon so that I can discover examples of what they told us are the profound ways China has changed in recent years.
|Listening to people speaking firsthand about destinations where you can travel to on your next vacation is one more example of living the VacationCounts way. Whether you go to a lecture, book signing, or Meetup event in your local area, you will benefit through personal interaction and the experience of others. It doesn’t matter if you are planning a hike in a national park, traveling overseas for the very first time, or trying to learn about an island that most have never heard of. By having these live conversations in your home town, there is no doubt you will make every vacation count.|
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