While escaping from the masses is often a good thing, sometimes it’s better to join in. There’s nothing quite like being swept up in a great gathering – you’ll see the local people letting their hair down, performing old rituals, cooking up specialities and honouring their saints, relatives, spirits or samba bands. Noisy, hectic, messy mayhem? Quite possibly. Informative fun? Hell yeah!
Where? It’s best when you happen upon a local knees-up, but you might want to plan ahead to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time to ‘play mas’ (joining a masquerade band) at Trinidad Carnival, get paint-splattered at Holi in India or booze it up at Munich’s Oktoberfest.
Take our advice: Hook up with a local who can fill you in on the event dos and don’ts.
Coming face to face with a big, beautiful, powerful creature will put you firmly in your place. Also, the best wildlife experiences often happen in the most beautiful spots. Prepare to feel awed, vulnerable and humbled – and maybe even question your responsibility to the planet.
Where? Head to Rwanda or Uganda to track mountain gorillas, spot tigers in India, look for jaguars in the Brazilian Pantanal, cruise Svalbard for polar bears or snorkel with whale sharks in Western Australia.
Take our advice: Appreciate little critters, too – a good guide will point out smaller, equally enthralling wildlife wonders.
For some, it’s saying a prayer in the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica. For others, it’s eating a peanut butter-and-bacon sandwich by Elvis’s Graceland grave. We all have our passions – follow yours.
Where? The Camino de Santiago is the classic pilgrimage trail, but you might find more spirituality on the UK’s St Cuthbert’s Way or the Via Francigena to Rome. Music fans might like to hit the Blues Highway from Nashville to New Orleans, while bookworms could follow in Phileas Fogg’s footsteps.
Take our advice: Don’t be dissuaded. If you really want to visit the childhood home of every Beatle, just go ahead and do it.
Studying while you’re overseas could change your life – maybe you’ll enjoy your PADI course so much that you’ll ditch your day job to become a diving instructor. Even if it doesn’t, it will give you new, potentially useful skills, whether they be conversational French, bread-making or salsa dancing. Chances are you’ll gain a deeper insight into everyday life, too.
Where? Learning a language in a country in which it’s spoken is more beneficial and fun – try Spanish lessons in Guatemala or a combination Portuguese-and-samba course in Brazil. Learn sitar-playing in India, cowboy skills in Montana or gelato-making in Italy.
Take our advice: Stay with a local family during your learning holiday, so you’re fully immersed in the language and culture.
Heed the words of Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow, who writes: “The Slow philosophy is… about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible.” Apply that to your travels: linger longer in one place rather than dashing from spot to spot; eat sustainably, regionally and seasonally; take the time to chat, absorb, walk and explore. It can lead to geographically limited but arguably more enlightening experiences.
Where? Plan a glorious culinary break in Italy’s Piedmont region, HQ of the Slow Food movement. Alternatively, cruise along Alaska’s Inside Passage, walk between villages in the Indian Himalaya or hire a city apartment for a fortnight to blend in locally.
Take our advice: Trust in serendipity – put the guidebook and smartphone down for a while and just see where life takes you.
‘Spiritual’ means different things to different people. It might mean worshipping a deity at a temple or even immersing yourself in the wilderness, so that you feel a connection to nature. Some places just have a way of seeping into your being; of making you ask new questions about yourself, about others, maybe even human existence as a whole.
Where? Choose a site filled with devotees, such as the ghats (riverside steps) of India’s holy city of Varanasi or the temples of Kyoto, Japan. Or seek the spirituality of nature on a stroll around Tibet’s Mount Kailash or a camp-out at Australia’s Uluru.
Take our advice: Remain respectful. Don’t cross off-limits areas and ask if there is a dress code or if an offering is required.
Life-changing travel moments