There is a lot of chatter these days about authenticity and experiential travel; one of the easiest ways to ensure that you have a memorable time in a destination is to seek out its history.
Not just going to the local museums, although that helps a lot.
Otherwise, how would you see gems like a collection of vintage 1920s gas-powered lawnmowers, or the bulbous glass oddity below, both at the Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Center.
If you pay attention when you travel, you’ll find local history all around, even under your nose in the world’s busiest airport.
While doing some speaker planning ahead of the Real Places heritage tourism conference, I began thinking of ways to build the richness of historical context into every trip.
Here are a few ideas….
Stay in Historic Hotels & Lodging
I confess, I’m not a very selective hotel person. I usually just want a decent place to stow my luggage, sleep, and shower. Location and walking distance proximity to the sights and public transportation drive most of my bookings, not brand.
That said, if you can arrange your travel budget to include an historic hotel, the atmosphere will add so much to your sense of visiting a particular place, not Anycity, Anywhere.
In Mississippi, for example, the elegant downtown King Edward Hotel in Jackson (now a Hilton Garden Inn) is stunning AND affordable. For a totally different experience, try a stay in converted Delta sharecropper shacks at the Shack Up Inn or Tallahatchie Flats.
The historic Gage Hotel is pretty much the entire reason I drove to Marathon in far western Texas, and I’ve been plotting a return trip ever since standing on the hotel grounds and looking up at a sparkling night sky.
Eat & Drink a Town’s History
You need meals when you travel, so you might as well pick interesting eateries.
Be ready to look for such local food in some unusual places. For example, the best fresh Hawaiian poke always seems to be found way in the back of a ramshackle store that’s been there forever.
Line up several places to taste-test different versions of local delicacies; the Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail makes it easy to find your favorite classic rice-stuffed sausage, or try all the Beer City USA craft beers with the Grand Rapids, Michigan Brewsader Passport.
Don’t forget libations.
I don’t know which preservation genius came up with the U.S. historic bars blog post series, but they ought to get a raise.
Your definition of “historic bar” can be rather elastic, too. It does not have to be fancy at all. I have fond memories of moderately divey Grandpa-went-there places like community stalwart tg’s restaurant and pub in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and East Austin’s late, lamented Longbranch Inn (where my own grandfather went after a day working on the railroad.)
Walk or Drive Through Local History
When you plan a trip, poke around to see if there are any heritage highways or historic trails nearby.
In a country like Greece, for example, it’s easy to walk through thousands of years of Greek history, including a mountain monastery you can only reach on foot. Who wouldn’t want to travel at least a portion of something like the Silk Road that knitted together multiple human civilizations?
Everyone knows about Route 66 in the U.S., but also look for driveable remnants of the Lincoln Highway and Bankhead Highway that preceded it.
Read Those Historical Markers & Signs
Yes, I have become my mother.
I stop for historical markers, and if I don’t see any around me, I look for them using the Field Trip app, which pulls from a large historical marker database. On one trip, the app even told me that I was near an historic WPA outhouse (latrine).
Although I never could find it or the marker for this piece of Hutchinson, Kansas toilet history, I always think of it whenever my kids complain that markers are boring.
How do you incorporate interesting historic discoveries in your travels? Let us know in the comments!
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