One of the challenges of travel starts before you ever leave home, and that’s deciding where to go. There’s FOMO, of course. But for the adventurous types the real challenge is finding somewhere truly interesting to spend your limited time and budget. For us, cruise ports and basic sightseeing won’t cut it. But where do you find unique alternatives to the same old same old that everyone’s Insta’d to death? It’s time to go to a Travel Show…
Why should I go to a Travel Trade Show?
I’m writing this from the airport, heading home from the NYTimes Travel Show in New York. And it was amazing for a number of reasons, outlined below. But any good Travel Show will do, it’s likely that many major metros have them. I’ve put a few links at the bottom to help you find them, but also just search “travel tradeshow near (your city)” and stuff should show up. Also try “tourism trade show” if you’re not finding anything. Now, here’s why you should go…
Find destinations you’ve never heard of
Ever heard of Puglia? Neither had we. It’s a region in Italy. Or the Cook Islands? Maybe you’d heard of them, but did you know where they were? Or why you’d want to go there? Christian (above) was born and raised there and is currently working in the States for their tourism department, and he’s got us sold on a trip there. Prior to this, we’d probably never have seriously considered it. Now it’s near the top of our list. These are just two of many new destinations we now want to explore, most of which are well off of most people’s radar. Which means they’re not overrun with tourists. Which means it’s easier to have an authentic experience.
You can talk to a country’s tourism director, directly
This was key for us, because they’re there to promote an entire area, not just a particular resort, activity or cruise. Which means you can get honest answers about things to do without commercial interests limiting the breadth of the conversation. Yes, they’re trying to sell you on their destination, but they can help guide you to the activities you’re most interested in, not just the ones offered by a particular guide. And you can learn a little about the area, its industries and more, helping you decide if it’s interesting to you. For example, with all of the various cultural influences that have shaped the Guadalupe Islands‘ style, it’s probably a safe bet the food there would be an interesting fusion of flavors, too!
And it’s not just countries. You’ll find many cities, states, counties and regions represented. And more and more you’ll also find booths promoting LGBTQ-friendly options. Did you know that Palm Springs, California, has the largest collection of mid-century modern homes in America? That’s because the movie stars living in Los Angeles at the time didn’t always want to be in the city, so they built second homes in Palm Springs, and they (the homes, anyway) are still there! It’s also adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park, making it a great spot for folks who like to mix a little style with their adventure.
Find a tour operator that matches your interests
If you prefer to have someone else plan all the details, there’ll be a wealth of tour, safari, cruise, resort, and other package providers there, too. Some, like REI, offer hundreds of options all over the world, letting you pick the location and activity and duration that fits your needs, all with a trusted brand behind it. Others are focused on a specific thing and really dial down, just be sure to look for guides that are either directly based in the area where they’re leading you, or they hire locals to lead you. In our experience, you’ll get more out of the trip when the people leading it are from that area. You’ll find that a lot of tour companies manage many trips in many places, but the good ones contract with locals and train them to meet certain quality standards. So, you get a good, local feel with a well structured program.
You’ll probably also find reps from single experiences, like a theme park. Or Chernobyl. What’s nice about this is they’re able to answer all the questions, which is great for something that’s as unique as taking a day trip around a nuclear reactor meltdown site. They had a lot of info to show how safe it is (for a few hours of walking around, you still wouldn’t want to live there!). But what makes us want to go is that it’s a rare opportunity to see what happens to a modern urban environment when humans completely and totally abandon it. That angle had never crossed our mind, but where else in the world can you see that?
Finding adventure in your own backyard
We’ve driven through New Hampshire, but passed straight by the cool stuff without leaving the Interstate Highway. Same goes for a lot of other locations who set up a booth there. Both it and Vermont offer insane mountain biking and decent skiing. And so much more. But we’d have probably never known if we didn’t talk to them and ask questions.
And that’s a key point: Ask questions. They can’t read your mind, and they won’t know what you’re interested in unless you ask about it. Many locations (most, actually) didn’t have any brochures on mountain biking, but when I asked, they had plenty to say. Or they could guide you to other areas nearby that might offer trails, rails-to-trails options, gravel, road and more.
Life’s too short to take a bad vacation. Use the shows to find something cool to do, and some place new to go. Then get going!
Links & Resources
- Travel & Adventures Shows has a list of various shows in the U.S.
- Check the exhibitor list from this year’s NY Times Travel Show for ideas
- Check your local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) or city’s website for upcoming events near you.
- If you have an idea of where you might want to go, just search “place name tourism department” to find the official website for an area.
Know of a good Travel Show? Got more tips for finding (or creating) a great vacation? Leave them in the comments!