Visiting a Sacred Space

Nortre Dame Cathedral dramatically lit up at night

What does it mean to enter a sacred space? When people enter Notre Dame, the light falls from the colored stained glass equally upon the devout and the non-religious. The same air surrounds, cooled by stone, and the same haunting music echoes quietly among the shadows.

Even the non-religious can feel its beauty and the spark of reverence it invokes. But is there a difference for one person over the other? Both are called here because of its sanctity, perhaps neither for religious reasons per se. But it is the sanctity of the cathedral that made it such an important site for devout Christians, and it is the sanctity that caused it to be built with such splendor.

But what of large roughhewn stones standing casually in a field? Do they too hold this sanctity? Religions throughout time and across the globe have segregated special places in which people can enter and associate with the divine. The ether touches our mundane world in these sacred spaces, which are as varied in form as there are beliefs.

From towering temples to natural grottos to nothing itself, in the ephemeral sacred emptiness – the religions the world over have pointed to this place or that and have said, “Here human, here is where the veil is lifted and the divine meets us.” 

Traveling to a Sacred Space

With so much of history wrapped around religion and religious tourism being a popular travel niche, sacred sites all over have become havens for not only the spiritual, but also the curious. Sacred tours and sacred travel have been important both throughout history and in the modern age. Look on any city’s webpage for its history, archaeology, and architecture and you will see how tourism cannot help but come face to face with religion.

I am an independent historical researcher specializing in religion and mythology. My research is is featured in diverse publications, including the World History Encyclopedia and my YouTube channel. In this guest article, I extend an invitation to readers interested in traveling to sacred spaces and hope you find information and inspiration for your own visits.

But back to our original question, what does it mean to be in the presence of a holy site? How can we increase our understanding of what we are experiencing?  To start, we begin by understanding what a sacred site is and then move on to contemplating the vast diversity of form and functions of these sites worldwide.

A statue of Mary, Mother of Jesus, in a church in Bruges, Belgium. Photo by the author, April Lynn Downey. Find more of her photography at Phoenix Feather Books & Curios.

What Makes a Space Sacred?

It would be hard to have a discussion about sacred space without mentioning Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), the German philosopher and theologian, and Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), the Romanian historian of religion. They are both very influential in this topic. 

Rudolf Otto traveled the world to explore ways in which religion manifested itself across the diversity of cultures. He came to call the Deity “the Wholly Other”. He sought to explain the meaning of holy and its contrast with the everyday world, the mundane.

Numinous Spaces

Otto created the term “numinous” which stems from the Latin word numen meaning “god”, “spirit”, or divine”. When a place feels numinous, the holy comes forth and that place is a separate space from the regular world. It is where people have had or can have a hierophany – a revelation of the divine reality. This is no small thing. Whether one believes in the literal event or not, the real-world consequences of such events are both apparent and common.

Axis Mundi

Mircea Eliade added to the conversation of what is a sacred space and what is ordinary. He coined the term axis mundi – meaning, the axis of the world. It is a place where the underworld, the earth, and heaven are connected through a sacred, central pillar – such as a tree, a pole, a mountain, an altar, or a temple. The cosmos turns around this axis.

A famous example of these pillars are Yggdrasil the cosmic tree of Norse mythology. Another is the Kaaba the most holy of Islamic temples, around which pilgrims circumambulate. An imago mundi is a representation of the rest of the cosmos around the axis, such as a city being built outward from the temple.

Voodoo Alter in New Orleans. Photo by April Lynn Downey. Find more of her travel photography at Phoenix Feather Books & Curios.

Sacred Emptiness

Another religious term to acknowledge is sacred emptiness. It is a deliberately empty space – void of anything mundane claiming to be a representation of God – in which the divine is given room to manifest. Here it is not the building, alter, statue, or natural feature that emanates the divine, but the lack thereof.

This idea also turns up more esoterically in certain mystic and religious practices where one empties their mind. This allows the Ultimate Reality to be revealed internally. Similarly, one can also explore the nature of God through apophatic theology. This is defining God through negation, what God is not: “God is not X. God is not Y.”

The most famous and dazzling example of sacred emptiness was in the Holy of Holies, the inner most chamber of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. The God of Abraham would become the one God of the world’s three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And in His highly adorned temple of gold and copper, bull and cherubim iconography, and sacrificial smoke, his throne room laid nearly empty. Two magnificent cherubim with outstretched wings guarded the Holy of Holies, the meeting place of the Lord, who was symbolized as nothing. No image, no symbol, no statue. The God of Abraham was too great.

The Diversity of Sacred Sites Around the World

From the grandest structures ever created to simple private shrines in a home, cultures the world over have set aside spaces to be special, sacred, and where the Wholly Other can be experienced. Of course, no one can miss how churches fall into the category of sacred space, but the sacred isn’t always so obvious.

Let’s take a brief saunter around the world to see the diversity of sacred spaces where human spirituality has been expressed.

Hindu Temples and Shrines

The Kodandarama Temple, a major Hindu temple at Vontimitta. Photo by P. Madhusudan, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

There is no one Hindu religion; it is a complex network of varied traditions, practices, and mythologies. How a Hindu person practices their religion is often determined by their denomination and ethnicity, or their sampradaya. This a tradition focused on a specific deity.

Sometimes a mandir (temple) will be a sanatana (Sanskrit) or sanatan (Hindi) temple. This means it is ecumenical and appropriate for Hindu worship from any tradition. Hindu temples are famous for being large, grand structures with intricate ornamentation and carvings. Worship can also be done at small private shrines within the home. These shrines sometimes take up an entire room dedicated to worship, but can be also be on small shelves or in cupboards.

Whether at home or in a mandir, worship can consist of praying, singing, mantras, incense, food offerings, and caring for idols. All these types of sacred spaces in Hinduism are called devalaya, or “God’s abode”. Here devotees experience darshan – the beneficial act of being in the presence of a god and looking into each other’s eyes. For this reason, both temples and shrines include statues and/or pictures of deities.

These spaces must remain shuddh – “pure”. Hindus must be careful not to pollute their god’s space. For example, they perform ritual purification before worship. Also, a temple priest will not perform funerals. This is because funerals are considered contaminating and require a specialist to perform the function. It is important to understand and respect Hinduism’s emphasis on purity when visiting their holy places. 

A Srividya adept practicing a Tantric ritual at his home shrine in Kerala, India. Photo by Devi bhakta, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Ancient Standing Stones

Erected 5,000 years ago, the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland are an amazing Neolithic site thought to have possibly been an astronomical observatory. Photo by Thilo Rose via Wikicommons, public domain.

Next, we turn to an extremely ancient form of sacred site – standing stones. Stonehenge is most likely the image that comes to most people’s minds when talking about standing stones. But did you know that they were used across the world in even much older times for religious and ritual purposes?

Standing stones from across the world are often monumental and were moved into place with a great deal of effort (although many are more petite). Standing stones are often aligned with astronomical events, such as the solstices or equinoxes. 


One example of these is the ancient Near East’s massebot. Massebot are standing stones of different shapes but are often semi-elliptical.  None of them have anthropomorphic details.

They have been found in open air sanctuaries and in temples and temple courtyards all over the Levant, including Arad, Lachish, the Bull Site in Manasseh, Dan, Tirzah, and Hazor along with hundreds of sites throughout the Negeb and Sinai. Their use spanned millennia, starting in the Mesolithic Period and going through the 8th century CE.

Massebot stood as single stones or in groups, often of two, three, and seven. These are common numbers for deity groupings in the ancient Near East. They are an example of aniconism. They did not represent a physical likeness of a deity but still call upon the deity’s presence. You can read more about the ancient religion of Israel here.

A scaled down recreation of the massebot (standing stones) at the Orthostat Temple in Tel Hazor, Israel. The archaeological site is from the 15th-13th century BCE.  Photo by Gary Todd via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Labyrinth

The symbol of the labyrinth goes far back in antiquity, back to the Neolithic period.

However, the oldest known constructed labyrinth was in Hawara, Egypt. Flinders Petrie discovered the site of this labyrinth in 1886. Long before this discovery, it had been deconstructed, and it’s building material repurposed. However, in its day, this labyrinth was quite awe-inspiring to see. The Greek historian Strabo considered it comparably impressive to the pyramids.

Another famous labyrinth is the Minotaur’s on the island of Crete in Greece. This story is believed to have sparked from the complicated palace of Knossos built by the Minoans on the northern side of the island.

Palace of Knossos and legendary location of the Minotaur’s Labyrinth on Crete, Greece. Photo by Trip Scholars.

The Labyrinth as a Journey

But here and elsewhere throughout humanity, the labyrinth was not a temple for a god, but represented another aspect of human spirituality. It is not just a place but also a period of time, a journey. The labyrinth carves out a space where one embarks on a journey of self-knowledge, meditation, and life and death. One comes to the end changed, no longer the same person who entered.

This concept has pervaded human contemplation for many millennia. Mircea Eliade explained that labyrinths are archetypes associated with initiation rites and the cycle of nature. They are the gateway between life and death.

Carl Jung believed that the labyrinth was a symbol for personal growth and for the process of connecting the internal self and the outer. He states in his Stages of Life, “The meaning and purpose of a problem seem to lie not in its solution but in our working at it incessantly.” As one would go through a labyrinth, it is the journey not the destination.

The Tahkuna stone labyrinth on the island of Hiiumaa, Estonia. Photo by HendrixEesti via Wikicommons, public domain.

Reasons for Labyrinths

Labyrinths have been used for many things, such as protection and magic. Fisherman in Nordic cultures used to walk stone labyrinths called Trojaborgs before setting out to sea. This was thought to increase their luck and to restrain bad spirits and trolls within their walls. Churches used carvings of mazes for protection.

They were apart of Native American, Northern European, Asian, and African cultures, among many others. Labyrinths are still being constructed today, as paths for self-discovery and meditation. This is because the concept of this winding journey has had such a visceral impact on the human psyche.

The First Central Presbyterian Church Meditation & Community Garden and Walking Labyrinth, Abilene, Texas. Photo by Michael Barera via Wikicommons, public domain.

The Devil’s Tower

The Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Photo by Colin Faulkingham via Wikicommons, public domain.

The Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is an example of how sacred space and modern entertainments can collide in an unfortunate way. While many churches and temples around the world have learned to blend tourism into their daily routines, sometimes benefiting from the revenue, the Devil’s Tower is a point of contention.

The 867-foot-high natural rock tower, formed from a volcanic intrusion, has became a United States National Monument. But for many Plains Native Americans, its significance reaches far back in time and is an enduring sacred site. The Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa, and Lakota all have similar stories with differing details about the creation of the tower, called Bear Lodge or Bear Tipi.

In each of these stories, the Great Spirit saved people from a bear attack by causing the rock to rise up and lift the people high into the air. The bears trying to reach those on top scratched the sides, causing the striation lines we see. The Lakota people call it Mato Tipila and still go to the natural wonder today to worship in this sacred space.

Managing a Sacred Space and Public Use

They have the misfortune of having to share this popular monument with climbers. The Bear Lodge is a great place for mountain climbers, but unfortunately the climbing peak season is in June which also happens to be an important religious month for the Lakota.

Lakota come to the tower to worship amid the athletes enjoying the spectacular views from this unique natural structure. Since 1996, the National Park Service has asked visitors to not climb the tower in June, although following this request is voluntary. While this does not let the Lakota worship in complete privacy, it has significantly reduced the number of climbers during their sacred month.

Should we favor the public’s enjoyment of one of the nation’s great natural wonders or defer to a relatively small population’s religion? Perhaps with just a bit more voluntary respect, we won’t have to choose. 

Visiting a Sacred Space

The concept of spirituality and religion is uniquely human. While many animals value the lives of themselves and their companions, humans alone on this planet attempt to reach out beyond the physical realm and touch the sacred.

This practice goes far back into our past, back to our very early ancestors, at least over 30,000 years ago. Some speculate religion sprung from a desire to explain the seemingly unexplainable forces of nature. Some say that psychedelics may have played a part in sparking that first initial religious flame. Others believe it was our literal souls that were inspired to seek the truth, an innate and natural drive humanity has within. Whatever religion’s first cause, the history of the world has been animated by people’s ardent feeling of spirituality.

When we travel to places of spiritual significance, we become a part of their story – whether still visited by devoted practitioners or abandoned long ago as an artifact of time. Each of these places continue its journey through history as edifices of humanity’s distinctiveness and our call to the unknown and the unknowable.  

What sacred spaces have you visited that have impacted you? Tell us about in the comments, we would love to hear.

This Guest Post was contributed by April Lynn Downey, M.A.

Follow April Lynn Downey on YouTube and at Phoenix and Feather Books and Curios Store – a fascinating online store and a portal to educational articles, historical consulting services, and a quarterly newsletter called Journal of Tales.

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Heritage Tours: How to Plan Your Own Ancestry Travel

Heritage Tours- How to Plan Ancestry Travel

Heritage Tours

How to Plan Your Own Ancestry Travel

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

We have gathered the best resources to help you plan your own ancestry travel and heritage tours. 

Some of your richest travel experiences can be visiting your ancestral homelands. Imagine journeying to the villages, cities, or rural lands that your family from the past lived in for generations. Perhaps you’ll visit the old family farm, meet a distant cousin, or learn more about your rich cultural heritage. We will clarify how ancestry travel and heritage travel enhance each other and how they will inspire some of your greatest trips. Follow our step-by-step guide to plan your own heritage or ancestry tour. Then, find inspiration and tips from top travel and genealogical writers who have already crafted their own meaningful tours to their roots.  

Table of Contents

What are Heritage Tours and Ancestry Travel?

Heritage travel and ancestry travel are similar and very complementary, but they are different approaches to meaningful trips. Heritage travel is focused on the broader cultural history of your past: perhaps learning more about the art history of China or the culinary traditions of Peru. Ancestry travel on the other hand, is related to travel where your particular ancestors lived: maybe visiting the cemetery where your grandmother is buried or the town that your ancestors emigrated from.  

The joy of these trips can be extended far beyond your actual days on the road. You can begin researching and learning about your roots months, years, or even decades in advance. We will show you how to educate and entertain yourself as you dive deep into the most meaningful places of your ancestral path. Whether this leads to local weekend trips or long planned international vacations, we have tips to help make the very most of your excursions. 

Steps for Planning Your Own Ancestry Tour or Heritage Tour

1. Consider taking a DNA Test

DNA testing has led to a surge in both ancestry and heritage travel for a variety of reasons. Some have already had access to their family’s records and these tests confirm their places of origin. They help them connect with distant (sometimes newly discovered!) relatives in their travel destinations.  

Others have not known about their biological family history for reasons varying from adoption to historical displacement. DNA tests can sometimes help find living family members as well as help travelers find their nations or regions of origin.  

DNA testing is an effortless process and the cost is around $100 US. A kit mailed to you and, after a simple cheek swab, it is returned in a postage paid box. Usually less than two months later, the tester receives a DNA profile showing where their ancestors have come from. The top companies offering DNA testing are, 23andme,  

Consider privacy issues before you engage in DNA testing. Records are kept secure, but there are unforeseen ethical questions that may arise in the future. Hackers are always improving their skills. Keep in mind that some companies, like Family Tree DNA voluntarily offer law enforcement access to their database.  

2. Do Ancestry Research

Contact Living Relatives

If you have older biological relatives, they are a wonderful first resource as you begin your journey exploring your roots. We do not have these people in our lives forever, so get started with visits and phone calls today. Bring your notebook or record them (with their permission) using audio or visual devices. Ask to look through memory boxes and old photo albums that can inspire stories from their childhood.  

Some families are fortunate to have an elder who has already done a lot of ancestry research. For some this has been their lifelong passion, we are incredibly lucky if they share it with us and these visits are sure to inspire trips to your ancestral homelands. 

Do Online Ancestry Research

There are a so many options for online ancestry research that some people become overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are excellent sites that simplify the process. is the most well-known DNA testing company and they have earned the distinction. Users have the option to connect their DNA results with their profile, both to confirm ancestral connections and to meet living relatives. They have the world’s largest collection of online family records available to help you flesh out your family tree and collaborate with others. They even offer personal guidance from genealogists to aid you with research. If, after reading this article, you find the idea of crafting your own tour daunting, they can even offer a personal guidance to plan it for you.  

The biggest downside to using is the cost. They offer a free trial and you also have access to your family tree and some records without a paid subscription. But to engage in research, you pay in tiers to have access to more records. A money saving tip is to plan ahead and dedicate a period of time to family tree research. Put other projects on the back burner and commit to making full use of their database during your subscription. Or use the least expensive option to get to each family tree dead end. Then pay for the upgrade to take each line further back in time. But watch out, it can become addictive, and you may extend your subscription indefinitely!  

Other top options include 23andme, Family Tree, and the National Genealogical Society. Are You My Cousin? is another very helpful website.  You can learn more about it below with a personal story by Lisa Lisson, the host of the site.

If you know the general region of your ancestors, you can find site specific resources like African Ancestry, My China Roots, and Ireland Reaching Out. If you can drill down to particular towns and counties try online searches to see if there are local genealogical experts who will help check records in person. After extended research, you will have some of the best travel destinations on the planet personally tailored to you. 

3. Do Heritage Research

Once you have discovered your ancestral roots, you have a lifetime to explore your cultural heritage! As you plan your travels, dive into learning more about your deep past.  

Our website, Trip Scholars, is a perfect place to start. We focus on learning more before departure and have an ever-growing library of resources for you to enjoy. You’ll find movies, documentaries, games, podcasts and more. In our Roadmaps Blog we also have exciting ideas about bringing your family in on the travel planning, including regional literature in your travelslearning the language in advance, visiting UNESCO sitesstudying the mythology of the deep past from your destination, and being your own tour guide.  Exploring your cultural heritage can be an enriching lifelong pursuit.

4. Plan Your Heritage Tour Itinerary

As you plan your heritage tour itinerary, there are exciting options you can include because of your focus on ancestry travel.  

Consider relevant forms of transportation. How did your ancestors get around when they lived there? Would arriving by train or hiking in heighten the experience? Once you have arrived, would horseback riding or sailing on a traditional boat be good additions? 

Dive in deeper to the local cultural experiences. Sites like Airbnb experiencesAtlas Obscura Classes, and TripAdvisor will help you find culinary tours, cooking classes, dance classes, and more. Consider crafting your own archeological tour or hiring a tour guide. It can be extraordinarily moving to try and experience life through the eyes of your ancestors. Enjoy including museums and live performances in your travel plans too. 

Make the most of your lodging by staying in historic buildings. Fortunate ancestry travelers may be able to stay with descendants of relatives who did not emigrate. The rest of us can check out Airbnb, VRBO, and other home listing sites for historic buildings. Sleeping in your homeland in a building like that of your great-great-great grandparents can be profound in a way that no history research can capture. 

5. Enjoy Your Ancestry Travel

When the big trip finally arrives, be sure to bring your records with you. Digital information is helpful, but paper copies can come in handy as you meet relatives and local genealogists. There is nothing like looking at family photos with distant relatives, seeing resemblances, and hearing stories! 

Many genealogical trips also include in-person research. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA is a prime destination for many people, regardless of faith. You may also visit government or religious institutions to confirm records or move beyond dead ends in your family tree. Some places have local genealogical guides you may want to work with when you arrive.  

6. Celebrate Memories and Connections for a Lifetime

Your heritage tour will enrich you long after you returnShare what you have discovered with your relatives back home. They may want to plan a future trip after you have inspired them with your stories. Pass on what you have learned to younger generations. Stay in touch with relatives you met on your travels and consider inviting them to come and visit you.  

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The Curious Traveler’s 5 Step Guide to More Meaningful Trips

Is it worth it? Here’s How Others Have Planned Their Ancestry Tours

I’ve asked some top travel and genealogy writers to share their stories. Find inspiration in their research and travels. 

Heritage Tour Saint Pauls Cathedral
Saint Paul's Cathedral, London. Photo courtesy of Darko M.

Discovering a Coffee Man on Ivy Lane

“Where did my ancestors come from?” It is a common question and often sparks the first steps into genealogy and family history research. It’s a question I asked as well, and it’s the question that began my foray into uncovering my ancestry.  

What I really wanted to do, though, was walk where my ancestors walked. I wanted to stand where they stood. I wanted to see what they saw.  I wanted connection.  First, I had to find out where my ancestors lived. 

Researching the Talbott family line, I relied heavily on and FindMyPast. Both are large genealogy databases containing the records I needed.  U. S. Census Records took me back through the generations to 1790. Wills and church records helped me eventually find Barnaby Talbot, my 6th great grandfather.

Barnaby Talbot was a “coffee man” on Ivy Lane in London, England. [I wonder if this accounts for my love of coffee?!]   

Ivy Lane in London became my destination! Well, almost…..  

A search of the map revealed Ivy Lane no longer exists in London. Could I figure out where in London Ivy Lane used to be? My search sent me into old map collections of London where I found Ivy Lane was a short street behind St. Paul’s Cathedral in the early 1700’s. Modern office buildings and shops now line the area, but that’s okay. I’ll grab a cup of coffee, wander the area and give a nod to Barnaby. 

Learn more about researching your ancestors at Are You My Cousin?. 

[My cup of coffee with my ancestor was originally planned for Fall 2020, but Covid has forced me to postpone my trip until October 2021.] 

Contributed by Lisa at Are You My Cousin? 

Heritage Tour Colorful street in Kalipeda, Lithuania.
Kalipeda, Lithuania. Photo Courtesy of Top Travel Sites

Connecting With a Cousin in Lithuania

In early 2020, I travelled to Klaipeda in Lithuania to find out more about my great-great-grandmother Marie. She was born there in the 1800s, at a time when the city was part of the German empire. My grandmother (Marie’s granddaughter) sometimes mentioned her, and I was curious to see where my ancestors came from. 

Before my trip, I prepared by doing as much research as possible. I interviewed my grandmother and searched old documents. Address books from that time helped me identify the street where my great-great-grandmother had once lived. 

Klaipeda was a fantastic city to visit. I loved walking through the streets where Marie had grown up, and I also loved seeing the local history museums. Some had exhibitions with postcards from the late 1800s, showing the city that my ancestors had known. 

Before leaving on my trip, I did a DNA test through 23andme. I always knew that I had relatives in the US, as my grandmother was still in contact with one of them. Through the DNA test, I found a fourth-degree cousin who had more information about Marie and the life she and her family led in Klaipeda. 

I highly recommend anyone interested in ancestry travel to take a DNA test before the trip. Not only did I get valuable information from my newfound cousin, but I also loved sharing my Klaipeda pictures with him. 

Contributed by Ilona at Top Travel Sights 

Heritage Tour Austin Archives
The Austin Texas Archives. Photo by Gail Clifford

Journey from the Austin Archives to Coopers in Dublin

Prior to my trip to Austin, I obviously knew that both my mother and my daughter had been born in Texas. It wasn’t until I was there for a conference, though, that it occurred to me it was time to gather the information in genealogically correct form. I visited the Austin Texas Archives and obtained the assistance of the chief librarian to easily find the information I required for both my mother’s and my daughter’s birth records. My mom’s were old enough to still be in books, my daughter’s were recent enough to be on microfilm. remains a wonderful resource for people that have already died, but going in person to this archive, allowed me to find information while family members are still alive. 

On an earlier trip to Salt Lake City, my daughter and I examined LDS records that included ship manifests, wedding records, birth and death records for family members. My daughter was so lucky that she randomly found my great grandparents’ wedding details! She discovered them on a microfilm she was scanning as I searched for a specific item on a reader nearby. I don’t think you get any better than that for beginner’s luck. 

Pro tip: I highly recommend gathering as much information as you can, especially from the senior members of your family, about anything they remember. Ask especially about parents and grandparents names or dates of birth, marriage, death or places of same. Allow those pieces of information to lead you to travel to discover more. 

My mother was born in San Antonio just before my grandfather went off to World War II. I happened to be born on the anniversary of the Alamo. So, my first time in San Antonio was very meaningful. I visited the Alamo and the Riverwalk and felt a connection to my mother that I hadn’t previously. 

I hope that someday, my daughter will continue to explore family records, or pursue her future husband’s family genealogy so that her children will have as complete information as possible. 

I am currently in Dublin and come from a large Irish family. You may know how difficult it is to find information here after the fires that have decimated so many churches. I still hope, though, to gather more information as I return to Cork, where my last ancestors, my great grandmother and her mother, departed in 1898 to sail to the United States.  

My first time walking through the English market, which looks the same now as it did 200 years ago, was also very meaningful, knowing that my great grandmother and her mother walked in those exact same steps. 

And it can be the little things that you come across in your travels, that you don’t even know will affect your ancestry research. For example, while touring the Guinness brewery in Dublin, I came across a video of what a Cooper actually does. That was my grandfather’s profession, and I’d never known what hot, dirty, and precise work that it was. 

I highly recommend starting with the people that you have available to you, learning as much as you can online, and then going to the places where they used to live to learn even more. 

Contributed by Gail at ABLE Physicians

Heritage Tour Thatched Cottage in County Tipperary, Ireland.
Thatched Cottage in County Tipperary, Ireland. Photo by Tripscholars

My Own Ancestry and Heritage Tour to Ireland

I have always been interested in genealogy and had been working on our family trees over the years. But it wasn’t until my husband and I started planning our 25th wedding anniversary trip that I made it a high priority. We love Irish music, literature, archaeology, and history so we knew traveling to Ireland was how we wanted to celebrate. Our gifts to each other for our 24th anniversary were DNA tests and a commitment to do a lot of genealogical research for the year. 

We sent in our cheek swabs and renewed our subscription at a higher rate to have access to more records. My first call was to my aunt on the Carroll side of the family. She has made ancestry research her life’s work, so I was exceedingly fortunate. She generously shared her family tree with me and gave me a lot of valuable advice. 

One of the most helpful things she shared with me is that many people copy one another’s inaccurate information repeatedly, causing many online family trees to be riddled with faulty connections. She counseled me to not copy other people’s family trees and to instead  do my own research by looking at original source documents and carefully comparing details.  

After our year of research, we really hadn’t gotten much further in our own efforts than our relatives who had shared family trees with us at the beginning! But we had a healthy respect for the work that goes into ancestry research and knew some of the stories of our families. If you like research, puzzle solving, and relationships, you will love doing your own ancestry research. I found multiple instances of inaccurate information and now advise others to go very slowly and really check their work. 

Because of our research, we stopped at a pub in one of the small towns of our ancestors. It was built before their emigration and the pub owner took the time to show us around. He explained where our family was from on a massive map hanging on the wall. He even gave us his contact information to help connect us with a local genealogist. The pub had an outbuilding complete with antiques from the original era. It was very moving to drink our pints in the building as we visited with the kids who were playing outside. I looked over the billowing fields on the other side of the fence and imagined my own ancestors in this same pub and village. It was a very moving experience. 

That night we stayed in a thatched roof cottage, built prior to their emigration, in another small town where we have roots. Despite all the books, documentaries, and movies I have read or watched, the night in that home made my family’s history come alive in a way that nothing else could. As I sat in front of the peat fire, surrounded by those thick white walls, and thought of my own farming ancestors from this same land, it brought rich tears of awareness. Be sure to keep your family’s history in mind as you look for lodging and plan your own trips. 

We had plenty of other adventures related to our ancestry research and I heartily recommend investing time to plan your own ancestry or heritage tours.  

Erica at Trip Scholars 

Ancestry Travel Tours Thatched Cottage in County Tipperary, Ireland
Thatched Cottage in County Tipperary, Ireland. Photo by Tripscholars

Plan your own Ancestry and Heritage Tours

Are you ready to plan your own ancestry or heritage tour? You can’t start too soon. Begin now even if you don’t plan to travel until long in the future so that you can have one of your greatest trips ever! You can also explore your cultural heritage from home. We have even more ancestry research resources listed in our Trip Scholars Library.  

Have you been on an ancestry or heritage trip? Are you planning one for the future? What resources did you use to plan it? What was it like to visit your homeland? Do you recommend it to others? Please tell us in the comments! We love to hear from our readers.  

Picture of Erica


Hi, I’m Erica and I created Trip Scholars for curious travelers like you! I'm an award winning travel education specialist, best selling author, certified travel coach, and travel advisor dedicated to helping you learn through travel. Through my blog, workshops, and coaching, I help people bring more meaning, connection, and understanding to their journeys-- and their lives.

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You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

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How to Create Your Own Archaeological Tour

Archeological Travel Baelo Claudia archaeological travel site

How to Create Your Own Archaeological Tour

Baelo Claudia, Spain. Photo by Krista the Explorer

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

You have likely already enjoyed some archaeological travel on past trips. Whether you’ve intended to or not, chances are that you’ve visited or walked by at least one archaeological site during a trip. These sites don’t necessarily need to be enormous structures or large settlements that attract thousands of visitors a year – the smallest, most unimposing find can have a fascinating history behind it too. Even something as small as a cup found in a field where Vikings were known to roam is considered archaeology, and for those of you who like to visit museums while you travel, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of artifacts on display from all over the world already. 

Incorporating archaeology into my travels is one of the first things I do when I’m planning my next trip. I find that researching a site beforehand gives you invaluable background knowledge of the modern day city or town that surrounds it, and can make your trip all the more enriching. 

How To Research Archaeological Sites Before Traveling to Them

1. Take a virtual archaeological tour

Before heading out on your travels, it’s a great idea to get familiar with the archaeological site that you intend to visit before actually setting foot near it. Taking a virtual tour of the site is a fun way to see the layout of the complex (if it’s a large area), or even just to see an ancient statue up close, for example. I personally find virtual tours more appealing than downloading a map of the site because I’m able to pick out my favourite areas before visiting it, which not only saves me time during the trip but also takes away any anxiety I would have had about missing an important spot.

There are a lot of great resources online that offer virtual tours of historic and archaeological sites. A great place to start is with Archaeology Travel who provide you with links for virtual tours of sites, popular museums, and even the opportunity to play around with a 3D reconstruction of the ancient Giza plateau. They also offer guided in-person archaeological tours around the world. 

If you want a unique virtual tour that you can join in realtime and that will take you around the streets of Italy, Virtually Live Tours offer you the chance to see some of the more famous archaeological sites in Italy live (yes, Rome is included) right from home!

2. Research museums in your travel destination

Hermitage Archeological Travel Site
Hermitage. Photo by Krista the Explorer

You would be surprised at how many archaeological objects end up in completely different countries to where they were found. I’m not one to visit a museum on every single trip I go on, but I do tend to research the museums beforehand to see if there’s anything on display that would interest me.

The British Museum in London, for example, is notorious for housing artifacts and remains of ancient structures from other countries, and it’s always interesting to read the background story of how these displays ended up abroad. The British Museum is home to the famous Parthenon Sculptures, which as the name suggests were taken from the Parthenon in Athens. There are still a lot of disputes happening as to whether they should stay in London or be returned home to Greece, but this is a prime example of why it’s a good idea to dive through a museum’s directory before visiting – you never know what you’ll come across!

During a trip to Russia, I was astounded when we visited the State Hermitage Museum to see just how many archaeological artifacts it held – and apparently over 50% of what they own isn’t even on display to the public! It is a massive museum, the second largest in the world actually, so I was very glad that I had done a bit of research beforehand and written down a small list of the main displays that I wanted to see. If there’s no virtual tour of the museum available that you’re visiting, making a list of things you want to see is a great way to save time once you get a physical map in your hand, so you can pinpoint where everything is located.

3. Browse through websites like UNESCO & National Geographic

Herculaneum Archaeological Travel Site
Herculaneum, Italy, UNESCO WHS. Photo by Krista the Explorer
Herculaneum History Travel Site
Herculaneum, Italy, UNESCO WHS. Photo by Krista the Explorer

One of the best and easiest ways to find archaeological sites where you’re visiting is to browse through databases such as the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and National Geographic. UNESCO has a fantastic list of sites organized by country, making it very easy to find the ones you’re looking for. I have used both websites on previous occasions to learn more about various sites.

Take Pompeii for example. Pompeii is probably one of the most well-known archaeological sites in the world, and takes a day in itself to go around. But I had no idea that there was a smaller, much better preserved city nearby called Herculaneum which a lot of people skip over, until I was on UNESCO’s website. During our trip to Naples, we were able to incorporate both archaeological sites into our itinerary and had an incredible time exploring both of them on foot.

For more about incorporating UNESCO sites into your travels read the Tripscholars’ article, Visiting the World’s Most Valuable Places.  

4. Look at tourism websites, official websites, and blogs

Archeological Travel Baelo Claudia archaeological travel site
Baelo Claudia, Spain. Photo by Krista the Explorer

Depending on where you’re visiting, there may or may not be an official tourism website for the location. If there is one, it’s a great resource to use before your trip to find out what points of interest the city deems to be the most important. A lot of the time, if there’s an archaeological site or historic monument open to the public, the tourism website will be heavily promoting it.

I came across a unique ancient Roman town known as Baelo Claudia, which sits directly on a beach in the southern Spanish province of Andalucia, by browsing the area’s tourism website which wasn’t mentioned in any other sources I had read.

Another great way to get more information on things to see in the place you’re travelling to is to read people’s travel blogs. Google will bring up a number of blogs for you to choose from so they’re very easy to find (don’t forget to click past page 1 of Google), or Pinterest is another great search engine to use for informative blog posts. If the site you want to visit is very popular, such as Pompeii, there will be an official website that you can also visit for the most accurate information about visiting the site and the history behind it.

5. Visit Atlas Obscura for unique places to include in your trip

Courtesy of Atlas Obscura

Some of the time, archaeological sites are not going to be the main focal points of areas that you’re visiting, unless of course you’re on an archaeological vacation in a city like Rome. Some of the more interesting sites to visit are often overlooked and don’t make it on a lot of people’s blogs or even tourism websites, which is unfortunate but it’s the reality of the situation.

One of my all-time favourite websites to use when I’m researching unique places to visit is Atlas Obscura. If you haven’t heard of them before, they’re a great source for anything unique and off the beaten path, and sometimes there’s an archaeological site or two on their lists.

Why is archaeological travel important?

1. Context

History travel Roman Remains under the Duomo Milan, Italy.
Roman Remains under the Duomo Milan, Italy. Photo by Krista the Explorer
History travel siteItálica, Seville, Spain.
Itálica, Seville, Spain. Photo by Krista the Explorer

Would you go to Athens without reading up about the Parthenon? Or to Rome without reading about the amphitheatre? Probably not. I guarantee if you’re visiting either of these popular cities in Europe, you’re going to be heading straight for these main tourist attractions. Yes, you can take a guided tour of the Parthenon and learn a bit about it in a short period of time, but you won’t really be able to put this phenomenal archaeological site into context without doing a bit more of a deep dive through its history.

When I visited Milan last year, I knew I was heading straight for the Duomo as soon as it opened. What I wish I had known about before visiting the Duomo however, was that there were ancient Roman ruins underneath the cathedral. Of course, I visited the excavation site, but I had no idea what I was looking at apart from reading the small pieces of information that were pinned up on the walls. 

On the other hand, on a recent trip to the famous Roman ruins of Itálica just outside of Seville in southern Spain, I had done ample research beforehand so I had a better understanding of the site I was walking around. There’s nothing worse than visiting a site and not knowing what you’re looking at – context is key for improving your experience.

2. Appreciation of cultures

archeological vacation Viking Ship in Museum
Viking Ship Museum, Oslo, Norway. Photo by Krista the Explorer

The great thing about travelling is that you really get an appreciation for different cultures that you simply can’t get if you stay at home. Culture is all around us when we travel – from the food to the clothes, but especially within its physical remains.

You can’t really get a full appreciation for a culture without learning about its past, and the best way to do this, other than by reading about it, is by seeing what has been left behind over centuries and millenniums.

The Scandinavian countries are great examples of places that people think they know a lot about because they are famed for their Viking heritage. I for one, thought I knew a fair amount about Vikings from a couple of history classes I took at university, but it wasn’t until I went on a solo trip to Oslo that I really found an appreciation and admiration for their culture.

The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo is the perfect spot to learn more about the Vikings in Norway through the various remains that have been found through archaeological excavations. The museum is one of the most popular attractions in Oslo, so chances are if you’re going to Oslo you’ll be visiting it, making it a great idea to read about the Viking ships and other artifacts that are on display before visiting the museum. Archaeology plays a key role in gaining a better appreciation for different cultures, and is something that you won’t be able to avoid during your travels

3. To broaden your knowledge

Archeological Travel Site Bath, England
Bath, England, UNESCO WHS. Photo by Krista the Explorer

I’ve never seen the point in visiting a place and not knowing a single thing about it. Even if it’s a last minute trip, I try to research at least a small amount of information on the location – sometimes that means while I’m in transit or sitting in the hotel room! Researching archaeological sites or even an artifact that has caught your attention is the perfect way to broaden your knowledge, even before you step out of the house. 

Bath Archeological Travel Site
Bath, England, UNESCO WHS. Photo by Krista the Explorer

One of my favourite cities to visit in England is Bath. This city has been built upon since the time of the Romans, and is pretty much the perfect city to visit for any fan of archaeology. 

But even if you know nothing about Bath and its history, just walking through its historic streets is more than enough to make you want to learn more about the city. By learning more about a city or a specific site, you’ll be able to better associate yourself with other nearby locations or places that link to one another, even if they’re in different countries. In the world of travel, knowledge is key, and what better way to broaden your views of the world than by learning about the past and the global connections that were once so important in the development of past cultures and civilizations?

The Joy of Archaeological Travel

Pompeii Archeological Vacation Site
Pompeii, Italy. Photo by Krista the Explorer

By including archaeology in your travels, you’ll gain an unrivaled knowledge of the past and how the world has developed over thousands of years. A lot of the key tourist attractions around the world are in fact archaeological sites, so it’s within your own interest to learn more about them while you’re still in the planning stages of your trip. You may even come across smaller, less well-known sites that turn out to be the highlight of your trip. The better prepared we are to visit archaeological sites and look at artifacts that have been excavated, the more enjoyable your trips will be and the more inspired you’ll be to research further historical locations. Have you started planning your next trip yet? Are there any archaeological sites nearby that you can visit?

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You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

This guest post was contributed by Krista at Krista the Explorer

We love to learn from our guest writers and appreciate their expertise! Visit her website by clicking on the image or name below. 


My name is Krista and since graduating from the University of St Andrews with a masters degree in Medieval History & Archaeology in 2016, I've dedicated my time to travelling to the most unique and historical locations I can find. My writing focuses on the historical aspects of the places I visit, with the hope of inspiring other travellers to dig deeper into the history of the places they are travelling to, and to visit more off the beaten path spots too.

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How to Be Your Own Tour Guide

Sherbsworld in front of glacier

How to Be Your Own Tour Guide

The Author Guiding a Tour in Iceland.       Photo shared by Sherbsworld

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

Are you the kind of traveller who questions what is around you, marvels at old buildings, and gets lost in art? Does understanding new cultures make your journey more heartfelt? Do you love collecting stories of the places you visit and does travelling more make you more curious? 

Travel ignites our curiosity. It fills our heads with questions about how other people live. What do they eat? Where do they work? Who built that, and why? Discovering these answers makes us appreciate our surroundings more, and our travel experiences become more enriched.

Stack of Passports
Tour Guiding comes with some big responsibilities. Photo by Sherbsworld
Packing supplies
Pre-tour packing madness. Photo by Sherbsworld

Since travelling as a young adult, I’ve realised that I have a thirst for understanding the world that I venture into. It’s not just the itch that makes me want to travel more, it’s the lessons I learn when I’m away. 

Realising that I am a traveller of the curious category, and being a storyteller (or chatterbox) by nature, I decided to combine these two passions. I started to make a living by sharing my findings with other travellers and became a tour guide. 

In taking groups around my country, I started to appreciate the UK in a way I never had before. I delved into stories and historical facts. I memorised lists of famous landmarks, events, traditions, and social customs. I plucked out enticing characters from the past, some revered, some forgotten. I started to learn how cities as grand as London and Paris developed, and how people survived wars, plagues, and descimination. 

Group of Tourists
Crowds are the norm as a tour guide. Photo by Sherbsworld

The Importance of Learning Before You Head Out

Travel Books
Study Time. Photo by Sherbsworld

It quickly became obvious that the more I learned before leaving home, the more headspace I had on the road. When you have a bus load of people with various needs and have to deal with traffic, hot weather, downpours, constant questions, and missing people, you don’t want your knowledge letting you down. I never realised before that humans can endure such a spectrum of problems in one day.

Whilst it’s possible to make a decent wage with several companies, the hours are intensely long. You’re often up at 5 am and are dealing with lost baggage, complaints, sick passengers, cleaning the bus, and preparing all the props, notes, and paperwork you need for the day. You’re always required to look happy. 

For tour guiding and travelling yourself, planning eliminates some of the stress from everything that is out of your control. Being your own tour guide means digging deeper and owning your travel experiences. Here’s how you can do it. 

How to be your own tour guide

Dive into the culture before you go

Most good guidebooks have roundup sections on the country’s timeline events and culture. Online, the Encyclopedia Britannica has loads of information on the geography and history of countries everywhere. They also have interesting articles on topics like festivals, lifestyles, and philosophies.

Get up to speed by reading the local news online. Find an author or poet from your country of choice and put it on your reading list. The Bookshop is a huge online store that stocks from independent bookshops for the US and the UK and will source your entire travel reading bucket list.

Start a new chapter

You’re about to make amazing memories and gather a tonne of information. You’re also about to have a lot of time to muse whilst on long journeys or lounging in hammocks. Starting a fresh notebook whilst you prepare for each trip means you’ll have all your information in one place, plus blank pages for reflecting on life and brainstorming new goals. I have a whole cupboard of travel journals full of place names, journey times, anecdotes, films, books, and streams of thought. On rainy days in the future, you can spend hours sifting through memories and conjuring up visions of your past adventures. 

One of the perks of being a tour guide is being paid to get to iconic places.    Photos by Sherbsworld

Take a virtual museum tour

Confession time–  I don’t know every place before I take a group there. I have done many tours ‘blind’. I’ve had a group of 50 follow me down streets I’ve never trodden, and entered many buildings not knowing if I’m at the ‘group entry’ door. The only way to look professional in these moments is with body language, a smile, and of course, preparation. Luckily, I can familiarise myself with new destinations using Google Street View and find my way through the narrow streets of Rome to plan my route. Since lockdown, you can even enter museums on Google Arts and Culture. Many museums and galleries have their collections open for virtual viewing, like the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Make a playlist

Music can instantly bring you closer to your destination, as it invokes the culture. Whenever I do tours to Iceland, I download Of Monsters and Men, Bjork, and Sigur Ros amongst other other artists I discover. Then, when I’m daydreaming with little red fishing huts, fjords, and steaming hot pools passing by, the scenery is accompanied by a beautiful, local soundtrack. When you return home, the playlist will bring back sweet travel nostalgia. A good website to check out is Bandcamp, where you can sign up for free, search music based on your destination, follow the artists you love, and directly support them. 

Hear about notable characters and hidden figures

When I’m on the mic, reeling off facts is enough to put anyone to sleep. My groups always engage more when I’m telling them stories about weird and wonderful people that are connected to each place. Characters are essential for any story, and world exploration wouldn’t be the same without the stories that you uncover. Luckily, there are some highly entertaining podcasts that present, champion, and reveal notable and lesser-known people from around the world. So whilst you’re busy booking tickets and packing your sunnies, you can stick on an episode and discover people you never knew existed. Some of my favourites are The Historical Figures podcast and You’re Dead to Me by The BBC. 

Read kids books

I often don’t have enough time to fully study for every destination, especially at the beginning of my career when the logistical planning was overwhelming enough. All I knew about history was that kings chopped off their wives’ heads and Roman warriors wore short skirts. Luckily, there are some bitesize history books out there that are aimed at kids and nicely simplify history. The Horrible Histories range are funny and well illustrated and cover many world histories. If you travel to Scotland, which has a dense and unruly history, try to get your hands on one of Scoular Anderson and Allan Burnett’s books, such as the And All That series. They make history bitesize and funny and you’ll know your Mary Queen of Scots from your Bloody Mary in no time.

Enrich your trips by being your own tour guide

By being your own tour guide, you’ll gain skills like researching and how to organize. You’ll enrich your travels as you gather stories, facts, and learn about the people and the land. The more we know about the planet we roam, the more soul our journeys have. Travel the world and enrol in the school of life!

This guest post was contributed by Sheryl at Sherbsworld

We love to learn from our guest writers and appreciate their expertise! Visit her website by clicking on the image or name below. 

Picture of sherbsworld


Hi and thanks for following my posts! I’m an international Travel fanatic/ European Tour Guide/ Blogger and I’m thrilled to be contributing to this unique and informative site. When I’m not travelling the globe, I’m reading about it, writing about it and daydreaming about the next trip. I’ve been travelling for over ten years, often solo. Currently, my country count is 60, and I’m not done yet. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is the more you educate yourself, the more understanding you have of different cultures, and the more the world will welcome you, with open arms. There are so many lessons and so much reward when you start to explore. I hope my posts are of help to get you on your way. Please visit, follow and share my site for more travel inspiration!

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You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

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Explore the Mythology of Your Destination

Celtic Silver Cauldron

Explore the Mythology of Your Travel Destination

       Photo from Wikicommons

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

Most of us travel first and then make interesting discoveries on the trip. We promise ourselves to research the topic more when we return home, but usually don’t. Imagine the depth your travels could have if you were familiar with the myths and folklore of the area before you left home.

Create Information Hooks to Hang your Travel Discoveries Upon

The theory of Constructivism says that new learning builds upon prior knowledge. If you explore the mythology of a destination before you leave home, with a few hours of research, you can create information hooks in your mind and enrich your travel experiences.

Studies have shown that prior study and knowledge create hooks in your mind. Without these hooks, new information slips away. You might miss reoccurring symbols, or not appreciate the history of a site unless you have some background information.

Brainstorm What you Already Know About the Area

Often, you plan a trip because you want to see important landmarks or visit areas you have seen covered in travel articles. You may have some background information already: take a minute and brainstorm what you already know about the history, religion, or geography of the area.

For example, I am planning a trip to the United Kingdom. I know they have a Celtic and Druidic history. A quick search tells me that Druids were religious leaders of the Celts, so I will focus my research on Celtic mythology. And I know Rome invaded the area, so I will anticipate Greek and Roman mythology as well.

Use your Brainstorm to do an Overview Search

This will link new information to your background knowledge. Next, bookmark interesting links that you might want to read after your initial research.

Tip! Try not to dive into rabbit holes at this point. The brain loves to get lost in stories. Save them for later. Remember, you are planning your trip.

For my U.K. trip, my first stop is Wikipedia: Celtic Mythology. I learn that the Romans and Christians destroyed the written records of the Celts most of the evidence for the Celts is archeological. This alerts me to look out for any Museums of Man or archeological museums in guidebooks. 

I will also remember that the Romans and Christians created most of the written materials about the Celts. Thus, I will be alert for bias.

Celtic Animism

Waterfall, Yorkshire, UK
Yorkshire, UK. Photo by Jonny Gios

The Celtics were animists. This means they believed spirits and divine beings inhabited the natural world around them.  Humans could interact with these spirits.

Quote: Every mountain, river, spring, marsh, tree and rocky outcrop had a spirit. –Celtic Animism

This animism makes the geography of the United Kingdom even more interesting. The Celts revered water, in particular. It not only supported life, but it also provided a connection between the spiritual and physical realms. Research geographic landmarks such as rivers, lakes and mountains in the areas you will visit. Try and find out which spirit inhabits particular rivers or mountains and read their myths. 

The Dagda

Cerne Abbas Giant

The Dagda was the Leader of the Irish Gods and Embodied Ideal Irish Traits. I add Dorsett, England to my itinerary because I want to see Cerne Abbas Giant. This is a famous outline of Dagda (or possibly Hercules) cut into chalky soil. Outlined in white, it is 55 meters (180 ft) high.  He is an ithyphallic giant, which means he has a huge erection!

The Roman Influence

The Romans syncretised religions in areas they conquered. This is the blending of two religious beliefs into a new system. In the case of the Romans, they incorporated an existing area’s religious beliefs into the conquerors’ religion.

I add Bath, a UNESCO Heritage Site, to my itinerary. A city with a long history, it is the site of famous thermal springs and Roman baths. It was a popular spa tourist destination for the British in the 1800s and has beautiful architecture. And, thanks to my research, I know about the curses of Sulis Minerva.

Sulis was the Celtic goddess of the thermal hot springs in Bath. Curse tablets were found in the spring asking Sulis Minerva to take revenge for items stolen in the bath house. They threatened thieves with loss of mental functions, loss of sleep and a ceasing of bodily functions unless the items were returned to their owners.

Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and decisions. It is not surprising that the Roman’s syncretised the two goddesses.

At the many pubs I plan to visit,  I will offer a toast to Apollo Sucellos. Apollo was the Roman god of music, dance, truth and prophecy and Sucellos was the Celtic god of agriculture. Apollo Sucellos  was often portrayed carrying a beer barrel on a pole and a hammer. His companion, Nantosuelta, a Celtic goddess, wears a long dress and holds a dovecot on a pole. Together they represent prosperity and domesticity.

Roman Baths, Bath, England
Roman Baths, Bath, England. Photo by Mario Klassen

Look for Wheel Symbols

Wheel Symbols

Symbols of the chariot wheel have been found in archaeological sites throughout the British Isles. The wheel was the symbol of Taranis, the Celtic god of thunder. Taranis was depicted as carrying a thunderbolt and a wheel. The Romans equated him with Jupiter and the Germans with Thor.

The chariot wheel has been found on Celtic coins. Symbolic votive wheels were offered at shrines and cast into rivers, such as the Seine, and worn as amulets. I’ll keep my eyes open for these wheels in museums and on building motifs. 

Plants and Folklore

Burton Bradstock, Bridport, UK
Burton Bradstock, Bridport, UK. Photo by Ben Collins

There is something magical about being able to point to a plant and know its name. Amusing  your traveling companions with some local folklore about the tree is even better. For example, I live in California and dove deep into the Mythology of the California Fan Palm. It makes me love these iconic trees even more.

I do a google search for folklore of English trees and many resources appear. I scan through the resources to find ones with good images. I want to be able to recognize the trees when I see them in real life. This resource from Discover Wildlife is a perfect fit.

Using this text and others, I will make a little cheat sheet of leaf shape and tree characteristics for my trip. In addition, there are sacred groves located throughout the countryside that I will look for in my guidebooks.

Yew and Elm Trees Have Captured my Imagination

Ancient Yew tree, Much Marcle Church.
Ancient Yew tree, Much Marcle Church. Photo by Julian P Guffogg 

The Yew is a tree with a rich folklore. It has a unique growing structure; its branches enter the ground and become trunks. It is also toxic and the symbol for death and resurrection in Celtic culture.

Icy Sedgwick, whom I follow on Twitter,  wrote a blog on the Folklore of the Yew. When I reread it, I learned that many churches were built on holy Celtic sites. This makes the yew a common tree on church grounds. Some yews have lived 2,000 years.

Yews were also planted in graveyards. People believed the roots would grow through the skulls and keep the dead in their graves. I always visit graveyards when I travel, so I will keep my eyes open for yew trees. 

I will also seek elms trees.

To the Celts, elm was associated with elves and the passage to the Underworld. It had similar connotations in Greek mythology, with the first elm tree said to have grown on the spot where Orpheus played his harp after rescuing his wife Eurydice from the Underworld.

Animals in Celtic Mythology

Animal imagery appears throughout Celtic art, jewelry, tapestries, and carvings. The animals represented specific traits and held sacred power. Here are a few of the most popular animal motifs.

Owls: the Celts feared owls as creatures of the Otherworld. My blog on Owl Mythology digs deep into many myths around this animal, its connection to Athena, and its natural history.

Boars: this animal symbolizes royalty, bravery, and prowess in battle. Boars appear on coins, statues, and helmet crests. They are in the stories of Fion Mac Cumhail and his boar hunts.

Dogs: these animals symbolize companionship, protection, and loyalty. They also denote the strength of a warrior and are the source of the expression “Dogs of War.”

Horse: this animal is linked to a number of Celtic goddesses and symbolizes sovereignty and political power. However, there are two evil versions of horses as well:

  • Pooka are shapeshifting goblins who can take the shape of a black horse. They vandalize fences and crops at night and will make chickens and cows unable to produce.
  • Kelpie are evil water spirits who haunt rivers and lakes. They can appear as a foal or horse with a wet mane. When someone tries to get on their back, their skin becomes adhesive. The kelpie then rides into the water and drowns the rider.

Celtic mythology is rich with animal lore. I always haunt book stores when I travel. Finding books about Celtic animals will be at the top of my souvenir shopping list.

Ask Social Media for Tips

Don’t forget to use social media for tips on mythological, folk or superstitious places to add to your itinerary.

Twitter has many mythology buffs. State your question and use #MythologyMonday, #FairyTaleTuesday, #WyrdWednesday, #FolktaleThursday, and #SuperstitiousSaturday.  I know you will receive a flood of recommendations.

On Quora I asked,What museums should I visit in the U.K. to see Celtic artifacts?” This is the first time I’ve asked a question in  Quora. I received the following replies within 24 hours.   Quora is a wonderful site that I will use again.

Start with Dublin, Ireland. It is not the UK, but never mind. Trinity College Museum is the holy grail. Absolutely fabulous. So is all of Dublin. Give yourself at least a week.

I would first of all go to Glasgow. Then on to Parhead. There is a large arena there that is home to all things Celtic. They are most welcoming and will give you a tour of the place including the trophy room/ museum. It has the best collection of Celtic artefacts on the planet.

The National Museum in Edinburgh and the Glasgow’s St Mungo Museum of Religion might be worth checking out online. The British Museum holds vast collections but not always with them on display.

The British Museum and the Museum of London.The Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is also worth a visit.

Study mythology to enhance your travels

You should explore the mythology of your destination before you leave home to create brain hooks to hang your travel discoveries upon. Once you learn about the myths and symbols, your eyes will see them instead of passing over them in the over-stimulation of travel.

Your research will give you new destinations to add to your itinerary. Best of all, you will have amazing stories to tell your companions and new acquaintances. You will be able to ask interesting questions of tour guides and doscents to further your knowledge.

This guest post was contributed by Kimberly at

We love to learn from our guest writers and appreciate their expertise! Visit her website by clicking on the image or name below. 

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Kimberly Us is a writer, teacher, speaker and author of the novel Bettie Page: Aphrodite Rising. She writes about mythology, nature, and bold women who drove social change in midcentury America. Her blog is
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Plan A Literary Trip

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy

How To Plan a Literary Trip

Libreria Acqua Alta Bookstore, Venice, Italy.       Photo by Clay Banks

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

A tourist passing through a destination to see the sights does not get nearly as much out of the trip as the traveler who takes the time to understand the culture they have entered at that destination. One way to do this is to read stories written by local authors and search out locations related to those stories when you visit. By familiarizing yourself with their stories, you’ll have something to discuss with locals you meet. And by searching out locations related to those stories, and places of literature in general, you’ll often find yourself off the beaten tourist track wandering along streets you otherwise wouldn’t have seen. 

As a former librarian and lifelong bookworm, I often plan trips inspired by the books I read, which I share on the blog and booktube channel (on YouTube), A Suitcase Full of Books. After several literary-based trips, I’ve discovered that while I often set out with the goal of just seeing the setting that inspired a novel, it’s the local community of people that makes the biggest impression on the overall trip. 

Plan the Perfect Anne of Green Gables Vacation

Reading at Green Gables
Reading at Green Gables. Photo from Asuitcasefullofbooks

In case you’re wondering, the community living on Prince Edward Island, Canada is exactly as warm and welcoming as you’d imagine from reading Anne of Green Gables. When I asked a chef of a local restaurant in PEI whether he felt today’s islanders held any similarities to those portrayed in the L. M. Montgomery books, he spent twenty minutes telling us how the farmers and restaurants work together and help one another out when needed. Another time, a historical village reenactor broke character to talk to us when we asked about Montgomery’s books’ effects on local life. To plan your own trip to PEI read Plan the Perfect Anne of Green Gables Vacation.

Tromping on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast

Reading at Corfe Castle
Reading at Corfe Castle Photo from Asuticasefullofbooks

On another trip, following in the footsteps of British author Enid Blyton, I joined a hiking group to tromp through the countryside like the characters in the Famous Five books that had inspired the trip. Not only did this take me somewhere I would not normally have seen as a tourist, but the locals in this hiking group were the first people I’d ever met who were familiar with the books I’d loved since childhood. I was happy to have found anyone who I could chat with about the stories and find out if their lives were similar to the characters in any way.

Here are my top tips for adding a literary twist to your trip:

Find a book that takes place in your destination.

The first thing I do when planning a trip is search for a book that takes place in my desired destination (if a book hasn’t already been the inspiration for the trip). To find a book I use sites like:

Once I find a promising book, I do some research to determine the author’s connection to the location. Were they born and raised there, like L. M. Montgomery in Prince Edward Island (author of Anne of Green Gables)? Did they just live there temporarily, like Jack London in the Yukon (author of The Call of the Wild)? Or were they perhaps trying to colonize the locals, like George Orwell in Burma/Myanmar (author of Burmese Days)? The author’s connection may color their representation of the place and people. I suggest trying to find a book by a local author first; however, an outside author who has written about a place during a time of historical significance can be fun too. Then you can spend your trip noting the differences between then and now, as I did in the vlog Myanmar in the Footsteps of George Orwell.

Audiobook in Myanmar
Audiobook in Myanmar. Photo from Asuitcasefullofbooks

Find locations, author’s homes, and accommodations related to your book at your destination

After deciding on my travel to-be-read list, I start researching places to visit and stay at my destination that are related to my chosen book(s) or just literature in general. I use search engines (like Google, YouTube, Pinterest) to find out if there are any historic authors’ homes available to visit, or if there are any accommodations in the area themed for the hometown author or their book(s). I also research bookstores and libraries in the area to see if any of them have anything that particularly stands out as interesting to visit. 

As internet research often takes time and requires piecing information together from several different sources, I also use literary travel guidebooks to do my research. Here are two of my favorites:

Plan Ahead

Once you’ve come up with a list of locations to visit at your destination, I suggest planning ahead of time when you’ll visit each one. I’ve found through experience that small house museums and other historic/literature-inspired sites often have odd open hours, and each one will have a different ticketing/touring process. 

Plan your own literary trip

I hope this has inspired you to find a book to complement your next trip! For more literary travel suggestions and tips, visit A Suitcase Full of Books. And if you do plan your own literary trip, I’d love to hear about it!

This Guest Post was contributed by A Suitcase Full of Books

We love to learn from our guest writers and appreciate their expertise! Visit her website by clicking on the image or name below. 

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I am a literary inspired travel blogger.
You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

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Visiting the World’s Most Valuable Places: UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Lascaux, France UNESCO World Heritage Site, Photo by Tripscholars

Your Guide to Visiting the

World's Most Valuable Places:

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Lascaux UNESCO World Heritage Site, France      Photo by Tripscholars

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

Many people are familiar with UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The official World Heritage List was established in the 1970s by UNESCO, as a way of highlighting and protecting the world’s most important and valuable places. Many of the world’s most famous landmarks, like the Pyramids at Giza, Machu Picchu, Mt Everest, and the Eiffel Tower are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But what exactly makes a World Heritage Site? Why are they important? What’s the best way to prepare for visiting a Site? And how can it change your life?

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur, Egypt, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Photo by José Ignacio Pompé

What is a World Heritage Site?

Olympic National Park, Washington, USA, UNESCO World Heritige Site
Olympic National Park, Washington, USA, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Photo by Tripscholars

Put simply, a World Heritage Site is somewhere that’s considered to have Outstanding Universal Value for humanity by the United Nations Education Science and Culture Organisation (UNESCO). Although the definition of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) is intentionally a little vague, there’s a list of 10 criteria which sites are judged against. These criteria include “human creative genius”, “traditional human settlement”, or “exceptional natural beauty”.

 World Heritage Sites can be cultural or natural (or both!), and they can cover either a single location or a collection of locations. Some sites have separate locations in multiple countries, and a couple of sites are even in multiple continents! As of late 2020, there’s 1,121 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and each year another 20-30 sites are added. 

How do I learn more about individual World Heritage Sites?

As so many World Heritage Sites are famous and well known, there’s a lot of excellent resources available for learning more about them. Some of the highlights include the following:

1. The Official UNESCO Website

The official website of the World Heritage Committee is a great starting point to learn about World Heritage Sites. Their World Heritage List page has many handy links, including to World Heritage Sites in each country, a map view showing the location of each site, newly added sites, and sites listed as In Danger.

 Each individual World Heritage Site has its own separate page, with multilingual information about the site. There’s a brief overview of the site itself; while further down the page you’ll find additional information about the site, its Integrity (e.g. how intact the site is), its authenticity (how much the site has been affected by restoration and modification), along with protection and management requirements.

 There’s also some photos, any World Heritage-relevant news about the site, and some links to further reading. Each site page also has links to official maps of the site, outlining exactly what is and isn’t included within the boundary, plus any official UNESCO documentation relating to the site.


Roman Colosseum unesco is the internet’s largest community of World Heritage Site enthusiasts— yes, such a thing does exist! Established in 1997 by an intrepid Dutch traveller named Els Slots, WorldHeritageSite has over 1,500 members who between them have visited 1,098 of the 1,121 World Heritage Sites. The site has full information for every World Heritage Site, along with “Tentative” World Heritage Sites (which are sites that might get added to the list in future), but the real power of the site is its community.

 Members are encouraged to write reviews of their experience when visiting World Heritage Sites, and the result is an incredibly rich collection of insider tips and useful knowledge. This can be contextual background information that isn’t readily apparent from UNESCO’s official documents, general travel tips, hyper-specific detail about the best parking locations, or interesting aspects of the site to look out for.

 There’s also a large and active discussion forum where members share their experiences and plans for visiting sites, along with discussing UNESCO’s activities.

3. A Site's Official Website

NewGrange, Ireland UNESCO WHS

As commonly-visited locations, many World Heritage Sites maintain their own official websites with useful information. Official sites are usually the best place to find up-to-date information, particularly practical information about access points, opening times, ticket prices, unexpected closures, and the like. The official site will often also have quite a well-researched deep dive into the history of a particular location, and what makes it so important, in a way that UNESCO’s blurb doesn’t quite capture.

 It’s important to note, however, that official sites can vary enormously! Some World Heritage sites have fantastic websites, while others have no official online presence at all. It’s highly variable, and often comes down to how much budget (and web savvy) the site’s owners have.

4. World Heritage Journey

World Heritage Journey YouTube Channel

World Heritage Journey is a project by a pair of Australian travel bloggers, as they attempt to visit and document all 1,121 World Heritage Sites. Currently standing at 505 sites, World Heritage Journey has posted a short documentary video (usually around 4-6 minutes) on YouTube about each site they’ve visited. So far they’ve visited most of the sites in Western Europe; about half the sites in China, India, the United States, and Australia; most sites in South-East Asia, Korea, and Japan; and a scattering of sites in Africa and elsewhere.

 Although reading text and seeing photos is great, watching information-focused videos gives you an excellent idea of what visiting a particular site is like, and you can really see the important aspects for yourself.

Why visit UNESCO Sites?

Delphi UNESCO World Heritage Site, Photo by Tripscholars

Since I started on the World Heritage Journey in early 2017, I’ve learned more than I could ever imagine. Growing up in Australia, your education is often very Australian- and Euro-centric, so learning about the rich history and culture of other countries and ethnic groups has been fantastic. One big strength of the World Heritage List is that sites are nominated by national governments: it’s what the locals see as important to their own heritage.

I’ve learned about things I never imagined: Chinese dynasties, pre-Columbian North Americans, the ingenuity of early industrialists, the precariousness of the natural environment, the interconnectedness of everything on a grand scale. It’s also helped me understand the world’s religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and many others. It’s been a fascinating learning curve, and I’m excited for it to continue.

I’d like to send you a free gift!

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Let's Connect

You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

This guest post was contributed by Joel Baldwin of World Heritage Journey

We love to learn from our guest writers and appreciate their expertise! Visit his website by clicking on his image or name below.

Picture of joelbaldwin


I’m Joel, a digital nomad and native of Sydney, Australia. In 2016 I quit the corporate life and began travelling the world, with a specific focus on visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As of late 2020, I’ve visited 505 of the 1121 sites! I produce a short documentary about each site, which you can see at I’m also a freelance writer and video producer. My passions are history, travel, football (soccer), craft beer, and my miniature dachshund, Schnitzel.

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