Seascape with icebergs and snowy shores
Destinations,  Lens-Artists

Travel inspiration – where does it come from?

Still round the corner, there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.

J. R. R. Tolkein

I am often asked where we get our inspiration from when deciding where to travel next. What makes us choose one destination over another, when there are so many places we could go?

Two travel magazines with bright covers

The answer is mixed – friends of course (especially my wonderful group of Virtual Tourist friends); blogs and other online articles; magazines (the excellent Wanderlust in particular); travel shows like Destinations (an annual event in London); TV documentaries; and our own past experiences.

Going back in time, my desire to travel was inspired I think by reading childhood encyclopaedias, by stories read to us at school and by early adventures abroad on school trips to France and Canada.

Three teenage girls by a lake
With friends at Niagara on the Lake on our school camping trip in Canada (1971)

Here for Patti’s Lens Artists Challenge this week is a selection of just a few of the adventures we’ve had, and what inspired us to go.

North Korea

Front cover of a book

I’ve written extensively about our North Korea trip already. It was inspired primarily by my friend Albert’s blog and to a lesser extent by Michael Palin’s TV series about his visit.

When I first read Albert’s account of his own visit we weren’t really in a position to travel there, as with elderly and infirm parents I couldn’t risk being so cut off from home. But when we watched Palin’s series a couple of years later we remembered how intrigued we had been and decided that now was the time to go!

People walking past two large portraits of smiling men
In Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang
Looking along a road towards a huge sculpture of two women
On the road to Pyongyang

New Mexico

We went to New Mexico after I saw photos of the White Sands National Monument on a friend’s Virtual Tourist page and started to investigate the region. I realised that the state was packed with interesting sights and beautiful landscapes, and so a road trip was born.

Panoramic shot of white sand dunes
Panorama of the White Sands
White sand dunes with single plant
In White Sands National Monument

Botswana

I saw Botswana as the ultimate wildlife holiday destination, based in part on articles I’d read in Wanderlust and online. And of course, anyone who has been glued to David Attenborough’s documentaries over the years knows that Africa in general is one of the places to go for wildlife!

Pool of water with hippo heads just showing
Hippos, Palm Island, Okavango Delta
Crocodile on a rock surrounded by water
Crocodile in the Okavango Delta

Rapa Nui

Our trip to Rapa Nui, aka Easter Island, was perhaps more surprisingly also inspired by David Attenborough. He made a fascinating film about the Bird Man culture there, The Lost Gods of Easter Island. I had always wanted to see the huge moai, but learning about the Bird Man was the final push I needed to propose that we visit the island.

Low stone structures with grassy roofs
Orongo, the Bird Man village on Rapa Nui
Line of stone statues
Tongariki Ahu on Rapa Nui

Cuba

We went to Cuba because people were saying that we should go before Fidel Castro died, as after that everything would change there. We visited in 2005; Castro died six years later in 2011. Ten years on, as far as I can tell, very little has changed!

Old green car in front of dilapidated houses
In Havana, Cuba
Man carrying a lot of straw baskets
In Trinidad, Cuba

Gubbio

I went to Gubbio at the invitation of a Virtual Tourist friend, Ingrid, who had discovered the town while studying Italian there. While there I attended the wonderful Palio della Balestra, the festival of the crossbow fighters. I also fell in love with this beautiful hill-top town, and with the landscapes of Marche and Umbria. And I have been back two more times since!

Tiled roofs and countryside beyond
View over Gubbio
Stone houses with flags draped from windows
Flags for the Palio

Lviv

This was another Virtual Tourist discovery, as I joined a group of friends travelling on there after our big meeting in Krakow in 2010. We travelled by train, an adventure in itself, and explored the city together with a Ukrainian member Victor who has since become a firm friend. Similarly, Virtual Tourist meetings have inspired me to visit many places that hadn’t been on my radar, such as Sibiu in Romania and Riga in Latvia: places I loved and may never have discovered had it not been for those meetings.

Looking down on a church dome and city buildings
View over the old town of Lviv
Horse drawing a cart with a man and boy on it
In a village near Sibiu
Elaborate brick buildings
The House of the Blacksmiths in Riga

Iceland

We went to Iceland in 2012 to see the Northern Lights, inspired by a friend who told us that it was a great Aurora season. We didn’t see the lights on that occasion (I’m sure they were up there but it was always cloudy at night). But I fell in love with the Icelandic landscape and was very happy to return a few years later for a Virtual Tourist meeting there.

Landscape with water and mountains
On the road to Dyrhólaey, a peninsula on the south coast
Coastal scenery with black sand, rock stack and mountains
Looking towards the black sands of Reynisfjara Beach from Dyrhólaey

China and Japan

Maybe our strongest inspiration for travelling however, is simply to go where we have not been before, and the more different the better. It was this sort of thinking that took us to Japan, to North Korea, to Antarctica (in my featured photo) and, many years ago, to China.

Ornate red roof with traditional oriental motifs
Temple roof in Kyoto
Woman standing in front of traditional Chinese buildings
In Shanghai
Woman standing by large statue
In China (I don’t recall exactly where!)

Travel inspiration is always just around the corner, and as soon as we are able to travel more freely again, I am sure something will inspire us to pack our bags and head for somewhere new.

Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.

Michael Palin

46 Comments

  • Rose

    I also love Palin’s quote. And I love that nearly every time you describe a place, you say ‘I fell in love with’ something about it.
    I have never had a ‘bad’ traveling trip, each adventure has been a joyful adrenaline boost.
    My travel bucket list is so long, I can’t imagine ever finishing it. Still, I keep adding more places. Reasons to travel to each place – I just want to explore any place because every place has a unique story that I know I want to hear. ❤

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Rose 🙂 I think that Palin quote speaks to all of us who love travelling! Like you I can’t identify any ‘bad’ trips, although some were inevitably more special than others. And my list keeps growing too, which is especially frustrating at the moment as I’m unable to tick anywhere off it !

  • starship VT

    Wonderful subject you’ve chosen for this blog, Sarah. In the forward of my own blog I say every passport stamp tells a story. The places and photos you feature in this blog certainly do the same, and at least one place we’ve seen together! I see we both mention Michael Palin’s quote as well. Great photos!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you John 🙂 The White Sands were amazing – to see and to photograph (although like snow a bit of a challenge to expose correctly). The top photo was taken in Antarctica.

  • An Bui

    Really nice places you have visited. Some places are difficult to access and the photo and information from your trip is great for next generation documentary

  • Alli Templeton

    Fabulous shots, Sarah, and I particularly love those Icelandic ones that look so inviting. I’d love to walk in some more wild and wooded places, and I’d give my eye teeth to go and see the Northern Lights one day. As you can probably imagine, my inspiration comes mostly from medieval history and architecture, and as such I’ve been inspired to go and tour the French Norman and Plantagenet castles over there one day. 😀

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Alli – Iceland is stunning and if you’re looking for wild places it’s the perfect destination, although they have no woods (and very few trees). And of course the lights are by no means guaranteed. We did manage to see them the following year near Tromso and that seems to be the best bet – there are plenty of tours led by guides who know just where to go to find them each night!

      • Alli Templeton

        Sounds like a plan… I remember hearing that they call the lights ‘The Tricky Lady’ as they’re so unpredictable.

  • Amy

    What a beautiful andinspiring post. These photos are remarkable, tell wonderful stories of your travels. I’m inspired, Sarah. 🙂

  • Oh, the Places We See

    Love your last quote which definitely applies to me. And your post is filled with inspiring places to visit. The only ones we have in common are New Mexico and China, and I could return to either one. So lovely. But, as you’ve noted, there are so many destinations that many of the ones we’ve seen are going to be one and done only. Thanks for your continued inspiration.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 😀 An interesting pair for us to have in common! Often when I look back on a trip I think ‘I’d like to go there again’. But then I worry that it won’t be as good the second time around and will spoil the memories, plus, there are still so many places left to see! So we rarely go back, unless we have a compelling reason to do so 🙂

  • rosalieann37

    Someone once asked me how I decided on the trips that I took with my grandchildren. And I couldn’t really answer it – it was different for each child. The first one it was Ireland because his mother identified as Irish (even though only one of her grandparents was Irish and the rest were German) and because I wanted to go there. I don’t think I asked him where he wanted to go. The second one I had decided on a cruise because the trip I took with the first one was devoid of kids his age. I wanted to take him to the Galapagos because I’d always wanted to go there but his parents wanted him to be certified in SCUBA before he went, and then I suggested the Baltic s because that was his father’s heritage but his mother said they wanted to go there themselves, so we did the Med, starting in Spain because he was taking Spanish. Then I wanted to take the third one to Italy and the Vatican because she is Catholic, but we would be going in June and I thought that would be too hot for me, so instead we did the Baltic.

    I know how my mother picked the trips she went on with my children – at least I know two of them. She was offered the chance to go on a group tour. One was an American Iris Society tour of Australia and the other was a tour of medical doctors to China. It was after my dad died and she didn’t want to go anywhere she had been with him right away because there would be too many memories. But I’m not sure why she decided to take my son to Kenya.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, I guess having a connection to a place is another source of inspiration, like our visits to Arpino because my mother in law’s family came from there 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      The Palin is one of my favourite travel quotes, because I 100% agree with it! I was ‘inspired’ for this post by the LAC theme, so I guess that’s a double dose of inspiration 😉

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, it’s been tough not to be able to travel, but I know that’s by far not the worst thing that has happened to people during the pandemic and I’m lucky to have all these travel memories ‘in the bank’ 😀 The featured photo was taken in Antarctica in 2003.

  • pattimoed

    Wonderful inspiration and trip ideas, Sarah! I’ll check out Virtual Tourist. I haven’t used David Attenborough as a source yet, but that’s a great idea. I’m just wondering (as we all are) when we can pack our bags again. We were able to go to Canada, where we’re staying now with our son. Where to next? I’m not sure. In the meantime, we’ll wait and dream of new places.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Patti. Unfortunately Virtual Tourist the website was closed down in 2017 by Trip Advisor, who had bought it out from the original owners a few years previously 😪 But as a community many of us have stayed together, mainly using Facebook (with all its imperfections) as a means of staying in touch. We can’t meet at present but there’s still plenty of interaction online and via Zoom, and I’m planning to get together with some UK-based friends next month 🙂

  • restlessjo

    Isn’t it funny how some places call you back? You have a number of repeat visits here, and many to make me envious, Sarah. I’m back in the UK next week. Not quite the pinnacle of my dreams, but I have good reasons. Enjoy the rest of summer!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      For me the places that call me back most are Italy and Paris, and we’re thinking of taking the plunge and returning to the latter for our anniversary weekend next month. It looks do-able at present but things have a bad habit of changing at short notice right now. As you have good reasons to come, I’m pleased for you that you’re able to come back to the UK – to stay or for a visit?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I know Henna – that’s the problem with taking your travel inspiration from so many sources, you’re always adding to that list! And of course at the moment we’re not able to tick anywhere off it, so the problem is worse than ever! Thanks for the nice words about the photos 🙂

  • SandyL

    With this post, you’ll inspire many others to visit too!

    You’ve mentioned Virtual Tourist before Sarah and I admit to not being familiar with it. I always thougth it was a virtual group, but it looks like you also meet in person?

  • wetanddustyroads

    Just like I’ve said … you’ve travelled to so many different places around our globe! Beautiful photo’s and looking forward when you’re getting back on the road again 😁.

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