“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” These wise words from Winston Churchill perfectly capture the essence of a growing travel trend – heritage travel.
More than relaxing on beaches or taking a cruise, this is a different, more meaningful type of travel that connects visitors with their ancestry and family history.
A heritage travel trip might involve visiting your grandparents’ birthplace or exploring a place you’ve only heard whispers of in family stories. Or it could include uncovering hidden stories from historical records with the help of expert genealogists, thereby gaining a profound understanding of your ancestry, identity and the paths that have led to your present.
By forging a tangible link to a distant past, heritage travel is turning tourism into something more personal and exciting.
Roots Run Deep
If you’re feeling a tug of curiosity about where you come from, you’re not alone. As we’ve emerged from the pandemic’s shadow and international destinations welcome travelers back, heritage travel is emerging as a burgeoning trend. A 2022 Priceline survey of 1,300 travelers discovered that heritage travel carries a profound significance for 1 in 3 Americans (34%), and 26% considered their heritage travels as their most cherished voyages. Nearly half of those who embarked on a heritage trip (49%) felt a stronger connection to their roots, and 25% discovered something new about themselves.
Regarding Americans contemplating a heritage travel vacation, a staggering 68% are eyeing international adventures, which is understandable given the diverse makeup of American lineage. And with a staggering 120 million individuals tracing their roots back to the Celtic Isles, Ireland and Scotland are emerging as top destinations for heritage travel, and local genealogists are ready with their insights and assistance to guide visitors on these personal heritage odysseys.
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Taking a Page From Family History
Deidre Lussier, a travel advisor at AAA Northeast, fell hard for Ireland’s legendary landscapes and the genuine warmth of its people on a recent heritage travel trip with Brendan Vacations. “I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to go back. That lush green color is just incredible – pictures don’t do it justice. You need to see it in real life,” she said.
Before her trip, Lussier gave Brendan the few details she knew about her family history, like her grandparents’ names and the fact that they had emigrated from Ireland. Her mother also had some additional information about the family’s origins. Lussier shared it all with Brendan, and then the experts they work with from the Irish Family History Centre, a genealogy organization based in Dublin, began their research.
Using the few details she had, Brendan and the Irish Family History Centre created an extensive presentation that taught Lussier more than she could’ve ever imagined about her lineage – including the exact location of her ancestors’ plot of land in County Limerick. They also traced the names of her grandparents and great-grandparents and created a comprehensive timeline of her ancestors’ marriages and voyage to the United States.
“It was just amazing to find out exactly where they came from, including the actual area,” Lussier said. “The house is no longer there, but they provided a visual representation. They even found out that they worked as carpenters, so that was really cool.”
Ireland, in particular, warmly welcomes descendants and provides robust resources for those eager to learn more about their family histories. And tour operators like Brendan are there to guide travelers by filling in missing details and bringing their family stories to life, all while helping them have experiences they couldn’t necessarily organize or access on their own. Through meticulously researched genealogy sessions, they leverage their connections to shed light on the significance of coats of arms, lineage and immigration records, and uncover the essence of visitors’ heritage.
For example, Brendan’s customized itineraries can help you retrace your forebears’ steps and coordinate visits to ancestral sites. “If you wanted to learn more about where your family came from inland Ireland, they can research it before you arrive, and then, they can help plan so you can visit,” said Lussier. Enlisting the help of local expertise on a heritage travel trip enriches family narratives, weaving in missing threads and uncovering untold chapters.
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For Lussier, the experience was invaluable. “I wanted to show my mom the whole presentation. So, I shared it with her, and she was flabbergasted by some of the things they found.” Inspired, Lussier then shared the genealogists’ discoveries with her cousins, siblings and even her brother’s children. Their response was unanimous: a mix of amazement and wonder.
Rediscovering your roots and understanding your personal history fosters a deep sense of belonging and strengthens present-day connections. It’s no wonder that Lussier is already eager to return to Ireland with her daughter to share her experience and their shared heritage, research further and explore more. Exploring your family history through heritage travel is an experience that far surpasses that of a simple vacation – it’s a transformative journey.