Travel inspiration: what works for you?

Tourist Places

Magazine articles, blogs, TV shows, even apps: all make regular claims to help inspire us to choose our next holiday destination. Some of these must work for there to be enough advertising money floating around to keep so many people in business.

But so much of what is out there doesn’t inspire me at all. That’s probably as it should be. After all, we’re not all inspired by the same sources, and those things that make me want to book a flight somewhere immediately will be dismissed as fluffy nonsense by others.

With that in mind I thought I’d look at those things that do help influence where we travel and those that leave us cold. My own list is featured here, but feel free to add your own examples of what it is that provides your travel inspiration.


Things that work for me


1. Good books that feature a particular location

The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk sold me on Central Asia by bringing the region to life with tales of adventure, danger and of the incredible architecture.

2. Images of impressive landmarks

A couple of images of the Roman site at Merida in Spain led me to radically change the course of a recent trip. Unusual photos of famous landmarks, especially those taken at night for some reason, seem to work particularly well for me.

3. Inspiring guide book entries

Guide books are only useful for me once the trip is booked, but can have a great influence on our itinerary in a particular city or region. Descriptions of churches, temples, museums that make them sound exceptional (or even better, bizarre) work wonders.

4. Personal anecdotes

Stories from friends who have been somewhere. This can go both ways (some stories I hear and think “I’ll cross that place off my list'”) but there have been quite a few that have inspired us to make a sudden change our plans.

5. Descriptions of delicious (and good value) food

Tell me about a sumptuous three course meal that cost you (or your hosts) a fortune and I’m lost. Describe that cosy little cafe with the to-die-for chocolate brownies and I’ll be getting out my highlighter pen and building my enitre schedule around a visit there.


Things that don’t work for me


1. A luxury extravanganza

If you’re writing or telling me gushingly about staying in a $700 suite in a posh hotel, I’m very happy for you. But it doesn’t make me interested even in staying in the lowly basic rooms in the said hotel. You’ve painted a picture to me of someone else’s world, not mine.

2. Celebrity chefs

When people tell me about going to this restaurant in London owned by Gordon Ramsay, or that place in Paris run by (insert name of famous and pretentious French chef), I tune out immediately. I see a world of pompous staff, small portions and an extortionate bill to round off the night. I know it’s very uncultured of me, but when I think back to my best meals they all shared the virtues of quantity, quality and value for money.

3. Sandy white beaches

White sandy beaches will entice many folks to cross the world with little more than their swimwear, their suntan lotion and a good book but it doesn’t work for me. With my beach tolerance limited to a couple of hours at a push, a place that sells sea and sand as its main draw is never going to top my list.

4. Party/drinking stories

These come up increasingly in the blogging world but have always existed in the personal anecdotes people share with friends. When someone comes back from holiday what’s the main story they bore their friends with? Is it wandering through the old city or seeing a spectacular sunset or tropical storm? Or is it meeting the delightful Brian and Joyce from Wolverhampton, getting trashed on cheap ouzo and throwing the sunbeds into the pool at 3am? I’m as much for a good night out as the next person, but would avoid like the plague anywhere that is considered a ‘party destination’.

5. Pictures or stories of people doing things

When people describe how much they enjoyed their bungee jump from an Alpine hut or their story-telling workshop in India I’m pleased that they’ve clearly had a good time. Will it make me want to visit those locations? If I had no desire to go to those places before, these stories are hardly going to inspire me as they tell me nothing about the place itself. Someone else’s adventures are just that; they don’t help me to know what I would find of interest there.

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13 Responses to “Travel inspiration: what works for you?”

  1. Good topic. I’m lured in by history, personal anecdotes and tips—particularly of destinations that require some energy and dedication to visit—& beautifully curated material. I want to visit all the places that Mary Gaudin documents in her blog l’antipodeuse (, for example.

    I find no inspiration in travel stories that are resort-curtailed.

    January 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm
    • Thanks Alex for your thoughts and also for sharing Mary’s blog. It looks fascinating – I’ll explore further. Agree with you about stories that are just about a resort – however nice a place might be it is the surroundings that I’m most likely to be drawn to.

      January 9, 2012 at 5:19 pm
  2. Hi Andy

    What works for me –

    1) A completely new country – Morocco next
    2) Tried and tested and love – Spain & India favourite European & global destinations
    3) Like-minded friends recommendations – first trip to Goa
    4) Hippy – can’t get enough of hippy places e.g. San Francisco, Goa, parts of Spain, Berlin (yes I put it in that category)..hence wanting to go to Morocco
    5) Green/sustainable – More people and putting something back into where I visit..than staying in a yurt
    6) Food – love the food in India (Goa is amazing), Spain, Turkey, France etc. etc.
    7) Beaches – I’m a fan

    What does not work for me
    1) Luxury/bland hotel chains – agree with you. Although I have stayed in some great hotels that were right for the moment Las Vegas
    2) The latest cool place – I live in South London to avoid those kind of the last place I want to see them is when I’m on holiday 😉
    3) Anglophile(d) places – having spent a year in Australia, 6 months in the USA/Canada and many holidays in the USA…I’m all washed out with living in England and visiting these places. Some of my favourite places I’ve been to are in these countries but no hurry to go back.
    4) Any main tourist resorts – obviously you can’t avoid being a tourist when you’re a tourist!…however…I always look for an angle (the hotel has a unique, quirky’s not in the main hotel area).

    Have you got any recommendations for Morocco as I’m going this year for a long overdue visit?

    January 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm
    • An excellent set of additions to the list Chris (in fact I think I prefer your set to mine!) I agree that food is an important issue and a country’s cuisine will attract me rather than that of a particular restaurant (India, Thailand, Japan; take a bow).
      The Anglophile point is a good one. I do like to go non-English speaking places although there’s a point (at around three to four weeks) where I do miss being able to communicate easily.
      Morocco – I’ve never been but if you ask Ben or Anna at they’ll point you in the right direction. They both travel there regularly and send many of their customers that way.

      January 9, 2012 at 5:25 pm
  3. I think about this a lot.
    What inspires me:

    a) Landscapes. Especially if two or three completely different types of scenery can be experienced relatively easily on a single trip (most of my trips are no longer than 2/3 weeks at a time these days), hence plenty of visits to the USA and its national parks.
    b) Wildlife in its natural habitat. No bigger thrill.
    c) Music: I’ve been drawn to places immortalised in song many times, and I love watching live, local music in unfamiliar places.
    d) Design/architecture/art lures me, either through an entire aesthetic (ie, I’m intrigued by places like Brasilia) or art/design-focused cities like Copenhagen or Berlin
    e) History. Reading or watching a riveting, revealing account of a place and its people.

    As you and others have said, it can often be a book, or an anecdote that sparks the flame of a new trip idea. But it’s as likely to be an overheard conversation between strangers, an old travel poster, a random set of photos on Flickr, a chat with a waiter about his hometown, or even something more banal like the announcement of a new route from Gatwick (my local airport) or a massive sale on air or train tickets. In fact, I like to think I could find at least something to inspire me in most places. Except Bratislava maybe 😉

    January 9, 2012 at 6:54 pm
  4. I think I could have written exactly the same list. I think you have identified two points of travel writing (including blogging) that proliferate but don’t really inspire a lot of people – egotism (this is what *I* did, and I am so interesting, you must be interested in it) and confusing journalling with informing.

    Great post.

    January 10, 2012 at 7:40 am
  5. My inspiration for places tends to creep up on me – a combination usually of someone who is a fellow traveler talking about somewhere awesome, and then I seen to come across pictures of said place (perhaps drawn to) – and then suddenly that place is all I can think about in a wanderlust kind of way!

    January 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm
  6. Advertisements from regional promoting agencies do nothing for me. If I want to know about a place,warts and all I read as many blog accounts of the destination as I can.
    You get the plus and minus info of a place with an honesty that won’t be found in regional tourism advertising. Go the Travel Bloggers.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:31 am
    • Sounds good Alf, and that’s how travel blogging should be. Issues with inadequate disclosure and unwillingness to venture beyond sponsors’ itineraries does seriously compromise that honesty and impartiality in many cases.

      January 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm
  7. pam #

    Here are some words I rarely write: This is a pretty great list. A lot of what I see is “I am having an awesome time” in some aspect or other. No, I don’t just mean blogs, I mean the mags, too. And I’m with you on this — I think, “How nice for you.” But it’s something else that makes me shift to “I want to do that.”

    I like:

    Gorgeous landscape
    Compelling back-stories (I’m genuinely interested in history, in all its ugly glory)
    Things that seem achievable for me — I’m not going to skirt the coast of Chile by kiteboard, I’m just NOT.
    Deep descrption — writing that makes me feel like I’m there, regardless of destination.

    I get Travel + Leisure and every time I read it I just think, “Oh, I’m SO not doing that.” And I also get National Geographic and every time I read it I think, “I WANT TO BE THERE AND SEE THAT.”

    January 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm
  8. Great post and I totally agree a lot of advertising does not work on me. I agree with most of you list, plus my interest in history or even a documentary can make me snap and go “I want to go there!” And more times than none I pick a place because I have never heard of anyone I know going there!

    January 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm
  9. Paint a vivid picture through colour, taste and texture.
    Bring a story to life through warmth and humour, and I guarantee I’ll be booking that flight!

    Carla Coulson’s book ‘Italian Joy’ did more for me than any glossy advert for Italy will ever do.

    January 16, 2012 at 11:11 am
  10. Natural landscapes, historical ancient city, sustainably developed country, and cultural values are my four turn-ons for traveling..:D

    Been flying since 2007..

    January 16, 2012 at 11:55 am