Zipaquira, Colombia

You’ve researched the trip, planned the itinerary, booked the reservations, and now you’re ready for the onslaught: a week or two of rushing around trying to see as much as possible in a limited time. Hurry down to breakfast, hop in the van, snap those photos, first this side, then the other, walk around some centuries old church, then off to lunch followed by an afternoon of more fun. At some point you say to yourself, “I’m going to need a vacation after this vacation.

But what is the point? Why did you take this trip? Somehow, I doubt if most travelers can really answer those questions. Sure, there are the obvious responses: I want to visit South America, to see another part of the world, to experience another culture. But what does that really mean?

Okay, so now you’re back home with your memories and photos but what stays with you from the trip, what made it worthwhile? Perhaps it’s just the memory, the process of remembering, acquiring some sense of another place.

For a long time I’ve had a personal slogan that life is about creating memories. If travel provides a set of memories, then what can we do to make those experiences more meaningful?

Having a well-informed guide can reveal a dimension to a city that you might not otherwise encounter. Or, perhaps that guide comes in the form of a book or audio walking tour. My fifth trip to New Orleans was actually my favorite. I went on a walking tour of the cemeteries near the French Quarter (not sure why I hadn’t done that before), but the best part were simply the self-guided walks using Randolph Delehanty’s Ultimate Guide to New Orleans.

Tour groups are other options, particularly for those not comfortable with independent travel. My first trip to Europe, a week after high school graduation, was one of those whirlwind tours of 5 countries in 9 days! Still, it was an introduction that left me with a lot of memories, especially a strong desire to revisit Amsterdam. (Why did Amsterdam make such an impression on an 18 year-old boy?)

Of course, there are guides who are not so good and tour groups that herd you around like cattle.

Perhaps the most memorable experiences are those that are unexpected, even the small moments that stay with us. Maybe it’s not about seeing the sights but about appreciating a place; but that’s a vague term. In thinking of my own future travels, I’ve started to ask myself, “What do I want to get out of this trip?” And without falling back simply on a list of places to visits, sights to see, I find it a hard question to answer.