How to Travel with a Theme

Man hiking in a forest
Last Updated: 5/18/23 | May 18th, 2023

I’ve become a “typical tourist.” You know, the kind that hits the major tourist sites, a few off-the-path attractions, Yelps a few local restaurants, and moves on to the next destination.

I get my basic overview, learn how to save some money, and continue onward.

And that’s left me feeling that my travels have become too vanilla lately.

There’s a spark missing.

I mean, I don’t think I go to boring places but there’s just a part of me that feels there’s been less adventure and pizzazz in my travels, that I haven’t done anything really cool, interesting, or off-beat for a long time.

I needed to spice up my travels again.

So, I had an idea:

What if I traveled with a theme?

Instead of just trying to see the usual well-known sites, what if I went with a specific focus in mind?

What if I went to see only the jazz clubs of a city or the modern art museums?

Or only hiked trails that begin with the letter M?

Or went to learn about a destination’s wine industry?

Or decided I’d only eat at Japanese restaurants with a local food expert?

Really, it could be anything, as long as it hyper-focused my travels around one idea that forced me to look at a destination in a different light.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to think about this but it’s something I’ve never done before.

For example, I’ve been to Paris countless times. I’ve hit all the big sites multiple times over. When I returned to Paris, I wanted something different and new. I wanted a purpose.

I decided to experience Jazz Age Paris. I wanted my own private Midnight in Paris experience.

As a result, I spent time in Montmartre, ate at Les Deux Magots, enjoyed jazz in the Latin Quarter, drank in speakeasies and wine caves, wandered the bookshelves of Shakespeare and Company, took a ’20s themed walking tour, and got lost in the streets of the Left Bank.

It might not have been the ’20s exactly, but I ate at restaurants I’d never been to, went to music venues I’d never heard of, and saw parts of Paris I didn’t know existed.

It was the most fun I had had in the City of Lights in a long time — because it was different. Designing my travels around one theme forced me to plan — and sightsee — differently.

It’s easy to develop a routine when you travel constantly. Like everything else, you fall into a certain complacency. You know what you like and develop a rhythm. You land, check into your accommodation, and make your way down your list.

Sure, you’re in cool destinations doing cool things — but it’s often the same type of things.

So from now on, instead of just going to places and ticking off the list of typical things to see and do, go with a purpose.

If you’re in a destination for the first time, of course by all means see all the main sites and attractions — but try to add a little theme to your trip that forces you off the beaten path toward some different or unusual attractions, sights, and events.
 

How to Travel with a Theme (in 5 Easy Steps)

So how do you do this? It requires a bit more research than opening up a guidebook but here’s my process:

Step 1 – Pick a Theme
This is an obvious first step. You can’t do any of the other steps without it. For me, I had 1920s Paris on my mind, so I decided I’d try to relive that era. But it could be anything: learning about cheese or wine production, the vegan food scene, jazz culture, the modern art scene — whatever suits your fancy!

And, if you’re not sure what theme to pick, think of things that interest you the most and see that destination has stuff related to it or just Google “What is (x) famous for?” and see what comes up!

Step 2 – Research Online (use multiple keywords)
After picking your theme, go more in depth on your search. Local blogs, general travel blogs, Lonely Planet, Time Out — these are all websites I use in my research. Then I go to Google and type in a number of keywords to cover all my bases.

For my ’20s trip, for example, I typed in “books on 1920s Paris,” “how to see 1920s Paris,” “1920s Paris sights,” “Paris speakeasies,” and “best jazz clubs in Paris” and found a number of references to consult and various places where I could experience that ’20s vibe. This allowed me to compile a list of potential places to visit.

Cast your net wide and see what you discover.

Step 3 – Plan Your Itinerary
There was a lot to see in Paris and I didn’t have much time, so I prioritized what appealed the most. First came the food, then the bars, then the sights. This allowed me to come up with a general framework for my trip. Tagging sites on a Google Map can help you see how far apart things are and then plan your optimal route.

Once you know all the things you want to see and do, you can then book accommodation in a location that’s convenient and close by to some (or all) of your activities.

Step 4 – Contact Locals and Experts
Couchsurfing groups and Meetup.com are incredible places to find locals who share your interest. They are going to know the ins and outs of the city and probably have lots of suggestions.

Additionally, the group meetups are a fun way to meet locals who share a similar passion, making conversation easier and breaking down that awkward language barrier.

You can also reach out on social media. You might not know someone where you’re going, but chances are a friend or friend of a friend does. Let people know you’re looking for contacts in a destination. Chances are you’ll be able to get in touch with someone through your existing social network.

Step 5 – Read a Book (or Three) 
To get context, read a book on the subject. While I already knew a lot about the ’20s Jazz Age, I ended up picking a few more books on the subject:

Books also might clue you in to some other attractions as well.

You can find all my favorite travel reads here.

***

I know travel so well that it’s become too easy. I’ll be traveling with a theme much more often, so more of my upcoming posts will be like this Paris post, trying to hunt down cool and unique things about destinations.

Because, as much as I love the popular attractions (they are popular for a reason), it’s good to add some variety and excitement to your trip. Visiting a destination with a theme can create a unique visit that will help you see a destination in a unique light.
 

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.

Need Help Finding Activities for Your Trip?
Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace where you can find cool walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more.

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.