How is This a Place? The Impact of Special Travel Experiences

The sense of wonder you can feel in special locations during your travels.

We have this recurring question that seems to come up a lot when we travel to new places.  We look around and ask ourselves "How is this a place?"

This began on a trip to Switzerland. Our 15 year old daughter was amazed at the views from our apartment in village of Mürren, located on the mountainside 2500 feet above the Lauterbrunen valley at an elevation of 5400 Feet, with views of the Eiger and Schilthorn mountains. She was also enchanted with the villages throughout the Bernese Oberland. Her constant refrain as we came upon new vistas on that trip was "How is this a place?"

That statement resonated with us. Seeing the world through her eyes helped open ours to the wonder of these new experiences, both epic, like the impact of these mountain landscapes, and subtle, like a hidden village you come upon by accident while trying to find your way to another destination. It gave us a renewed and grateful appreciation of the world around us.

The "How is this a place?" feeling usually comes up in the context of seeing something epic, like when we first encountered the mountains rising up from the fjords in western Norway,  the rim of the grand canyon or the vistas in Yellowstone park, the landscapes of Iceland, the narrow streets of Bairro Alto in Lisbon, the ocean views from high on the hills throughout Madeira Island, Portugal. That initial amazement at the epic and dramatic nature of a location not experienced before.  The experience of awe, wonder, and fascination can last a lifetime.


But "How is this a place?" also often comes up when experiencing special intimate places. Coming upon a hidden waterfall while hiking in the forest, watching the intricate dance of bicycles navigating an intersection during morning rush hour in Leiden in the Netherlands, having an evening drink in a small outdoor square in the evening in Lisbon, or some simple morning coffee and a pastry in a bakery in Edinburgh. An intimate personal experience of subtle perfection can be as lasting as an epic location.


"How is this a place?" can also arise from a special experience. A hike through a new kind of landscape, biking between towns in the Netherlands, searching for a special ingredients at a market in Montreal, or stopping in a modest brasserie you stumble across when searching for a shop in Paris, and getting an unexpected amazing lunch that you try to replicate over the next few years.

Photos usually don't communicate the impact of these places. I've been taking panoramas to try to capture the scope of some of the epic vistas I have seen, and other photos and videos, and they work well to remind me of the feeling that I had in the moment, but that feeling is not really something that can be readily communicated to someone else. Most of the time you really have to experience it for yourself.  


The feelings are a highly personal thing. A reaction based on your experiences leading up to that moment. Maybe you grew up in a mountain town in Colorado, so you aren't that impressed with mountains, but an epic view of the ocean seems magical. Or you are from a big US city, and are captivated by walking around a small country village in the Cotswolds in rural England. Each person has their own unique mix of reactions to the places they visit.  


A firsthand experience of these types of unique and special locations can be transformative. The experience of a special new place with an expansive natural landscape, special historical significance, unique architectural characteristics, or unique cultural characteristics can expand your worldview, and give you new perspectives on your everyday life.  


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