Not Sure Where to Travel Next? Let Your DNA Decide
The world is a big place, and there’s no shortage of unique destinations you’d like to visit. Gal-pal-worthy spring break spots? Hotels that offer one-of-a-kind experiences? Unforgettable places around the world? Count us in! Kyle Betit, an expert genealogist and travel manager at Ancestry, recently gave us another unique idea for the next getaway: travel based on your DNA. “People have always wanted to understand who they are and where they come from, but it wasn’t always as easy as it is today,” he explained. “In recent years, interest in family history and heritage travel has grown in popularity due to the accessibility of historical records and DNA testing, which allows even more people to discover their story.”
Wondering how it works? We got the scoop. When someone submits their DNA test, they receive their ethnicity estimate by percentage, so your results might look something like 37 percent Spanish, 12 percent Portuguese, etc. From there, a test can reveal the specific regions of a country where you’re from, along with any living relatives who have also taken the test, so you can see how you’re related. Betit says this is where the magic starts happening for most. “Many travelers arrange to meet with relatives that still live in a certain location,” he says. “These first-time meetings make for unforgettable memories, and suddenly you feel as though your family expanded.”
Ready to go beyond your DNA results to experience the real deal IRL? Let your ancestors inspire your next trip. “Explore the places that were significant and get a real picture of your past,” Betit encourages. “The experience of standing exactly where your ancestors stood 200 or more years ago and learning how they lived will inspire you.” Here are a few tips to make the most of your journey.
1. Do your research before you go. “You’ll find it really helps if you research your family before you take an international journey,” Betit says. “Find out where your ancestors were born and lived in the country of origin. This could be a county, town, village, or street in a city. If your family came to the US or Canada, start by finding out who your immigrant ancestors were, and when they left the home country.”
When it comes to where to look for that valuable info, Betit says that North American records can hold key information like an exact birthplace and parents’ names. Once you have a town or village name, you can use maps (or even historical records) to uncover where the family lived. “The house may still be there — and relatives could even still be living in it. From there, you can expand your search to include the family church or synagogue, the school they went to, and other locations that were important in their lives,” Betit explains. No time to dig in? You can hire an expert to do your research for you; a company like Ancestry has more than 20 billion digitized historical records available online.
2. Decide if you’ll DIY your trip. You might feel excited about putting together an itinerary that takes you to meaningful places on your heritage trip if you love planning adventures, but if figuring out how to get around or pinpoint specific places stresses you out, consider taking a personalized tour. “A more tailored private tour, or what we at Ancestry call a ‘customized ancestral home visit,’ is the best way to learn about the culture and history of the country where your ancestors lived,” Betit explains. “On this kind of trip, the expert you travel with can guide you each step of the way. This is a life-changing travel experience.”
3. Consider joining a group adventure. If you can’t round up anyone to travel with or don’t love the idea of a private tour, a group trip could be a good option. “Choosing between a group heritage tour or a private heritage tour entirely depends on how much you want to learn about a particular country or location,” Betit says. “A group heritage tours allow a traveler to learn more about the culture, heritage, and general history of the country where their ancestors lived. An expert genealogist still guides the group throughout the tour, providing valuable, important historical context along the way.”
This is an especially useful option if you just want guidance for part of your trip or if you’ll travel with others, such as parents or siblings, who want a different experience. “It’s possible to take a group trip and add a day or two to tour privately,” Betit notes.
4. Eat as authentically as you can. One of the most genuine experiences you can have on a heritage trip is eating as your ancestors did — especially farm-to-table food prepared by locals. “Tasting the regional cuisine and sharing a meal with the people who live at your destination is an absolute must!” Betit agrees. Ask around for the best dishes, search online for local hotspots, and boldly try foods you haven’t eaten before or might not have the opportunity to try again.
(Photo via Getty)