Designing one’s trip around a specific theme is a timeless concept. Elizabeth Gilbert planned her Eat, Pray, Love trip around healing and indulgence. Genghis Kahn’s trips revolved around raiding and slaughtering. Frodo Baggins set out to destroy a super evil ring and save Middle-earth from Dark Lord Sauron - a trip where another trip was needed to recover from the original trip if there ever was one.
New and experienced travellers alike indulge in the exercise of themed trips for any number of reasons, including giving the trip focus, expanding on an existing personal interest and good ol’ fashion bragging rights. Themes like wine tasting, street food and rollercoasters are great fun (though not simultaneously), but when I was asked to write this article, I felt compelled to widen the scope. Explore the fringe, the unusual, the wacky.
With the help of social media, the members of Thorn Tree (Lonely Planet's online travel forum) and my overactive imagination, here are a few trip themes to consider or use as a creative base for your own theme:
With sites of significant Muppetitude being so far-flung, this would be a tough theme to tackle all in one trip. While the (my) ultimate dream of organised tours through Jim Henson’s Creature Shop are not forthcoming, you can fill that void with visits to places like New York's FAO Schwarz which hosts the Muppet Whatnot Workshop where kids and adults (mostly adults, natch) can design their very own Muppet for US$99.99. Disney parks have hosted a number of attractions over the years, including the current Muppet Vision 3D. The travelling Smithsonian exhibit Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, at the New York Museum of the Moving Image through January 2012, has 'works of art, photographs, documents, puppets and other 3-D objects, and film and video clips'. For the adults (chronologically speaking), the Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem bar recently opened in San Francisco’s Mission District, though due to legal issues the décor currently doesn’t contain a hint of Muppetness.
Lesser-known stone circles
Circles like Carrowmore and Poulnabrone Dolmen in Ireland are no Stonehenge, but they have the advantage of being uniquely intriguing, while receiving few if any visitors. Some are only a mile or two off main roads yet still virtually anonymous. And locals reportedly love to explain the (sometimes dubious) lore to those who stumble upon the circles.
Five-star hotel grunge tour
Now and again, my job puts me in the amusing position of sleeping in a hostel one night and checking into a five-star hotel the next, wearing the same broke-ass clothes. When I hit the lottery, I intend to do a lavish five-star hotel tour carrying nothing but backpacker attire just for the entertainment value of interacting with staff who are near faint with the cognitive dissonance of treating me like royalty when every fibre of their being tells them they should be slapping at the big red security call button under the desk.
Destinations without cell (mobile) phone reception
Escapists find their passion to be a little more difficult every year, but there's still plenty of places at the ends of dirt roads, on jungle-covered mountains or on hard-to-reach islands where cellular devices become useless and that special disconnected serenity is found.
Space prevents me from detailing more, but honourable mentions go to trips planned around food festivals, beer, Wagner's Ring Cycle, roadside attractions, fairytale castles, very tall buildings, spooky buildings, tiny countries, waterfalls, meeting online acquaintances in real life (with all due caution), sticking a toe in every ocean on the planet, end-of-the-Earth locales, travelling ancient trading routes or routes of famous explorers and penguins. Then there's Thorn Tree member, muteki, who's planning a Tolstoy-themed tour.