Lonely Planet Writer

76-Second Travel Show: 'The sound challenge'

Is the best way to see a place closing your eyes?

Controversy, or at least a little, has swirled over technology's role in travel since the time British philosopher/art critic John Ruskin tsk-tsked over whirlwind train tours of England in the mid 19th century. He also worried that increased popularity of cameras meant people were paying less attention. Sort of like Chevy Chase's two-second admiration of the Grand Canyon in 'Vacation' (see link for the Spanish-language version).

So, naturally, Ruskin went on a quest to teach everyone to draw. The key, as described in Alain de Botton's fun 'The Art of Travel,' wasn't to make artists out of carpenters, but to get people (even carpenters apparently) to slow down, dammit, and better appreciate what they saw.

Closing your eyes is another way to do this, to unlock other senses that sometimes get overwhelmed by our reliance on vision.

Blind traveler/author Tony Giles, who has a new book called 'Seeing the World My Way,' believes everyone would benefit in travel by listening more. He says, just start by simply closing your eyes for a minute and 'letting your other senses kick in.' One of the favorite destinations, in the 54 countries he's traveled to, is Argentina/Brazil's Iguazu Falls. 'It has such an impact,' he told me by phone. 'It's like a crescendo. Like hearing the 1812 Overture by the largest orchestra you can imagine.'

British acoustic engineer, Trevor Cox, set up Sonic Wonders, a site devoted to unusual sounds recorded at sights worldwide like the whispering gallery of Bijapur, India's Gol Gumbaz mausoleum. He told me a surprising sound he found recently was at a London sewer, where a circular designed created a bizarre, unplanned echo.

I've heard some interesting things, like the overlapping calls to prayer in Muscat, Oman, or just the relentless roar of motorbikes in Vietnam. But I can't help but wonder of all I've missed -- snapping an increasing number of photos by digital camera etc -- so I look forward to taking the SOUND CHALLENGE (closing my eyes at least a minute) in 2011.

What's your favorite sound travel experience?