5 Ways to Connect with Heritage

Written by Esther Johnson

Photo /Poinsett Bridge by David Ellis/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/Levels adjusted

Photo/Poinsett Bridge by David Ellis/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/Levels adjusted

We’ve all experienced a bit of heritage travel and tourism at some point in our lives, either purposefully or accidentally. That’s because every person, place and thing has a story to tell. And it’s up to us to engage with that story. One of the best times to connect with history and heritage is while you’re travelling.

Take our family: We recently travelled to Vietnam on a holiday. There were so many benefits to a holiday in Vietnam that I already knew of: short direct flight from Adelaide to Ho Chi Minh City, delicious Vietnamese street food, cheap market shopping, just to name a few. I was sure we were going to have a blast, and we did! But some of the most memorable aspects of our trip were unplanned and had everything to do with history and heritage (this is revealed later in my story). So here’s how you can get the most out of your next holiday:

When planning a holiday, we spend most of our available time and energy on how we’ll get there and where we’ll stay. Rightly so! Good organisation (and a fantastic travel agent) is crucial. Once this is done, however, be sure to invest some time in finding a handful of heritage places, people and experiences to stay at, visit or just read about. Like most things in life, knowing the background story makes the experience so much more rich, memorable, and ultimately, enjoyable.

But how exactly can you achieve this? Here are 5 ‘experience lenses’ you can use to connect with history and heritage in your travels:

1. Stay with a story

Choose a place to stay with a story that interests you. Take Robe in South Australia, for example. Regardless of where you stay, it’s a location with many points of historical interest and heritage value. Would it surprise you to know that ship captains in the 1850s dropped off Chinese passengers headed for the Victorian goldfields in Robe? They did this to avoid the heavy landing tax and import duty on opium imposed by the Victorian Government. The then newly-developed port of Guichen Bay at Robe was closer to the Victorian border than Port Adelaide, making it a shorter sea and land journey to the goldfields for the Chinese. What a trek! You can also stay at a number of historic cottages in Robe, such as Robe House. Built in 1847, Robe House was the first building to be built in Robe and has played an important role in the town’s history. It’s built from locally quarried sandstone and features high vaulted ceilings and rustic floorboards. Imagine waking up on your next holiday in a home that was the first known building in a place or housed someone very important at some point in history. Definitely memorable!

2. Go behind the scenes

Engage the help of a knowledgeable and accommodating local guide. Use websites like TripAdvisor to find out where all the guided tours are and what people just like you thought of them. This is the time to be fussy and selective! Discovery tours and tailor-made tours are often the best because groups are much smaller and local guides are able to accommodate individual interests. Google search ‘discovery tours’, ‘custom tours’ or ‘private tours by local guides’ to find out what’s available. Read reviews! Often travellers will name their amazing local guide in a 5-star review – take note of this. Local guides tend to freelance for a range of tour companies in their city of residence, so you could even engage them privately for your very own, customised and meaningful tour.

3. Hit the shelves

Most of us associate a proper holiday with reading a book. Whether you only pull it out during the long plane journey or in the bath in the middle of the Scottish Highlands (more on that soon), it spells h-o-l-i-d-a-y. So why not choose a novel of historical fiction, a biography of someone who is well known in the place you are visiting, or something truly niche, like Behind the Streets of Adelaide. If you’re planning to visit Adelaide or even if you live here, you will be fascinated by the stories of the 62 men and women named in Adelaide’s streets. What better way to make a city come alive? Now back to that bathtub: Our Christmas family holiday in the Cairngorms (eastern Highlands of Scotland) was certainly memorable because, like many of you, I brought a book with me, not knowing that it was going to connect me so vividly to that place. ‘Burial Rites’ by Adelaide author Hannah Kent had just been released. It’s a fictional story set in northern Iceland, 1829, based on the facts and events surrounding the life and death of the last person to be executed in Iceland, who happened to be a woman. So there I was, in a lone cottage, in the bleak winter, surrounded on all sides by snow and unable to put this book down! Needless to say, it gripped me like the bitter cold of the Cairngorms in late December. Definitely memorable!

4. Be taken on an adventure

You’re probably thinking of bushwalks, whitewater rafting or the like. In fact, some of the most memorable adventures we’ve had as a family have simply been to take local transport! Imagine catching a public bus where no one speaks a word of English, the route and destination are unknown, there’s a puzzling bucket of water by the door, and you end up stranded in the outskirts of town waiting at a remote bus stop with a group of Vietnamese school children, their grandparents and some stray cats. Oh wait, I don’t have to imagine! Public transport aside, the adventure may be cultural or culinary. Be sure to try the local food that your travel destination is known for. Eat what the locals eat. Ask questions about when and where the food is traditionally served. Find out if there’s a cultural festival or celebration tied to that particular dish – this is all part of that country’s heritage. One of the best parts of our Vietnam holiday was boating along the Mekong River to a village that made rice paper, an experience we will never forget! Seeing that we had a stomach for authentic cultural experiences, our local guide also took us to a small fish market slightly off the beaten track. We walked through soggy, smelly aisles of live sea creatures, our supermarket children wide-eyed, enthralled and disgusted all at once. Definitely memorable – the bus, the cats, the smells, everything!

5. Eat and drink with a story

Most visitors to any given place are naturally attracted to the local food and drink of the area. Discover the local heritage food brands at your travel destination. Look for brands whose history and heritage are woven into the history and heritage of the place you’re visiting. Where I come from, a heritage brand called Ditters is the oldest specialty retailer of gourmet fruit and nut gifts in South Australia. Not surprisingly, there’s a story to that! Are you a foodie traveller with an interest in history and heritage? Here are 12 of the Oldest Restaurants in the World! Beer lover? Make sure you visit at least one of the Oldest Breweries in the World. Visiting Adelaide? Explore South Australia’s places of history and heritage.

So what was the one memorable experience in Vietnam that brought my holiday to life? It was watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part documentary series, The Vietnam War, for the very first time, in Vietnam. Hearing the heartwrenching history from all sides, in the country where it all took place, gave me such a deep appreciation for the Vietnamese people and their heritage. Definitely memorable.


About the author

Esther Johnson is an Australian mother of three with Malaysian-Chinese heritage. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia, and is the owner of Ditters Nuts.