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New Travel Trend: Theme and Hobby Travel

This isn't a particularly new phenomenon; it is, in fact, extremely old -- although you may have to broaden your definition of "theme" and "travel."
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See a theme?

There was a time when going on vacation meant doing nothing. Drink on one side, pool/ocean on the other, sun overhead and cell phones buried about six feet down. It was a time for guilt-free relaxation and to do, oh, anything!

And it is officially "out."

Call it niche marketing's latest victory or some sort of Type A contagion, but one of the latest trends in the industry to coalesce is the idea of a vacation-on-a-theme. That is, a person takes their hobby, whatever it may be, and turns their time off into the pursuit of said-hobby.

This isn't a particularly new phenomenon; it is, in fact, extremely old -- although you may have to broaden your definition of "theme" and "travel": In their strictest sense, pilgrimages to holy sites could count as themed travel. They spawned, and continue to spawn, whole industries of way stations and what in the day would be considered hostels. Rome, Jerusalem, Varanasi in India and the Shikoku Junrei in Japan have been pulling in the masses (fees included) for centuries) in Japan. The Hajj back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed, but he was just the icing on the cake; Mecca has drawn pilgrims since Abraham, and there is evidence the city was a holy site before then.

Things have broadened since then. Astute readers will be well familiar with tour companies running ads in Wine Enthusiast and Archeology Magazine for swings through Tuscany and the Nile Valley, respectively. Historical societies have long transported the curious to the battlegrounds of the American Civil War and English Civil War. But only recently has the whole idea of making your vacation "your vacation" found traction outside of the academic.

Tour companies, always jostling for your dollars, saw the writing on the wall and ran with it. From Francophile fans of the movie Amélie following in the footsteps of Audrey Tautou, to "Janeites" falling over themselves in the stately homes of England that inspired the wit of Jane Austen (Colin Firth in a wet poet's shirt is not -- I repeat not -- on the tours...sigh), to budding ecologists hopping on an real-life science expedition to the Amazon, if you have even a passing interest in something, there is a themed vacation for it.

Far and away, vacations centering on the entertainment field are the most popular. Google "themed vacation" and bang! At your fingertips are options for red-carpet events with the Hollywood glitterati. Disney, Downton Abbey, even Sesame Street are all on the board. Some are clearly aimed at families with kids in tow, others for young adults, and still others for seniors. "Proliferation" really doesn't quite capture the essence of what is going on.

But Google, and the theme-industry itself, is a fickle thing. Upon his death, Nelson Mandela inspired a womb-to-tomb tour, something I find very gratifying. However there was very little of an official tour of such when he was alive, and I can only hope that 50 years from now, Mandela's journey remains a powerful draw to a population for whom one of the most important figures of this and the last century will not even be a memory. The point is, outside of perennial favorites like wine or archeology (which have withstood the test of time, that's why I keep coming back to them), if you find a themed vacation or tour that interests you, sign up. There is a very good chance that if your passion is in, say, this or that movie location, it may be a case of here today, gone tomorrow as the public's interest fades.

So what has withstood the test of time, besides (everybody, now!) wine and archeology? And religion, even if the points of reference have changed? Well, science is now making pushing itself into the industry. Cox and Kings, a tour company that is about as lux as you can get, offers expeditions to Antarctica under the auspices of any number of research-based bodies. While it has no set itinerary, the Grand Tour, a multi-destination jaunt of Europe long reserved for the native aristocracy, is now open for all -- with towns like Cortona, in the idyllic Tuscan countryside, reaping the benefits...and scrambling to absorb the masses rediscovering it. In a bid to save its identity, the cowboy industry has set up numerous wrangling getaways, a smart move that proved so popular it was the setting for 1991's City Slickers (to get a taste, check out the Wildcatter Ranch in Texas).

So what does it for you? Do a little research and you could have a vacation that satisfies every nerve-ending and brain cell. Because let's face it: If you have a vacation dedicated to doing nothing, nothing is all you will have to show for it.