In March last year, I returned to my birthplace of Lebanon for the first time since the late 1970s, when my parents gathered their meagre belongings and their (then) six children and fled the worsening civil war.
At two years of age, I was too young to form lasting memories or attachments, and so, for most of my life, did not feel much affinity for either Lebanon or my mother’s homeland, Syria.
But, as the plane swooped low over the glittering Mediterranean Sea into Beirut that late Spring afternoon, and the mountainous city’s distinctive rectangular buildings came into view, I was surprised to find myself overcome by unexpected feelings of joy, familiarity, and longing; I felt like I was finally coming home.
This – the realisation that certain places can arouse overpowering and unexpected emotions in us – is the inspiration behind Lonely Planet’s latest offering, The Place To Be.
For exhilaration, look as close as Sydney or as far as Scotland’s Shetland Islands. For an injection of passion, India’s Taj Mahal and Mexico City await.
The portrait size hardcover features exquisite images and draws on a combination of history, literature, spirituality and science to suggest where in the world we can go to best experience specific emotional states.
For exhilaration, look as close as Sydney or as far as Scotland’s Shetland Islands. For an injection of passion, India’s Taj Mahal and Mexico City await. Rio and Queensland will leave you in awe, while the jazz-infused carefree party atmosphere of New Orleans is a fast track to joy.
Unlike traditional travel guides, this book is less about the place you are visiting itself and more about what being there creates inside of you.
“Lonely Planet has always believed that travel can be a force for good; you get a better perspective of the world around you because you’re connecting with cultures,” explains Lonely Planet spokesperson Chris Zeiher.
“We believe this is the next step in the evolution of the way people want to travel,” he continues, “and so felt it was time to put together recommendations based on emotions and on wellbeing, because we know connection, awareness and being present is a lot more important that just taking a selfie in an interesting place.”
Connection. Wellness. While these may seem like buzzwords tapping in to the post-yoga craze zeitgeist, as I flipped through The Place To Be before my conversation with Zeiher, the word that kept coming to my mind, was “slowness;” this is not just a travel book, but almost an imploration for us to stop, look around and just breathe it all in, while we still can.
“We are so busy trying to get from one destination to the next when we are away,” Zeiher agrees. “As Australians, we often have to travel a really long way to get anywhere, and so sometimes we just rush and we don’t connect and we don’t really appreciate it by being present.
“This book is about the ability to not have to go at that fast pace but to slow down and connect with these particular places – because you will grow and potentially even become a better global citizen.”
We decided it was important to include only positive emotions
That the Lonely Planet team had more in mind than just rattling off a range of destinations with famous landmarks that we can tick off is evident, with the authors and editors settling on the final list of 12 emotions first, and then matching 20 far-flung destinations to each emotion.
“We decided it was important to include only positive emotions,” Zeiher tells me. And sometimes that meant looking at a particular emotion from a different perspective. ‘Alone’, for example, is often equated with loneliness, but solitude can mean, 'Being centred and being at one with yourself, rather than isolated or feeling quite small'.
There are some surprises. Los Angeles, for instance (where I happen to be right now) is housed under ‘Alone’, not perhaps an emotion you’d associate with the home of Hollywood, the Southern California beach culture, and the infamous traffic gridlock.
But this book is about more than famous landmarks, first impressions, or “must sees.” LA may be one of the world’s busiest metropolises, but it is also home to expansive state parks and canyons, with hiking trails that are simultaneously minutes and entire worlds away from the hustle and bustle.
Ultimately, Lonely Planet hopes to expand the concept of travel and of what places mean to us. “Our audience is evolving so this book isn’t tokenism; this is Lonely Planet evolving to fulfil a need," Chris confirms.
“This isn’t a one-off. We are now focussed on making sure there is a wellness and connection element to our publishing and to the articles that we feature online on our website.”
And, while travel to many of these destinations will be elusive for many people, part of the ambition behind the project is to, as the book’s forward outlines, “inspire you to seek out these emotions closer to home.”
Of course, the same place can evoke more than one emotion – as Lebanon did for me – and there are emotions that can be aroused in places not ascribed to them by The Place To Be.
But on these points, perhaps the book can be best viewed as a starting off point; where we end up, both physically and emotionally, and how far or close to home this may be is ultimately up to us.