I love science and I love travelling. But exploring somewhere on the conventional tourist trail can sometimes be like following a too well-trodden path, and I often feel that I’m missing an individual connection to a place. And just reading about science can feel a little too abstract and disembodied. Both activities can feel a bit structureless – lacking a sense of direction.
So I thought combining the two interests might be a way of getting a different, hopefully revealing, new perspective on both. At least I hope to find new approaches to the places I visit, and perhaps see things and meet people in a way that’s more authentic than the view from the tour bus.
And my travels inspire me to learn and think about the science, because there’s nothing like the experience of actually being there to focus my interest and direct my enthusiasm.
Add into the above mix my slightly masochistic pleasure in trying to persuade a computer to do what I want it to do (and not, as is so often the case, what I actually told it to do), and you have The Scientific Tourist.
I’m interested in the history of science because, for me, understanding where we’ve been and how we got to where we are today, seems vital to understanding how science works, and what it means to practice science. Also, I’ve always thought that knowing the history is essential to really understanding the ideas behind the science itself. There’s nothing like understanding the debates which took place, examining the arguments for and against (and some of the contra arguments are often surprisingly convincing) to really challenge your understanding of the issues, to really make you think about what you’ve learned.
Not everywhere has a connection to the history of science, of course, although I think people may be surprised at just how many places do, but everywhere has a natural history. An interest in the geology, zoology and botany of a location can only add to our appreciation and understanding of the place, and can provide experiences and insights beyond gawping at monuments. Often there are local people and societies whose lives and livelihoods depend on the local natural history, or who are experts and enthusiasts for it. Such people are usually very welcoming to the interested outsider, who in turn, gets to meet locals not directly involved in the tourist industry. I try to provide links to such people and societies where I can.
And, of course, wildlife tours and so-called eco-tourism are very popular, and can include interesting scientific content. Hopefully, The Scientific Tourist can help get you better prepared to really understand what you’re hoping to see.
Another part of scientific travel is travelling to actually do science. From university field trips and expeditions to do voluntary work with wildlife surveys, there are many opportunities to make a contribution to science.
Of course, I’m not forgetting the travelling part of the story. Getting off the main tourist trail can only enhance our experience of a place. The journey itself, and the local landscape, culture and food are all very enjoyable parts of the experience for me. I enjoy a meal in a posh restaurant or staying in a luxurious hotel as much as anyone, but I can get that anywhere. I’d rather find what’s individual to a place and try that. I like to discover what I can about these things, and pass on the best of my finds to others. But I won’t cover usual tourist stuff because you can easily find that elsewhere.
And while few ‘perfect beaches’ (for instance) have much of a place in the history of science, if there’s one nearby, especially if it’s not on the main trail, I’ll recommend it. And I’ll also cover what’s best about the usual suspects on the tourist trail where I think I can add a tip or recommendation that isn’t covered in the guide books.
Of course, I include as many of the details, such as transport, locations, opening times etc. as I can, but I don’t want to repeat stuff you can easily find elsewhere, so I’ll just post links to the relevant and useful websites. But I’ll have done that research for you, so you don’t have to.
Finally, I’d like very much to hear from you. Perhaps you’d like to join in the fun and share your views and experiences with other like-minded people? Leave a comment or contact me directly if you’d like to participate.