If you really want to know more about where your family comes from, how about planning a genealogy trip? Traveling to ancestral lands is not a new thing, but it’s certainly all the rage due to the popularity of family history and genealogy pastimes. Wandering the streets on which past generations of your family literally lived and worked, visiting the churches they worshipped in, and pausing for reflection in the cemeteries where your ancestors are interred can be a powerful experience for young and old alike.

The other great thing about a family history-themed vacation is that while there, this is a great opportunity for furthering your research. Uncovering facts only available in local repositories can shed new light on distant relatives and the lives they lived.

There are a few different types of genealogy trips you can take. Here’s a brief rundown:

Genealogy vacation

Taking an ordinary vacation means seeing new cultures and taking in the sites. A genealogy trip is like that, but instead of choosing a city to visit by random, you go to the cities and villages your family came from. People who have taken genealogy vacations return home with stories about meeting mayors and neighbors from towns their family members resided in. Who knows, you may even come face-to-face with living cousins.

Research trip

Online research is great. And some kinds of records and local histories simply can’t be easily digested from home. A research trip is just that, a trek to where your relatives actually lived for the specific purpose of more research.

Visiting family and genealogy collections at the local library or history museum can yield untold treasures that will never be digitized. You can also search through non-digitized legal records at courthouses, consult cemetery archives, and visit other local sites of importance.

Professional genealogy tours

Booking a tour with a professional is a perfect way to combine all of your goals. Both the big family history organizations and small owner-operated businesses now offer personalized tours with experienced genealogy guides. Or you can book a trip with a company that escorts groups to different cities and from there, you can visit the locations your relatives lived.  Working with a travel genealogist that speaks the local language and knows their way around the city or town you’re visiting can add tremendous value to the experience.

Like any vacation to a foreign country — or any city or town you’ve never been to — it’s important that you arrive as prepared as possible. That means working out important details in advance: where you want to go, what you want to see, and how you’re going to get around.

Here are the three most important tips for planning your family history vacation:

1. Research your destination

Some important information to know before heading to any foreign country is what language is spoken there and whether there are any cultural traditions you should be aware of. Consider learning a few key phrases and test out some translation apps in advance.
Know what type of travel documents you need, like a visa or passport, or just a photo ID. Check that you have all the required vaccinations.

As far as logistics, decide in advance how you will be getting around. Will you be using public transportation in the city and rent a car when traveling to locations outside of urban areas? You may be tempted to save maps and addresses on your smartphone, but if you’re traveling internationally, consider the possibility that you might not have an internet connection — or a reliable connection — everywhere you go. It’s OK to use a tablet to organize maps, instructions, directions, and addresses, but be sure you have plenty of backup batteries and a power cord that will work at your destination. Travel experts suggest taking hard copies of everything.

2. Set your itinerary

Make a list of all of the locations you want to see and create a schedule, including travel time, estimated time of arrival, and then travel time to your next location. The last thing you want to do is waste time getting lost. Of course, give yourself some extra time to explore. Some sites, especially libraries and archival offices, will have limited days and hours of operation. Also, consider that some sites are busier certain times of the day.

3. Book time with a pro in advance

If you’re planning to meet a guide or travel genealogist to show you around, provide translation services, or help you conduct research, don’t wait until you arrive at your location to iron out the details. Send your guide a list of all the sites you want to see and the type of research you plan to do. It’s important to finalize all of the details of your agreement in advance, including what days you’re meeting, how much time you want to reserve, and how you plan to get around. You should get everything in writing, including an agreed upon price, so there are no surprises.

Here are a few more tips for a successful genealogy vacation.

  • Go to the official website for the city or town you’re visiting to get the addresses and phone numbers of the locations you’re planning to see.
  • Use an app like Google Maps to plan your travel routes. Even if you’re using an official guidebook, tools like Google Maps use satellites to track traffic, ongoing construction, and suggest detours. (Take paper maps as a backup!)
  • You may need to make an appointment to visit a repository or to tour a church or cemetery. Always go to official websites to see hours of operation and call or email ahead of time to see if you need to schedule an appointment.
  • If you don’t speak the local language, download a translation app. You should still bring a phrasebook with you in case you can’t access the app or run out of battery power.
  • Use Facebook to track down people that you hope to meet when you get there. The social media platform is used by more than 2 billion people worldwide, so chances are a 4th cousin descended from your ancestor’s family members that remained in country is likely on Facebook!

Like any other kind of vacation, a family history or genealogy-themed trip will go a lot more smoothly with just the right kind of planning in advance!