Thanks to its history as a “melting pot” of cultures and nations, the United States is home to an unusually large number of people who have only vague ideas about where their ancestors came from, based on family lore and scraps of documents.
Now, many genetic explorers are taking their personal journeys a step further by traveling to the lands of their biological ancestors.
The popularity of at-home DNA tests skyrocketed in 2017, and it’s estimated that one in 25 Americans have opted to find their personal heritage data. By reviewing the DNA inherited from the donor’s mother and father, these inexpensive tests identify potential genetic relatives who’ve also taken the test, some possible hereditary diseases, and the geographic regions from which their families emigrated.
The testing brands are teaming up with travel companies to encourage people who want to travel to those genetic homelands.
Recently, 23andMe and AirBnb announced a partnership that will make it easier for people to find lodging in their heritage countries should they feel compelled to visit. 23andMe results will now come with AirBnB recommendations in one’s DNA match countries to help take the hassle out of booking the trip.
Meanwhile, Ancestry.com has partnered with Go Ahead Tours to promote a DNA test/heritage travel combo. Ambitious travelers with results from multiple countries can even plan a multi-national pilgrimage around the world.
And travel companies like Classic Journeys have come up with specific “heritage travel” experiences packaged around popular, common ancestry routes.
There’s a big market out there. Since 2014, Airbnb said it has seen a whopping 500% increase in the number of guests traveling to places connected with their ancestry.
According to a recent national survey of 8,000 individuals commissioned by Airbnb, almost two-thirds of respondents said they thought that heritage-based travel offered more valuable experiences than traveling just for pleasure. And 51% of those surveyed said they were much more likely to travel to a country of their heritage.
“Working with Airbnb, a leader who is reimagining travel provides an exciting opportunity for our customers to connect with their heritage through deeply personal cultural and travel experiences,” 23andMe CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki told Forbes.
Many Americans’ ancestors immigrated for religious or cultural persecution reasons or because the quality of life in their home country was so dismal, so it’s important to remember that heritage travel can be a deeply somber and emotional experience as well.
“I grew up my whole life believing I was Irish. I traveled to Ireland to get in touch with my Irish roots, and while I was there, I found out I’m actually Scotch-English!” Beth Gabriel, a mid-50s heritage traveler, told Considerable. “It was surprising and funny, but I had a great time. People kept asking me for directions in Ireland, so I guess I still looked local!”