DNA Tourism: When your genes lead you to your next travel destination

2018-12-14 11:55 - Gabi Zietsman
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Gabi Zietsman

Trying to find remnants of the Dutch colonists in Indonesia is no easy task.

The city of Surabaya, a city nestled in the east of Java, is not exactly a big tourist destination. A friend and I were staying in a hotel where there was only one person on staff that spoke English, and walking around the city, your white skin is a beacon for stares.

WATCH: Family sells belongings to travel the world after learning their DNA hails from 32 nations

But I was determined to find the general area where my Dutch grandmother was born, based on the stories that she lived next to a river and Google provided a general area where the colonists used to live - before WWII broke the Netherlands holds on Indonesia and they gained independence. 

I mostly walked around aimlessly, asking anyone where the old colonial buildings are, but I was generally met with blank expressions. Going down one alley, I finally hit a street where crumbling Dutch architecture was still trying tenuously to hold onto a time long gone, but it has clearly lost the fight. To me it felt instinctively like the right spot, and I felt closer with my beloved Ouma Femke who had already been gone more than 10 years then.

I left a rose - its smell will always remind me of her - on one of the abandoned houses' doorstep.

ALSO SEE: Walrus bones provide clues to fate of lost Viking colony

blue door with a rose in front

(Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Letting your genes guide you to your next holiday destination

What if the genes that run through your blood set you on a course to the other side of the world? DNA tourism has seen a rise over the last year, specifically fuelled by the rise in getting your DNA tested to see what your genealogy tree looks like. 

Americans have particularly latched onto this, a country that's made up of an amalgamation of centuries of migration to the Americas, and the same can be said for South Africans - specifically non-indigenous folks. While I have an Afrikaans lineage dating back to the 1600s in South Africa and Namibia, there's over the generations been a mish-mash of German, British, French, Dutch, Norwegian and Scottish, but that's only what I know of for sure.

Find out that you're 20% Eastern European? This might prompt you to take a journey to the less travelled parts of that continent that might not have been that high on your list to begin with. One couple even sold all their belongings to travel the world after discovering their DNA hails from 32 nations and making it their mission to visit everywhere they have roots.

This also isn't limited to just your DNA findings - you might already know of a great-great-grandmother that originally hailed from Argentina, and based on family lore and a few old photographs might start plotting a course to her town of birth, as I did with my grandmother.

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And tour companies are jumping onboard. EF Go Ahead Tours partnered with Ancestry, one of the biggest genealogy companies in the world, to create tours that let people explore their heritage in groups, guided by an expert genealogist. 

It includes doing a DNA test and you can set goals for what you want to do on the trip, which the tour company can help with. Aimed at Americans, they currently have tours to Ireland, Germany, Sicily, Italy and Scotland, all with a focus on history.

Momondo, another travel booking company, took a different approach to it with their campaign 'Let's Open Our World' - aimed at making travel more accessible to everyone and fostering acceptance of differences. In one of their videos, they ask people who believe they are 100% one nationality to do a DNA test, only to find out their connection to parts of the world they might have previously felt little affection for.

Surabaya definitely did not provide the typical Indonesian holiday experience, but the journey to look for my roots was worth more than any holiday selfies around on a beach resort.

ALSO SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: Study shows the power of DNA database in rhino poaching cases

You can watch the Momondo video below: 

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