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Going Places

Travel pushes us. Home pulls

“Every place I have ever visited changed my life in some way, either spiritually, emotionally or intellectually. Isn’t that the point of travel?” That was my favorite comment in response to our new Smithsonian.com poll about travel. Reading your replies was a trip in itself. To the question, “Have you ever visited a place that’s changed your life?” your globe-spinning answers ranged from Sydney to Kyoto to Katmandu to Mecca to Albania to Mali to “Paris! Paris! Paris!” to Boston to Savannah to the Grand Canyon to the Redwood Forest and Machu Picchu. We asked you time travelers the historical place and time you’d most like to visit. The No. 1 answer was Shakespearean England. The book that inspired more of you to travel than any other was Eat, Pray, Love. (To see the rest of our poll and give us your answers, go to Smithsonian.com/travelpoll)

With this issue we wanted to feed your wanderlust a little more. We went on walkabout to the land down under the Land Down Under (“Tasmania’s New Devil,”), where a professional horseplayer has placed his biggest bet on a shocking new museum that has made the small capital of Hobart the world’s newest cultural hotspot. In South Africa, we found scientists racing to save the endangered penguins of Cape Town, which live on Robben Island, in the shadow of the prison that held Nelson Mandela.

We were struck by the extraordinary fact that, for the first time in over 150 years, the two major candidates running against each other for the presidency, incumbent Barack Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, had fathers who were born in foreign countries. So we sent writers and photographers to Kenya and Mexico to explore the politicians’ complex family roots (“Dreams of Kenya,”; “Mexican Mission,”).

Of course, you don’t have to leave the United States to find fascinating culture. By sifting through reams of data, we emerged with “The 10 Best Small Towns in America,” a provocative list (we love a good argument, don’t you?) of the most interesting such places in the country to visit. (Coincidentally, Rick Santorum’s hometown of Butler, Pennsylvania, made the top 10.)

If you’re ready for a long-distance trip, read our report on the Voyager spacecraft, which are about to mosey into interstellar space (“Onward, Voyagers,”). Author Timothy Ferris helped produce the recordings that the ships carry, intended to explain who we are to any intelligent non-human beings that might encounter them.

When you’re done with your peregrinations, you have to come home again. That can be a bittersweet experience, as renowned travel writer Paul Theroux admits in a personal essay, “A Man and His Islands.” “Home” is also the theme of our Phenomenon section, which stars Matt Groening, the creator of “The Simpsons,” who speaks candidly about his father (Homer), his son (Homer) and his hometown, Portland, Oregon, which he plans one day to return to.

Happy trails,
Michael Caruso

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