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What turns a getaway into a best trip?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Travel is about more than travel. It’s about engaging with the world, pushing curiosity outward and seeking meaning inward. A few weeks ago I asked readers to share their best trips. The geographical range was impressive—Libya, Slovenia, Dominican Republic, Bhutan. But the best parts of the letters were about discoveries, not just destinations.

Cynthia Krumbein of Richmond, Virginia, has been traveling with her husband for more than 50 years—including six weeks touring India. “Seeing the Taj Mahal (below) was spectacular, but talking to people we met along the way made the trip so much more than just sight-seeing.” Guus Giesbergen, of the Netherlands, had a similar feeling when he toured Rajasthan last year. “It’s all about the people,” he says. “We shared food and meals, taking walks together, helping out on the daily chores, and having so much fun! So this is our advice: Wherever you go, get in touch with the people."

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On a trip to Laos, Linda Hightower, of Cape Town, hiked from muddy banks of the Mekong into remote villages with no tourists. “We came to a dense wall of jungle, walked into it and virtually disappeared. Everywhere we went people were busy: a woman fermenting alcohol (and her drunk rooster staggering around), a woman dying fabric using plants from her garden, then hanging them the length of her fence to dry.” On a study abroad program in China, graduate student Brian Feely, of Washington, D.C., met a like-minded travel partner. Now, six years later they have toured 13 countries together. Egypt and Jordan are next. “I didn’t get to finish my Ph.D., but apparently, I was meant to meet the people I met while traveling, and it hasn’t been a disappointment,” Feely writes.

My favorite note comes from Tomas Segeland of Sweden. He and his wife traveled throughout Europe and loved it all—castles, glaciers, people. His wife passed away in August, but a lesson they learned along the way speaks to the enduring magic of travel. “In the Alps,” Tomas writes, “there is no tomorrow, there is no yesterday, there is only now!”

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Today in a minute

What happened to last-minute travel? Want to walk up to see the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the Blue Lagoon thermal pool in Iceland, Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper mural in Milan, or Rome's Galleria Borghese? Sorry, no can do. They accept pre-bookings only, reports CNN, in an article headlined “How overtourism killed spontaneous travel.”

Why Wales? Amy Alipio finds poetry of a sort is everywhere as she hikes among the Welsh—and descends a steep trail in a wooded gorge to rumbling Devil’s Bridge Falls. Her findings include "hillsides embroidered with bluebells, lonely castle ruins on windswept crags, rocky coastlines noisy with seal song, valleys that are an encyclopedia of green."

The Airbnb horror story: This Vice author accidentally found out about a nationwide scam on the popular short-term rental platform. The scheme goes deeper and deeper, and the author is sucked into a world where Silicon Valley meets Franz Kafka.

Need a book for the road? We review 12 of the year’s best involving travel or the bigger world, including tales set in Oman, in Ethiopia, and in Cold War Moscow and Washington, D.C. Other adventures take place in India’s Tamil Nadu state, throughout Myanmar, or on the water, leisurely gliding along the rivers Seine and Thames. See the list.

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The Way: Over two summers, photographer Michael George walked over 1,000 miles on the Camino de Santiago. In recent years, the ancient Christian pilgrimage through southern France and northern Spain has been reborn as a nondenominational spiritual rite. Many pilgrims are recently retired, just out of college, lost a job, went through a divorce, or are simply unhappy and need a space with strangers to decompress. This image was taken along the Camino Frances.

Related: Walking The Way, discovering quiet—and a reason for life

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Poll: Should you learn a few foreign phrases before traveling?

The days of English-is-good-enough-anywhere American tourists appear to be over, at least according to a National Geographic and Morning Consult poll of 2,200 Americans. More than 8 in 10 Americans polled said travelers should learn basic phrases before going to a foreign-speaking land. Only 7 percent disagreed. Here’s the breakdown:

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The big takeaway

Many kindnesses: After our story last week on unexpected good turns on the road, readers shared their own stories of kindnesses on their travels. Rick Gaffney and his wife were in line at a New Zealand supermarket, wishing they had a car, when the woman in front of them turned and said: “I’m not using my car today, if you’d like to take it, you'd be welcome to it.” Gaffney wrote that “eight hours later, we returned her car with a full tank of gas, a gift and sincere thanks.” Faye Day was recently in a long queue at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris when she said a young lady approached and offered her a free ticket. “Maybe in deference to my age (I am 81),” Day wrote, “but nevertheless a random act of kindness."

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Come back tomorrow for Victoria Jaggard on the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.

One last glimpse

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Eliza Scidmore, who photographed students at this Japanese middle school more than a century ago, was infatuated with Japan. By the time of her visit, National Geographic’s first woman writer, photographer, and member of its board already had pressed the White House to plant Japanese cherry trees—“the most beautiful thing in the world”—along the Tidal Basin in the capital. She prevailed.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Eslah Attar has selected the photos. Have an idea, a link, a plan for more Japanese cherry trees? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading!