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Feel the planet under your feet, smell the aromas, hear what you've been missing

We often think with our eyes when deciding where to travel.

What will be pretty? What sights will wow us? What will make the best photos?

The only problem with such planning is that we have four other senses too.

A visit to the beach, for example, can simply be beautiful for the sight of the vast rolling waves. But it also includes the crunch of sand beneath our feet, the sun's warmth and the cool, tingling water. There's the sound of the waves rolling, the gulls squawking and delighted kids squealing. There's the smell of the ocean and luscious, fruity suntan lotion.

Before being declared legally blind at age 20, Joe Strechay spent his time on the beach tossing a Frisbee and reading. Since losing most of his vision to a degenerative condition, Strechay, 35, finds himself engaging his other senses at a heightened level.

"It's a different experience now," said the Huntington, W.Va., resident, who manages a job-training program for the American Foundation for the Blind. "I have devices where I can read books, but I never read on the beach. I listen to the ocean, I enjoy the feel of the sand. In the water, I feel the currents and how the waves are coming in."

Even without his vision, Strechay has remained a passionate traveler who recounts "the excitement, cold, wetness, people, sound of the fans, the bond with the fans, and the smell of hot chocolate and booze" during a New England Patriots playoff game while visiting his brother in the Boston area. And the "silky, smooth, soft" sensation of stingrays swimming alongside him in Grand Cayman.

"It was a texture I hadn't felt before," he said.

Thinking — and traveling — beyond what we see can lead to a deeper and more encompassing sense of travel. My colleagues and I offer these suggestions for traveling beyond your eyes (and palate, because that also essentially is a given):

The songbirds of Jamaica: The extended melodic songs they sing were among the first things I noticed after getting past the gorgeous blue water of the Negril beachfront. I have to wonder if this is how Bob Marley came up with his three little birds "singin' sweet songs." Ross Werland

The eucalyptus trees of La Jolla: My wife and I were strolling along a residential area near the city center of the Southern California town when we walked into a eucalyptus cloud. You could see just fine, but the scent was so strong it was almost palpable — and wonderful — like a gourmet cough drop. — R.W.

Walking the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Del.: Walking on the north-south boardwalk that parallels the shore, you get the smells — a mix of popcorn, french fry grease and sunscreen — on one side and from the other, the roar of the ocean. It's a memorable combination. William Hageman

Ten Thousand Waves spa in Santa Fe, N.M.: While waiting for your massage in an open-door treatment room on a hillside, you head up a flight of stairs to a mountaintop featuring a pool of hot water, an ice plunge and a dry sauna cabin. Take a dip in all three and your skin will never be more alive before a world-class rubdown.

David Syrek

Amusement parks: Is there any place that makes us feel more — the summer heat, the cooling splash of water rides and the stomach-dropping terror of a roller coaster diving to earth? There's a reason we close our eyes for so much of the experience — because we feel so deeply. Josh Noel

Andy Warhol Museum: The Pittsburgh museum honoring one of art's great iconoclasts is loaded with memorable moments, but the exhibit that stuck with me was a re-creation of Warhol's "Silver Clouds," a collection of floating Mylar balloons the artist first unveiled in 1966. The 22 silver, pillow-shaped balloons are filled with a mixture of helium and oxygen, and, prompted by fans, drift slowly through the air. Sure, they look mesmerizing, but most stirring was closing my eyes as the balloons gently bounced off me from every direction. — J.N.

Public markets: Go deep — really deep — into massive public markets, from Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to La Merced and Mercado San Juan in Mexico City. You'll find memorably perfumed (and sometimes pungent) gatherings. Sure, you may not understand a word of a merchant's singsong come-on — let alone the exotic critters, colorful fruits, vegetables and spices — but the jostling, sounds, energy and aroma all contribute to a wonderful bit of theater. Judy Hevrdejs

The mud volcano in Cartagena: Stepping into the warm, grainy goop of the Volcan de Lodo el Totumo, just outside of Cartagena, Colombia, you are struck first by the strange buoyancy of your bobbing body as the cement-gray mud folds around you like a moldable mattress. The sulfuric smell isn't pleasant, but it is said to come from an array of minerals meant to heal ailments from asthma to arthritis. More pleasant are the strong hands of the men who sit in the volcano all day to give full-body massages to the suspended bodies. Afterward, local women carrying buckets lead you by hand into the ocean and, in what felt like a spiritual cleansing, pour water that rinses away the mud.

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

Beach fires on Lake Michigan: This summertime classic covers every sense: the smell of burning wood, the taste of roasted marshmallows, the warmth of the fire, the sound of the waves. Our family made a couple of these during a quick August getaway to a rented cottage south of Sheboygan, Wis. Even for the kids, the fire easily beat the oversize, surround-sound TV. — Steve Johnson

The monkeys of Costa Rica: The country is full of remarkable wildlife, but nothing says "rain forest" like the distant hoots and howls of the monkeys. The howler monkey, in particular, has a deep throaty bark that's at once familiar, ominous and otherworldly — wilderness distilled to a single sound.

Nara Schoenberg

The cups and saucers of Rome: You hear it as soon as you step off the plane and into the terminal at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport: the clatter of coffee cups placed curtly onto saucers. The welcoming clink-clink says "coffee" before you can smell it. Inside the airport bar you take your first sip of the robust brew that fuels Italy. Then it's off to the streets of Rome, where even nonstop horn-blowing and the whine of motorbikes can't drown out the comforting "call" from inside the bars. It's time for another caffe. Cristi Kempf

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail: If tasting some of Kentucky's finest assets isn't enough to appease the senses on the Bourbon Trail, smelling the birth of liquid gold certainly is. From warm breads and pungent, sour yeasts to woodsy, sweet aromas, each tour is just as educational for the olfactory as for the taste buds.

— Heather Schröering

jbnoel@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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