An idea that hasn't really taken hold in the US is "reverse zoos" - where the observer is thrust into the middle of the observed habitat, rather than watch it from outside like "normal". I've seen a few drive-though safari game parks in Texas, and the northern plains of Yellowstone National Park might qualify. But comparatively, the idea has really taken off overseas. Kruger? Etosha? Serengeti? Maasai Mara?
But really, isn't all travel a reverse zoo experience?
We don't really notice when we say, go to South Dakota and find the closest Starbucks. The differences aren't different enough to really register with us. The observed speak the same language, spend the same currency, have a favorite restaurant, and gas station down the street from where they live that receives most of their business. They are...to a large extent, just like me. Their lives unfold just like mine does, by and large.
But then we get on a big jet-liner and the differences become impossible to ignore. We might as well be driving through the northern plains of Yellowstone, watching a bison stroll down the middle of the road, for all we have in common.
I laid over in Berlin on this trip, and our shuttle from plane-to-terminal drove through the under-terminal area where baggage handlers sort luggage and airline employees have their offices. It was 7 am and I watched a guy wearing a formal uniform stand in the open door of his late-model Mercedes, eating a piece of cold pizza and waving it in the air to make a point to his colleague standing next to another car. Berlin, 7 am, cold pizza for breakfast at work.
He probably has a favorite pizza place, a usual gas station, and Wednesday night plans to watch his favorite team play in the Stanley Cup Finals (side note: \O/ \O/ \O/ \O/). Ok, maybe not that last one, but you get my point still.
The more reverse zoo experiences I have that feature really different differences, the more I realize that the lives of the people in the places that I visit unfold just like mine does, by and large.
This thought becomes especially salient when I have my usual "this place is complicated, navigating it doesn't seem possible/logical/easy" freak-out. And then I realize that for someone else, navigating it is second nature, so it must be possible to do because their life there unfolds there just like mine does in Bloomington, by and large. I'm just the observer rather than the observed; I'm just inside a habitat that's not my natural one.