I’ve been thinking about the concept of travel recently. I guess that’s natural, considering that I was up in Cambridge and am going on a cruise soon. But why do we travel? I have broken travel down into as number of categories – the better to quantify why I feel that travel is a mostly meaningless activity.
1. We travel to visit people. OK, that’s valid. If we aren’t going to rely on phones, email, video conferencing or snail mail, and see some value of sitting in a room with someone until the awkward silence kicks in, then that makes travel useful. And if our work requires that we bore others face to face or lie after actually shaking hands instead of lying after virtually shaking hands, then travel is fine.
2. We travel to see a specific place or do a specific thing. I can understand that. If I think that being IN the Taj Mahal is better than watching a video of being in the Taj Mahal, or that the water of the Ganges will infect me more thoroughly if I swim in it, then I have no choice but to visit India. Just seeing generic places is not persuasive, though. I can see the ocean, the mountains, wet, dry and everything in between after a short (relatively) car ride and without really travelling too far. Sunsets are visible where I live also, and most of the special attractions that other parts of the world afford, I can get way closer. True, because of seasons, I am limited in what I can around here, but I rarely have the urge to snow mobile, let alone snow mobile during the summer. If I really wanted to do in-season activities, I have a bunch here. If I ignore them five minutes away, why should I pay an exorbitant Amount to engage in them elsewhere?
3. We travel to see attractions which are physically somewhere else. Sure, we need to travel to go to Disney, but what is so great about Disney? There are closer amusement parks, and there is a Disney store around here. And I can buy whatever Disney goods I want on the Web or from a print catalogue. The Mona Lisa is in a museum somewhere else, but why not just look at the image online? The holdings of the world’s museums are pretty much virtually accessible for a lot less than it would cost to travel the world over to see them. And I can get closer to them on my screen than I can in a museum.
4. We travel to buy things in other places. There are two kinds of things we buy – things we need and things we want. The former is available near where we live (do I need to fly to California to shop at Ikea or the Gap?) and the other is available on the internet if I really decide to cave in and buy something. “Local” art is as attractive to me as any other art in that it isn’t attractive to me. A tourist t-shirt or paperweight is a waste.
5. We travel to immerse ourselves in the culture of another place. Every aspect of a culture can be replicated closer to home or virtually – Las Vegas is built on that premise. The only thing I can see as an argument here is one of cuisine. You get really good French food in France, apparently. But since I don’t have an expansive palate, and keep kosher, if I really want to eat, I’ll walk to one of the 20 restaurants in my town or the umpteen across the bridge.
6. We travel for the experience of going somewhere else – this is the travel and stay argument. I want to be somewhere else that I have to fly/ride to and I want to stay in a hotel. I want the experience of going through an airport or being pampered by a wait staff at all hours. I want to be somewhere where I am not known and where my friends haven’t been, and I want to do something different and not local. Travels gratis travelis. If I really want to stay in a hotel, I can go to one very close and sleep in an unfamiliar bed on the cheap (or save my plane/ship fare and splurge on a crazy expensive room locally and get the ultimate pampering). If I really want the experience of flying, I can take a plane somewhere and turn around and come back. Bah humbug, indeed.
So the bottom line is, if you like traveling, you are wrong. There, someone had to say it.