Why do we travel?
“When we travel, we take things with us to help make foreign places feel more like home...and then we put things from our travels in our home to make it feel more like foreign places.”
Doug Lansky wrote this in his recent new e-book Travel: The Guide. While the title and its table of contents may seem like just another destination handbook like the Lonely Planet, the message it tries to communicate is anything but.
Lansky writes: “This guide won’t provide hotel suggestions, give you packing tips, or tell you where to go. Instead, this book aspires to hold a mirror up to our travel behaviours and views, at least some of them”
This book won’t tell you how to get to your destination, but it just might change the way you see the journey itself.
So why do we travel? To try new things? To get off the beaten path? To meet the locals? To get that care free travel feeling? To stay in exotic new places? To get away from it all?
Lansky tries to answer these questions in a rather humoristic, but at the same time enlightening way. Is eating out at the McDonalds in China really trying new things? And does the bartender at the 5-star western hotel that you are staying at really constitute meeting the locals? What about the care free travel feeling, standing in line for ages to get through security at the airport?
While this may seem like today’s society has a rather skewed view of new intercultural experiences while travelling, Lansky argues another interesting point: “When we choose the western meal on a foreign airline, we may think that we’re bypassing this little cultural experience. We’re not. Most likely, we’re transferring it” he writes. While we might not be having the foreign culinary experience, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t one taking place, it’s just that we are not the ones having it. It is the people of that foreign airline that are having that experience. “You might think of each travel meal or hotel stay as a cultural unit…if you’re not having that unit of a foreign culture, then a local person is.”
Lansky continues with holding up the mirror to our travel behaviours by writing about so-called fakeouts. A fakeout is a comparison between pictures of hotels from brochures and the reality, and let’s face it, quite often there is some discrepancy. Just take a look at the recent news of Greece publishing a touristic video showing the supposedly famous Greek coast, when it is actually a coast in Australia that is shown. While we know that this is in essence the nature of marketing (whether its hamburgers or supermodels), what is interesting is that it seems that travellers do something very similar on their own. “They get enticed to go to a country by photos of local street food, rustic dwellings and colourful locals, then upon arrival, they eat almost exclusively western food, stay in western hotels and only meet locals who work at their hotel or are trying to sell them something”. Lansky calls this a self-fakeout.
Coming back to the point of the travel guide, are we sure that we need one? Will it lead to an adventure, or keep us from having one? Will it help us meet the locals, or prevent us? Will it offer unique experiences, or push the masses to the same spots? Lansky answers these questions with a simple sentence of advice:
Travel like a guidebook author, not a guidebook reader.
(You can find the e-book on Amazon and iTunes for $4.99)