Why do we travel?
By Samuel P.N. Cook
Why do we travel? I think that most people never ask themselves that question before they set out on their vacation. Instead, they just travel because that is what we are supposed to do during the precious few vacation days given to them. If you ask someone that question before they leave on vacation, they will probably say: “To relax” or “to get away.” But what are they really after when they travel? If we wanted to relax, we would simply lock ourselves away in our houses and sleep sixteen hours a day. If we wanted to simply get away, we could go to a small cabin at the edge of town, just to hide out.
Far from restful, traveling is actually quite stressful. We go to our travel agents, or search for hours on the internet, to plan the perfect itinerary, from flights, to hotels, to the elusive tours and experiences at the destination. And then at the destination itself, we run non-stop trying to see everything we are supposed to see, to prove that we have done it right to our friends when we return. And finally, when we get back home, we have piles of papers on our desk, messages on our phones, and more emails than we could ever read.
So, why do we do it in the first place? After years of traveling myself, to nineteen different countries, I have realized that the reason most people travel to shock themselves out of their environment to achieve a cathartic release within their souls. Lets face it, most of us lead rather uneventful lives with little excitement. We go to work at the same job for most of our lives, with the same people everyday, and we have a relatively stable social group. Those 2 weeks of travel that most of us get each year are really about that mythical adventure of a life we wish we had, and we travel every year intending to make the most of it. The further away we go, the more exotic and different the locale, the more adventure we can find.
So what makes a trip really worth it? When someone goes to New York City, or to Paris, are they really just there to see the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty? Sure, those things are essential to any trip if it is your first time there. But what can they get that will really prove that they “lived” in New York City? A great trip is one where you immerse yourself in the New York City culture. One where you are really a New Yorker, meeting other people who are from the City, or meeting people who are traveling. What we really crave is a story we can tell, not just a picture of us at a famous landmark. Better yet, we have a story and a picture that we can use to tell that story!
The internet has revolutionized the way people are traveling. Since Thomas Cook in England invented mass consumer travel in the mid 1800s, travelers traditionally went across the world in large, organized groups. Now, with the advent of the internet, we are increasingly traveling as independent travelers, charting our own courses. This new strategy for travel carries almost unlimited potential in terms of adventure, but it can also carry the risk of crushing disappointment for travelers who fail to find the right adventure.
And thus, the challenge and the reward of being a social traveler confronts us. In the next series of columns, I am going to write about what it means to be a social traveler. How do we travel and get the most out of our adventure? By sharing some of my own experiences and observation, both as a traveler and as a travel executive, I hope to inspire both travelers and tour operators alike to help expand the concept of Social travel as both a philosophy and an industry that serves travelers in their quest for their adventure so that they can go home with that story to tell their friends.