I’ve traveled, you’ve traveled, we’ve all traveled; in the past two decades everyone who could afford it traveled a lot, mostly by air, mostly for pleasure. Until Covid-19 came, along we all thought this trend would increase forever. Now, we’re wondering if anyone will ever travel again.
Let’s put that aside and ask a more philosophical question; should we be traveling at all? Indeed what is the rationale for travel, who encourages it and what does it do to people who do it?
These are not simple questions, and the default answer, ‘because we enjoy it,’ says nothing.
After many years of studying the issue, and travel to five continents, I’ve come to the conclusion most people travel to try to get away from themselves.
In the first place, the experience of travel makes you feel subjectively you’re leaving something behind. This is especially true in the observation car of a passenger train, or on the stern of an ocean liner. In the first case, the rails receding into the distance and in the second, the wake of the ship, show you are in motion away from where you were. The mind translates that to mean you are leaving all your troubles behind; your debts, your enemies, your job, your relatives, and maybe, your spouse. Of course, you aren’t–you’re going to go back one day–but it feels like you are.
The second feeling you get, particularly if you spend two or more weeks in the same place, is that you’re a different person. You rent a Tuscan villa and before you know it, you’re cooking regional dishes, eating local produce and drinking the local vino. You’re no longer a harried American office worker, you’re an Italian peasant.
Both of these experiences, that of going somewhere and staying somewhere, are illusions. You aren’t leaving your problems behind you and you aren’t someone else. Indeed, as we all find out sooner or later, you can’t run away from yourself.
OK, what’s wrong with it economically? What’s wrong is that travel, or rather the tourism industry, is a) entirely discretionary and can be canceled at any time, and b) it’s based on happenstance and the work of others. So just because someone lives in a beauty spot like a waterfall, doesn’t justify charging admission for others to see it. Just because you live beside the Parthenon doesn’t justify selling T-shirts with its image. The tourist promoter, hotelier and vendor is just skimming, or rather scamming dollars for nature or previous civilizations.
Let’s see if I can use an example. Imagine a great house which is left vacant. A nearby resident decides to rope off the entrance and charge admission. Is it his house? No. Can he justify his actions? No. But most tourism is based on the exact same principle. Key West and Hemingway are a case in point. The local hotels tout Hemingway’s home as an attraction even though there is no connection between the author and the hotel. It’s just happenstance he was ever there.
If I haven’t made this clear yet; tourism is immoral. The sensation given to the tourist is an illusion and the tourist attraction wasn’t done by the locals. Either way, living a lie is a denial of reality, an attempt to escape responsibility, both for yourself, and for your surroundings.
And finally, tourism is bad for the economy because it produces no goods. Where factories, workshops, farms, mines and artist studios produce something worthwhile; tourist hotels produce nothing. They’re selling imaginary images that can easily, too easily, be dispensed with; as we have just seen.
On a global scale, tourism destroys local culture and replaces it with a homogenized culture designed in Hollywood and made in China. Or to put that another way, tourism destroys culture, abroad and jobs at home, plain and simple.
We’d all be far better off if we stayed at home and faced up to our own demons.
We’re told the solution for fighting a pandemic, as individuals, is social distancing. Well, what about fighting it as a society? Isn’t distancing our society just as important as distancing ourselves? Shouldn’t we ban all travel to and from Canada? Isn’t this obvious?